Last Book Group post! Chapter 9: Growing Up in Public

man standing beside his wife teaching their child how to ride bicycle
Photo by Agung Pandit Wiguna on

As a pretty private person, the topic of Chapter 9 makes me want to take my kids on a hike out of 4G range and camp out there for the next decade or so.  But here we are, with wifi at home, both adults in the house with smart phones, and two kids living in a society in which privacy means something very different than it did when I was their age.  I’ve found Heitner’s book provides genuinely helpful ideas about how to give my family training wheels as we grow into new digital arenas, and this chapter is no exception.

As usual, her suggestions ask us to approach teaching our kids about digital interactions and the boundaries we want around them in the same manner we teach about interactions and boundaries we want our kids to have in real life.

We want our kids to have a thorough understanding of what it means to ask for and to give consent, whether in person or with a texted photo. We want our kids to be empathetic when deciding  about passing along someone’s news/gossip, whether at a party or in a group text.  We want our kids to be mindful of ways they might cause others’ feelings of being left out and how to react when our kids are the ones feeling left out themselves. And there are new skills to learn, too: kids often communicate through images.  We want our kids to be practiced in deciphering images shared by others and aware of the implicit messages of photos they share themselves.

Heitner points out that social media will not change a child, but it can “turn up the dial on whatever is already happening with your child socially. ” She reiterates the idea that there is nothing new under the sun when mentioning, for example, popularity,  pressure by crushes, and being judgmental of others.  Each of these has been a concern of teens since long before the digital age, and teens need real support around how to handle these challenges, whether the consequences are digital or otherwise.

The author also points out that a parent’s biggest concern might be the end game: how will your digital actions now shape others’ views of you in the future?  Kids, on the other hand, are  acutely aware of the implications of their actions on their current situations, and make decisions accordingly.  Knowing what motivates our kids and how vitally important their social world is to them can help us as we think about how best to support them.

This chapter is rich with questions that could be great conversation starters, helping you get to know your child’s digital world and how she interacts within it.  “Do you feel like it’s rude not to connect on social media if someone initiates a connection with you?”  “Have you ever seen someone try to be funny in a group text but hurt someone’s feelings instead?” And more.

These questions could help facilitate a relationship that allows what we want most of all: we want our kids to be able to come to us when they need support.

Posted by Julie

p.s.  The conclusion to the book is a basic “Best of” list.  She bullet points her main ideas from throughout the book and it works really well as a little refresher.  I finished reading feeling as if I had a solid understanding of the most important take-aways.  We’d love to get some PSTT folks together in person during the school year to share thoughts.  Let us know if you’re interested!

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