Common Sense Tips for Digital Generation Parents (Transcript)
Voice Over: Few parents can keep pace with the rapid evolution of digital technology. Many don't have a handle on what their kids are doing on the internet and fear of the unknown leads some to back away, while others set strict limits on their children. Common Sense Media is a nonprofit organization that offers parents information and practical advice on how to support the digital generation.
Liz Perle: When we started, it was all about media consumption, because we knew media had a huge impact on the way kids were being raised. But then, as the world changed and media became interactive and digital, we've shifted to expand common sense advice to how to behave online, and what are the implications? And how to be responsible and get the most out of digital life.
The first thing I say to any parent who's worried about digital life is, "Hey, this digital life, it's a good thing. It's gonna help your kids create, meet people, explore, compose, express themselves. They have more powerful tools than they've ever had in any generation in history. So calm down. This is a good thing." But the next thing I say to them is, "You're still in the parenting business, and that means you have to extend your parenting skills into the digital world, which means you've gotta teach kids how to be responsible, how to behave kindly." The golden rule exists in cyberspace. You have to help kids protect themselves so they don't over share, since that will last forever and get sent around to vast, invisible audiences, but to use some common sense and to give them some basic touchstones about how to keep their kids safe and smart and responsible online.
If a parent knows absolutely nothing, my advice is to have their kid show them what their life is. Have them go onto a social networking page. Have them download a song. Have them create a blog, upload a picture, send an email with a picture or a moving image to a grandparent or someone far away, so that they can have a sense of the potential of what's good about this world. I mean, all of a sudden, they can send to a relative in another country a video of someone's birthday party. They can Skype somebody and speak face to face. You can explain these things to parents, but the lived experience of really getting involved with it drives it home. There's an added benefit which is, kids feel then that their parents are embracing this world. They're not prohibiting it. They're not trying to tamp it down. Because this is their world. It's digital life to us, but to them, it's just life. So we really have to embrace it, and that's whether you know a little bit about it, a lot about it or nothing at all.
The big time suck is really turning out to be the cell phone with kids, these endless text messages and the endless connectivity to other people. And that's a tough one to battle, 'cause you can either take the cell phone away or not, and that turns out to be a fruitless enterprise, very quickly. But you can help the child really understand that it is an option not to answer. It is an option to turn it off. It is an option to go to a movie and enjoy the movie and be here now. That's a sophisticated argument to make with a teenager whose entire wiring is about being connected to their friends at that age. Some of it will pass, and parents have to realize that the task of a teenager, for instance, is to be connected and to figure out their identity in a social world. Now they've got this extra tether that connects them at any point in time. Hard to balance that when that's really what they're wired to be doing. It's a tough one. It starts with parents modeling good balance themselves.
When it comes to limiting media, and digital media, it really depends on the kind of media. For instance, a lotta kids are really addicted to World of Warcraft, or online gaming. You've gotta provide alternatives when that is really becoming the dominant part of their lives. And you gotta encourage them to do other things, provide other opportunities.
The cell phone's a tougher one. We have some hard and fast rules. Many parents do. The cell phone goes off at night, that it doesn't go to the dinner table, that it's never used in classrooms. But if you check your cell phone bill, you'll see that the cell phone's being used and indeed, there was one city that just came out that showed that parents text their kids during school, and I've done that myself. So, you know, that it really starts with the values of the family. Am I going to embrace technology but also discuss its limits in its proper time and space? Yes. Are kids gonna listen to it? Yes and no, but even when they look like they're not listening, they hear you, and it shows up later in life.
Ultimately, our job as parents is to empower our kids, to teach them to protect themselves and to teach them to be responsible citizens of the world. So at a certain point, you have to, as a parent, instill the values that you have about being a good digital citizen or human being. And then encourage them to independently use them. So you can try and police, and indeed, kids learn from mistakes. So if you check a browser history, like I did with my son, and see three porn sites-- he's a fourteen year old. It's age appropriate-- but I had to have a discussion with him about, "Hey, there's some nasty things out there." And I'm realistic. I know at fourteen, I cannot police where he's going, but I can get in the discussion and I can put my two cents in, and I can give my values and my wisdom, because parents are still parents and kids still need our wisdom.