Last night I went to an event where the founder of Common Sense Media, Jim Steyer, spoke. It was interesting on many levels so I wanted to share what I learned 🙂
About Common Sense Media
Do you use their website for your family? Quite honestly it’s been our go-to resource for making decisions regarding what movies, games, and shows we are ready to let our kids watch. It’s also been a great opportunity to open up dialogue around subjects that are in these shows that can be teaching moments for our kids.
Perhaps you don’t know what this company is all about. Their tagline is “We rate, educate, and advocate for kids, families, and schools.” This is how they describe themselves on their website: “Common Sense is the nation’s leading independent non-profit organization dedicated to empowering kids to thrive in a world of media and technology. Families, educators, and policymakers turn to Common Sense for unbiased information and trusted advice to help them learn how to harness the positive power of media and technology for all kids.”
They have created a program called the Digital Passport for K-5 and it’s specifically designed to gamify teaching our kids digital literacy, healthy use, and safety. In mid-April, they will be releasing a similar program for middle school aged kids.
The good news is that when surveyed your kids actually prefer being IN PERSON with their friends over any of the technology options (yes, even texting). The bad news is that they are still spending, ON AVERAGE, 50 hours per WEEK, yes per week, on devices. (Some reports say 77 is the average hours per week). Yikes! That sounds crazy! NOTE: this is for 8-18 year olds.
6 Common Sense Tips that Jim Shared in His Talk (paraphrased and editorialized by me)
1. Educate yourself by using resources like Common Sense Media and Gamerdad. Learn about the apps, videos, games and other media your kids are consuming. Do not make assumptions or decisions without educating yourself.
2. Don’t believe them when they say “everybody else is doing it.” Usually it’s not true. Even if it is true, make your decisions based on your values and your kids.
3. Be a role model for healthy use of technology and social media.
- The amount of time you use technology
- How you are treating your kids when they want to talk to you and you are on the computer or your device – do you put it down and talk to them or keep on texting?
- How do YOU behave on social media and via texting? If they read your texts, emails and social media posts would they be proud and learn good lessons? Or would you be a little embarrassed? Can you openly talk to them about ways to more clearly say what they want to say and how they want to say it in a way that will be less likely to be misunderstood? Do you do as specified in #5?
- How you handle difficult situations – do you meet in person, call them, text them, blast them on social media?
- When you notice yourself saying “my kid always has their head down looking at their phone” – is this a modeling thing? perhaps you need more clear boundaries?
- What you want to teach them and do more of that 🙂
4. Set clear unplug times for your entire family. Though they will resist, secretly they will be thankful for the break.
5. Teach them that before you self-reveal, self-reflect. I love this one!
Actively teach them internet safety and literacy as well as healthy use. While you may be interested in putting programs on their devices to limit access, the reality is that things change so fast that the program is often obsolete by the time it’s on the device, the kids learn very quickly how to get around it, and often we don’t educate because we rely on the apps to protect them. Better to have ongoing dialog and work together to navigate the digital media scene. They really do need your help. It’s not a one-time conversation. And use Common Sense Media to help!
6. Set clear boundaries. One that I think most parents are putting in place now is that kids cannot bring their phones into their bedrooms.
Caveat: after 15 or 16 years old, he admitted it gets much tougher to monitor the actual time and you have to just hope you have instilled in them the values and healthy use you want them to have. That doesn’t mean that you aren’t talking about it still, just that they are sort of on their own and not under your control to the same degree as before then.
Don’t Reject Technology and Put Your Head In the Sand
I highly recommend that you do not decide to just disconnect and judge technology. I know it’s a bit scary and feels daunting. But we have to see it from their point of view. It’s the only world they know. And they didn’t create this world – WE did. They are just living it. Your judgment and disdain might get personalized and they might feel attacked and judged. Or they might just think you are a dinosaur. Either one will erode your connection. The truth is, even the kids see how social media and their devices have huge downsides, so better to find ways to relate rather than reject.
Youth Advocacy and Privacy Laws
You may not be aware of this but Common Sense Media has been instrumental in getting legislation passed protecting our kids’ privacy and helping to get the Internet Eraser Law for Teenagers legislation passed as well (seemed like a great concept but might not prove to be really that helpful. Though it’s a good start). He really cares.
They are now more actively positioning themselves to be a huge player in the advocacy space – to be our kids’ advocates in education, media, poverty, equality, and much more. In the talk, Jim said that Common Sense Media is like the NRA or AARP for kids. There really has never been an advocacy group specifically focused on kids, so kudos for him for creating this. Kids need advocacy!
The key action I would encourage you to take is to go to the Common Sense Media website and signup with your email address so you can stay informed. I think this is particularly important in their advocacy work because they will keep everyone updated on the legislation that they are working on and we can support it when it is in alignment with our values.
Do you have any tips to share? Please share in the comments below!