Helping Parents Raise Smart Digital Citizens: How Educators Can Help

December 05, 2012
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, United States
CATEGORIES Digital Citizenship, Digital Literacy, Parents and Families

A recent article by author Lee Siegel at the Daily Beast delves into the perils of parenting in the digital age. Siegel quotes child therapist Jamie Wasserman, who said, “It used to be the proverbial question: ‘It’s 10 o’clock, do you know where your children are? Now, your kid can be sitting a few feet away from you in the living room with a laptop, being damaged.”

Siegel cites a laundry list of parental concerns about raising kids in the age of Facebook that are likely familiar to readers of this blog. Parents are worried about their children being excluded from online cliques. They’re worried about kids sharing personal information online without understanding the ramifications. Parents are worried about kids being distracted from schoolwork, or that their teens are under such constant pressure to Tweet and post status updates that they don’t know how to disconnect or relax. Facebook’s recent push to allow children under the age of 13 to join the social network also topped Siegel’s list.

But these concrete examples aren’t the only things plaguing parents.

Siegel points to the ways digital tools have heightened the generation gap and deepened the challenges parents have in communicating with their adolescent children. He explains: 

The process of maturing is a movement from a rich yet defensive inner space to the outer reality of pleasure postponement, setback, and perseverance. But the Internet offers one recessive chamber after another of inwardness; it is a place where distraction and immediate gratification become cognitive tools in themselves. The main barrier between parent and child, which looms gigantic in adolescence, is the stubborn insularity of a child’s world. These days that insularity has its own enabling techniques, skills, and idiom. What used to be quaintly called the generation gap is now adorned with the corporate logos of Apple, Google, and Facebook. 

Likely, as educators, you’ve heard some of these concerns from parents before, and maybe even share some of them yourself. Teachers often tell us they’d like to be prepared to help parents feel empowered to talk with their children about technology use, and to provide some age-appropriate guidance on the potential of technology for learning.  

Our Parent Media and Technology Education Program aims to help educators engage parents on topics that deal directly with their digital concerns. The program covers a variety of subject areas like “Cyberbullying and Online Relationships,” and “Online Privacy and Security.” Each of these sections also contains handouts, videos, and advice parents can view online.

Check out our parent tip sheet (pdf) on Internet safety for elementary students, for example, which may be useful to hand out to parents in advance of the upcoming holiday break, when students often access increasing amounts of media. It includes a list of safety basics and strategies for parents. 

We believe one of the simplest ways for parents to ensure that their children are practicing safe online behavior is through open communication and trust. Consider sending home one of our sample family media agreements which are designed to help start or guide tough conversations between parents and kids around media use at home. The agreements can be signed by all family members, or simply be used as a checklist. Regardless of implementation, the agreements can be a helpful tool in getting everyone on the same page when it comes to technology.

For more read “Why Parents and Educators Should Work Together to Teach Digital Citizenship.”