Updated: Jan 6
If the last decade taught digital parents anything at all, it was this: Change is Certain.
Many of the apps that had us shaking in our boots during the last decade (like Vine, YikYak, Meerkat, Tbh or “to be honest”) have come and gone. It remains to be seen if others born in the last ten years—Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok—will survive the decade. And who can forget that just a short year ago, Fortnite was all kids talked about. Today? Not so much.
The point is, as sure as the sun will rise, social media apps and platforms will appear and disappear. While it's certainly smart digital parenting to keep up to speed with the latest apps (see our updated App Guide), games, and trends, the only surefire way to prepare children for an uncertain digital future is to equip them with evergreen skills and knowledge. So make resolutions (together) that will work in 2020 and 2030, like these:
1. Post Wisely, Because The Internet Never Forgets.
By now every kid (and adult) should know that anything one posts online, stays online, and can be seen by anyone and everyone. Forever. Unfortunately, during the last decade many young people learned this lesson the hard way… like the ten prospective Harvard students who lost acceptance to the university for inappropriate posts in a “private” Facebook group chat, to the high school athlete who blew a chance to play Division I football because of a video he posted on YouTube, to the NASA intern who lost her job with one profane tweet. The Internet is a harsh mistress. It is literally strewn with cautionary tales about young people losing opportunities because of a moment of adolescent stupidity. Does this seem unfair? Sure. Should we cut young people a little slack? Probably. But until this happens, resolve to teach your kids think before they post.
2. Don't Allow Yourself to Be Duped.
From fake news, to fake “likes,” and fake followers, the Internet is littered with deception, misinformation and, sometimes even, outright lies. It's not looking any better as we head into 2020 either. Heck, even the behemoth Facebook is turning a blind eye to politicians running fake ads. If there was ever a time screaming for youth to be equipped with critical thinking skills, it is now. Sadly, too few schools teach media literacy—a skill that enables students to critically evaluate media—so this important task is falling largely to parents (check out our Cyber Civics curriculum on media literacy!). Teach your kids how to spot fake news (maybe our video below will help) and how to critically evaluate everything they encounter online. Even better, encourage them to flag and report any fake news or misinformation they encounter. Tell them that this helps other, less informed citizens, from falling for fake.
3. Online Fame Is Fleeting. Think Twice Before Chasing It.
When my daughter was little she wanted to be an astronaut, today a survey of 3,000 children conducted by Lego finds that a kid’s most coveted profession is “vlogger or YouTuber” (sadly, astronaut was the least popular choice). Some “kidfluencers,” as these young ones are called, earn as much as $22 million in one year —like seven year old Ryan of Ryan’s World. While attaining online fame and fortune might seem easy, for every Ryan, there are millions of kids who never attain any online fame at all. So ask yourself, and your kids, if all that time spent preening in front a screen is really worth it. What’s more, the Internet can be an unforgiving forum, full on online trolls who won't hesitate aiming their cruelty at kids. Ask yourself, and your kids, if they are really ready for all this “job” entails.
4. Privacy, Privacy, Privacy. Don’t Ever Take It For Granted.
Cambridge Analytica, the DNC security breach, the Target hack, and many other high profile privacy fiascos of the last decade gave most adults a much-needed wakeup call in regards to the importance of protecting their personal information. But just think about all of the data-gathering gadgets used by kids (in school and out!). They too must know how, and why, to protect their personal information. No kid should be targeted with ads, or worse, fed a stream of information customized to their limited preferences. Teach them that nothing online is truly “free.” The cost of almost everything online is personal information. Counsel them to share it judiciously.
5. Stop Freaking Out About "Screen Time."
Hands down, the single thing that digital parents freaked out about most about during the last decade was screen time. It’s no coincidence that Apple and others invented apps just for this worry! But keep in mind you are reading this on a screen, which is the entire point. While it’s okay to freak out about little ones spending too much time on screens (you have our full permission), as they get older screens will become an inevitable, and unavoidable, part of their lives. So here’s what to worry about this decade instead: What kids are doing online. Sadly, despite the affordances devices provide to make stuff—write, make movies, create art, etc., —a recent study by Common Sense Media revealed that “the vast majority of young people don’t enjoy doing the types of activities that involve interacting with their devices to create their own content.” That’s a crying shame. So take an interest in what your kids are doing online, be sure they are using their time wisely, and maybe even productively and creatively.
And, oh, have Happy New Year!
Diana Graber is the author of "Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology" (HarperCollins Leadership '19), the co-founder of Cyberwise, and founder of Cyber Civics.