George Lucas Educational Foundation
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The old saying "Do as I say, not as I do" could not apply more to adults when dealing with kids and technology. Modeling is so important, and when it comes to digital life, adults set the bar pretty low for their kids.

Do As I Say

In a Time Magazine article titled "Parents are Digital Hypocrites," Ruth Davis Konigsberg writes: "As recent research shows, nothing determines a child’s media use more than the media use of his or her parents."

And parents are struggling to balance the demands of work with being present and available -- device-free -- at home. Whether it's at the breakfast or dinner table, or in front of the TV while watching a family movie, being on one device at a time is challenging enough for adults, who are also modeling for kids. I know in my own home, my wife and I struggle with this, and our kids are the first to call us on it when we are checking our phones during a family movie. "Remember, one device at a time!" my youngest child will freely call out.

Konigsberg quotes Northwestern University researcher Vicky Rideout: "It's the parents who determine the environment and set an example. The parents are the primary drivers of children’s media use."

The irony is that, while parents have a difficult time unplugging in front of their kids, these same parents are at a loss as to how to guide their children in living a healthy digital life, given the breakneck speed with which kids migrate to new digital spaces.

Ruby Karp, a 13-year-old, writes a refreshingly honest perspective on Mashable: "Part of the reason Facebook is losing my generation's attention is the fact that there are other networks now [. . .] Now, when we are old enough to get Facebook, we don't want it. By the time we could have Facebooks, we were already obsessed with Instagram."

Facebook's fight for teens' attention has been going on for some time. But then along comes SnapChat or, on top of Instagram or another new network. For parents, it can be exhausting to keep up with the explosion of digital spaces.

Harvard researcher Catherine Steiner-Adair highlights the challenges for parents in a recent Salon article: "Parents feel hard-pressed to get up to speed in new ways as gatekeepers, screen monitors, tech support and cyberlife referees, in addition to the just plain human side of parenting."

Do As I Do

Managing digital life as adults and then figuring out how to handle digital life with kids is a big challenge, but it's not insurmountable. What can parents do to handle digital dualism – managing their own use and their child's use?

  • Pull the plug. The first and most obvious, albeit difficult, step can be to shut it all down and take a break. Summer and holidays are great times for adults and kids to try this. If you have some time off, take time off from devices.
  • Park the device. The minute you walk in the door, coming home from work, park your devices. This is your living space. Leave the devices parked until your kids are asleep. Be fully present for the evening.
  • On the weekends, take a digital break. Leave your phone at home while you go out for a hike, a walk, or a movie. You won't miss the phone for two or three hours.
  • Create designated digital time as a family. It might be on the weekends or in the evenings, but it's for a set period of time -- as little as 15 minutes or as much as an hour. That way, everyone gets it out of their system together, and then at the end of the time period, the devices turn off.
  • Make something together. Create a kooky, silly film or a photo collage after a family adventure. Turn the conversation to creation instead of consumption.
  • Acknowledge the difficulty of turning off devices. In some ways, coming clean for everyone brings a sense of relief. It's OK for parents to admit to their kids that, given the ease and availability of technology, it's hard to pull away.

The most important thing to remember is that your kids are always watching what you do. You might not think they're looking at how often you're on a device, but they know -- and if you ask your kids, they will be brutally honest with you.

A good goal for the school year for parents is to try turning the phrase "Do as I say, not as I do" into "Do as I do."

What strategies do you have for modeling technology use for kids?

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The Digital Lives of Teens: Part 2 (Fall 2013)
More about the impact of social media and instant data access on teen life

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Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

This lovely short video, Discconect to Connect ( drives this point home in a really visceral way. I'd love to see schools link to it on websites, and Facebook feeds, and run it on a loop during back-to-school nights. Learning to use the tool- instead of letting the tool use you- is a big part of the process of growing up. I know I struggle with it at times!

I'd also really encourage parents to stay on top of which apps their kids have on their devices and what's going on on their machines- check the history, the cache, etc. Draw your kid's attention to controversy on your own feeds- what makes you frustrated or angry about the ways people behave online? How do you respond when you're frustrated? When someone else crosses a line? Modeling what you want to see goes a looooong way, doesn't it?

escarbeva's picture

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maryrao's picture
English teacher in China, studying the master's degree in Walden

I am extremely frustrated with my son, a tenth-grade student who cannot leave his computers during the weekend. The words Do As I Do atrracts me to read your article and i agree that although I do not use my computer to play games but I will always turn TV on the moment I enter the house---I will try to model to him but the first thing is to fix a time for devices and I want to take the computer away from his bedroom although I can imagine his madness. To parent a teen is a challenging job and I have asked help from his teacher. Hope it can work.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

Hi Maryao-
I've been there and you're right, it's quite the ordeal getting between a teen and his (or her) device! We had some luck when we took a non-device-filled moment to talk about the "big picture" we all had for what we wanted our vacation to look like before a break. We all agreed that our screens and devices weren't something we wanted to give up, but that we ALL needed help managing them. We settled on the language "be with the people you're with" as a reminder we'd give each other when it came time to get off the screens. We also turned some of it into a game- the first person to ask for screen time had to do the dishes/ take the dog out/ sweep under the sofa (all the jobs we all hate to do). I wonder if you could make the computer removal part of something positive like a room redecoration or a system upgrade? (Or if you could leave it, but just turn off the wifi for longer periods through the day?)

Good luck with this. Come back and let us know how it went!

maryrao's picture
English teacher in China, studying the master's degree in Walden

Hi Laura
Thanks for your suggestions and I agree it seems a fight without guns to make the teens away from the computer! I have tried to turn off my TV and I think it was a good experience for when I wanted to watch TV, I read some magazines , or books or did some housework instead. I thought I wasted too much time in it. But to my son, problems are still there. In the last two weeks, I did pull the wire out (which is on the wall outside our department with one room one wire). He did not know it was I who did it. He thought it was the problem of the IT centre and he complained and stayed in his room restless. I made it work later, and he went on with the games !
And he announced he would not go home this weekend because the internet always failed to work and he really did it! Last night he did not go home, without calling me. I saw him this morning in his classroom, not wanting to talk to me. I talked to his headteacher last week, and his teacher did a survey and found that no boys were free from the games during the weekend. They had a class meeting to talk about this and the teacher sent a letter to ask all the parents to monitor the use of the internet of the kids and then he decided to escape from my watch.
One of my friends told me that i should let my son free because he should learn to control himself and arrange his own time. At first, I thought it was right. But after one month, my boy cannot live without his games! I could not just let it be what it is, for if I do nothing, I cannot imagine what will happen. Time is too precious and he should learn how to use it to do something more meaningful.
I have found him a good book and since he will ignore anything I do, I will ask his teacher to give him the book. I will control myself and try my best to change him.
It is a wonderful place here to share my struggle and get your support.

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