"Just because they're digital natives, doesn't mean they're born digitally literate."Dr Devorah Heitner, Screenwise
Raising children in this internet and digital-tech saturated society can be bloody scary.
And this is where a good book on all things kids and technology comes in handy.
Tech reliance and compulsion (or at worst, addiction) is rife among adults - let alone children - and WE supposedly have the maturity and emotional intelligence to self-moderate.
What then for our children, for the next generation?
What chance do they realistically have at sensibly navigating the proliferation of technology and the never-ending connectivity and accessibility it grants?
And how do we help them along the way?
If you've got primary school-aged children (or beyond), this book is an essential read.
"Lecturing them about technology won't work. Exploring the digital world together will help show them potential pitfalls - and, even more importantly, will create a two-way discussion. Your kids will feel like they're in it WITH you - that you are on their side."Dr Devorah Heitner, Screenwise
Kids & Technology = Doom & Gloom?
You can tell from my somewhat ominous tone, I'm one of those millennial parents who's (inadvertently) absorbed the hype/the research/the gossip/the perhaps real or perhaps imagined catch-all concept that 'tech is bad.'
Consequently, Screenwise - Helping Kids Thrive (& Survive) in Their Digital World appealed to me. I didn't even bother to read the blurb.
Sold (Well, scanned at the library at least 😊.)
I'm unsure of how to 'properly' or best navigate tech with my digital native children (nor do I love how old that statement makes me feel) and I'm looking for some guidance on the matter.
Who doesn't want their children to be screenwise?
That, and I want to stop feeling so damn binary about technology - after all, it most certainly isn't 'all bad.'
So, did reading this book help me? Yes.
More importantly, might it help you too? I reckon so.
A good book on kids and technology is a helpful addition to any modern parent's tool belt.
Screenwise offers a solid overview of all things related to kids and their digital world: tech at school and home, the pros and cons, ways to approach usage, gaming, photos online (and in text messages), privacy, sexuality, bullying, permission, tech mistakes, social media, copyright, email etc.
Seemingly all the things.
Despite being published in 2016 (which, in tech years, is practically a lifetime ago) Heitner's content remains relevant given the conceptual approach.
Importantly,Screenwise delves into the broad issues surrounding technology and children rather than the specific technology itself and in that way, doesn't easily date as one might presume.
Here are some of the areas addressed:
- Assessing our own digital use as adults
- Media mentoring vs monitoring
- Tech at home and how to manage it within your family
- How to raise thoughtful, empathetic digital citizens
- How kids use and relate to technology
- Data trails/digital footprints online
- The performative nature of social media
- Social codes and identity
- Technology and distraction
- Friendships and relationships via technology
"An important part of parenting both boys and girls, is helping them cultivate a strong, positive self-image that includes sexuality but does not objectify themselves or others."Dr Devorah Heitner, Screenwise
A Good Book (Rating: 4/5)
Basically put:Screenwise is a relatable, accessible book on kids and technology.
To start with, it's an easy read.
What seems like it could be potentially heavy or dry reading, is pleasantly engaging and interesting. We're parents - we've got a vested interest in this stuff.
As a result, I tore through this book pretty voraciously.
Though author, Dr Heitner, has a PhD in Media, Technology and Society, she (thankfully) doesn't lord her academic prowess over the reader. Instead, she writes plainly with insight and empathy - gleaned both as a researcher and a parent.
Pragmatically, the book is broken down into digestible chunks by way of chapters, sub-sections and dot-pointed batches of handy questions (and suggestions) to ask your child/ren (and/or yourself) when approaching certain tech-related topics.
Need some straight-forward, engaging questions to help kick-off an open conversation with your child/ren?
Here, have a whole list of them separated (in the book) by subject or situation. (Yes please, and thank you Dr Heitner.)
Things to Ask Your Child/ren About Technology
- What should you do (or not do) when someone posts a mean comment about someone else?
- How can you appropriately and respectfully disagree with something you've read?
- Does social media ever stress you out?
- How can you give yourself a break?
- Do kids ever post things just to be liked?
- When is it a good idea to not let someone follow you, or even to block them?
- How do you know the difference between your own idea and someone else's idea?
- Do you think some kids feel left out of social media (or group texts?)
- Have any of your friends ever showed your texts to someone else?
- Which of my tech habits is your least favourite and why?
