Raising Digital Natives

on August 1, 2014
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Every generation faces new challenges raising their children as society and culture changes — from the time they are kids to the time they are parents. Looking back, it seems as the past century saw more generational changes than the many centuries prior. Technology, and the increased pace of innovation, played a central role in bringing about those sweeping changes to culture and society. What makes this challenging is often the challenges facing each generation in the past century were often brand new — prior advice and experience wasn’t always helpful. As a parent of two girls 11 and 9, I often find myself dealing with challenges, nearly all related to technology, that raise more questions than they do answers.

We are raising a generation that will not know a world without instant communication of not just voice, but text and multimedia. We are quickly moving to a world where “instant” is not just normal but expected. Instant news, instant media, instant communication. How will this instant access to information, media, content and more, shape their outlook on life? Perhaps more importantly, how will growing up in such a connected world shape their expectations? We do not yet know.

Talking with friends at a similar stage in life, it seems we all wrestle with the same questions but have yet to land on a consensus of philosophy. Answers differ to questions like, “When should my kids get a cell phone? When should they get a Facebook page, Twitter account, or Snapchat account?” Inevitably, some new thing is around the corner that will have to be evaluated as to what age kids should be before using it. How do we monitor what they use and who they talk to? Should we? These and more are central questions for raising digital natives.

When and When Not

One of the hardest questions we parents of digital natives have to deal with is how much access to digital technology should we give to our kids at various ages? There is clearly sound philosophies around making sure parents don’t over expose their infants, toddlers, and similar age groups to overstimulating media. But it gets tougher as they enter the pre-teen and teen years. We are faced with this every time we go on vacation. Nothing frustrates me more then when we are at a beach, or in the woods camping, and our kids are sitting inside, or outside, on their iPads or smartphones.

Without question there is a time for tech and time not to tech. The wisdom is in discerning the right and wrong time. The problem for many, including myself, is that we are just as bad as our children are. I am as guilty as they when it comes to over-using technology when on vacation. I simply can’t expect my kids to learn when to tech and when not to tech if I am not setting the right example.

It seems a common understanding that many parents use technology to “pacify” their kids in certain situations. Like car rides, or simply when parents need some peace and quiet. But the reality is as often as we use technology to pacify our kids, we also use it to pacify ourselves. At the same beaches, forests, and more, where I find myself using technology when I don’t want my kids to, I am often not alone when I look around. Knowing when to tech and when not to tech is hard.

Everyone will develop their own philosophy for raising digital natives. Each generation will face new challenges, and need to learn and evolve best practices. But I’ve landed on what is most needed in my particular circumstance is discipline. I must exercise this, model it, and teach it to my kids.

Unconnected

A business mentor of mine, once explained to me the value of being unconnected. The way he phrased it was, “Humans living in the digital age need to unplug to recharge.” It seems counterintuitive, especially since we subconsciously use technology to pacify ourselves, but it is absolutely true. One thing my family and I have been experimenting with is a “Digital Sabbath”. I have several friends who are Orthodox or practicing Jews and I have always appreciated their discipline of a true sabbath from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. I hear countless stories from them of how healthy a practice this is and in particular when it comes to technology. As a result, my family and I have been trying this during the same time frame to prevent having a smartphone, computer, iPad, or other form of technology distract us from each other rather than bringing us closer together. It is wonderful and if you have never tried something like it I suggest you do. Many believe if they were to completely shut off all their technology, not check email, respond to text messages or calls, the world will end. I’m happy to report it will not.

Given that my parents, along with parents my age who are raising digital natives, have little to no experience wrestling with these questions, they are ones I’m certain are still evolving. The pace of innovation has made parenting digital natives challenging. But ultimately this innovation is a good thing. Technology exists to benefit its owner. The key is learning the discipline to own technology but not to let it own us.