How to Talk to Kids about Tech Milestones & Digital Readiness

This podcast provides specific tips and scripts to help parents and key adults assess whether their children are ready for various technology and to help ensure that kids are being responsible “digital natives.” Guest, Devorah Heitner discusses how we can be great models for our children, how to set limits collaboratively and how to stay curious about the way kids are using technology as they may be using it differently than the adults in their lives. Scripts and steps to success are provided.

Special Guest: Devorah Heitner, PhD

Devorah Heitner, PhD is the author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World and the founder of Raising Digital Natives. She passionately believes in the power of mentoring kids in creating a positive tech culture and she is delighted to be raising her own digital native.

According to a Pew Research Center survey, 24 percent of teenagers are online “almost constantly,” so it’s essential that they know how to handle themselves there. While many parents and educators worry that kids can easily become addicted, detached, or distracted because of the way their digital devices have become a key component of their lives, we have now heard from several experts including innovation expert, George Couros, leadership & digital learning expert, Eric Sheninger, and others that technology can be a wonderful tool if used wisely. We know that we have recently been cautioned by Sue Scheff, author of ShameNation, about the need for education about online shaming and we have gained insight from Common Sense Media’s Caroline Knorr about the need to help our kids become media savvy in a media-saturated world. So, how do we raise our children, using our social wisdom in a world fueled by technology? Perhaps you feel like technology has invaded your home and isn’t always a welcomed guest? Our children haven’t known anything different- they are digital natives and our next guest believes that our kids need our guidance more than ever to supplement their digital use and understanding.

The podcast provides:

  • Guidelines for how you know your child is ready for a phone or tablet
  • How adults can set a positive example for digital use
  • Key issues to discuss as your child grows up during the digital age
  • Warning signs that your child needs to unplug
  • Tips: How to keep your child safe and ensure they are being respectful/respected online.
  • Rules children impose on themselves when posting online.
  • How to cope with differences in tech rules when at different people’s homes
  • Scripts: For when your child is using technology too much and is detached.
  • Script 2: Dealing with distraction of tech.
  • Steps: Specific steps we can take to help ensure that we are more likely to be successful in setting limits and knowing what’s best to do (and the best time to do it).

Important Messages:

  • Technology has been transformative but it is also anxiety-provoking for parents.
  • Nurture independent-decision making and thinking skills with your child before giving them the ability to text and get on social media.
  • Talk to kids about how there are other people on the other end of the phone or social media. How might people feel?
  • Talk to your kids about how some topics are too important or too heavy to talk about on tech or social media.
  • Discuss balance and how kids (and you) can enforce balance around tech.
  • Careful! If you are texting while driving, your children are observing this and they will learn that it’s ok.
  • Mentor, don’t simply monitor.
  • Parents can be so focused on prevention but our kids will make mistakes- and we need to be prepared to cope when a mistake is made.
  • Sometimes it’s not about taking the tech away or getting rid of the app but rather making it less accessible.
  • Kids often have good ideas about how to better cope with technology- ask them about it!
  • Kids have some “rules” that they impose on themselves and others online.
  • You can talk to your children about how you feel about the rules or lack of rules at someone else’s house. What limits are really important to you?
  • “Tech-shaming” is when people look down on others depending on how they use tech.
  • Discuss what your children can use as “brain breaks” from tech (i.e. yoga, bouncing a ball).
  • Stay curious about your children’s tech use- they may be using it differently than you!

Notable Quotables:

  • “It’s really important to show kids that human-beings can’t be 24/7 assessable because we need to sleep and eat and spend face-to-face time with people and that’s something we can easily model for our children. It’s okay to NOT be reachable.”
  • “Talk with kids about remembering that there is another human being on the other end of these digital communications. Think about your tone, how a comment on social media might be perceived or read, or how a picture we share might be experienced by someone who wasn’t or was there. Make choices while always recollecting that these are other human beings we are communicating with on the other end.”
  • “I would encourage parents to not just give kids a hard limit on their tech devices but also talk to their kids about balance and why we want to do other things. Ask the kids what they think a good balance would be.”
  • “As much as possible, we want to be collaborating and cocreating the solutions and approaches we are going to take regarding tech with our kids.”
  • “We are giving kids and social media at one of the low points of judgment of all time which, for most kids, is middle school.”
  • “It’s inevitable that kids will make mistakes and the good thing is if they have an open and trusting relationship with you, you can help them by helping them not by getting in the middle of it but to think about, ‘What are my options here? How can we move forward?’”
  • “You can’t continue to go back to places that make you feel bad. I think it’s okay to let kids know that they don’t need to be part of everything and if something is making you feel retched, stand up for yourself. That might mean getting out of the conversation or confronting the person, depending on that person’s relative importance to them. Our kids need to know that they don’t have to just take it.”
  • “When we techno-shame within communities and judge other people, we’re shutting down conversation. Instead, have a conversation about an issue we can address as opposed to ‘let me tell you why you are a bad person.’ We are all going to have different philosophies and once we start judging, it shuts people down.”
  • “For all of us, our superpowers are enhanced by technology in some ways.”
  • “If you can have a TV show or some kind of media that gives you a nice shared context with your kid, I think that’s really helpful.”
  • “Stay really curious about what the app, the piece of the technology or the game really means to your kids. Don’t assume that they are using tech in the same way that you do. Ask, what are you really excited about? That will help you to understand why it’s so compelling for your kid and it will also help you to understand what some of the risks and challenges can be.”