Their world is different from yours. You can feel it, can’t you? You don’t understand the captivating allure of their digital devices. You feel that they are addicted, detached, or distracted. You can’t see what they are doing “on there.” You get suspicious.
Sometimes you feel like you understand it though, right? After all, you experience the burden of the new “constant connectivity,” just like anyone else. The never-ending alerts, the new social obligations.
It’s just the tip of the iceberg for today’s Digital Natives. Yes, social pressures are amplified. Yes, digital misunderstandings are rampant. Yes, your kids feel “left out” sometimes. But it goes deeper than that. Deeper than their experiences today. You want to consider how to set your kids up for a lifetime of success in a world where they are likely to meet their spouse, find a job, etc. Like it or not, their world is a Digital World.
Starting Point: Removing Misconceptions
The First Misconception is that kids think that because they are tech-fluent, they know everything they need to know. Digital citizenship is not about operating the devices. It’s about conducting yourself with empathy and developing meaningful relationships. With your family, with a future spouse, with a future employer.
The Second Misconception is that parents mistake digital proficiency for digital citizenship. Because kids seem “up” on the new technologies and platforms, you consider them fluent. This is dangerous thinking. They need your guidance more than your blind faith.
Why are these misconceptions so important? What’s at stake?
- Relationships. As interpersonal relationships are conducted more and more in the digital world, is your Digital Native adept or disadvantaged? These are skills that need to be layered over a foundation of the values you instill in them.
- Reputation. With every post, every tweet, every share, your Digital Native is creating a persona – while they are experimenting with new identities. It’s a virtual high-wire act. One simple misstep can take years to repair.
- Opportunity. The digital world is limitless. Making the right choices about how and where to spend your 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 thrive in their Digital World.
The good news? It’s a skill set. And like any skill, it can be learned.
The New Digital Citizenship
Our kids’ future success will depend on true digital fluency. Their ability to relate to other people and to succeed in their relationships is completely dependent on developing a strong Digital Skill Set:
- This Digital Skill Set is an immediate priority. If they don’t start to develop it now, they won’t succeed in today’s – or tomorrow’s – world.
- This Digital Skill Set is not operational or functional. It is not about how to keyboard or how to code. Anyone can learn that part of it, with enough practice.
- This Digital Skill Set is about relationships. It’s about what kind of connections we can really have with one another. It’s about trust.
The nuances matter.
The medium matters, and it’s changing all the time. It will continue to evolve. Quickly. How can you keep up? How can you be a good mentor when you feel overwhelmed yourself?
The Solution: Educate Yourself About Kids and Tech
- Your ability to parent, lead, or teach is affected by your own relationship with technology.
- Your relationship with technology is a model for your kids. Learning about their world is a requirement.
- You have the capability to relate well to other people. You have the capacity to teach it to others.
- You can’t disconnect and say, “I just don’t get this.” Your kids are relying on you to be their guides into this new world.
As parents and mentors, we need to understand and prepare for these new milestones (first email account, first phone, etc.) and prepare our kids.
Conditions are favorable:
- Good news. Kids actually want mentorship. They want and need mentorship on relating in the digital age.
- Good news. It’s a skill set – it can be learned.
- Good news. Kids may be tech-savvy, but you have wisdom. You hold the most powerful piece of the puzzle.
Results are positive:
- Parents find that they get closer to their kids and reduce stress in their lives.
- Kids elevate their social skills and feel more in control.
- Parents feel more “in the know” and not “out of the loop.”
- Kids get better at managing repair.
- Parents find that trust increases between them and their kids.
- Kids feel like their parents are listening to their concerns.
Let’s take the pressure off, though. You don’t have to know everything. And you don’t have to learn it all at once. But you do need to be in the conversation. If you’re not a part of their world, you can’t influence their world. The key that unlocks it? Trust.
Developing trust starts with Empathy.
- You have to make the first move. Empathy is the first step towards trust.
- It requires patience and persistence. Just like anything else in parenting!
- It requires balance. The kids are alright! Not everything is cause for concern.
Empathy is the fuel of Mentorship.
- Monitoring in the Digital Age is an illusion of control.
- In the digital age, we need to be Mentors, not Monitors.
Mentorship is the single most important commitment we can make to our kids. It doesn’t matter whether we are parents, teachers, school leaders, or administrators. If we interact with kids regularly, we are part of a community where mentorship is our responsibility.
Raising Digital Natives: It’s Up to Us
We need to solve these problems together, or we run the risk of a new generation that doesn’t take full advantage of the possibilities before us. Burying our heads in the sand or trying to limit our kids’ “screentime” is not going to take us to the next level.
Let’s make a commitment today – to our kids and to one another.
Let’s stand up. Let’s be mentors. It’s up to us.