Written by: Phil and Kyla Ashman
It seems to be a struggle for every parent. How do you find a balance parent and child are both happy with?
Technology is here to stay and it is partly our responsibility as parents to guide our children toward integrating it effectively and safely within their lives. For example, lists of chores can be done electronically ranging from fully integrated reward based applications to simple shared tasks lists. Another option could be the sharing of on-line calendars as we try to juggle those busy schedules between work and home. You can add that extra Piano or Martial Art lesson for your child to both of your individual calendars or put in a reminder they are to be picked up from school instead of taking the bus. Are we not always trying to teach our children to be organized? Technology can be used to help, motivate and organize any activity including homework, practices or other miscellaneous family events. However, we as parents, must take the initiative to demonstrate the positive and productive use of our phones, tablets, or other mobile devices.
Most of us recognize that technology is good for instant information. Who was that actor? What is the address of that restaurant? We still remember going to the library, pulling out the encyclopedia, deciphering a big map, using the phone book, or even living without knowing the answer. Our children have grown up in world where any piece of information is right at their fingertips and not many of us have truly imagined how that must feel or change their perspective. They don’t need to be encouraged to use technology and take for granted everything being easily accessible. Therefore why not take the time to delve into their interests and either assist or share in the experience? This can include taking small opportunities to query them about their comprehension with sincere interest as opposed to the role of concerned parent, or even watching and laughing with them over that silly Vine or YouTube video. There are an infinite number of things you can do together with technology without treating it like a piece of candy that is only permitted at special times or in limited quantities.
When our son or daughter want to craft or design something they just jump onto google or YouTube and more often than not, find an example or a step by step guide. Why not also have them find that recipe or dessert for dinner, or create that electronic shopping list? Many of our teachers are incorporating the same principles around appreciative query and problem based learning utilizing technology in the classroom. We can build on this foundation at home and demonstrate how technology is a tool for learning, productivity and leisure, providing a role model for their behavior. If as parents we are texting and answering our cell phones at the dinner table or during conversations, then how can we be surprised if our children do the same?
Social interaction is by far the biggest use of technology by our children. Many of us find it hard to relate or understand how they could achieve any degree of depth or satisfaction using a device instead of face to face or even hearing their friend’s voice over a phone. We remember Mom or Dad pushing us out the door in the morning to go play with our friends and only coming back in to eat or when it was too dark to see. Outside play is still very important, but we must also be realistic and recognize that technology also plays an integral role in their social circles. Fighting the use of technology is futile and quite possibly detrimental. However this is not say their use should not be guided, protected and managed.
That brings us to the question around which we hear so many concerns both in the media and at schools, Safety and Privacy. When we were growing up we didn’t have to worry about someone taking a picture of us doing something silly that everyone we know could then instantly see. Our children are in a generation around which one small mistake, or poor split second decision, could have an extremely negative impact on their life. This is where our children need the most guidance. They must be taught to understand at an early age the importance of their ‘digital footprint’ and that anything they do on their devices could possibly be seen by anyone now and in the future. Even with applications like SnapChat, a popular messaging platform that supposedly erases your message after being received, the image or text can still be captured by the receiver and then saved or posted for anyone to see. Although it is difficult for young people to comprehend how something they do now will affect their future both socially and professionally, we need to have that conversation and show them examples on the Internet. We told our pre-teens a true story of a friend who Googled the names of all potential babysitters and did not hire ones with negative associations on-line. They were both of babysitting age at the time and could therefore relate more with this example than a future career. There is a fine balance to be struck between fear mongering and finding the right context upon which our children can relate. We have a rule of thumb at our house: “if you wouldn’t want it on a billboard or your Grandparents seeing it, then don’t put it on-line”.
What about privacy from parents? This is a tough one. When we were young we would have been very upset if our parents listened in on our phone conversations or outside a room when we had a friend over. The same respect applies to our children and their online interactions.
But, if there is a time that as a parent you suspect bullying, or drugs, or anything else that could be deemed immoral or dangerous, then of course this must trump that privacy rule. However if you do not have that open communication with your child then somehow you need to find a solution which is acceptable to you both so intervention is possible before it becomes too late. For instance, maybe you have all the passwords to your children’s online accounts and create a pact that you will only use it in their presence or if you feel they may be at risk. Easier said than done and each situation is unique, but it is important to make the effort and not ignore the situation simply because you do not understand the technology or find the conversation uncomfortable.
There will always be so many different situations to deal with and there is rarely a magic bullet, but ongoing communication with our children and learning about whatever online activity they are involved will allow you to make the most informed decision. Avoidance or draconian restrictions are rarely the solution, but guidance and respect will build the skills they will need to navigate and succeed in our connected world.
Kyla Ashman, B.Ed, PostBac Special Ed. works for SD 23 as an itinerant Resource Teacher. She is a proud mom of 2 teenagers.
Phil Ashman, M. SC, works for Okanagan College as an Associate Dean. He is a proud Dad of the same 2 teenagers.
Article provided in support by the Kelowna Child Care Society