How Screenwise Are You?

A post from Devorah Heitner, author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World.
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I wrote Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World to help parents understand what’s at stake…and empower them to mentor their kids in this new terrain. This book is all about making your family the source of tech literacy. That doesn’t mean that you have to be a tech whiz, with full command of all devices and apps. It does mean that you will be empowered as a mentor. You will understand the potential of new technologies—and the hazards. You will understand and empathize with the social and emotional experiences of growing up in connected. You’ll be able to have honest conversations with other parents about these issues, which will help your own family and which other parents will be grateful for.

As families, we need to think about what we are sharing—not just with one another, but about one another, too. For many of us, the family album has migrated to social media, and we rarely even print pictures or share them in any another way. How many picture of our kids should we post? Have we ever asked our kids how they feel about what we share about them? It is time to get curious about this. Some parents are constantly sharing pictures and stories of their kids. We should consider the audience—or really, the multiple audiences, in today’s world. We should ask our kids’ permission (seriously!).

To live a balanced life in the digital age, we sometimes need to wrest family life out of the greedy clutches of distraction. In my family, I am the most distracted person (and many parents find that is true of them). I am the founder and director of Raising Digital Natives, a resource for parents and schools. Posting to social media, responding to email, writing articles to share on my blog, and the other day to day work could easily be a 24–7 job. Whether you are running your own company, like me, or are working in a larger organization, boundaries between home life and work life have never been more challenging to maintain. As parents, we are more accessible to colleagues and clients than our parents were, even when we are with our kids. Our work has access to us anywhere. The urge to check our work e-mail early in the morning or late at night can disrupt work–life balance and family life. And you have to admit, e-mail and Twitter can feel clean and contained, compared with power struggles over snacking and homework, the dishes in the sink, and the other realities of family life.

  • Relationships. As interpersonal relationships are conducted more and more in the digital world, is your digital native adept or clueless or somewhere in between? Skill in conducting relationships via digital interaction needs to be layered over a foundation of values—values you can model and teach.
  • Reputation. With every post, every tweet, and every share, your digital native is creating a persona, even as she is experimenting with her identity. It’s a virtual high-wire act. She’s bound to have some missteps, and she can survive them, but they can be difficult and exhausting to repair.
  • Time Management. The digital world is limitless. Making the right choices about how and where to spend time is harder than ever. Without mentorship and guidance, rabbit-hole distractions could claim large chunks of precious childhood.

The landscape is different now, and the rules are changing rapidly. Our kids need help, even if they think they don’t. Even if you think they don’t. It’s up to us as parents (and teachers) to ensure that we are helping our kids develop the skills they need to be “screenwise.”

Getting Screenwise is an immediate priority. If they this discernment now, they will struggle in today’s—and tomorrow’s—world.

Screen wisdom is not operational or functional. It is not about how to keyboard or how to code. Anyone can learn the technical aspects of using apps and devices, with enough practice.

True screen wisdom is about relationships. It’s about the kinds of connections we can have with one another. It’s about trust. And balance.

The nuances matter. These skills are complex and kids who get mentorship from their parents get into less trouble in their digital world. Screenwise will help you find ways to talk to your children, to be their mentor and support when navigating the challenges of connected life, and to build bridges with other parents. And it may help you check in with yourself about your own relationship with technology—and to remember that you are the most important screenwise model for your kids.

Devorah Heitner is the founder of Raising Digital Natives, a resource for families and schools cultivating a culture of digital citizenship and the author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World.

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