CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? How teens are shouting for you to be the adult in the room.
Remember when Moms and Dads were applauded for unplugging and monitoring screen time? It was only a few years ago that we could get away with ‘no phones at the dinner table!” and ‘we will have no wifi on vacation!” as our digital manifesto. Now, even that, while laudable, is not enough to keep any kid safe. We need to change course. Somehow, technology became too complicated and time to listen to teens became too short—and parents used it as an excuse to tune out to what their kids were doing both on and offline.
A Pew Report assessing adults readiness to use digital tools for learning showed that 52 percent of American adults lack ‘digital readiness’. Many Americans are not eager or ready to take the plunge, according to Pew. And parents aren’t doing well in the listening department either. They’re stressed, depressed, overworked and confused — so much so that it seems sometimes teens are the adults in the room. Teens are the ones listening to each other at schools, in their homes and yes, online, according to a separate Pew report. Note that kids connected most at school and at their homes; technology came in third place. See the details, here.
At our children’s schools, many parents show up infrequently, with the exception of parking lot pick-ups, sports games and donation or spirit days. Teachers interaction with parents is often limited to ‘school nights’ or conferences or special meetings about safety and security measures. These are important, but they are also effectively killing off any natural curiosity parents might have about how kids are interacting, managing news and technology or participating in social justice movmements.
That is, until recently, anyway. Now, in crisis, we are learning to support our schools and our children through the gun debate, the #metoo movement and more. We have started thinking, maybe we should be making connections, joining online groups and doing social good together as a community.
In our communities, one key to sustaining any type of behavioral change is “creating a culture without boundaries and borders,” according to an IBM Think Leaders white paper, which calls for ‘radical collaboration’. Does a student walk-out count as a radical collaboration? I would say yes, yes it does. And new reporting seems to back me up. Read the most recent piece, Is Demonstrating Good For Kids? published in the New York Times this week. There is a wide range of ways to demonstrate and get involved, but what unifies them is this: Conversations that get started online and then taken offline, IRL, give parents and teens the capacity to come together and move forward in meaningful ways. We complain about kids screening calls, sexting and scanning for ‘likes’ all day on their social media feeds. But I am beginning to think more kids than parents are getting together and creating meaningful bonds than many parents are these days. Why is that? For parents, one crucial piece of the framework is missing: digital training for parents that helps them see how to bring online conversations into the real world. We leave many parents out in the cold, saying it is kids who need to be spoken with and advised on social media use. Hmmm…maybe we should have started with the parents?
Everywhere in this country, there is a dire need for some radical collaboration between parents and schools — one that goes beyond parent nights to discuss cyberbullying and sexting or mental health and gun safety updates. It is not too late, although it sure does feel like it some days. When parents, kids, teachers, coaches and school administrators are all part of a positive conversation and have opportunities to learn together to do social good using social media, then we will be making serious progress.
My question to young people, over and again has been: What is the number one thing you would do to stop bullying and sexting and mental health issues that you don’t see happening now? Teens’ answers almost always includes how much they want their parents to be a part of they online lives.
It’s time we help each other and the families in our community to connect.Connect with teachers. Connect with teens. Connect with lawmakers and artists and influencers for change. And when those meetings take place, let’s let social media for social justice take center stage instead of tech addiction, which often leads the conversation. A brief from The Children’s Partnership (October 2016) explained the challenge like this, “As policy-makers, advocates, and voters determine where to target scarce public funding, they should consider an underutilized and often overlooked resource: families. The next educational resource our nation invests in should be our children’s parents and other caregivers.” I couldn’t agree more. How we choose to utilize our resources and to connect our country will define this country’s success or failure. It will define how we change the conversation about guns, sexual harassment, inclusion and diversity.
Unless you’ve been living under a pile of rocks, you know: Really tough, important discussions are starting online or via text every single minute of the day — and then are quickly heading offline. Parents: Don’t you want to be a part of the conversation wherever it is, from the start? Some people have said to me: I flat out don’t want to spend my precious hours with my kids on Twitter or YouTube. And I flat-out think you are wrong and that you may want to reconsider. Five minutes reading about @emmagonzalez on Twitter. Five minutes on YouTube watching highlights from #schoolwalkouts and student speeches that say #enough. Five minutes asking your kid to share a few photos from their Snap account about the recent events. All of it is better than silence or shutting down screens. Admit it. You’ve got time. Please, make the time.