The attention-grabbing headline pulled me in, but nothing seemed terribly unexpected as I scrolled through the article. I nodded through passages like, “hanging out alone in her room with her phone…” “dramatic shifts in behavior…” “proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent…”
Until I got to one phrase that made me stop short.
“I call them iGen. Born between 1995 and 2012, members of this generation are growing up with smartphones.”
It was the identification of my own child, born in 2010, as a member of this iGen group.
In a brief episode of primal fear (after all, this article says the iGen are in mental health crisis), my mind flicked through every contact my child has ever made with a smartphone, like some kind of frenzied mental Rolodex.
But as I slowed, regrouped, took a few deep breaths, I remembered something: exposure is not the issue here. It’s connection.
I’ve written many times about the importance of cultivating digital citizenship (see 3 Reasons 1st Grade Isn’t Too Early to Teach DigCit, 3 Reasons HS’s too Late to Teach DigCit, Digital Citizenship: A Richer #Edtech Perspective) and the conclusion is always the same: we must view digital citizenship with a lens of opportunity instead of with a lens of fear.
This, of course, requires purpose, balance, and prudence on adults’ part. And with the very real and weighty issues presented in The Atlantic in mind, I would like to share 5 ways we can cultivate a sense of opportunity over fear as we teach our iGen kids digital citizenship.
#1: Recognize that their childhoods won’t mirror ours — and that’s ok.
As some neighborhood kids recently got together to play in our backyard, I noticed them huddled around a smartphone:
If I were to share such a photo without any background, people might jump to the same conclusions they did when the photo below was shared of kids in a museum (ie, “Kids these days!!” or “Look at them glued to those devices!!”)
Eat your heart out, Rembrandt. pic.twitter.com/hN42zJ3NPJ
— Harriett Gilbert (@HarriettSG) December 7, 2014
But the context they’d be missing would be that this is what it looks like when digital citizenship becomes woven into the fabric of daily life. Right before I snapped the photo, these kids were darting around the yard creating a stop-motion movie of their make-believe play (and the context of the above tweet is that these kids were using an interactive museum tour app).
Of course, this can also be what zombie-land phone addiction looks like, but that’s why it’s so important to seek out and be aware of context.
#2: Model appropriate balanced use.
There are those who feel the need to altogether keep devices out of their young children’s physical sight-lines — and while this may be a temporary solution, it removes the opportunity for open dialogue with our children about how we use our devices. They need to hear not only what we do with our phones, but what strategies we employ to keep obsession at bay, especially in the face of social media.
#3: Make the good you do with your device louder than the bad they hear about.
Speaking of modeling, educators Edna Sackson and George Couros have inspired my thinking time and again about this concept:
Cyberbullying, white ribbon week, internet safety — these are all good and important concepts to cover with our children. But if they are exclusive, then we are missing a huge opportunity.
#4: Emphasize creation over consumption.
Videos like the one below help convey the incredible ways we can view, express, and share the world around us.
And resources like this might help them comprehend the sheer creative potential they hold in their hands (and to appreciate how far we’ve come in a short period of time):
Of course, consumption has its place and we should have honest conversations about our sources and habits there, too. But an important part of citizenship in general is that in a community, people need to both give and take.
#5: Emphasize the personally meaningful ways you are using tech to enhance relationships.
This “Dear Sophie” video inspired me so much back in 2011 that I decided to do the same with my own kids. This is a beautiful example of how we can leverage the technology to connect with our loved ones in historically unprecedented ways.
Our iGen kids are part of an exponentially shifting period of history — and of course, this is just the beginning. Our best bet for helping them navigate safely is to embark on the journey together.
featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto