Kids today are tech natives. They have never lived in a world without the internet. They can’t even imagine how we grew up, without iPhones or Google. Even babies learn to scroll before they can effectively turn the page of a real book. In the U.S., 96 percent of teens use some form of social media from their phones, making cell phones the most common use of technology out there. With tech woven into the fabric of their lives, kids are more fluent in it than most parents can ever dream of being.
Technology can pose a few safety threats. According to i-SAFE Foundation, 52 percent of teens report having been cyberbullied, while the same number of kids report having participated in cyberbullying. 25 percent of adolescents report having been repeatedly bullied online. If that’s not enough, one out of three young people experience cyber threats online. What’s worse, well over one-half don’t tell their parents when it occurs. According to the Harford County Examiner, one in ten kids have had damaging pictures taken and posted of them without their consent and a staggering one in five kids have posted or sent sexually suggestive pictures. The Cyberbullying Research Center finds that cyberbullying victims are more likely to have low self-esteem and consider suicide, an egregious, but not surprising statistic when you consider how much online aggression happens without parental awareness.
While the dangers are real, chances are kids’ tech-native status will allow them to become increasingly savvy when it comes to protecting themselves online. They will figure out the online social rules much like they figure out the social rules at school. They may also find community support online that’s not always available in their real world connections. But, they still need parents to stay up on the technology that’s out there to keep them safe. For one, parents need to be having actual, verbal conversations with kids about safe online behavior, and what to watch out for. Of course, to do that, parents need to be informed! Parents also need to keep up with the tech they’re using, because this is how kids communicate – parents need to experience it themselves and see how it impacts their daily life and behavior, even if it seems silly. Parents can’t truly know the potentials and dangers out there unless they’ve experienced it too.
With so much information out there about the pitfalls of digital consumption, cyberbullying, digital dementia, etc., it’s easy to overlook some of the exciting reasons to keep up to date with technology as parents. First and foremost, the tech revolution is fueled by humans with bright ideas. Never before has access to information been so readily available. According to Wiley Evans, software engineer at 3D Robotics in Berkeley, CA, “technology is not a machine or device, it’s a manifestation of groupthink and group knowledge. It is a learning tool and you have to learn to use it.” We can discover and create together using tech. If parents are interested and up to date, the connections with kids become stronger. In keeping current, parents foster a love of learning and exploration, not to mention a basic tech proficiency, in kids whose futures depends on it.
Not only is there a basic level of tech proficiency that kids need and that parents need to understand their lives, keeping up with it means more opportunity for everyone. “Personally, for me and my son,” says Evans, “that means helping him understand how to invent, how to hack, how to master technology (which is knowledge) so that it’s a very powerful tool which he can help shape, define, and design.”
The U.S. technology industry added nearly 200,000 jobs in 2015 and currently employs almost 7 million people, according to Cyberstates 2016: The Definitive State-by-State Analysis of the U.S. Tech Industry published by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). It used to be that college was a kid’s ticket to a comfy middle class life, but now there’s no getting there without tech fluency. As a parent, supporting kids by staying up to date with technology in order to help them is actually vitally important as technology in schools varies widely from school to school and state to state. Kids need their parents to stay up to date with technology to be a supporting role and help to transition them into the workforce.
Adults spend 8.2 hours a day on digital devices. In other words, adults spend more time using tech than sleeping. With that in mind, it’s really important to remember that kids learn much more from what they see their role models doing than from what they hear them saying. Let them see technology being used for more than just socializing. Use it to model healthy online behavior. Show them a lifelong love of learning as tech is used to boost a career or learn a new skill. Bring kids into the loop on how amazing platforms are being integrated to make daily lives easier, and helping to make the family thrive.
Jenny Kepler, MA, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist and writer who has been helping families navigate parenthood for over 10 years. Her office is in downtown Portland, OR where she does in person therapy with adults, couples and families. She also offers parent coaching over the phone for people who can’t see her in Portland. http://jennykepler.com/