As a child of the 80s, I remember when 7-Eleven wanted to open a store across the street from a school. The community believed that the invasion of the 7-Eleven would be a place kids would congregate and trouble would begin. Parents felt the neighborhood integrity should be protected. The parents arranged a protest and the 7-Eleven was built outside the residential neighborhood.
This event has stuck in my memory all these years later. Many parents were hyper vigilant about protecting children from heavy commercialization and corporate influence. During those years (Pre-Reagan) we also had ‘protected’ family TV time. Certain advertisers could not advertise on broadcast TV for fear it would negatively influence children. If you wanted exposure to corporate America you went to the local shopping mall. When that law changed it began to shift the whole culture to nothing being sacred anymore.
Parents during those years were often on the same team. A common goal existed among them: Let’s keep kids safe and free from prejudice. Let’s raise these kids in similar fashion so that they all learn the value of our character. Character was the currency during those years, working hard, being fair, honest, and truthful. When you made purchases it was often with a clear fair exchange at the corner store or the mall. Most families worked together to keep neighborhoods safe and sustainable. Parents had each other’s back for the most part and the rules were simple: Say please and thank you. Every dollar was accounted for. Teachers were generally the boss. And if someone looks older than you by a long shot, call them Mr. and Mrs.
Simple rules, simpler times.
In today’s social media craze and attention economy, many parents are left wondering how to take our kids back. What are the rules? How can we as parents get on the same team? Do we need to be on the same team? Empathically, I would shout as a parent: We are stronger together.
In a digital village of content, attention, and data how do we as citizens of this digital age take our power back and create the free market?
Here are 3 Quick Rules for Building Our Team
1. Get Educated: Are you the product or a customer?: In the age of social media what is very clear and parents must become educated on: Free is NEVER free. If anything in the digital world is free, you move from being a customer to a product. You sign your rights away on all your data. Do not mistake this point. You pay the price not with dollars but with the most intimate aspects of your life. Your emotions are being used fully and completely against you. As adults, perhaps you are okay with the selling of your data, but our children’s data? Are we really okay with that?
As parents we have the delightful opportunity to do with our time as we wish. No one can tell us what to do anymore. We don’t often respect many leaders anymore and we are pretty skeptical of each other. So if I want to spend hours on Facebook chatting away, I can do that. I can binge watch on Netflix and no one interrupts my time with commercials.
However, my children have brains that are still developing, still unlocking their potential, and that is worth more than any digital economy can buy. It is my duty as their parent to protect them and tell the powers that be: my kids are not for sale! Not now or ever, and quite frankly if you want me to buy something, ask me. That is a simple rule.
Rule 1: Educate, protect and respect me as their parent and I can in return choose to buy your product or not. But if you lie to me, deceive me to get at my kids, well I will go a little mama bear on you!
2. When I leave this digital space do I take my child’s data with me? We brought these little beautiful people into the world. Their little spirits, full of personality (most days) and their quirky interests. Our questions, where on earth did they get that from? Where did they learn that? They are learning so much about the big world in front of them. They ask all these funny questions: Do bugs have feelings? Why is the sky blue? On and on, our kids are full of interesting “data” points. As parents, we love these little people so much it makes our heart ache when they hurt themselves or worse when their feelings are hurt. Sometimes the band-aids are just not big enough!
My deepest desire as a parent is for my children to grow up with love, hope and belief in who they are. All these wonderful quirks are a parent’s delight. I truly don’t believe they are for sale. I believe in the sacred as their parent and I also know that through trial and error they will come to know themselves deeply. I also know that this learning process of who we are in the world doesn’t stop at the COPPA legal age of digital freedom at 13 years old! Watching my 14 year old find out who she is, is a DAILY conversation for us as her parents. She is so very susceptible and quite honestly needs more protection to learn about who she is, safely and without exploitation.
Rule Number 2: If our children’s data is exploited and used for advertising, just say no! Let’s protect all our child’s data and make sure you take it with you when you leave their digital space. If you don’t our children become the product, the experiment of their specific algorithms. Protect your child’s information and be their advocate.
3. Do the Digital Spaces Encourage Love or Fear: At coffee with my fellow moms we debate all the issues of technology, how much is too much? Phone or no Phone? When is it ok? What do we do about it? We debate all the time over the exact semantic answer. Let’s set all semantic rules aside and ask one simple question: Does your child leave their digital experience feeling good about themselves? It’s a simple question. Lord knows your child will tell you. My 10 year old recently announced she was banning herself from Youtube! We asked why, she said: “I went to watch one video on slime, then another and another popped up and the ads got scary! Besides, it prevents me from playing with my barbies.” Pretty simple honesty from her.
As parents we need to start observing their behaviour. I can always tell when my teenager has been on a bender with Snapchat and Instagram, she is groggy, irritated and starts to say things like: “I hate the way I look. I don’t look like a model” When we listen, observe and notice a change in their behavior it is time for us as parents to say no more, you need a break. As their parent, we can take this day by day and start to observe our children and ask questions of the content. Does it make them feel love or fear?
Rule Number 3: Parents, be the parent. If your child doesn’t look up anymore when on the device, starts to say things like it feels bad, or begins to see the world as half empty, intervene and protect their love, their heart centers. Our job is to intervene and protect them, full stop. The tech platforms will never do this for you, so take your power back.
For my fellow parents on this journey with Generation Z/Alpha, the time has come for us to get on the same team. We may be divided on health, education, politics, religion, and our technology usage. But I know in my heart that all parents can agree on one point: We truly want the best for our kids. We want our children to be hopeful. To reach their dreams. To believe in all is possible. We, as a global village of parents can agree that we are stronger together. Together, parents, WE CAN protect our global village of kids. It is incumbent on all of us adults to set aside our differences and raise our children together.