Don’t Be So Shocked: Helping Our Kids Become Digital Citizens

It’s hard for many of us to get our arms around the rapid changes in culture due to technology. It’s evident in our shock when we hear about kids’ use of social networking, cell phone sexting, and visits to inappropriate internet sites. Many of us wonder what’s up with all this strange new boundary pushing behavior that kids are doing. Perhaps another issue we should be exploring is why are we so surprised by all of this.

It’s been said that the main job of being a parent is to work ourselves out of a job. Growing up is about independence. It’s about emancipation from parents and family. Way back in the 1950s we can remember that teenagers used alcohol and sex to break away from the rules and expectations of appropriate living. When the 1960s came, drugs became more prominent, sex became more open and alcohol continued to thrive. 1970s, 1980s, 1990s all came and went with variations on these methods for kids to rebel and break away from the expectations of appropriate values. Now, add technology to the mix. How has that affected the ability of kids to rebel against common values? New technology comes along; the adults make rules about its usage and what happens? Kids see that this is now common value stuff, so to grow up they need to push the boundaries and live outside of these values.

Now, of course, this shocks us. We’re not used to technology being so sophisticated. The biggest leap in technology we can recall is the invention of microwave ovens. We say that this new progress is the evil behind the deviant behavior our kids are dabbling in. But are technology advancements really behind the increase in the shocking behaviors of today’s kids?

When we were young, teens tried to experiment with the boundaries of intimacy and sex. Sometimes they even told their friends or teammates about their exploits. Did kids have access to technology to do this sharing of their escapades even more privately? Many baby boomers recall spending long hours on the telephone, out of the sight and hearing range of their parents.

Okay, so technology has advanced and become more sophisticated in its ability to allow people (yes, adults and kids) to do what they have always done. But what about the things that are being done now that seem so foreign to our values. What about the aspects of sex that seem to have changed. Did a sexual revolution really begin in the ‘60s? Did it happen when one of our presidents redefined what it means to “have sex”? How do we know if things are really changing or if we’re just experiencing the current version, technology enhanced, of independence and emancipation through sexual boundary pushing?

What are the answers? What are we supposed to do as parents and educators? Perhaps the best we can do for now is to let go of some of our shock and awe at these seeming new behaviors. Shock just keeps us looking for someone or something to blame. We may find comfort in thinking these extreme behaviors are caused by something new in our environment. Again, while technology has certainly ENHANCED these opportunities, they are not really causing them. Kids have always been doing versions of these things (pushing boundaries, bullying, being secretive, etc.). No, we need to let go of our shock and realize that we bear some of the responsibility for these seemingly extreme behaviors.

We are partially responsible because we don’t know how to talk to our kids about these things. Actually, we may know how to TALK to them about it but we don’t know how to LISTEN. Changing cultures, advancements in technology, expanding definitions of values, these all require engaged conversations. We need to get past our shock and insecurity about the issues of today’s kids and bring ourselves into the lives of modern families. This means talking WITH our kids about about our values and expectations, and becoming familiar ourselves with the new enhancements technology brings to growing up. We need to become part of today’s culture if we are to prepare our children for healthy digital citizenship.

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October 31, 2010. Uncategorized.

One Comment

  1. Kevin O'Connor replied:

    Love the “get over the shock and awe” Jon. Agree that getting stuck there either looking to blame and/or paralyzed at “the horror, the horror,” leaves us feeling pretty powerless. I’d add to the mix that it is the very scale of these new communication systems that is part of the problem. 1950’s note passing has been replaced by postings on social media pages available to hundreds to see in an instant. The potential for harm to a vulnerable child from these postings is all too present on our front pages. Part of the “fix” it seems to me is to help kids acquire more empathy and that means being intentional about making time (we’ll never “find” it) to be with kids as well as seizing upon the teachable moments that just show up in our lives.
    No quick fixes to be sure but what I do believe is that adults need to lead the way here and “shock” has a way of paralyzing us. Glad you’re suggesting we move past it and get on to the hard work of insisting upon empathy…what our collective grandma meant when she said, “How would you feel if…”

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