Recently, while on vacation, I found myself talking to parents of middle school children at the local swimming area. As often happens, we spoke about children, jobs, and the wonders of vacation. When they inquired about what I do, I mentioned that I concentrate on educational technology and teach in a K-12 school.
Almost as soon as the people heard about my work, they began talking about technology and media — their lack of skill and understanding, their children’s immense comfort and skill, and how their kids can solve almost every computer problem in the house. A few minutes later I listened to their concerns about social networking, YouTube, Facebook, and how much time their children spend on the computer at home and on their smart phones just about anywhere.
I asked who sets up the computer in the house? One of the children, most answered. I asked who does the system upgrading? The children. I asked whether either parent had a Facebook or Twitter account? No, some of them said. Not enough time –too busy.
Why is it that people who are amazing, competent, and highly successful and who excel at parental limits-setting, seem baffled about limits around the technology in the house? Why is it that people who carefully supervise the lives of their children to ensure safety, allow their children to spend hours on a computer or a smart phone with no supervision? The answer, of course, is that the parents adopted technology in the middle of their lives, and while they use it at home and at work, most are not consumed by the virtual world. In fact, most of us are somewhat in awe of children born into the digital era who are, as technology guru Marc Prensky calls them, digital natives.
As I mull over this interaction, and the hundreds of similar conversations that have preceded it, I wonder, once again, if there is any other aspect of child rearing where we unintentionally let children know that adults do not know enough to be in charge? I don’t think so. Even in the most unfamiliar territory, parents form judgements, make best guesses, and when necessary, assert their authority. Technology, somehow, makes them feel differently.
Frequently I share five observations with parents:
- Set limits and expectations on technology tool use in the household.
- Find time on a regular basis to learn more about technology, just like you do to learn about other parenting issues, so that you can affect technology decisions in your household.
- Take charge of home networks and other technology tools, including computers and mobile phones, or find another adult to do so.
- Make privacy a discussion topic at dinner and as often as possible.
- Schedule and enforce technology-free times for children and adults in your family.
To learn more about the world where children live take a look at the following well-researched resources:
- Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives, a book published by the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society, that “…explores a broad range of issues, from the highly philosophical to the purely practical: What does identity mean for young people who have dozens of online profiles and avatars? Should we worry about privacy issues – or is privacy even a relevant concern for Digital Natives? How does the concept of safety translate into an increasingly virtual world?”
- Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8 – 18 Year Olds, a report of the Kaiser Family Foundation, that offers “… a reliable foundation for policymakers trying to craft national media policies, parents trying to do their best to stay on top of their children’s media habits, and educators, advocates and public health groups that are concerned with the impact of media on youth, and want to leverage the educational and informational potential of media in young people’s lives.”
- Social Media and Young Adults, a report of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, that “…brings together recent findings about internet and social media use among young adults by situating it within comparable data for adolescents and adults older than 30.”