Parenting and Phones, an Empowering Approach

DImage; Jiyoung kim/CC BY-SA 4.0 (modified); Cryteria/CC BY 3.0 (modified)

I am the father of a 14 year old, and it is wild. We have our good days and our bad ones, and the lockdown was hard for all of us, but I learn new stuff from my kid every single day.

I’ve been writing about the intersection of parenting and my kid’s digital life since she was two years old, and from the start, I’ve been clear on one thing: it’s impossible to completely control how my kid uses digital tech, and so the best I can hope for is to teach her to be as safe as possible, and to cultivate a trusting relationship with her so that when (not if) she gets in over her head, she’ll come to me so I can help her figure it out.

As expected, that’s only gotten harder as she’s grown up. Not only is digital tech growing more central to her life every year (especially, but not solely, because of the pandemic), but it’s also getting harder for anyone to use safely.

As websites have disappeared into apps, tools like ad-blockers, spam filters and other add-ons have faded into the background, leaving us at the mercy of Google and Apple’s mobile app-store standards.

I still work hard with my kid on being safe(r) online, but more than anything, I’m committed to ensuring that we have a respectful, mutually trusting relationship when it comes to her digital life, so that when she gets into trouble, she comes to me.

The cover of the MIT Press edition of Behind Their Screens: What Teens Are Facing (and Adults Are Missing)

A Wired excerpt from a new book called Behind Their Screens: What Teens Are Facing (and Adults Are Missing) gave me some fantastic new tactics to try on that score. Authors Emily Weinstein and Carrie James (both affiliated with the Harvard Graduate School of Education) set out a playbook for empowering kids to use digital tech well, rather than taking away their power so that they can’t get into trouble.

Weinstein and James conducted extensive research with teens, parents and teachers, and the tactics they suggest are all drawn from…

Cory Doctorow

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