Embrace and Prepare for What’s Coming Next

It seems that just as quickly as technology changes—new apps or tools become available daily—so can our perspectives.  Here I share what I’ve learned from talking with my kids about the Internet and screen time as well what I’ve learned to help me prepare for what’s coming next.

This post is about a recent conversation I had with my daughters, ages 11 and 8, respectively, about the privileges and affordances or risks that the Internet, or more generally screen time experiences, provide them.  My goal was to use this conversation to figure out what my daughters knew and to figure out what they wanted and needed to learn to be critical users on the Internet daily. All the while, I was collaborating with colleagues, experts in the field at the intersection of literacy and technology, regarding their insights on raising children to be critical users on the Web.

In this initial conversation, I learned that my daughters were aware they could learn and be entertained via the Internet and screen time.  My 11-year-old shared some of the risks: people can find your location, too much screen time can damage your eyesight.  She was also a little disenfranchised by how her friends spent so much time on their phones, taking pictures of videos of themselves and not communicating in traditional ways.

In reflection, I noticed that my discourse, or language, impacted our conversation in a few ways.  One, my daughters dislike when I use my “teacher voice,” ha ha. Two, my line of questioning situated the Internet and screen time as a dichotomy.  It is good and/or bad. I wonder if, in part, this led to my daughters’ comments of it’s “bad for you,” or it’s, “not safe.” While the Web opens them to a world of possibilities, I wish I had taken stance of empowerment, one that would position my daughters to advocate for themselves in light of screen time (Turner, Jolls, Hagerman, O’Byrne, Hicks, Eisenstock, & Pytash, 2017).   

In reflection, after thorough review of the material for this podcast, I think I seemed to conflate tensions and changing perspectives.  I noticed some tensions in my oldest daughter’s discourse. She stated her case for a smartphone. In one regard she was critical of her friends’ usage.  She noticed that her friends with smartphones used them frequently and when face-to-face they talked to one another less. Then she argued with a phone, “It’s just easier to communicate.”  In the same conversation, she expressed no interest in social media. She said, “None of my friends are on Instagram.” Several months later, she’s expressed interest in having an account of her own.  This points to a change.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking, though, about what drives this change.  I’ve noticed, it’s very social and it’s popular. Communicating with friends is important to a tween, and this is how they do it.  I’ve learned depriving her of social tools won’t serve her well as she navigates how she fits in with her peers. Equally, depriving her won’t prepare her to be a critical user of the Internet.

What’s next?  Well, I will heed the advice of my colleagues, I will use her desire for a new tool as an approach point to start a conversation and lead a teachable moment.  I will have her read the terms of use of any social media site, like Instagram, to empower her to be a critical user, to understand the privileges and risks. 

So just as technology is ever changing, so is my perspective.  I’ve learned I need to embrace and prepare for what’s coming next.  I can harness approach points, when my daughters’ perspectives change, to have conversations and to teach them about both privileges and risks associated with the Internet and screen time. I recognize our conversations will be ongoing and will evolve as their Internet usage evolves.  In those conversations though, I aspire to approach the privileges and risks from a place of empowerment.

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Elizabeth Stevens

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