Talking to Your Child About Technology

As a parent, what do you love about technology? What scares you about it?

Those two questions are great jumping off points for talking to your children about technology.

Starting the conversations when they are young and continuing them as they grow older will make it much easier to help your children navigate this increasingly complex online world.

Openly reflecting on your relationship to technology with your child is an important step in creating a space to share. In danah boyd’s book, “It’s Complicated,” she writes, “Teenagers go online to take control of their lives and their relationship to society.” As a parent, CTO and teacher, I feel danah’s comment is spot on! It’s important to understand that many people are actively cultivating their online presence, and the idea that there are two worlds — one virtual (online) and the other physical (the real world) — is not the way teenagers or many young adults think about their online presence. For them, it is all blended together.

Technology has become an extension of ourselves and a vehicle to share our values, beliefs, insights and ideas. It is where we go to work, to play and to learn. It is what connects us. It is where we test ideas, share information, and where we look for feedback and reflection. Sherry Turkle’s book, “Alone Together,” talks about this idea. She writes, “It used to be that people had a way of dealing with the world that was basically, ‘I have a feeling, I want to make a call.’ Now, I would capture a way of dealing with the world, which is: ‘I want to have a feeling, I need to send a text” or post to snapchat, instagram, facebook, etc…”

While I don’t agree with everything Sherry writes, I do find this point to be accurate. Technology is seductive in this way — it allows you to actively cultivate feelings. I think many of us create content geared to solicit a specific response, and if we don’t get the response we were hoping for, it can be very upsetting, especially when you are young.

Talk to your kids about this, and share your experiences about using technology. Maybe, like me, you have sent an email that did not have the right tone and when it was read, it upset someone or made them angry. Share that with your child, talk about that experience and how you dealt with it.

Try to steer clear of pining for the good old days. When I was a kid, we went outside and rode our bikes. We did not have computers, the internet or smartphones! Life was not better, it was just different and, unless you are Amish, this is not the world you are helping prepare your son or daughter for. Also, talking about the old days almost certainly will produce instant eye rolling!

Finally, ask your children to teach you how to use something — snapchat, instagram, etc… How did you edit and upload that video to Youtube? Why don’t you like email? What makes the perfect selfie? Keep it light, but keep them talking and you will get a chance to help them navigate our highly connected and highly social world.

John Rison

CTO — Abington Friends School