Jul 26, 2014

Raising Needham: Raising Digitally Savvy Kids

Media is everywhere, so why not make them work for you and your kids?

Raising Needham: Raising Digitally Savvy Kids

“If you can’t beat them, join them,” the old saying goes, so with that in mind I have started to become a lot smarter about digital media.

It dawned on me last week when I spent a week with my extended family for a beach vacation. Two teenagers were among us, and boy did they go to town on their smart phones and tablets. My kids were quick to follow suit, and it got me thinking about how I handle my kids' digital media usage.

A while ago, we decided that there would be no TV during the week because, frankly, there are so many more exciting things to do—especially in the summer. I recently extended that to include screen time. No, I wasn’t the most popular person in the house that day, but it was soon forgotten, and we were on to other more pressing issues, like who gets to help Dad make the smoothies each morning.

But is wasn’t until my kids were surrounded by their teenage cousins this past week that I realized as much as I try to control media—social or otherwise—it is a part of our culture now, and it just might be better to educate them about it and teach them the best way to use it to their advantage.

With that in mind, my mom handed me some interesting material about an organization called Common Sense Media. According to their mission statement, “Common Sense Media is dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology.”

Yes! Instead of banning it altogether, I will teach my kids how to use it more responsibly.

And maybe, just maybe, schools will start to pick up on this and embrace Common Sense Media’s free (yes, I said "free") Digital Literacy and Citizenship curriculum. I was impressed with their Harvard research based program for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. I honestly didn’t think kindergarteners needed to be taught about the Web, but I am sure there are many who have free access to it, and arming them with good skills can help keep them safe and help them learn.  

So I can hear you all saying, “But our kids don’t even have enough time at school for the core curriculum, and now you want to add digital literacy?” My argument for that, longer school days, will have to wait for another article, but I will say that the curriculum that Common Sense has put together allows for a teacher to use it in any order they wish and as much or as little as they wish. A teacher could use a little bit each month or tack it onto an existing lesson. Students could have materials sent home, and parents could be taught how to work with their kids to teach it at home.

We all agree that media is here to stay, and our kids have embraced the new technology with open arms. Take notice at young children the next time you are out and about and see how many of them are walking with smart phones in their hands, how many of them use phrases like “just text him” or “he Facebooked me,” and you will realize that media has a strong hold on our children.

With that in mind, I have decided to arm my children with the tools they need to be smart media kids. They'll use the Web to see the first pictures from the Mars rover Curiosity and use the TV to watch the first African American President be elected (had to DVR that one—it was late at night!). I have found award-winning educational websites so my kids can learn a little something when they get the treat of using my tablet or smart phone. And I have used the newspaper (Gasp! People still read the newspaper?) to help my kids practice their reading.

Because, while I do understand the relevance of digital media and now feel empowered to teach my kids to use it responsibly, there will never be a replacement for a good old-fashioned book or periodical.

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