Parenting in the digital age brings with it a fresh batch of questions concerning kids’ increasingly screen-saturated world. Fortunately, Dr. Devorah Heitner, an expert on young people’s relationship with digital media and technology, is coming to Marymount of Santa Barbara on January 25 for a free, public event to share her learnings and answer questions. Heitner is the author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World and the founder of Raising Digital Natives, a website that provides advice for navigating these issues. Heitner aims to empower parents to help their children thrive in a digital culture, foster empathy, and cultivate social and emotional literacy. The Santa Barbara Independent caught up with Heitner ahead of her talk.
Why did you decide to write Screenwise? Parents are incredibly overwhelmed about raising their kids in the digital age. I decided to write Screenwise because I was already speaking about this issue at a lot of schools and people kept asking me, “Where is your parenting book?” There’s a lot of fear and mixed mes- sages, which can make parents feel a lot of guilt and worry that they’re doing it wrong, and that shuts down the conversation. Screenwise helps parents have conversations with their spouse, their peers, and their kids.
What are the most common questions you get from parents who are worried about their kids living in an increasingly digital world? “Am I messing up my kid by allowing them to use this device?” We should really be asking ourselves, What is the quality of the experience? Some experiences that kids have may be really negative, and others may be really positive. Another one is, “Is my kid ready for a phone?” We need to focus not just on prevention of digital mistakes. We also have to give kids strategies to repair, including going to people and apologizing.
How do we raise kids who are thoughtful and use digital communication for positive things? We want to teach kids to always remember there’s another human being on the other end of the communication. You want to think about that and be asking, Is this enhancing my relationship? Is someone feeling excluded by me sharing this?
How did you do your research for Screenwise? I gathered information from the Pew Center for Internet and American Life and the Erickson Center, as well as published research by a range of scholars. I’ve been working with families and schools for years, so I’ve also collected firsthand accounts of the challenges facing families and schools.
What findings surprised you most from your research? Parents really over-worry about the phone, but their kids may already have access to a lot of the capabilities that a phone can bring. I would look at the skill set and say, Is my kid ready for looking at YouTube? Really looking at the specific platforms, apps, and interactions rather than the device itself. We have to understand that kids don’t really see devices as much as they see apps and uses.
How has social media changed kids’ relationships with one another? There’s definitely more 24/7 access to friends. If you are left out of your peer group, there are more opportunities to feel left out. The 24/7 access to school peers can be really draining to kids, and they don’t always know how to decompress or take space.
Devorah Heitner will speak on Thursday, January 25, noon-1:30 p.m., at Marymount of Santa Barbara (2130 Mission Ridge Rd.) in the Multipurpose Room. The event is open to the public. Space is limited; please reserve your spot by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.