Monday, September 4, 2017

Digital Mentors Needed: Distracted Parents Disengaged With Children

A recent article brought to my attention has me reflecting quite a bit on my ideas around kids' use of smartphones and technology and their ever increasing addictive behaviors and dependence. The article, Yes Smartphones are Destroying a Generation, but Not of Kids by Alexandra Samuel, was written in response to an earlier article in the Atlantic by Jean Twenge entitled, Are Smartphones Destroying a Generation? which stated that smartphones have placed today's youth on the brink of a mental health crisis. In the Atlantic article, Twenge stated that the advent of smartphones has led to today's youth being depressed. But Samuel explains how Twenge cherry-picked her facts. She points out that rather than just looking at a brief one or two year period, when one looks at the data collected over twenty years, it shows that there actually is no noticeable decrease in happiness. She even explains that "Teens report near identical levels of happiness regardless whether they’re on the higher or lower end of social media usage."

What I found most enlightening by Samuel's response to Twenge was the fact that it pointed out at the root cause of smartphone problems might actually be parents themselves. The author explains that because smartphones distract parents, they spend less time with their kids. Furthermore, when their kids interrupt their parents seeking attention, studies have shown that parents respond negatively, seeking to quickly end the interruption so they can get back to what they were doing (such as surfing the Internet, checking Facebook, reading email etc.) Some powerful excerpts from the article worth reading word for word: 
" know what smartphones and social media are really great at? Tuning out your children... Fellow parents, it’s time for us to consider another possible explanation for why our kids are increasingly disengaged. It’s because we’ve disengaged ourselves; we’re too busy looking down at our screens to look up at our kids."
"My entire experience of parenthood has been lived in the tug-of-war between child and screen; my kids can’t remember a time when they didn’t have to compete with my iPhone in order to get my attention. Like many people, my constant screen interactions are a matter of professional obligation as well as personal taste, so I live life as a constant juggling act between the needs of my children and the distractions of social media."
Samuel goes on to explain that what a parent really needs to do is to become a "digital mentor" for their child, modeling and supporting their use of technology. Again, an excerpt:
Mentoring your kids means letting go of a one-size-fits-all approach to kids’ tech use, and thinking instead about which specific online activities are enriching (or impoverishing) for your specific child. Mentoring means talking regularly with your kids about how they can use the Internet responsibly and joyfully, instead of slamming on the brakes. Mentor parents recognize that their kids need digital skills if they’re going to thrive in a digital world, so they invest in tech classes and coding camps. And of course, mentor parents embrace technology in their own lives—but thoughtfully, so they can offer guidance on the human (if not the technical) aspects of life online.
I have written about technology distractions in the past which I have observed in both my own efforts to limit distractions as well as those of others. I've spoken about personal struggles to spend time with my own kids rather than being distracted by technology. I love the idea of parents as digital mentors--it's not new. I first heard about it from Devorah Heitner at the 2015 DigCit Conference in Connecticut. Check out her Digital Citizenship Mentorship Manifesto.

Related posts: 

1 comment: