The Challenges of Raising a Digital Native

JENNIFER GARVEY, LOWER SCHOOL TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATOR: Most children today are considered digital natives.  They seem to be born knowing how to operate a smartphone.  Many of them have likely FaceTimed with long-distance relatives before they could walk.  Their coloring books often pair with apps that bring their pictures to life.  With the ubiquitous nature of mobile technology, children are connected like never before.

Does all of this technology create a void in empathy?

But, we worry about the impact of screen time and social media on our children and we have many questions.  How much screen time is too much? What is the right age to give a cell phone?  Should I allow my child access to social media?  Are they getting enough face-to-face time to develop appropriate social skills?  Does all of this technology create a void in empathy?

It’s exciting to think about the amazing ways technology is changing the educational landscape.  Virtual and augmented reality can provide immersive, engaging experiences for students that were previously inconceivable. ZSpace allows students to dissect a frog or travel through a model of the heart.  Google Expeditions offers an affordable way for students to virtually travel to places they may never get the chance to visit in their lifetime.  Coding, robotics, and multimedia tools are some of the ways students are using technology to become active creators rather than passive consumers of technology.

In the words of Spiderman (and others), “With great power, comes great responsibility.”  Parenting has always been just that, a great responsibility.  But now, that job is even more difficult.  The challenge for educators and parents is teaching our children balance.  We want to acknowledge that technology affords students tremendous opportunities.  We want to prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow, many of which do not yet exist.  We want to provide them with the best education we possibly can, which includes access to these tools.

When they are expected to complete an assignment online, are they doubling the time spent on homework by constantly switching between work and messaging friends or viewing viral videos?  Are they being as thoughtful online as they would in person?  Parenting and educating digital natives can seem a daunting task when new games, social media, and apps come out every day.

Parents must stand by the methods their parents
and generations before have always relied on.

These concerns may seem unique, but parents must stand by the methods their parents and generations before have always relied on.  As parents, we spend a lot of time modeling our family’s values and our expectations.  We help our children navigate social relationships from an early age, knowing that our message usually does not sink in the first time it is heard.  Along the way, our children will make mistakes and make bad choices.  We enforce consequences and discuss what they should have said or done, hopefully engaging the child in the resolution process.  We reinforce desired social norms, manners, and behaviors repeatedly until one day, we see our child applying what they’ve been taught.  And we can feel good that we’ve done our job as parents.  Digital citizenship is no different.  We want our children to behave respectfully and with empathy, online and offline.

Whatever your rules are, involve your child in conversations about limits and consequences.  Set the tone for open, honest dialogue around difficult issues.  Model your own positive use of technology and when to power down.  Mentor them in how to positively use social media, spreading the word about a cause or sharing a heartwarming story.  Ask your children permission to post pictures of them.  If your child wants to open a social media account, ask them to explain why, how, when and what they hope to get out of it.  Make a media plan together involving your child in setting the limits, expectations for responsible use, and the possible consequences.  If you don’t feel comfortable with your children using social media, share with them your hesitations.

We want our children to behave respectfully
and with empathy, online and offline.

At The Peck School, we promise to continue to teach our children how to navigate appropriate relationships and social behaviors, online and offline, according to the standards set by our InDeCoRe values (Individual Development Community Responsibility) and our Responsible Use Policy for technology.  We will model our expectations through our own technology use, putting devices away and actively listening to our students.  We will think carefully about whether the integration of technology in our own lessons is meaningful and appropriate.  We will consider if it helps us redefine the way we can accomplish a task, or if the technology simply a substitute.  Likewise, we will teach our students how to choose the most appropriate tools for a task, whether to use a technology tool or not.  As much as possible, we will encourage the active use of technology, empowering students to create, not just consume.

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