Book Group Chapter 6: Family Life Gone Digital

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Heitner titled chapter 6 of Screenwise “Family Life in the Digital Age” and provided me with a view toward some of the challenges families face in learning how to use tech successfully. She begins by noting that parents can always model the behaviors we want to see in our children.  In the past, kids used to learn greetings, conversation and how to sign off a traditional telephone conversation as they listened to their parents calling a friend, a family member or the dentist on the telephone.  But she points out that most digital activity is done privately, between an individual and her/his screen, so children don’t see the same modeling that they once did.

This means that if we want our children to see and learn the processes we use with technology use we need to be intentional about modeling it and even involving them in it.  Heitner makes simple recommendations like speaking your thoughts aloud, such as saying “I’m going to turn my phone off… so that I don’t get distracted.”  She also advocates that families together create a family media plan and a family social media plan (if age appropriate) to help guide everyday habits and practices.  Onto this, she layers the interesting idea of a “media ecology” for the home: “setting up the habits, routines and a physical organization in your home that makes it easier to balance the use of technology.”

Heitner absolutely advocates a “tech positive” approach and in this chapter she notes that media can be a great way to open conversations about bigger issues.  It made me think of Delaney Ruston, MD, of the film Screenagers, who recently posted a list of the 10 Best Documentaries to Watch as a Family.

In this chapter the author also tackles a question on the minds of many parents “When is my child ready for a smartphone?”  While she points out that this decision should be focused upon the child’s maturity, I found this section less helpful than I think it could be.  In many other areas of the book Heitner provides great lists of questions for parents to consider as they examine their own values around tech.  A list like this could have been helpful here as well so maybe at some point I’ll come up with my own – better articulating the skill set that I think demonstrates the maturity necessary for tech use.

As in other chapters, Heitner sprinkles helpful ideas throughout: designing appealing unplugged zones in your home, avoiding post-screen meltdowns by implementing habits and routines to provide structure, avoiding making tech-decisions based primarily in parental fear, providing training wheels for email use, thinking about real world allowance and digital money and more.

I find the book continually leading me to consider incorporating (positive) tech use into our family in ways we haven’t before and to do it thoughtfully and intentionally. I’m grateful that I’m not being driven to find a cave in the woods in which to hide from the digital world!

Post by Julie Barry

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