The Challenges of Raising a Digital Native | Devorah Heitner, Ph.D. | TEDxNaperville

The Challenges of Raising a Digital Native | Devorah Heitner, Ph.D. | TEDxNaperville


Translator: Mohand Habchi
Reviewer: Mile Živković When other parents find out that I research and teach about
kids’ everyday life and digital media, and how family life is affected by things
like smartphones and video games, parents tend to corner me with questions,
and they tend to share their anxieties. And there is a lot of anxiety out there. Parents let me know that they’re worried
when they walk into a room and their tween and all of their friends
are looking down at something. And parents say to me, “I’m concerned that our kids
have no social skills. I’m concerned that my kid
is addicted to games. I’m concerned that they are
double-screening and multitasking to the point that it’s not clear that they’ll ever really be able
to focus on anything. I’m concerned that they’re going
to take a naughty picture, hear about a naughty picture,
receive a naughty picture, and their innocence will be destroyed. I’m concerned that they are
going to become a cyberbully, or be cyberbullied, or be blackmailed. I don’t know what they’re doing on there,
but I’m worried about it. I heard a bad news story.” Well, I believe based on my research, that this is just a normal part
of the cycle of anxiety about technology. As a media historian I can say that. Because people were concerned
about the train moving more than 30 miles an hour. And the telephone was going
to destroy family life, and domestic harmony and peace. And now, many of us depend
on the telephone to support family life. So that cycle of anxiety is normal for any time a technology changes
our relationship with time and space, and changes our relationship
with one another. But that doesn’t mean
there’s nothing to worry about. Just because I’m going to identify this
as a cycle of anxiety doesn’t mean there’s nothing
to be concerned about. I just think we’re worrying
about the wrong things. We worry too much
about the salacious news headlines, and not enough about what kind of people
our children will become. Will they be thoughtful
in their communication, and will they take advantage
of the incredible power of digital sharing for positive outcomes? Many parents ask me,
“Should I spy on my kid? Should I put a little chip
in their phone? Or maybe a little chip in their brain,
to know everything that they’re texting, everything that they’re sharing,
everything that they’re posting?” Well, one of my big questions
back to those parents is, “What would you really be looking for?” Because their text will be very boring. So we really need to know before
we even start down the road of spying, what would we even be looking for? And before we try to catch our kids
doing the wrong thing, we need to think about have we done a good
enough job modeling the right things? Have we thought enough
about what we want them to do, as opposed to this idea that we’re going
to catch them doing the wrong thing? We need to get really curious, because if we want to raise kids
who are thoughtful and use the power of digital communication
for positive things, we need to get really curious about what it’s actually like
to be a 10-year-old with a smartphone? What it’s like to watch a slumber party
that you weren’t invited to unfold on social media in real time while you’re at home on a Saturday night
and you’re in fifth grade? What’s that really like? We need to get curious about kids’
lived experience with technology. The amazing pieces: The possibilities for authorship, the kids designing their inventions
and sharing them and launching successful Kickstarters. And the challenging pieces: The social pieces that are not so easy. The ways that digital footprint
can constrain young people at a time when they should be able
to experiment with their identities. So I designed some research
to take me into kids’ experiences. Because in order
to raise kids with empathy, we need to understand more
about their day-to-day lives. We need to research kids in their habitat,
find out what’s really happening. And the great thing is, when I’ve gone to groups of kids
who are mostly 10 to 12 years old, in the last two years, and said to them, “Look, I have a PhD
in media technology and society, but you are the experts. Tell me what it’s like
to be an 11-year-old, with a smartphone with access
to that much information? Or tell me what it’s like to be
the last kid in your class to get one, or the first.” These 10 to 12-year-old are so smart, they put on their expert hats, and they come at me with these
incredibly high level insights – I’m talking bullet points. They’re coming back with really thoughtful
questions, ideas and solutions. So I worked with them, to co-create some solutions
to some of the problems that they see. And in those conversations, I’m learning
a lot about their day-to-day lives. The conversation itself tells me that these kids
are very creative, very insightful, and that they do have a lot of empathy, but that they need modeling,
and they need help navigating this world. So the first problem that the kids
tell me about, everywhere I go, is this: Every time someone tries to reach them,
they feel like they need to be accessible. Because the technology allows for that. The technology allows for me
to send you a text message and get instantaneous feedback. And so, the fact
that we are actually all human and that we can’t always be available
for an instant response is really challenging to navigate. And if you’re a new user
of this technology, and you go to text one of your friends,
and they don’t text back right away, it’s easy to go to that negative place of, “This person doesn’t want
to be my friend anymore.” And so we text again and again and again. And some of us may know adults
who have this problem. (Laughter) And so we need to really get curious
what could this person be doing? The least likely thing is that they
don’t want to be my friend anymore. The most likely thing
is that they’re doing something else: They’re sleeping,
they’re doing their homework, they’re eating dinner with their parents. So just by having that conversation
and getting some of the kids in a group to acknowledge that not only
have they received this, and yes it is annoying, and they come back to their phone
