Are You a Good Digital Role Model for Your Children?

I always get suckered in to reading these “Reasons Why Parents Should Not Be Allowed to Text” articles. They are hilarious and yet I can totally relate. I remember when my husband bought me a new cellphone so we no longer had to share (about 6 years ago). I sent a text out to all of my contacts with my new cell number. Not 2 minutes after I sent the text, my phone started ringing. It was my father-in-law letting me know that he got my “message thingy that people do now”. I laughed and told him he should have texted me back. His comment (while on the phone) “Can you tell me how to do that?”  I wasn’t quite ready to explain T-9 over the phone to him.

 Generation gap by quinn.anya, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  quinn.anya 


I love that my parents and in-laws are becoming more digitally active in life. My parents both have iPhones newer than mine. My in-laws got the internet and an iPad two years ago. I grew up without the internet and created my own digital identity. My own children are a different story. They are growing up in the digital age with access to the internet on all sorts of devices at their disposal. When I Google search their names, they don’t have a Google identity yet, but I know their pictures are on my Facebook and Twitter pages. I struggle with what I should and should not post about my children. I love sharing their accomplishments and milestones with friends and family that are located all over the globe, but I would feel very uncomfortable and controlling if I began their digital identity. How would they feel when they did their first Google search of their name and up popped a picture of their first time potty training? That sort of image can be detrimental to a child’s social status if found by the wrong type of “friend”.


Photo Credit: Childsplayx3 via Compfight cc

I found a three part article about Growing up digital by Chandra Johnson and the final article, How the Internet affects teens identity, really drove home the importance of understanding the need to know that we do have a digital identity. When I was a teenager, trying to develop my own identity, I turned to my friends at school and in the community to help guide me. The face-to-face contact with real people that I had on a daily basis allowed me to learn to judge those I could trust with sensitive questions and those I knew to avoid. However, online, those sensitive questions that a developing teenager will ask will be answered by any and all who have access to it.

In her article, Johnson says “Social media allow kids to broadcast everything while connecting them to experiences they might not have encountered a generation ago. But it also opens teens up to exponential ridicule or an amplified feeling of invisibility that can influence the perceptions they have of themselves.” My question is, is that feeling of invisibility coming from friends and now, family? Parents can be just as engaged on their own devices and social media that they can tend to overlook their child’s needs.

This ad from Ikea pulls at the heartstrings. Kids are asked to write a letter to Santa about what they want. Then, the kids are asked to write a letter to their parents about what they would like from them for Christmas. Overwhelmingly, the answer was more time with their parents.

The video doesn’t explicitly say that parents are more focused on their social media and devices, but just looking around the soccer facility tonight, most parents had their phones out and were actively engaged in them over the soccer practice. When children see that, what are their thoughts? Are they feeling ignored? Unimportant? Is this why teenagers chose to confide online in order to maybe attempt to connect there as they are witnessing their parents connecting?

Johnson quotes Catherine Steiner-Adair, a psychologist and author of “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age,”
“[Kids] are playing in a different sandbox. Kids are being kids with a tool that has far more powerful impact than they understand,” Steiner-Adair said. “Parents are feeling understandably overwhelmed by all the challenges technology brings with it. At the same time, this is the age in which we are parenting.”

In his recent blog post, Jeremy Black wrote about the need to make sure parents are accountable and aware of what digital citizenship is. And he quoted The American Academy of Pediatrics study about how parents need to have a digital identity in order to help understand what their child is doing online by “friending” them and following them on their social media sites. However, as Common Sense Media points out, there is an abundance of apps kids and teens are headed to after Facebook and Twitter that parents need to know about as well. Our teens will be reluctant to share everything with their parents, but parents need to know where to begin looking for that digital diary – because it is no longer just between the mattresses of Facebook and Instagram or Twitter.

UMHealth Systems shared this quick video about “Sharenting” that kind of sums up my thoughts.

As parents, we need to make sure that it is understood that what we start posting about our children now will eventually catch up to them when they begin their own path into a digital identity. Parents, as much as children, need to learn about their own digital identities and understand the importance of digital citizenship in order to help children develop a healthy relationship with the Internet and social media.