What a great book! Discovered at random at the local library, I’m so glad I picked it up. Heitner’s goal is the clear subtitle of the book: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World.
Anyone currently raising children are raising digital natives – people growing up in the digital world, connected by technology and unaware that there was any other way. In contrast, we, their parents, are digital migrants – we can clearly recall a childhood without social media, email, a mobile phone or even a computer. I recall welcoming our first computer into our home (I would have been about 10). It was a very early Apple and all four of us sat around it playing family games, with no images at all, just descriptive text. No wonder many parents feel like they are playing catch up today!
Heitner encourages all parents to be mentors to their children. She reminds us that while our children may have tech savvy, we have wisdom. We should not mistake digital proficiency with good digital citizenship (p2). True screen wisdom is about relationships (p4).
She encourages parents not to be threatened by the digital issues around us, but to be digitally literate ourselves and to be tech-positive, seeing the benefits of what’s available. She encourages parents to get involved with the tech our children use, helping them to ask questions of it. As a result, we had a very interesting dinner conversation about the good and potentially unhelpful things about Minecraft. I was also able to have a similar conversation with a goddaughter about her social network apps.
One of her strongest encouragements is to use mentoring over monitoring. Don’t rely on websites, blocking devices and apps to control your children, rather teach them good digital citizenship. Show them how to write emails. Illustrate unhelpful use of texting. Show them how tone can be read wrongly from text. Ask permission before posting any photos of them. Get them to explain why they like an app. Encourage them to consider what about an app might be unhelpful. Ask them what worries them about tech use. See if they think what their friends do online is worrying or helpful, and why.
Going through various topic areas in detail, she covers how this digital age affects family life, friendship and dating, school life, and the issue none of us ever had to deal with (unless our parents were famous) – growing up in public. These are peppered with sage advice and helpful comments, almost all common sense, but sometimes in the midst of it all we can forget! Things like – when in doubt take it offline (in relating to people), how conflict can be a spectator sport online, that distraction is a major issue now in education (something we are becoming increasingly aware of in this house), and that we must be trying to ensure any content we produce online is positive, constructive and sensitive. As a real challenge – she suggests we ask our children which of our own tech habits are their least favourites.
This is highly recommended reading for all parents of digital natives. To get you more interested, you might like to start with her website - http://www.raisingdigitalnatives.com