Raising Children in the Age of Screens

Digital Media Expert Visits Marymount of Santa Barbara

Delving into an issue all-too relevant in our screen-laden culture, Dr. Devorah Heitner, an expert on young people’s relationship with digital media and technology, visited Marymount of Santa Barbara late last month to encourage parents, students, and teachers to thrive in a digital world.

“Heitner brings deep research and thoughtful advice to the complicated debate on how to raise good and successful children in the cauldron of today’s complicated technological challenges and opportunities,” said Head of School Andrew Wooden.

Dr. Devorah Heitner

Heitner — 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 — started her free public talk by urging parents to mentor their children and give them opportunities to dive into the positive aspects of screen time rather than just monitoring behavior.

“There is no app for raising our kids in the digital age,” Heitner explained. “We don’t want to catch them doing the wrong thing; we want to teach them how to do the right thing.”

Parents were urged to help their children find clarity through establishing boundaries, teach them to work out their problems face to face, discuss the solutions that technology can bring to their lives, and guide them in self-regulation.

“Heitner spoke of the reality that technology is only going to become a larger part of our lives and the solution is not to shut it down, but to monitor the usage and mentor our kids regarding situations that may arise due to new ways of communicating,” said Adele Hubbard, a Marymount parent who expressed the relief many parents felt after the presentation.

Next Heitner talked to middle school students about navigating their multifaceted online lives. Heitner encouraged students to assert boundaries regarding how many pictures their parents are posting of them and how much they’re texting their friends. She also emphasized the need to maintain their sense of empathy with online relationships. “Really remember there’s another person on the other end,” Heitner said.

At the end of the day, Heitner spoke with faculty about how to best guide their classes with technology use. She highlighted the need to teach students to write respectful emails, to use their positive online reputation to make an impact on the world, and to brainstorm with their classes about the pros and cons of ways they can interact with new applications.

“Heitner encourages teachers to engage in conversation with their students in a way that puts the focus on the positives that technology affords us, said Meg Dana, who teaches fifth grade. “She helped me see that we need to help our students develop a responsible digital footprint rather than tell them what they shouldn’t do.”


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