Let’s face it. Screens and devices are everywhere. At least they are in my home and my classroom. Between our 1:1 classrooms and the smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops, and TVs we have at home, we are continuously plugged into the outside world. The connection to technology isn’t all bad, but it isn’t all good either.
As a parent, I struggle with how much screen time to allow my kids and with how much supervision and monitoring of their devices they need. I’ve not allowed certain video games in my house, and we have rules that limit the amount of time our kids can watch TV and play video games during the school week. We also require devices to be brought downstairs each night to be charged and so that the kids hopefully will get some sleep.
My wife and I have tried to be intentional in raising our children and teaching them to use technology wisely, but we still feel overwhelmed by many of the challenges of raising kids in an always-plugged-in world especially when we see other parents taking different approaches with our kids’ peers. After all, does our preteen need a smartphone? What if all of his friends have one? And how do we keep our nine-year-old safe when she’s playing games online? How do we teach our kids the relational skills they need to be successful adults when they are constantly on a device? And, how do we encourage our teenagers to use technology to create and learn and not mainly to consume and play?
After reading Devorah Heitner’s book Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World, I told my wife I wish I’d had the book several years ago. Heitner is the founder of Raising Digital Natives, a resource for parents and schools wanting to help children flourish in a digitally connected world. Heitner wants families to make technology work in whatever way matches our personal philosophies. I didn’t get the sense that she has a personal agenda about technology and the book will be useful for parents who embrace technology and those who distrust it. However, Heitner does express a strong belief in the potential of technology for our kids. While acknowledging and addressing the challenges of growing up in the digital age as shared with her through interviews with students, Heitner offers thoughtful and practical ways parents can mentor their children to have the relational and time management skills needed to become responsible digital citizens. She also does a great job of helping adults see how many of the problems kids face today are similar to those of earlier generations, but the use of today’s technology means these problems leave a lasting digital trail and have a greater chance of being amplified.
Over the course of the book, Heitner empowers parents to mentor their children in using technology appropriately. First, she provides a glimpse into some of the ways in which our children may be tech savvy but still lack wisdom. Then, Heitner offers a way for parents to assess our digital literacy and provides great questions to ask our children to deepen our understanding. She also encourages us to become “tech-positive parents” who embrace the opportunities for creativity, collaboration, and connection that technology allows. Becoming a technology mentor to our children is no small task, and I appreciate Heitner’s reminder that “empathy is the app” that helps us lead our children in ways that they will embrace our mentorship. Additionally, Heitner also provides chapters on how the digital age affects family life, friendship and dating, and school life for our kids.
Screenwise is a valuable tool for parents’ and educators’ who want to engage with young people and help them navigate using technology. I liked the questions Heitner provides throughout each chapter. They made me reconsider my way approach to using social media and what I share about my kids. While I haven’t used them yet, each chapter also provided some excellent conversation starters to get kids talking and thinking about how they use technology. In fact, the book has so much useful information that I feel I should read it again and wouldn’t mind reading it together with a few other parents, as well.
Raising kids in this digital world is no easy task, and like it or not, the technology isn’t going to go away. It’s become a part of how we connect and communicate with each other both as adults and as teenagers. Heitner’s book is an excellent resource on the difficulties today’s parents meet when it comes to our children’s use of social media and digital tools. I recommend Screenwise to parents and educators needing a resource on ways to discuss these issues with their kids or wanting advice on guiding them into becoming good digital citizens.
This review was originally written for SAIS and can be found on their website. It has been slightly edited from the original because I can’t leave “well enough” alone.