Here is excerpt #4 from the new book we are working on, Who’s Raising Our Kids? Nurturing Human Values in a Digital World (©2017). See our post from October 1 for excerpt #1.
Presenting in California about the effect of media technology on relationships, I led a workshop with the high school seniors. The school had just instituted a media policy that prohibited students from having cell phones during class or at lunch. The younger students seemed to be taking this in stride but the seniors, who were used to using their cell phones whenever they wanted, were outraged. As one 17-year-old put it, “What do they expect us to do? Just sit there and eat our lunch, staring at each other? What are we supposed to say, ‘Oh, hi, how are you?’!”
Yes, that would be good. The school understood that it was part of their job to prevent media technology (MT) from continuously buffering their students from face-to-face experiences. They understood that face-to-face communication fosters not only social skills and self-awareness, but it is instrumental in teaching children how to become compassionate participants in the world.
Later in this book, we create a family plan that promotes face-to-face communication. For now, let’s remind ourselves that social media and texting are here to stay and, when used ethically, can be powerful forces for good. We wouldn’t want to reject the cyber world even if we could. We want our children to enter this world with a strong sense of identity that is grounded in human values.
Laura is telling me about a Snapchat she sent the night before to a guy, a friend-of-a-friend. “I was laying in bed, I don’t know, I was half asleep or something, and we were just fooling around, kind of teasing each other. So I took this photo of me laying in bed in just my bra. I really wasn’t going to send it because I know how stupid that is, but then it just got sent. It’s crazy. Like I wasn’t even really thinking of sending it. So now I’m freaking that he could have taken a screen shot. I don’t think he would, but I bet he’ll tell my friend.”
Laura is not stupid; she is a teenager and very aware of the power she yields in attracting guys. She should be feeling this power and figuring out how she wants to use it, but not at night, and not on Snapchat.
Under no circumstances should children have a smartphone in their bedroom at night. They won’t get enough sleep. There is no teen or pre-teen that has the capacity to disconnect from their peers, who are all awake with smartphones. I know they use it for an alarm clock—really lame excuse. I know they will say they use it to wind down. That’s not true. Being a teenager is being hardwired to connect with your peers. They cannot resist. And we are naïve to think that they can.
Today, understanding the importance of thinking before you speak and pausing before you click has to be built into our parenting or we risk our children harming themselves or others before they even get out of middle school. We will talk more about helping children develop the muscle of self-discipline in Chapter Six. But, independent of the personal damage a snarky comment or thoughtless photo can have, it’s important that our children know that each of us has the power, through the words and images that we choose, to alter and shape our environment. Each of us has the power to bring toxicity to an environment or to create a space that reflects honesty and acceptance. Now more than ever, children need to learn that their words never disappear but contribute to a larger social contract that either supports the values we believe in or creates a jungle of predatory egos. Words matter, as do images, whether at the dinner table, between siblings, when you’re texting, or when you are hiding behind a tweet.
Throughout the book we will continue to look at the many ways MT affects how children learn to communicate. For now, it’s enough to begin thinking about how MT has changed the ways your family communicates for the better and for the worse. Ask yourself, “What do I want my child to understand about communication that will apply no matter what form of communication he is using? What are my values?”
As parents and educators, we always have had the responsibility of holding children accountable for how and what they communicate. Good manners, being polite, and civil discourse are essential to being part of the human family. In the internet age where anything you say can go viral, learning these qualities of ethical communication is essential. So think about it. Do you believe that what you say reflects the character of who you are? Even if it disappears in three seconds? Even if you are “just joking”? Even if “everyone talks like that”? Even if it’s only 140 characters? It’s important to discuss these questions with your children and to be clear that your values hold true, no matter the medium.
What do you want your child to understand about communication that will apply no matter what form of communication s/he is using? What are your values?