and they feel badgered and pestered, but they have actually done this. Most of them will acknowledge that they’ve
actually also been the sender here. Just by having that conversation, we’re raising the level of empathy
in that community. But then, we co-create a solution. And this is just a prototype, you can’t buy this
for your most annoying friend, but just know that they came up
with this great solution. This is an app, the Text Lock app, that limits the number
of texts you can send when they’re not being responded to
in a certain window of time. So if I start texting somebody, I can only text them so many times, and if they don’t respond,
I have to stop and walk away. (Laughter) Well, this app does not exist,
but empathy is the app. What we really need to do,
what I tell the kids to do, is just close your eyes and imagine
your friend doing her homework, or shooting some hoops
in the driveway with her dad, or eating dinner with her family, and you’ll be okay. You’ll realize that she just
can’t get back to you right now. And it’s really helpful for the kids. They really don’t need this app. Empathy is the app.
They don’t need Text Lock. The next problem they talk about is, “What do you do when you send
a communication and it’s not so nice?” Or you send a communication, and because the affect isn’t there
when we text, or when we post to social media,
when can’t see the other person, maybe we’re unintentionally not so nice. We hurt their feelings in some way. So they came up with an app
called Sparkle Chat, that asks a very important question
when we type our next communication, which is just, “Are you sure
you want to send that?” Now how many people in this room
feel like if they had just had this app, some problem in their lives,
in their communication, could have been prevented? We probably all need a little app
that gives a little thought bubble: “Are you sure you want to send that?” Now the young version of this app, because the kids design levels,
because they are so smart, so for very new users of this technology, they also said that if you persist, if you send it after getting that
“Are you sure you want to send that?” – where it’s detected some problem
in the communication – and you persist and you send,
then it sends a copy to both the recipient’s parents
and the sender’s parents. (Laughter) Now, I’m a mom
and I could not have designed a more parental app for kids learning
how to communicate with one another. And this suggests that even though
the kids have tech-savvy, they still want some mentorship. They need our mentorship, in fact,
more than they need monitoring. More than they need us to spy on them, they need us to help them
figure out what do we do when things go wrong in a communication, and how can we avoid it if possible, and how can we fix it
if it’s already happened. The next application
that I worked on with the kids, came about in response to a problem that every single group of kids
I’ve talked to has. Every single kid
that I have met, this age, who I’ve talked to about what problems
in your life does technology exacerbate, have all talked about the most important
people in their lives being inaccessible because of technology. Because the cloud of technology
that surrounds these people makes them so inaccessible
when they’re needed most. And they often don’t seem to know
when they’re needed. They feel like they’re not needed. So they designed an app: Stop Texting, Enjoy Life, for their parents. And this app is voice-activated, and it will actually shut down
mom’s or dad’s phone. (Laughter) So what it does, is you train the app
to recognize the voice of your children, so that random kids can’t come up to you
on the street and turn off your phone, and if you’re in the car, and you’re potentially
picking up your kid and texting, and they’re talking to you,
and they start speaking, it can either turn it off right away, or, because the kids have so much empathy, if you’re doing
something really important, it might give you a little extra time. You can set it on a 3-minute setting, or if you fond of five more minutes
in your children, you can get five more minutes. But they’re turning the timer back on us. We have timed their use of technology, and they’re letting us know that they want
to turn the timer back on their parents. Because parents are, because of mobility,
accessible to their employers, their mother-in-law, anyone all the time. And so, we need to find a way around that. And again, this app doesn’t exist. But when your children
are trying to speak to you, you can close your eyes
and picture this little bird, and think, “Okay.
Stop texting, enjoy life. Okay, I’m here, I’m here now.” So empathy is the app. We shouldn’t need this app, but it was a great conversation
that got us here. And the fact that the kids feel urgent
enough that they designed an app that would actually
shut down their parents’ devices tells us a lot about their day-to-day
experience with technology. They do want our attention. They may seem like they don’t, especially at the age that many of them
are getting their own mobile devices, but they do want our attention,
and they need our mentorship. They need help so they don’t become
like the sixth-grader I met, who was carrying around a phone where she had the messages
from six months ago where she’d broken up
with her best friend. And she was going over them and over them. She was still walking around with this. That’s a kid that needs mentorship. Or, like the 11-year-old, who,
when we were designing that first app, the Text Lock app, he said, “Is it okay if sometimes
I just don’t feel like texting?” A fifth-grader! Yes it’s okay, it’s okay
if you don’t feel like texting. We don’t have to be
plugged in all the time. So this suggests again
that they really do need adult mentorship. They have tech-savvy,
but we have wisdom. We’ve not been invited
to a birthday party before, and maybe that experience
wasn’t mediated by social media, but we have had that experience. So what we really need to do, is not to design an app
to spy on our kids, there is no app that can raise kids
in the digital age for us. Instead, we need to get really curious
about kids’ day-to-day experiences, we need to ask them what they’re thinking, and then we need to co-create
solutions with them that take advantage
of their creativity and our wisdom. (Cheers) (Applause)

