It's 2019! Hurrah, there's a whole new year of digital parenting ahead. Out with the old and in with the new!
In other words, if last year found you complaining that your kids spent more time playing Fortnite than building actual forts, or that they communicated with emoji’s more than words, then it’s time for you to grab the digital bull by the horns. Make this the year you help your children build a healthy relationship with technology and reconnect with you.
Start by resolving to do these three things:
1. Never Ever Say, "I'm Not Very Techy" Again.
Technology is ubiquitous, so saying you’re "not very techy" is analogous to claiming you don't breath air. Chances are you’ve "Googled," asked Siri for directions, tapped out a text message, or answered a ringing cellphone. Heck, you’ve probably even “liked” a cat video or two on Facebook. So face it, by simply living in a technology-enhanced world, you’re “techy” whether you realize it or not. Claiming you “don’t know a thing” about technology is not a valid excuse for excusing yourself from at least attempting to help your children navigate new technological terrain.
2. Embrace This Fact: The Most Important Digital Skills are Social Skills.
Learning how to swipe, download an app, send a group text, or even give Snapchat a fake birthdate is easy. Most kids can do any of the above without your help at all. What they need help with is knowing how to use technology safely and wisely. For example, recognizing when someone needs a kind word online, knowing what photos are appropriate to post to Instagram, or understanding that midnight is simply too late to be sending text messages to friends--these are the things kids need help with. Online decisions require offline skills, like empathy, good judgment, compassion, and respect. Your lived experience on this earth make you the perfect person to teach these “digital” life skills to your kids. They will rely on these human capacities to make good decisions when they do join online communities that are devoid of rules and role models.
3. Speaking of Role Models, Be a Super-Duper One.
Believe it or not, research shows that children learn digital skills at home, mostly through observation and mirroring their parents. So if you’re that parent who’s checking text messages at the dinner table or sending emails during your kids’ soccer games, then please don’t be surprised when your children use their devices at times you wish they wouldn’t. Remember, the old adage “do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t apply well to technology. Today’s devices are just too powerfully alluring. Social media “likes,” the ding of a text message, and endless social media notifications activate the reward center of the brain, providing it with the same shot of dopamine it gets from food, exercise, and sex. This makes it really, really hard for kids to resist their devices. Model this life skill for them. Whenever the urge strikes to grab your phone at a time you should be connecting with others in real life, stop yourself! Remember, there just might be a young person watching who will learn his or her online behavior by observing yours.
Instead of focusing on what you don’t know about Snapchat, Instagram, Fortnite, TikTok, and more, remember you can always use tech to learn about tech. Simply do some online research about new social media apps, online games, or to find out what’s popular on YouTube. If this sounds too daunting, make it easy on yourself and ask your children to tell you about their digital world. Chances are they’ll be surprised, and pleased, to enlighten you.
Make this the year you resolve to become an A+ digital parent. Because when we master technology, it will it stop mastering us.
By: Diana Graber. Author of “Raising Humans in a Digital World: "Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationships with Technology” (HarperCollins Leadership/Jan. ’19). Co-founder of Cyberwise.org and founder of CyberCivics.com.