Teach Positive Tech Use in 2016

My digital wish (#Digiwish) for 2016 is for us to elevate the discussion of tech use from a limited scope of addressing problems, like cyberbullying and screen time, to a more holistic view of how to weave technology in to our lives in a positive way.
12/14/2015 02:34 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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My digital wish (#Digiwish) for 2016 is for us to elevate the discussion of tech use from a limited scope of addressing problems, like cyberbullying and screen time, to a more holistic view of how to weave technology in to our lives in a positive way. Our focus as a community of parents, teachers and tech safety advocates should be on how to encourage good digital citizenship, defined by the recent DigCit Summit as "smart, savvy and ethical use of technology."

Cyberbullying: One Part of the Digital Talk
I don't want to be misinterpreted here. I know that cyberbulling is a big issue, and one that needs to be addressed. It's just that I see a lot of schools around the country focusing their tech talks solely on what NOT to do. I think this lands with a big thud in an audience of tech savvy kids. Kids want to hear about what they should be doing online, as much as what they should not be doing. There is no doubt that cyberbullying is an important element of digital education. Organizations like Stopit! and iCANHELP are doing great work to combat this issue among our youth. But we need to balance the conversation with the positive role that digital technologies can play in our lives. It's also important to highlight the great opportunities online for people of all ages to express themselves, to create and to connect with people all over the globe. Integrating positive and creative use of technology, in and out of the classroom, should be the goal of a national digital curriculum.

Screen Time vs. Tech Diet
Google's Chromebooks were recently introduced in our elementary school. I attended a presentation to our PTA by the school's Media Specialist. This excited me since I want all my children to have strong digital skills. I was a bit disappointed that the parents in the audience were not as enthusiastic as I was. The questions from parents quickly descended to concerns about screen time. I think this is an obsolete problem. Do we want our kids to have an education like we had in 1970s and 1980s? Or do we want them prepared with the necessary skills for 2020 and beyond?

Again, I understand the concern. A recent Common Sense Media study found that teens are spending up to 9 hours a day engaging with media and technology. This sounds really bad until you think about all the ways kids may be using technology -- to study, to research, write and create projects for school, to connect with friends, access the family calendar, listen to music, watch TV / Movies / YouTube, play games, make plans, get directions, find out what's playing at the movie theater, and on and on. It's a lot of the stuff we did as kids, but our kids employ technology for all of it. I do think parents should establish digital rules, but they should take in to account the many ways kids (and all of us) use technology in order to set reasonable expectations.

The total screen time amount is not the full story because not all screen time is equal. We need to understand what our kids are doing online and why. Are they connecting or disengaging? Learning or escaping? Creating or being passive consumers? All of this is okay within reason, as long as there is balance in their lives. There's a lot of garbage online, but there are also great opportunities for learning, exploring, connecting and creative expression. I think parents should approach technology like they do nutrition; encourage healthy habits and limit the junk. In the end, what we want is for our kids to learn how to manage their limits on their own. We want to model and inspire good behavior so they are self-motivated, able to self-monitor and independently make good decisions in all aspects of their lives, including their digital health.

Work With your School and Teachers
Parents should support their schools efforts to bring 21st century learning into the classroom and reinforce appropriate tech use at home. Our kids will need digital skills as they enter the workforce, so we should embrace this change for the sake of our kids' future. Focus on the positive aspects of digital learning such as individualized plans, connected learning, access to world-class resources, collaborative projects, and online sharing of creative and academic work. Parents and teachers should support one another's efforts towards raising productive digital citizens.

Digital skills are also important as they begin to market themselves to potential colleges and future employers. Our kids need to know how to effectively use digital technologies to make connections and positive first impressions online. These skills need to be developed at home, in school, and even with added resources like Social Assurity.

Elevate the Discussion of Technology
The Internet is no longer optional; it's a necessity to participate fully in our society. So my #DigiWish for 2016 is for us to take more of a liberal arts approach to technology, study it from many perspectives and disciplines, and determine how it fits in to our lives and culture. The discussion with kids should incorporate more than screen time and bullies; more than tech abuses to it's many uses. Our goal is to nurture smart tech users. To do that, we need to teach, discuss and model good digital citizenship - smart, savvy, purposeful and ethical use.

This blog post originally appeared on CyberWise as part of their Digital Wishes campaign.

Cover image courtesy of Flickr.