Parenting In The Digital Age

June 28, 2012


Parenting in the Digital Age

Technology has changed and advanced at a supersonic pace and this remarkable shift has presented a new landscape for socializing, working, parenting and relating. Check out this wikispace by Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod for more information about the speed and content of global shift in a digital age.

Where does this ever changing landscape leave parents who are guiding youth online? Some may feel good about the move to a more digital world. However, it may leave others feeling confused, overwhelmed or detached. These feelings of insecurity may cause some dissonance as parents assist their children to make choices that ensure internet safety, consider consequences of behavior online and help children think critically about media and digital decisions.

The bright side of technology

Children can utilize and mine the internet and online tools for valuable information, for connecting with friends and for developing communication skills in a modern world. When talking to your teen, it may be important to remember that in a large study (approximately 800 youth), the participants describe a generation gap in which they feel adults see online behavior as distracting and dangerous, whereas they see this time as useful. Youth feel participation in social networking provides literacy tools to succeed in a contemporary world (MacArthur Foundation Study).

Technology has advantages in learning settings as well. Although it is not always the appropriate tool, (an artist would best grasp the nuance of a color pallet by mixing actual paint); digital communication is being utilized in classrooms and new media allows for autonomy and exploration not found in the traditional classroom setting (e.g. Skyping a class from across the globe). The shift continues to progress with new technologies — it might be important to remember when talking to your child the value they may place on digital communication.

Cautionary points

There are some risks online that are important to discuss with your child, or better yet, your child may have some good ideas about how he or she navigates around these risks to maintain a positive reputation online.

Some of the risks include:

  • Cyber bullying — Any harassment online of a peer. This may start as a “joke” and become hurtful and harassing in ways adolescents have trouble managing and navigating. The publicity and potential permanence of these comments online can leave wounds that are not easy to erase.
  • Choosing to view inappropriate content or creating inappropriate content.
  • Over-sharing personal life events without realizing the publicity of the audience. Over-sharing may be linked to adolescents seeking validation online from others about private topics in a public forum.

Parenting considerations

An important reminder for parents of adolescents — feel empowered. You have been parenting your child for several years and talking through difficult decisions, identifying moments that define character and instilling values. Talking about behavior and identity online is no different than any other ongoing conversations you’ve had with your child over the years.

A tip to consider: Add the conversation of digital decision making and online behavior to your list of important conversations. Here are some ideas for topics of discussion (again, the more your child can lead this conversation with his or her own ideas about staying safe online, the more engaged your adolescent might be).

Topics for discussion

  • Media literacy — How do you interpret information online? Advertisements? Statements? Even photographs? This material has context online that may be different than in person. Having the understanding of the context of material shared online can be helpful to developing critical thinking skills online.
  • Level of oversight — Consider your child’s age, maturity level and decision making skills when determining the level of oversight you have of your child online. Communicate your “house rules” with your child.
  • Understanding privacy, permanence and publicity online.
  • Discussing internet safety.
  • Talking about the utility and value of new technologies.

Additional tips for parents

Limiting screen time — when do members of the family “unplug” for downtime? This is an opportunity for parents to model good behavior about limiting time on-screen.

Reputation management — What is your child’s “brand” online and how can he/she “self-edit” in such a way that his/her identity online is positive.

Finally, having ongoing conversations about digital reputation management, critical thinking and internet safety may decrease your parental worry and offer guidance to your child as he or she navigates this brave, new world.

A special thanks to Larry Kahn, The Technology Director at The Kinkaid School. These ideas and content cannot be separated from our collaborative work and idea sharing throughout the years. 

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