Now that back-to-school nights are about over, schools will be scheduling parent potlucks, curriculum nights, and educational seminars throughout the academic year. These activities offer lots of opportunity for educational communities to start conversations about the challenges — for parents and kids — of growing up in the connected world.
At all of these events administrators, teachers, and parents should plan to incorporate a few introductory comments that encourage parents to think about helping their digital children become stronger learners, savvier digital citizens, better consumers of content on their digital devices, and overall, more knowledgeable citizens.
Below are a few questions that can be shared at school events and classroom presentations, questions that encourage parents to talk about managing life with 21st Century digital kids. While there are no right answers to these questions, the conversations provide adults an opportunity to talk about what works — and what does not — in the context of young people’s school and social lives.
Do our conversation skills weaken as we continually connect — virtually and physically — with our digital devices? How does this always-connected environment affect our children and youth? Are conversational and empathy skills developing as they should?
Sherry Turkle describes these problems in Reclaiming Conversation, a book that relates how the individuals in many of her interviews note — uncomfortably so — that they are less and less able to carry on a conversation confidently. More worrisome, children, in general, appear to be less able to converse, put themselves in another individual’s shoes, and empathize with that person. Turkle backs up her assertions with evidence.
If you have ever written a comment at the end of an article or blog posting, you have surely read more than a few inappropriate and sometimes distasteful remarks. Sometimes people leave these comments anonymously. Posted by folks who do not understand why websites invite visitors to share thoughts and ideas, many unfiltered remarks are permanently attached to websites — indiscretions waiting for the whole world to discover.
Helping your child avoid public website blunders is one reason to discuss commenting etiquette. Often children don’t know or forget that their comments leave a digital footprint trail that will last much longer than their per-adolescent and even teenage years. Often confusion arises because many children first encounter commenting opportunities in places where adult supervision is scarce. As a result an impulsive idea can beat out good common sense even when a child knows better. Bottom line — response and commenting areas are not places to leave nasty, rude, and hateful conversation.
At one time or another, most of us experience the protective parent surge, a not-my-child reaction, when someone lets us know that a son or daughter could be involved in some sort of digital misbehavior. Often a child’s digital blunder is public for many people, but not public enough for a parent to casually discover the problem, so the first alert may indeed come from another parent.
Especially if this information comes from someone who is not well-known, the protective parent energy surge can complicate an issue even further. I know because I’ve felt this powerful surge.