I recently read Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World by Devorah Heitner, PhD and found it resonating with my approach to digital parenting. In a world where a lot of advice and media around raising digital kids, can be negative, driven by fear and confusing, Screenwise presents a refreshing and rather positive approach.
In this post, I will share some of my highlights from the book. I can highly recommend it to parents tasked with raising kids in a fast-paced, digital world. It is the type of book you could listen to with your kids (it's available as an audio book) and create space for discussion and debate in the family.
Raising kids in a digital age can be a bit daunting, especially if you have not quite figured it out for yourself. The tech age is constantly changing with new apps, games and devices vying for our attention. Digital media is pervasive and from a very young age kids have access to so much information.
Am I the only parent that says "Ask Google" when my kids ask me yet another "why" question?
Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World covers a broad range of topics to help kids become good digital citizens from how to navigate family life in the digital age, school life and friendships and dating, to helping parents become "tech-positive", and thinking about their kids growing up in the public online world.
Dr Heitner presents an accessible, down to earth approach to digital parenting with lots of practical tips and advice you can implement in your family immediately.
Start Good Digital Habits Young
Kids should be taught good digital practices from the moment they start using tech. Tech is part of the mix in family life and we need to have a positive approach that will set our kids up for success in their digital futures.
Parents today are learning how to raise digital natives on the job. Screenwise helped me think about my family's digital literacy and balance.
The book prompted me to think about my relationships through a digital device. Is it OK to check your Facebook whilst your kids are playing at the park? Does my kids just see the top of my head when talking to me, or do I stop and look them in the eyes? How do I communicate with my friends and do I share what works and doesn't work with my kids?
Thinking about my kids digital footprint, was topic from Screenwise, I actually felt quite proud of handling well in our family. Dr Heitner points out that our kids' generation is the first generation growing up with an enormous amount of baby and toddlers photos of them shared online. My kids are now at an age, where I can ask them if I can share a photo of them online. My experience has been varied from my teen that doesn't like anything shared, (to the point that our family abroad wonders if he actually went along on the family holiday), to my socialite 8 year old that asks me to post a picture of him doing something funny on Facebook!
Share Experiences with Kids and other Parents
I've always learnt a lot from talking to other parents about their experiences in parenting their kids. Dr Heitner from Screenwise, encourages parents to share experiences and learn from other parents. Our kids learn by watching us, but they also take in experiences from their friends and their families. Do you know what other families "tech rules" are? Can you help each other to find the best solution, especially when it's your kid's friends or peers?
Good Digital Parents.
I love how the book states we don't need to know everything about technology to be good digital parents. There is a misconception that our kids know more than us, as they are far more tech savvy. However, parents have life skills and experience on their side. The wisdom gained from years of living, can be very valuable to a child struggling with a digital relationship that's not working out.
Helping our kids navigate the digital age means we need to keep those communication lines open.
Mentoring over Monitoring
I have always used the approach of mentoring over monitoring. Since my teen started using a computer, which was when he was about 3 years old, I have never used a monitoring system or app. It's really worked for us to rather guide our kids as they use tech and keep talking about their experiences. At the end of the day, I would rather have my kids have the right skills to make wise decisions than be over protected and not know what to do in a sticky situation.
I totally agree with Screenwise - there isn't an app for good digital parenting. Mentoring is an ongoing conservation that keeps changing as your kids grow up. The conversation will also change as new technologies are developed and new apps and games become popular. Digital parenting is hard work and requires time.
Talk about being Screenwise
The video below by Dr Devorah Heitner is a great presentation to share with your family. At various points during the video you can pause it and spend some time chatting about specific points.
As it's quite a long video, I've included the questions and time stamps during the video here:
- 1:47 Parent Questions: How did you interact with technology when you were a child? What were your favourite video games when you were a kid? Why did you like this/these games?
- 7:00 Child Questions: Have you ever felt the pressure of connectivity stress? What does connectivity stress feel like?
- 14:15 Parent/Child Questions: What app are you using most frequently? What are your favourite apps and why?
- 17:30 Parent/Child Questions: What digital mistakes have you made? What did you do to "make it right" when you've made a digital mistake?
- 20:07 Parent/Child Questions: What rules do you have in your family about technology use? What are some new technology rules from which your family could benefit?
- 30:06 Child Questions: Do you distracted when doing homework? How much time are you spending ding homework?
- 38:21 Parent/Child Task: Have your child take you on a guided tour of his / her phone. Take a look at your child's posts, friends and friends' posts.
Tech Age Kids Verdict
I wish I had read Screenwise, before raising my now 17 year old, but we've learnt a lot through trial and error. Thankfully my teen is rather sensible and knowledgeable on all things digital, and we spent a lot of time talking about things. Open communication has been a valuable tool in my digital parenting toolbox.
Screenwise has a great approach to digital parenting and one we advocate here at Tech Age Kids. We found kids actually enjoy it when their parents ask questions about what they are doing on the computer. There really isn't an app for successful digital parenting.
Screenwise provides a framework to learn how to mentor digital natives and create an environment where technology is not the enemy in family life.