Helping Parents: Our Most Valuable, Overlooked Resource

That Beaker face we all make on science/tech overload!

It’s time we started including one of our most valuable resources in internet and social media training: families — moms, dads, aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings and beyond. This may surprise most adults, but kids actually want us to be involved in their online worlds. What teens tell me they don’t want? They’re not interested in listening to adults freak out or talk ourselves into a frenzy about the evils of technology, social media and being constantly connected.

If you are a drone dad or micromanaging mom — and yes, I’ve been one at times, studies show our effectiveness is fairly limited when we try to snoop or or ‘shut down’ social media. In fact, the reason we are over-parenting is because we are overcompensating. For what, you ask? For not having taken the time to learn all the positive and intellectually stimulating things our smartphones, laptops and tablets have to offer. Instead, most days many of us wield our phones like a weapon — texting teachers and other parents and anyone who might give us the dirt on how to get our kid ahead on the field or in the classroom.

No adult should be left behind. To navigate the digital world, we can’t be shutting it down. We must embrace it. I lelieve that when we connect to our kids — IRL and online — they will come back to us; shut them down and it’s likely they’ll shut down our access to what they are thinking and doing.

Texting teachers and coaches our suggestions and worries is busywork. We must make time for the real stuff or we simply appear addicted to our phones, unable to let our competitive crazy-busy Alpha-parent role go.

WELCOME TO THE GRAND CHASM. Research shows that people over the age of 50 know the importance of monitoring what children do with technology, but they haven’t embraced the idea of mentoring them the way Millenial and Gen X parents are doing. Doing both isn’t an easy job. Parents today have big shoes to fill. We are leading a culture shift. Not only do we decide who gets what devices but now we need to ask: How does this add value to my home and my kids life? Not long ago, we could get away with ‘no phones at the dinner table!” and ‘we will have no wifi on vacation!” Now we need to change course and respond to what is essentially a crisis in adult learning.

A recent 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.

In the report, some people surveyed admitted a lack of confidence, others reported that they are traditional learners and need help managing their own devices, including the basic safety settings.

Schools need to include parents in the conversations around digital life. Schools must be a part of the conversation with families. And no, I’m not talking about scheduling another panel on how your daughter’s digital footprint will affect her chances of getting into Harvard. Honestly, by the time she’s ready for college, it may be your family digital footprint that is the biggest issue. Yes, I’m talking to you, Millenials, who love Sharenting on Facebook and taking part in nasty political banter on Twitter.

Yes, less is a good thing— but not less access. I’m talking about less scare tactics and more hands-on-devices learning for parents. Limiting discussions with parents to safety and security measures is effectively killing off any natural curiosity we parents might have about the rest of the digital learning landscape. Would we be more interested in being a part of our children’s online lives if we were actually making connections, joining groups and doing social good together as a community? I think so. 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’, which I love.

TEACH TECH INTELLIGENCE. The future needs to be about radical collaboration between parents and schools. Discussions about online safety and teens emotional development are key for us (we worry! we’re parents!), but teaching tech intelligence to parents wins hands down for urgency.

My question to young people in the last year, over and again, through my research has been this: What is the number one thing you would do to stop bullying and sexting and trolling that you don’t see happening now? In my recent Twitter search, the answer almost always included a positive about parents. We have a lot to learn as adults-about mentoring, monitoring and parents mastery of tech and social media.

I feel confident enough to pick a fight and say that of all the billions of dollars spent on security, technology and professional development for teachers, one huge influence on children is being ignored: PARENTS.

It’s time we help each other and the families in our community to connect. Connect with teachers. Connect with teens. And when we meet, let’s let tech intelligence instead of tech addiction lead the conversation. A recent 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.

If you agree, please share this with an adult who may not have thought about tech and social media in this way. Start building a positive community of like-minded people. I can see a positive footprint in your future. You can find mine on Twitter @dbrodey.

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