If you, like me, are the proud owner of a teenager, then I’m sure you, like me, feel flummoxed a great deal of the time.
My kid is 16 (I don’t know how that happened), and we are now having a lot of conversations about what he wants to do when he graduates from high school in a year. I mean, YIKES!
With this comes a lot of other concerns about his life skills, ability to be independent, and his social life. It feels like a lot of responsibility, both for him and for me.
I realize I’m not the first person to go through this, and I most certainly won’t be the last. But as a parent in today’s world, we are dealing with new things that no generation has had to deal with before, and that is technology.
Kids in today’s world are growing up on devices. They have phones, computers, tablets… and not just for school. Their phones keep them connected to family and friends, both real and virtual. And yes, virtual friends is now a thing!
In some ways, I feel like kids in today’s world have more pressure than ever on them. It’s somewhat expected that they will have social media accounts and post on them. I think the pressure is maybe worse for girls than it is for boys, but I’m sure there’s a lot of pressure on boys as well. But add to that the fact that what they post can have a detrimental effect on their life goals if they post the wrong thing, and it starts to get complex real quick.
I recently read with horror an article about how “Intstagram Perfect Face” is leading to a spike in plastic surgery amongst young women, and then later that same week, Instagram released a tool for teenagers around best practices and safety.
Angela Crocker is a mom and the author of Digital Life Skills for Youth, which was released late last year by Self Counsel Press. The book is written as a guide for parents, teachers and youth workers, with the goal to help us to navigate this tricky stretch in our kid’s lives.
When Michael was younger, I read a lot about screen time. I always questioned if the articles I was reading were real, or generational bias. The reality of raising kids in today’s world is that having digital skills is going to help them to be successful. We had to learn typing in high school (a particular form of torture for me, though I can type like nobody’s business now). Kids don’t need to learn typing in today’s world, because typing comes more naturally to them then cursive writing (which now most schools don’t teach because why?).
What kids need to learn in today’s world, Crocker posits, is to become good digital citizens. That means teaching them how to be online safely, and to learn good study skills and also how to be good people online. We read so much these days about cyberbullying–and here in BC we have some very real examples of kids that were literally cyberbullied to death. It’s a sobering thought, and one that, I’m imagining, most parents don’t want to even think about.
As parents, we have a difficult job. We need to raise our kids to be independent, which means giving them the space to make their own mistakes. And that’s fine. But in today’s world, a mistake online can cost someone their career, or worse.
One of the things I found most useful about this book was a master list of digital life skills that Crocker has compiled. It has the more obvious things on it, like safety, study skills, screen time and making sure that your kids are getting exercise and eating properly (I don’t want my kid to grow up to be one of those guys that spends his days playing video games and eating pizza all day), but also maybe things you hadn’t really thought about, like phone etiquette, teaching them how to spot fake news, or (god forbid) sexting.
Teaching our kids to be good digital citizens includes:
Citing sources: one thing I struggle with a lot as a teacher, is I have students showing up in my class that don’t understand that copy/pasting from wikipedia is plagiarism. I know I’m not alone; this is a big issue in many schools today. The internet is the best research tool ever invented, but we have to teach our kids how to use it correctly.
Managing your digital footprint: posting the wrong thing online can have a deep impact on your life down the road. It’s important kids understand that things on the internet live forever, even if you delete them. You don’t want to post anything that might have an effect on your future goals.
Modelling behaviour: one of the most important things we can do for our kids is model good digital behaviour. That means putting our phones away during dinner, not texting while driving, being kind to others online. You might think your kids are more deeply affected by the influencers they are following, but you as a parent are the OG influencer.
Fake news and bias: one thing Michael and I talk a lot about (the joys of having a marketing professor for a mom!) is how marketing is created to make us want to buy things. We talk about how sex sells and many products are marketed that way, but it doesn’t make it true or right. It’s important to teach your kids about bias and to check their sources before they believe what they read online.
At the end of the day, my child will most definitely choose technology as his career. We’re not exactly sure what that looks like yet, but his digital skills are how he’s eventually going to make a living. And that’s invaluable.
If you have a teen or a pre-teen, I heartily encourage you to get this book and to read it thoroughly. It will help you to have the kinds of conversations we should all be having with our kids. Not in a scary way, but in a mindful, thoughtful way, to help us all create the next generation of good, happy, successful digital citizens.