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4 Big Ways Raising Digital Natives Changes Parenting

Nov 14, 2016

About 15 years ago, education consultant Marc Prensky came up with the term, ‘digital native.’ It essentially refers to those kids who grew up after the online revolution entered full swing. This is a generation where smartphones, tablets, video games, social media, and the 'net may have always been part of their life; in many cases, they could swipe a screen before they could pick up a crayon. The rest of us oldies are ‘digital immigrants’ — we weren’t born into this internet-driven world, but we’re here and trying to adapt as technology advances.

Of course, this is a super-broad definition. Nobody is born with innate iPhone skillsets, not everyone has access to digital devices, and some baby boomers are more cyber-savvy than some millennials. Still, for many kids, the impact of computers has been huge (in good or bad ways, depending on who you ask), and this extends to their parents.

Why is the digital native concept so important?

Prensky thought children being exposed to all this digital stuff would change the way they think and process information. There’s the cliché that teens can do 20 tasks at once because they’re used to texting five different people while reading while listening to music while checking Instagram — they get used to interacting with the world in a different manner than previous generations.
Some suggest this means people need to adapt how they teach kids in schools and how we parent them outside. A lot of the time-tested and true ‘rules’ may no longer apply. Here are just four of the million new considerations that come with raising digital natives.


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1. Accept you won’t always get to lead the charge.

Parents can help them understand how to see biases and process information from various sources — a new form of media literacy.

It used to be parents would teach their kids how to use technology, and that’s changing. But this doesn’t mean it will be kids teaching their parents — it’s rapidly becoming a co-teaching/co-learning situation, as both generations explore new programs and share with each other.
Having access to unlimited information also means kids might be the ones informing their parents about world events or causes important to them. Parents can help them understand how to see biases and process information from various sources — a new form of media literacy.

2. Try to find the right balance when it comes to tech use (but don’t be too hard on yourself).

If you wanted to watch TV late at night, you used to have to sneak downstairs, put the volume low, and hope the screen’s blue tint didn’t give you away. Bluetooth headphones and smartphones have changed this a bit.
Even if you can figure out how to enforce tech curfews, you’ll still need to determine how much staring at a screen is OK during the day. Being connected isn’t only about playing games or zoning out — for many kids, it’s an important two-way communication line to the world (and a necessity for homework). What’s the right amount of time? No one really knows yet, so it’s about trying to establish a healthy amount and then adjusting from there.

Children need to be taught to treat others nicely even when it’s not face to face, and to understand there’s no real anonymity.

3. Remind them to be a decent person, both online and offline.

For millennia, parents have told their kids to say please and thanks — this now extends to the virtual world. As they grow, children need to be taught to treat others nicely even when it’s not face to face, and to understand there’s no real anonymity. Anything they post or do online is a permanent reflection, so it’s important to not be impulsive.

4. Understand that education can be the best form of protection.

It’s pretty much impossible to shield your kids from all the dangers on the web. Even if you demand social media passwords and access to texts, or install monitoring programs, your precocious progeny will find the means, methods, and workarounds to stay secret. If you can’t stop them, then you need to make them aware of the potential issues so they can be empowered to be vigilant, but also know they can come to you safely with any questions, fears, or problems.

Article Author Erik Missio
Erik Missio

Erik Missio used to live in Toronto, have longish hair and write about rock ‘n’ roll. He now lives in the suburbs, has no-ish hair and edits technical articles. He and his wife are the proud parents of a six-year-old girl who is already pretty adept with a tablet, and a two-year-old boy who probably will be sooner than appropriate. He received his MA in Journalism from the University of Western Ontario.

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