5 New Year’s Resolutions to Improve Parents’ & Kids’ Digital Literacy Skills

The New York Times recently published For the New Year, Let’s Resolve to Improve Our Tech Literacy, about the need for leaders, law enforcement officials and policy makers to increase their digital world literacy. The December 23, 2015 article, written by Farhad Manjoo, points out that many the big problems that occur in our world become even more complicated because the leaders and law enforcement personnel do not have a big-picture understanding of the vast changes technology brings to today’s world. Greater understanding might strengthen our leaders’ problem solving skills.

This article looks at the importance of digital literacy on a large-scale.

Tech Literacy

As I finished reading, I began thinking about resolutions on a smaller scale — those steps that adults and children can take in 2016 to improve a family’s tech literacy and perhaps prevent at least some of the potential connected-world problems. It’s a fast-paced, always-changing 21st Century world and everyone has a lot to learn. Many of the issues that do occur are made worse because kids and parents do not have enough knowledge to anticipate what might go wrong and take steps to steer clear of problems.

Below are five digital literacy resolutions that parents can make, and all of them can help people — both adults and children — become more sensible and savvy connected world citizens.                                                                 

  1. Stop encouraging kids to lie about their ages
    Driving with Phone

    How well do you model digital device life skills?

    The 13-and-over rules (see The Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act — COPPA for short) that accompany many apps are designed to protect kids and stop companies from collecting data on younger children. Lots of parents in the United States — according to digital life researcher, Danah Boyd, about 50% — disagree with the law (or haven’t the faintest idea what it is), believing instead that parents should make the decision about the apps their kids use. Trouble is, once many adults let the children sign up and lie about their age, many children  generalize that it’s OK to do this in lots of other connected world places.

  2. Take passwords seriously. Everyone — children and adults — needs to respect the power and the importance of passwords. Children, who often need help selecting good passwords, should regularly be reminded not to share them. The goals are to stop using the same passwords for multiple accounts and to understand more about privacy. In the process, adults might even learn not to leave a password on a post-it attached to a device.You can check out CNET’s Guide to Password Security. An in-depth article, The Secret Life of Passwords, appeared in the New York Times Magazine in November 2014.
  3. Know how the children in your family use their phones. If a child uses an app, then you need to know a lot about it, and especially how your child uses it with friends. Keep a dated inventory of the apps on each child’s digital device. Every few months parents and children can look over the apps together and make updates by adding new apps or deleting some.  For a broader description of phone/social media life check out the 2013 New York Times article, Cyberparenting and the Risk of TMI.  (FYI, TMI stands for too much information.)
  4. Say “No” when necessary. Young people push their parents to do things, often because of their fear of missing out (FOMO). Explore text lingo dictionaries here. Growing a child into a strong, sensible, and savvy digital world citizen is not contingent on any single decision about an app or online activity. Also, it’s a useful life experience to learn that missing out on something is not the end of the world.
  5. Be a model. Demonstrate the actions that you want your children to emulate. Children listen, but they watch a lot more, and they learn from all that watching. If you tell them to do things but don’t do them yourself, it’s unlikely they will learn as well. To borrow a phrase from Star Wars, when you model well “the force is with you.”

My  Good Reads page features a broad range of books to help adults learn more about the parenting challenges and opportunities in the digital world.

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