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Kids are Growing Up in Public and Parents are Worried

Unless you were a child celebrity, your kid probably has far less privacy than you did. From first time your child plays a game on a public server, to their first email account, first phone, first social media account, to taking over managing their own medical and academic records at 18, growing up is now full of digital milestones that parents are often surprised by and ill-equipped to mentor their children through.  I call this the digital coming of age. The recent documentary, The Social Dilemma, stoked parents’ worries about this digital coming of age.

Parents ask me questions about privacy settings, monitoring apps, and tracking their kids. Parents want the lowdown on the impact of their teenager’s digital profile on their college admissions prospects. They worry their kid’s friends will take a picture or video of them doing something stupid and share it widely, shaming their child and foreclosing future opportunities.  I  am writing a new book, GROWING UP IN PUBLIC, to help parents navigate this terrain.  I am deep into my research and writing and would love to hear about your experiences.

Want to Help?

If you have kids between 5 and 24 and want to share stories that might be used (anonymously and with identifying details changed) please take my survey or reach out directly.
Growing up in Public Parent Survey

Ready to read about this ASAP?
Here are a few articles I’ve  written about growing up in public:

It’s not just about admissions: Teaching Kids to Live Well Even When No One is Watching Washington Post

Rules for Social Media Created by Kids New York Times

Your Kid Wants to Start a YouTube Channel: Some Advice
Washington Post

Screentime Battles: When Kids Refuse to Unplug

Many parents who come to my events are excited about my becoming a tech-positive parent...up to a point. But they are also sick of battling with their kids. Some of them harbor an idealized version of the past, which can lead to a negative impression of technology. Here are some "next steps" to help.

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Digital Citizenship, Digital Citizenship for Kids, Teaching Digital Citizenship, Mentorship, kids and technology

Digital Citizenship for Kids Starts with Mentorship

Like it or not, your kids’ world is a Digital World. But just because they can operate the devices doesn’t mean that they are prepared for success. Let’s remove some of the misconceptions about kids and technology, and make a commitment to mentorship around the issues of digital citizenship.

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Mentorship, Digital Citizenship, Digital Citizenship for Kids, Teaching Digital Citizenship, kids and technology, mentoring, mentors

The Mentorship Manifesto

The Mentorship Manifesto is a declaration of our responsibility to teaching digital citizenship to our kids. As parents, teachers, school leaders, or administrators, mentorship is the single most important commitment we can make to our kids.

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conflict resolution, mentorship, digital devices, texting, text messaging, social media, kids and technology, kids and social media, tweens and technology, tweens and social media, bullying, social media conflicts, social media conflict resolution

Conflict Resolution for Digital Natives

Kids deal with small conflicts every day - it’s part of growing up. But for today’s “always-on” digital natives, there are additional layers of complexity. Constant connectivity complicates their social sphere. Here’s how you can be a good mentor and teach conflict resolution to your own digital natives.

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How Teens and Tweens are Using Social Media: It May Surprise You

Social media comes in a variety of forms, but the goal is the largely the same for kids. It serves as a “third space” for teens and tweens—an additional place outside of home and school. It’s a place where young people can “hang out,” even when they are not with their friends.

Most grownups think of social media as Facebook and Twitter. While those are the most popular ones worldwide, they may not be the ones that your kids favor. For instance, Facebook has fallen out of favor with many (though not all) younger kids because to them, it’s “for old people.” Think back to when you were a kid. You didn’t want to hang out where your parents hung out—it wasn’t cool.

There are literally hundreds of different social media platforms, and the goal is usually one of three things: To chat, share, or play. Some platforms do more than one thing. Here are some of the most popular examples:

  1. Chat/Messaging: Snapchat, Whatsapp, Kik
  2. Share pictures/videos: Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube
  3. Play: Minecraft, Fortnite, Roblox

How can you keep up with all of them? Well, you don’t really have to—you just need to know which apps/site(s) your child is using. Then you can learn a little bit about the platform, how your child is using it, and with whom they are connecting.

In my experience working with parents, this is a big worry for them. They fear that kids will be talking to strangers, making themselves vulnerable to predators. The reality is that while kids may use services such as Whisper to talk to strangers, most kids interested in interacting with peers they already know. To them, social media feels like a peer space. They don’t want to be talking to adults—they want to extend and enhance the time they spend with the friends they already have.

Even though they are communicating mostly with their peers, kids can sometimes lack a full understanding of the scope of their social sphere. They sometimes share things intended for a few of their friends and forget that their parents (or even a wider peer group) might see what they’ve shared. It helps to gently remind them from time to time—that you saw one of their posts, for instance. You might use it to open a discussion about who else might have seen a text message. Or what has happened to you when you’ve sent a text to someone in error. This is not to scare them, but to just be a little more aware of the effects of unintended communication.

Young teens’ and tweens’ identities are in flux, so they are especially attracted to the social media photo communication applications like Snapchat. They get the chance to test out personae. The backside of this is that sharing photos can lead to surface judgments and virtual beauty contests. It  also can be stressful and time consuming keeping up ongoing Snapchat Streaks. It’s important to teach young people how to manage these challenges.

Despite all of these challenges, social media can be important to the development of your kids’ social skills. Learning social norms and appropriate behavior is difficult for kids—even in the real world. The help you offer to them is no different, despite the medium. Here are some of suggestions for Helping Kids Manage the New Rules of Digital Etiquette.

If you are a regular reader, you know that I favor mentorship over monitoring—and using empathy as the keystone of your strategy. Here are some other resources to help you with each:

In addition to needing peer hangout time,  kids do crave spaces  to think about the role of social media in their lives. I just published a new curriculum, co-authored with Karen Jacobson, full of challenging and fun activities to help kids think about and manage the new and ever-changing challenges of the digital world. While it’s pitched towards teachers and group leaders, parents could get a lot out of it too. It’s called Connecting Wisely in the Digital Age: Social Emotional Exercises For Plugged in Kids. (You can buy the curriculum here.I’ve been leading workshops with these exercises at schools around the country. Students have responded very enthusiastically!

Young people really crave opportunities to discuss these issues…Let them lead, but ask them about the latest app, or something they’ve seen their peers do in social media, and give them a chance to reflect. You’ll both learn so much!

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Internet Safety, Teens and smartphones

Should I Spy on My Kid Online (on TV!)

I had so much fun on Milwaukee’s The Morning Blend (NBC Milwaukee). The wonderful host, Molly Fay has three kids, and she, along with her viewers, wanted to know how much parents should monitor their kids posts, texts and shared images. As I’ve mentioned before, I am a big believer in mentoring over monitoring. And if you do spy, (or check on phones, history, etc.) letting your kids know what you are looking for is a better way to get the results you want.

As I say on the show – you want to help your kids do the right thing, not catch them being bad! The best way to accomplish this is not by putting an app on their phone–but with ongoing dialogue and support. Here’s the segment: