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The Muddy Middle: Where Tech and Relationships Meet

I could feel my blood pressure rise a bit as I wondered if I should say something to my son. It was getting late and he was watching a video on his computer. "He's probably just wasting his time," I thought, "and it's my responsibility as his mom to help him manage his screen time." I took a deep breath. Working against my parental instinct to just shut his computer off and shoo him to bed, I asked him what he was watching. As it turns out, he was watching an educational history video that he was excited to share with me. We had a delightful interaction, and we even ended up deciding to try to make time for some shared educational video-watching. It's obvious that in our tech-saturated world, we need to have balance between our plugged-in and unplugged time. But what about that fuzzy middle space, the space where relationships can be and are built with technology as part of the process? Our dinner table is another example. I am protective of family meal time, and our starting-place policy is "No screens." But more often than not, dinner conversation turns to something that includes what one of us has seen, heard, or experienced via technology. Can we preach technology integration in the classroom and the workplace and our communities and not have space for (at least some) technology integration at home? If I want to hear what is happening in my children's lives, I have to meet them in their world, which includes technology, both by choice and of necessity. Truth be told, technology infuses all the facets of my life as well. So my question to the universe is this:

How can we engage both the binary balancing act of plug/unplug and that messy middle where technology is part of, not separated from, an earnest and deliberate focus on relationships? My experience as the Executive Director of EPIK would suggest that adults and children would probably each respond to this question a little differently. (Had it not been for my work at EPIK, I might have responded to the situation above differently!) At EPIK, we focus on facilitating collaboration between people from various sectors (education, business, government, non-profit). And, inspired by leaders in the field of collective impact as well as Devorah Heitner's work, we are also deliberate about seeking input from youth, and we are encouraging community leaders and parents to do the same.

As Devorah says, we need to do more mentoring and less monitoring. We need to get curious about what it means to be a child in the digital age, so we can be better able to parent, teach, help, and learn from -- and with -- the youth in our spheres of influence.

Michelle Linford and her husband, Matt, are the grateful parents of three delightful teenagers. She is passionate about the power of technology and the internet to do good. Michelle has a BS in Psychology and an MBA with an emphasis in Organizational Behavior and Change. She's been the Executive Director of EPIK Deliberate Digital since spring of 2014.

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