Handy advice for parents overwhelmed by their kids’ media world
Parents must become a better resource than others available to their children.
Parents raising children today are internet savvy and well able to keep up with their kids in this area. Right? Wrong. A recent survey by the Pew Research Centre in the US shows that "only 61 percent of parents check the websites their teens are visiting," reports Naomi Schaefer Riley. "About the same number have ever checked their kids' social-media profiles. And it would be pretty hard for them to find out much, considering that just over half the parents have ever “friended” or followed their teens on Facebook, Twitter or other social media. And less than half have checked their teens’ text messages.
“They’re just so overwhelmed, they’re acting like ostriches,” says psychologist Wendy Mogel. The author of “Blessings of a Skinned Knee,” Mogel says that “parents who would never let their kids have ice cream for breakfast or drive cars without a license have just given up” when it comes to technology.”
Over in Europe things are probably much the same, but Fabrizio Piciarelli of Rome-based Family and Media asked José María Corominas, President of the European Institute for the Study of Education (IEEE), for some tips for parents. His solutions boil down to using the ordinary opportunities of family life.
Q. Educating children has become a more complicated task than ever before. Other powerful educational agents have largely replaced the family and the school, with new methods of social communication booming thanks to digital technology.
The young can access information, knowledge and content with practically complete autonomy, and without parental filters and mediation. In this new situation, how are parents meant to educate their children any more?
A. Instead of saying complicated, I would say that this is an exciting and precious challenge for parents, calling for great diligence and dedication. We must become a better resource than the others available to our children, even if it means resorting to technological means ourselves.
As parents we are always present in their lives, regardless of what we’re doing or where we are. We are constantly talking in schools about the need to capitalise on the communication and trust of our children, right from the beginning, from their conception. And the most effective tool we have available is being able to answer questions, without which our credibility would diminish in their eyes, or even be lost completely.
If I had to choose between being a father yesterday, today or tomorrow, without doubt I’d choose tomorrow, because the involvement of the parents in the education process is growing and is becoming a formative experience for both parties.
How can we educate our children to use the media? How can you train them to use it in the right way by themselves?
By concentrating on how we use it and by using it together with them. They must understand that the media is not harmful in itself, but rather, just like any tool, it can be used positively and negatively. We must talk to our children, looking for the right moments to use media, be it a film, work, the news, or something else that demonstrates good and bad examples in using technology. We need to help them succeed in forming their own criteria for judging the merits of its use compared with other things.
How important is dialogue between parents and children in a family’s education programme?
Dialogue between parents and children is fundamental. It’s especially important to have a reciprocal relationship, where the children can confront the parents, and the parents respect the children; above all this must start from a young age. And dialogue means discussing our every day life with them – our worries, our joys – and giving them time to do the same in return.
But it’s important that such discussions are not like a KGB interrogation. Obviously this practice must be undertaken in an intelligent, consistent way, and above all, must be adapted to their age.
It doesn’t just boil down to the quality of the time, but to time itself. Let me explain. The sensitive periods of a child’s growth constitute the best opportunities for creating and capitalising on communicative bonds, since in these times they are more ready to learn, to develop faith in us, and – if we help them – to make bonds that will be difficult to break another day. In other words, we know our children and we need to make a way for them to know us.
To conclude. Among the avalanche of daily mail, WhatsApp messages and Facebook notifications, is it perhaps worth stopping a moment, to switch off the mobile phone and to reflect a little on what is necessary and what, on the contrary, really is not? What are your good digital intentions and what advice would you give our readers?
We need to share special moments with our children. We can't tell them to put away their technology when we are not doing it ourselves. We should organise trips, little outings where we are all together: it is not enough to stay at the same place, by the sea or in the mountains, with everyone doing their own thing or having friends around for the children. Instead we should organise family excursions that include walking, sport, games, cultural visits, charitable activities, etc., where the whole family can be together, hand in hand, and each member has time with the others in turn.
It is vital to spend special individual moments, like during a walk or at tea time, when both parents and children feel special and can open up to share experiences.
Finally, do not forget the first lessons of every parent starts within the family, with their spouse, and continues through into their children.
This article is an edited version of one appearing at Family and Media. Read the original article here.