Tips for Helping Kids Navigate Digital Connections

Technology provides a powerful means of connection, keeping us connected with our our friends and our school community – students, colleagues, parents, and alumni. At several recent Willows events, we have had a chance to hear from experts in the field and Willows alumni regarding their thoughts on how parents can connect with their children’s use of technology and social media in particular.

One such event featured featured high school students, including Willows alumni, from Archer, Santa Monica High School, Wildwood, Windward, and Vistamar. Themes discussed that evening included:

  • Technology is a way to find inspiration and role models.
  • There was a range of ages when the panelists received their first cell phones, many of whom started with basic functioning devices without internet capabilities. The consensus from the teens was that it’s fine to have kids wait until it is needed.
  • Multitasking is really task switching.
  • “Technology taught us how to adapt and change really easily. It’s something that defines our generation.”

These are a few of my favorite tips shared by the high school students during the parent evening:

  • The 2, 2, 2, 2, Rule – Ask yourself will it matter in two days, two weeks, two months, two years?
  • Setting rules/expectations around technology is fine as long parents are clear about why they are in place.
  • Trust between teens and their parents is important. Those who haven’t established this are more likely to rebel, get into trouble, and may not feel comfortable seeking help from adults.
  • Have kids read books!

March’s Common Sense Media Teen Panel was the second parent education event hosted at The Willows focusing on children growing up with digital technology. Earlier last school year, we hosted a screening of the documentary Screenagers followed by a panel of experts discussing social media and the digital landscape. The success of the Teen Panel, like that of the Screenagers evening, prompted Head of School Lisa Rosenstein to share the experience with our middle school students.

A Willows Alumni Teen Panel event was the perfect follow up to the Screenagers film, which many Willows students felt highlighted the more negative aspects of technology. The alumni panel, consisting of Koorosh Hadavi and  Zach Elbaum, Windward School, and Talia Goodman and Annie Schindel, Archer School for Girls, spoke with our 7th and 8th grade students in May. The conversations focused on teen’s productive and pro-social use of technology and social media, as well as some of the smaller, less extreme lessons they learned in high school.

Highlights from the panels with 7th and 8th graders:

  • Don’t text when you are in an argument.
  • There is nothing wrong with asking someone to take a post or photo down; they usually will. And along with that, take yours down if asked.
  • It is important to gain parents’ trust early on so later they earn more freedom and not to make social media the first priority.
  • How to maintain academic integrity and to be your real self on social media
  • Everyone feels FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) sometimes, especially when making the transition to a new high school. It’s normal, and it will pass.

Beyond being proud of how poised, articulate, and reflective our alumni panelists were, I also felt the themes presented echoed and validated the skills and discussions covered in tech life skills classes here at school. And I’m looking forward to using a new resource with middle school students this year, The Tech Savvy User’s Guide to the Digital World by Lori Getz.

For parents wishing for further information on these topics, Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World by Devorah Heitner, PhD provides valuable scenarios and strategies for being a digital mentor as we raise children.