How to Raise Children in the Digital Age

Parents looking for a good summer read would do well to add “Talking Back to Facebook: The Common Sense Guide to Raising Kids in the Digital Age” to their reading list. Written by James P. Steyer, the founder of Common Sense Media, this book is full of thoughtful advice for parents trying to raise children in the digital age.

The first half of the book discusses “The RAP” – issues of Relationships, Attention/Addiction, and Privacy caused by overexposure to digital media. “Paying attention to another person is a basic sign of how much you care about them,” says Steyer, and warns that our “always-on” society has up-ended basic norms and relationships. It’s as much of a challenge for digitally distracted adults as it is for kids, and he notes that parents must put down their devices and model the active listening skills they expect of their children. He also talks about the very real risk of media addiction – be that video games, social media, or non-stop texting – and discusses the challenges faced by a generation of children who have great technical facility with digital tools, but lack the wisdom and maturity to use them wisely. This includes the problem of “self-revealing before self-reflecting” in which children overshare personal information without thinking of the potential consequences.

Taking the big picture view of the digital evolution, Steyer pulls no punches when discussing Silicon Valley executives like Mark Zuckerberg, who have “rather summarily called our long-held, fundamental right to personal privacy into question” in the pursuit of data collection and targeting advertising revenue. He goes on to point out that “The impulse-enabling nature of social media platforms, coupled with the vulnerable and inexperienced social and emotional development of many young people, can be combustible.” While not blaming digital media companies for problems like cyberbullying, he challenges their executives to make it more difficult for their platforms to be abused by young people.

In the second half of the book “Parenting 2.0: Top Common Sense Tips,” Steyer gives parents checklists, organized by age, to promote age-appropriate digital media use.  Suggestions, which include device-free mealtimes, limiting media exposure, being a good role model with regard to digital media use, and supervising your child’s online activities, are practical, age appropriate, and helpful. The actionable advice is immensely helpful for parents struggling to set age-appropriate media boundaries for their children. The “Discussion Questions for Parents and Teachers” at the end of the book are valuable conversation starters for families.

Steyer makes a point to discuss the positives of the new educational opportunities presented by the digital age. “There’s no question that digital media provides extraordinary new opportunities for creativity, collaboration, and connectedness, and it’s important that every kid has a chance to take advantage of these remarkable resources.” The challenge, he says, is to make sure that children learn to use these opportunities wisely.

As Steyer says in his introduction, “We can’t protect our kids from all the possible dangers, but we can help them grow up with the judgment and critical thinking skills they need to protect themselves as responsible and safe digital citizens.” Talking Back to Facebook is a valuable resource for parents trying to help their children navigate 21st century digital waters.

Susan M. Bearden
Director of Information Technology
Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy
Start Here. Go Anywhere
Twitter: @s_bearden and @HTEATech

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