• Teodora Pavkovic

Kids Navigating the Digital World: 5 Practical Tips for Parents

This blog post was originally published by Michael Miller on the Six Seconds website, as part of a series on EQ and Technology. Please click here to view the original article. Thank you for the interview Michael!

If you are a parent today - regardless of whether your child owns their own device [yet] or not - you are captaining the ship called “Raising a Child in the Age of Technology.”


I have seen so many parents do such a great job navigating these murky waters, and I wanted to share some actionable and encouraging tips that can help regardless of the stage of digital consumption your child is at.


Here are my 5 fundamental tips (excerpt from interview):


1. Create healthy habits around technology. “Tech-time is like food,” Pavkovic says, “and not all food is created equal. Kids can’t grow and develop to be healthy with a steady diet of just protein, or just sugar, and it’s the same with technology. It’s crucial to be intentional and measured.” It’s not just about the quantity, either. Pavkovic says it’s also important to consider how we use technology with our children when they are very young – is screen time given as a treat, a pacifier, or is it withheld from them as a form of punishment? Children’s brains form connections exceptionally quickly, and the rules we set in place for them early on become embedded and hard to alter. “Technology is a tool, after all, and we want to teach them about its usefulness as well as its potential drawbacks – and we want to do this at developmentally appropriate stages.”


2. Set boundaries based on your values. How much screen time and technology consumption should be allowed? Pavkovic says every parent or couple has to decide the parameters of safe and acceptable tech use for their family, and set boundaries based on that. “The important part is to be informed as a parent, and to make sure you communicate to your child why the rules are what they are. I have found, time and again, that parents who feel confident and in complete ownership of their views and values – and who keep the conversation about technology flowing with their kids – are most able to tolerate their children’s occasional anger and protests in the face of boundaries.” Pavkovic also notes the irony that it’s the parents who live and work in Silicon Valley that are by now notoriously known for imposing the strictest boundaries around technology consumption – perhaps because they understand technology from the inside-out and are more aware of its impact and potential risks.


3. Help kids see the dollar signs. Teaching kids that access to their time, attention and privacy is being monetized is one half of the most important technology use lesson – the other is that they are in charge of how they share these precious resources. “Kids have an innate sense of fairness – of right and wrong – and they really dislike being tricked. They are incredibly adept at picking up on this, especially during that Middle School phase!” Pavkovic recommends asking kids to question the way products are designed and marketed, and be mindful of the choices they want to make as a result. YouTube, for example, needs you to watch and consume its videos and spend as much time as possible on its platform, and so it recommends videos that its algorithms predict you may want to watch. Netflix operates in a similar way: its CEO Reed Hastings has said, “You get a show or a movie you’re really dying to watch, and you end up staying up late at night, so we actually compete with sleep.” We must never forget that there is a large number of apps and platforms in the digital universe, all desiring to be used and to have their content consumed by us. “It’s never too early to help kids understand the basic framework of the digital economy,” Pavkovic says.


4. Accompany your kids. Just as parents would never leave their child unaccompanied in an airport or a mall, surrounded by strangers, parents should also be a steady presence as their children take their first few eager steps into the online world. But it shouldn’t stop there. “They need to know someone is there to not only monitor and supervise them, but also to protect and advocate for them if necessary.” This has to go beyond simply keeping tabs on kids’ online behavior – it’s about helping kids understand the bigger picture of tech habits and the thoughts and emotions that result from using technology. As kids explore the digital, be there to guide them. “If you find them reluctant to initiate a conversation about their experiences (highly likely with the teens!), get the ball rolling yourself by talking about how, for example, using Instagram makes you feel. The endless scrolling of picture-perfect bodies, puppies and food impacts both your mood and thinking, and it’s so valuable to share that with your children who will likely be on the platform soon enough themselves.”


5. Model the best and most desired behaviors. Do it for the kids! Parents do this in so many different places already, whether it’s driving or crossing the street safely, eating right, drinking in moderation (or not at all), keeping personal hygiene, and even having the political or religious views that are in-line with your family’s values. How we consume technology and how big of a space we carve out for it within our lives is the latest set of best practices we need to impart on our children. “Parents have a huge responsibility to model the kind of digital citizenship they want to see their children imitate one day – it takes a village, as the old saying goes, and it’s schools, tech companies and religious communities that all need to come together and contribute, but you are your child’s first point of contact for this.”

I will be speaking on the "22nd Century Learning" panel of the upcoming EmotionAI virtual conference hosted by Six Seconds. To register and tune in, head over to this page.

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