Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives: Creating Connections Between You and Your Kids
By Marina Spears
It’s the bottom of the ninth. The score is tied. Your daughter comes up to the plate. You can feel the anticipation of everyone around you. You stand up, blow a whistle and yell, “Sorry, Sally! It’s time for dinner; we have to go.” “Come on,” you say, “it’s just a game.” This would be unimaginable. What parent would ever interrupt a baseball game to call their child to dinner? We appreciate our children’s involvement in sports. We encourage it and take pride in it. It is of value to us.
Now imagine this scene: Dinner is ready, and you can hear your son upstairs playing a game online with his friends.You call him for dinner. He explains he can’t get off right now because he and his friends are in the middle of a mission and they need him. You go upstairs and shut off the gaming system. Your son is furious. “Don’t you understand we were right there, about to complete the mission and finish the game?” Your son exclaims, “How could you do that?!”
The reality is, most of us don’t understand what our kids’ games are about. We feel like we can walk over and shut down a computer game because we don’t really care about the game, and many of us find video games annoying, and of little value. But what about the son? What is important to him and what does he value?
This comparison may seem extreme, and I am not trying to suggest that video games and playing sports should have the same level of priority. What’s important is to understand is the value our children place on online social culture: It is the culture of their time. We hung out and connected with friends at a video arcade or the mall; they hang out online and it is just as important to them!
Our children are “digital natives,” which means they have been brought up in the age of digital technology. Social media and online gaming are their native language. We, as their parents, are the “digital immigrants”–and we are the ones having trouble catching on to the language, nuances, digital culture, digital norms and customs. It can be easy to minimize their importance, especially when we don’t completely understand it, but that is a mistake!
I recently interviewed Sarah McCarroll, M.D., a school psychologist, and she pointed out that when parents do this, they are missing an important opportunity to connect with their children. She says, “Parents have to work harder at understanding what their children like to do online and show interest in it.” She explained further, “When a child is excitedly telling you about the new levels he has just conquered in a video game, sit and listen.” When we blow them off, they shut down and may not share with us about it again.
The best way to establish fair rules that make sense about something is to understand it. If not we are in the dark. McCarroll says, “Being in dark about our kids’ online activity is not the best place to be.” She continued, “So much of what our children come in contact with is out of our control, but we have control over our relationship with them, and that must be our primary focus.”
McCarroll suggests parents find ways to stay connected to their kids.One way to do that is to respect what children show interest in and what they value. They need Mom and Dad actively parenting, providing feedback, acknowledgement, and guidance.
Even though levels of self care are increased, teens need their parents more than ever. It may not be obvious with all of the eye rolling; it is natural for teens to pull back from parents and turn to peers, but that does not mean parents need to pull back as well. Even if they respond with one-word answers, their response is not what is important; it is the fact that you asked the question. So…
Respond with interest when they share about a friend’s post on Instagram
Take time to watch the “hysterical YouTube video”
Listen with intent when they share about the level they are trying to reach; you may even ask them to teach you how to play
Value what they find important because you love them, not because you necessarily like Minecraft
For more ideas about how to connect with your kids, check out our book, 30 Days to a Stronger Child, which provides opportunities to have deep conversations about vital topics such as Respect, Initiative, Community, Assertiveness, and more. Communicate, teach and connect!
Check out Noah’s New Phone for a great story and great ideas on how your family can use tech for good!
Marina Spears received her Bachelor of Science in Marriage and Family Studies from BYU Idaho. She runs the student guidance program at the Summit School of the Poconos, and facilitates a support group for families of addicts. She is also a contributing writer and editor at Educate and Empower Kids. She is the mother of five children and loves to spend time with her family.
Sarah McCarroll, M.S., earned her degree from the University of Pennsylvania, has been a school psychologist for 18 years, working with students at the junior high and high school levels for much of her career. She is married to a high school teacher/coach and is the mother of 3 children, who are also at the junior high and high school levels. She believes in advocating for students with disabilities and their families through teamwork with wonderful educators. She is a co-founder of STARs, a program targeting at-risk girls, to reduce girl/girl violence by promoting positive sisterhood.