"Modelling a balanced use of your own devices may be the most important message you can send your child about the role of technology in your family."Dr Devorah Heitner, Screenwise
Things to Ask Yourself About Technology
- Do you foster a tech-positive environment in your home? Are you an optimist or a cautionist?
- Get clear on what your real fears and desires are before you buy your child/ren technology
- Do you ask your child's permission before posting photos of them?
- Are you modelling focused conversation and good eye contact, and turning off devices during family time?
- Do you offer opportunities for creativity with technology?
- Set a social media policy for your family - discuss what should and shouldn't be shared
- Talk to your kids about oversharing. Not just the dangerous or explicit stuff, but the boring stuff too!
- Start unplugged to get plugged in: do non-tech work and activities before progressing to devices
- Show your struggles: be open with your kids about your own distractions and lack of productivity due to tech
- Can your child handle unwanted attention in a clear and direct fashion?
- Talk with your child/ren about the ways people perform happiness and social connection on social media, and explain that such posts sometimes cover up feelings of sadness, self-doubt and insecurity
It's common sense stuff I know, but - in short - a plainly put book on kids and digital technology is a genuine gift to a busy parent's full brain all the same.
"If you teach kids to participate in their digital world in a positive and engaged way, the effects will carry over into their interactions at home, in school, and beyond."Dr Devorah Heitner, Screenwise
Care Over Condescension
Consequently, you get the feeling she's genuinely interested in helping kids and parents/caregivers navigate a tech-saturated life and you quickly discover you're going to get practical guidance and advice, rather than judgement and prescriptive dogmas.
"Not a 'one-size-fits-all,' approach, this book is about gaining confidence and resolve to make the informed, intentional choices that will work best for you and your family."Jennifer Farrington, President & CEO, Chicago Children's Museum (SOURCE: Screenwise)
Key Takeaways on Kids & Technology
MENTORING OVER MONITORING:
This is a big one - certainly hit home the hardest with me. So simple. So significant. Our children don't need us to time or helicopter over their every tech move. Instead, they need us to mentor them through the process of learning appropriate, responsible and empathetic digital communication skills.
"True digital citizenship is our responsibility, and the stakes are too high to leave it to chance. It's vital for our kids, good for our families, and necessary for our communities."Dr Devorah Heitner, Screenwise
Children and parents alike. You don't HAVE to be constantly accessible. You don't HAVE to always respond to people straight away (or sometimes even at all.) Above all, parents need to model the ability to detach; to focus on the people in front of them IRL first.
"The work of growing up and figuring out who you are is complicated, and we don't want kids to "crowdsource" their identity in the digital realm."Dr Devorah Heitner, Screenwise
EMPATHY IS THE APP:
There's no silver bullet app to help raise our digital native kids. They don't need a monitoring app or timer apps etc. (though Heitner recognises the benefit of such tools on occasion.) We don't need to install software to spy on or block our children. We need to get curious about their daily life, how it intersects with technology, and the issues that can come about as a result not only for the individual child, but their social network AND the family unit. They need us to engage in their tech discovery and share (and demonstrate) our social wisdom in order to help them develop into responsible and empathetic digital citizens.
"Feel confident about your decisions as a parent, and don't let them be driven by others. They are your choices, based on your values, so don't let others take these important decisions out of your hands."Dr Devorah Heitner, Screenwise
GROWING UP IN PUBLIC:
Something both parents and children need to be aware of. Each person has a data trail or 'digital footprint' online therefore, what's shared can be spread and seen or kept ongoing. As a result, forethought's essential and sound decisions need to be made. Parents need to ask children for permission to share their photos and children need to be informed re: the permanent nature of online content.
"As a proud parent, you may think you're innocently sharing images. Your kids might take it an entirely different way. What you think is cute might be devastating to them."Dr Devorah Heitner, Screenwise
In a Nutshell
Not much of a reader or not overly keen on listening to the audio book?
Watch Dr Heitner's TEDx Talk for a quick whip around some of her key research and findings (and see if it doesn't change your mind.)
"Before we try to catch our kids doing the wrong thing, we need to think about [if] we've done a good enough job modelling the right things."Dr Devorah Heitner (source: TEDx Talks, Naperville)
Where to Find it
Screenwise - Helping Kids Thrive (& Survive) in Their Digital World may be on the shelf of your local library (if not, it's worth requesting.)
Recommended Reading on Kids & Tech
Curious about other books on kids and the digital world? Related titles include:
Know of or read anything else on the topic?
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