What follows is an excerpt from my new book: Tuned in Family: How to Cope, Communicate, and Connect in a Digital World.
I don’t have to tell you that technology has created a whole new challenge to parenting. As parents you already know that technology tools can be on one hand, super amazing for teaching and connecting our children, while at the same time, they can also be distractions that might prevent them from experiencing the “real world” in favor of a virtual world.
Parents all over are trying to figure out ways in which to balance the good with the bad. Some impose screen time limits, while others decide to go “technology free”, and others allow their children to explore and use all manners of technology. There are websites to help guide parents including the very helpful and useful Common Sense Media and many books and blogs that provide advice on how to protect your children and your family, keep them safe online, how to set limits and create boundaries. And yet, what I’ve found is all of this falls short if you don’t first take a moment or two or even three to consider carefully your own Technology Philosophy.
Before you can begin talking with your family about digital technologies and setting ground rules, it is important to set a foundation that is grounded in your family’s values, beliefs, and culture. It is also helpful to take a moment and really think about how virtual/digital spaces though different are often more similar to face-to-face situations than we realize.
Why is this important? Because it is very easy for us to believe that the virtual/digital spaces we use are somehow different from being in a face-to-face social situation with another person. And yet, fundamentally they are the same. We are surprised that bullying happens online but, is it really any different than any other type of bullying? We expect people to be respectful of others when they are in person, why shouldn’t we expect the same behavior online? The technical differences are simple:
- In a face-to-face situation we must face a person directly, which makes most of us pause and consider their reactions and feelings because we can see them react as we are having a conversation. Online, we cannot see that reaction, unless we are engaged in a real time video chat with someone.
- Online interactions are often permanent and can follow us for years, while face-to-face meetings are captured in our memories, but may not have the same permanency as those online.
- In an online environment messages can travel farther, faster, and are often magnified in ways completely out of our control, while face-to-face interactions and messages don’t travel as far, as fast.
Starting from the realization that however we treat people in person and however we want to be treated in person is how we should act and react online sets a positive tone for your entire family. In other words, starting with the technology and settings on that specific technology (whether it is something like XBox Live or Facebook) ignores the more important aspect of acknowledging the individual, their maturity level, their interests and their goals, as well as the behavior you want to model for your children.
A family’s approach to communication technology should be about how all the individuals in the family can contribute together to learning and adapting to technological change. It’s about building a family learning community if you will. It is not about who has the power to control, but rather, how we all gain knowledge together to overcome fear of the unknown.
The first step in that process is for everyone in the family to identify their own technology philosophy. Begin by thinking about your own comfort with communication technology and how you use it. Start by taking a look at this diagram from Forrester Research called the “Social Technographics Ladder”
As you look at the Technographics Ladder can you find yourself? Your partner? Your children? Other members of your family? How different are you? What’s your primary role? Your secondary? I fall into many of these roles. I am a Creator because I publish my own blog. I’m a Conversationalist because I post status updates, and comments on multiple social networking sites. I’m also a Critic and a Collector. On some sites I’m a Joiner and I am often a Spectator as well. Perhaps the one thing I am not is an Inactive. This is why I’m recommending you consider a primary inclination and a secondary one as you look at these categories. In my case, I would say my primary is a Conversationalist and my secondary is a Creator. Why? Because I spend more time in conversation than I do in the creation of content. I would peg my daughter as a Spectator and Conversationalist with a growing interest in becoming a Creator.
What comes next is simple. Use the Tuned In Family Technology Philosophy Worksheet I’ve developed to help you really think about your own and your family’s use of technology. Once you’ve completed it, sit down with your family and talk through how you each filled it out. There are no right or wrong answers. Essentially, this is the discussion that will form the foundation for your family’s technology philosophy. It is in this discussion that you might have to tackle differences of opinion about areas such as:
- Where do each of you fall on the “Technographics Ladder”? How does that impact your attitude about online communication tools?
- Are you a family that is open to technological change? If parents are comfortable with changes, but tweens in the household aren’t, how will you address this?
- Are you more conservative in your approach to allowing new technologies in the home? What happens if your child has a strong technological aptitude? How will you foster this while still being true to your family values?
- Are you education-centric and want just educational applications in your home? If so, how will you compromise with the gamer in the family?
- Are you concerned about privacy and security? How will you all agree on content that you will share, or not share? How will this impact family passwords or virus protection software, to name only two examples?
Once you’ve had your discussions it’s time to use the space below to write down your technology philosophy. Some examples that might help you include:
As a family we believe that technology:
Is an important part of our daily lives. It makes things more convenient, is a big part of our entertainment, and helps us to stay connected. As a family we respect that each of us has a different comfort level with technology and because we respect each other, we agree to ask permission before posting content about the family on open social networks. We will respect the importance of health and wellness and set guidelines that will help us all use technology wisely. We will share our knowledge with each other because technology always changes.
While ubiquitous, should be managed carefully. We believe that all things should be balanced and come in moderation, and technology is a tool that can help us get things done, but should not be the focus of our lives. Screen time in all things will be limited, boundaries will emphasize the importance of face-to-face family time and we will evaluate new technologies carefully.
Helps us stay connected, have fun, and makes our lives easier and even more engaging. We will explore new technologies together as a family and evaluate each one as a unique learning opportunity. We’ll set rules along the way, as we discover how each tool adds value to the individuals within the family or the whole family.
Using the examples provided, along with the discussions you have had as a family write down your family’s technology philosophy:
As a family we believe that technology:
And with that you can begin to lay the groundwork for how you will adapt, use, and model technology use in your family.