The Netflix show "13 Reasons Why" based on the Jay Asher novel of the same name has captivated teens. While the subject is about teen suicide, a great deal of the story interweaves the use of technology and social media with our youth and the effect it has on them emotionally.
While there are deeper lessons to be learned from the show, a large portion depicts interactions (or lack there of) between parents and their kids.
Many parents can probably relate. With technology, we feel like we are in the dark and sometimes choose to turn a blind eye to the interactions of our kids online. But just like with driving a car or eating a healthy diet, we need to be there to coach and guide our kids through this world.
Here are six tips for fostering those good habits with your kids:
1. Give them room to grow.
Before we give our child a bicycle, we put training wheels on it until they learn to balances so they won't fall. You can take a similar tact with technology, but it's important not to keep the training wheels on too long. If you do, once they are out of your care, the training wheels come off and they fall down without your support. Another analogy a student shared is "social media is like water, you can either teach us to swim or we will drown." If your teen is interested in social media, don't just let them run wild with multiple accounts, but also don't shut them out completely as they'll never learn how to swim.
2. Enact a 24-hour rule.
Once your child has a device and a social media account, they might get into some mischief. Before they do, consider making a 24-hour rule. The Federal Aviation Administration uses this strategy with air traffic controllers. It works like this: If air traffic controllers make a mistake that does not result in a fatality, they have 24 hours to report the error without the risk of punishment. Instituting a similar rule will allow your kids to report their mistakes and learn from them. The alternative would be NOT reporting something they did wrong for fear of punishment, which doesn't give them the opportunity to discuss and learn from their mistakes.
3. Crowdsource household rules.
Creating some household rules with input from your children is important in order for kids to take on ownership. It's also a good way to develop good digital citizens and empowered learners, two hallmarks of the ISTE Standards for Students. You might have to introduce some common sense rules covertly, but if your kids have input in the rules — and a say in punishments — they'll be more likely to follow them.
4. Let kids be the teachers.
When my niece started her SnapChat account in 2015, I wasn't sure what it was or how it worked. (I could argue that's still the case.) I asked her to show me the features and explain the ideology behind it. This was an opportunity for her to share her social media experience with me while I shared my wisdom and life experience with her. Never pass up an opportunity to let kids teach you something. It allows them to open up their receptors to your words of wisdom.
5. Listen to your kids and don't overshare!
You might be surprised by the response I usually get from kids when I ask them, "If you wanted me to tell your parents something about social media, what would it be?" The response is generally the same, "They share too much!" Parents can be as guilty of oversharing online as kids. Have a discussion with your kids about when, what and why you should share images, posts and links on your social media accounts. You might be surprised by what they have to say.
6. Support a balanced life.
There is a lot of research out there about the benefits of balancing our connected lives with our nonconnected lives. There are tremendous mental and physical health benefits associated with movement, the outdoors, and sitting and reflecting on a day gone by. When my youngest was 6 months old, I vividly remember feeding her a bottle and checking Twitter on my phone at the same time. I was staying connected, but I was also missing one of the most important things in my life. While it's important to talk with kids about meaningful use of technology, we also need to help them train their brain to be still and enjoy living in the "now."
Spending time discussing these topics will not only engage your child in conversation, but also make them aware of your interest in their online well-being. These discussion points may or may not help your child cope with a social media, tech-crazed world. But I can tell you one thing for sure, you never know until you try.
Carl Hooker is the director of innovation and digital learning at Eanes ISD in Austin, Texas. He's also the "godfather" of the learning festival known as iPadpalooza and author of a six-book ISTE series titled Mobile Learning Mindset, which includes the book A Parent's Guide to Supporting Digital Age Learners.