In Search of the Manual for Technology and Kids

A cell phone has been on my 10 year-old’s wish list since last Christmas.

For now, my stall tactic has worked – very few kids have a phone in his class and he is rarely in the position of needing one for an emergency.  I will, however, need to figure out a strategy for introducing a phone to him in the not-so-distant future.

As a parent, I find myself struggling to find advice about how to teach my kids about using technology responsibly.  Not only is the advice disparate, often it involves complicated, software-based parent-policing more fit for a C.S.I. episode.

I recently read an article on this topic from the World Economic Forum entitled: 8 Digital Skills We Must Teach Our Children.

I’ve paraphrased these essential skills from the piece below:

  1. Identity – creating an appropriate online personal brand
  2. Use – how to use and balance online activity
  3. Safety – handling online scum (porn, bullying, identity theft, etc.)
  4. Security – how not to be hacked
  5. Emotional Intelligence – cultivating good relationships online
  6. Communication – the importance of learning to collaborate remotely
  7. Literacy – finding accurate sources and online credibility
  8. Rights – upholding freedoms in online communities

The list seems reasonably simple to me – no obscure words that a tech-dummy like me can’t understand.

Now I know what to teach, but how?

The author of the article stops short of providing recommendations for kid-centric technology thresholds.  She does, however, offer a thought I find most poignant – saying that these 8 skills are “rooted in…values such as respect, empathy and prudence.  These values facilitate the wise and responsible use of technology – an attribute which will mark the future leaders of tomorrow.”

I’ve read that sentence near a dozen times by now, each time I’m both comforted and petrified.

I agree with connecting values and appropriate gadget usage.  I’m pleased that others believe that success in a world of technology will still be predicated on non-technical, interpersonal skills that are uniquely human.

I cringe, though, at the thought that many of the values I hope to instill in my children might actually leave them unsafe online.

Above all, I drive my kids to be curious and open-minded, to find a passion and pursue it with fervor.

In the context of the pitfalls of technology, should I be changing my message?  Will innocent curiosity lead to internet naivety?

In typical Good-Bad Dad form, I left the article more conflicted – with more questions unanswered than solved.

I have, however, come to believe a few truths about kids and technology after reading articles like this.

I know that I can only stem the tide for so long.  There is no magic age where a device is earned.  Likewise, there will be no obvious indication that my kid is ready for the on-slot of information that a handheld access will bring.

I am also confident that parenting on the extremes won’t work.  Telling my kids to run from technology leaves them behind, just as opening them up to it prematurely may leave them unprepared.

So, what do I do?

The answer for me is authenticity – opening my kids up to the good and bad of technology as they begin to experience it through me.  I’ll make sure to do so before they have the task of experiencing the “internet of things” on their own.

This strategy is the technological equivalent of tasting my Dad’s beer on vacation when I was sixteen.

I can show my children how I’m using technology – both the fun and the professional.

If, while they’re looking over my shoulder, an inappropriate image comes up on my Facebook feed then I have a perfect teaching moment – albeit an awkward lesson if the post was from their beloved Uncle.

When I flip my laptop open at night, I can show my kids the work I’m doing and the value added through appropriate use of this incredible technology.  If, at 9 p.m., I’m getting pinged from colleagues in Asia, I could teach a lesson about the 24/7 business world my kids may enter someday.

That’s my game plan because I’m faced with the reality that an iPhone will be in Santa’s satchel soon.  Doing anything other than embracing that notion is dis-empowering, irresponsible and just plain dumb.

I’m left re-reading the passage that has me conflicted – “values facilitate the wise and responsible use of technology – an attribute which will mark the future leaders of tomorrow.”

If I truly believe that human values shape our kids’ experience with technology, then I should find comfort through my initial nerves – not because my kids will know better but because they will be better for having known.

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