Comments

  1. Post
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    Matthew Gore

    This is about the most difficult subject that positive psychologists Can study. I figure she's done a remarkable job outlining some of the barriers that a technology and pathemics within schemas of modern culture- lll tweet on that meaning @mattbgenomics. This is, though, a better explanation in brief than a meta approach on proximal empathy may lend itself to. If media multitasking is that has them I wouldn't have heard the TV while listening to this lecture:
    . "I don't see much beauty in kids sitting around and texting … I don't see much beauty in technology these days."
    -Jack White (referring to a conversion with Bob Dylan)

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    Heather Criswell

    Brilliant!!! "We need to co-create solutions with them that take advantage of their creativity and our wisdom"  FANTASTIC!!  This was such a powerful Ted talk…will be sharing with the world! Thank you for sharing your light and gifts with the world!  xoxo

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    Joe Evans

    Absolutely amazing @Devorah Heitner. You're definitely someone I would love to work for/with.Truly inspiring applications of your research methods to something as ubiquitous to humanity as raising kids. 

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    Bonnie Hundley

    Why am I here? I don't have kids. Ha, this talk kind of applies to everyone. If you ask me? The one tech issue that annoys me? Being available anywhere, at all times. There are days I want to disappear digitally, completely. So, I like that unplugging advice.

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    C. Phi

    I am just curious if Dr.Heitner has children of her own? I love the concept of her research but I am feeling as though it is detached from a parental perspective.

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    Me

    this is absolutely tragic and dramatic from my adult stand point. WTF is wrong with the world??? Kids should learn to talk, read, write, connect NOT text for god sakes. I think until a certain age there should be no child technology interaction. They are bored and sick of life by the age of 10 , what is wrong with that? I see children going with smartphones in the class ..why???? they don;t even know what is with them on this planet and they are all connected to technology. wrong…wrong 😛

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    Cora Cross

    There has always been something kids gravitate toward…being a concerned parent is what parents should be. Parents with any sense want to know who their child is interacting with because everybody has access to kids when they are using social media in addition to individuals on the streets.

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    Cora Cross

    I like the idea of knowing how to model acceptable behavior when dealing with others. Children have always and still need guidance when navigating social situations. Many people regardless of their age need to know how to behave in social situations.

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    Martin Gattuso

    I don't have a PhD but here's my suggestion to parents: sometimes, switch your phone off. Don't forget, you do have that choice!

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    Da_russian_ping

    Great talk and a little sad for kids today. They were born into this tech éra and i see kids glued to screen everywhere and adults! I realised this and made change. I switch off my phone at night and all devices on my days with kids i dont také my phone everywhere with us. I switch off my wi-fi as well as its not healthy being emerged in the waves all the time. Little change can make a big difference.

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    Jack Cleary

    I'm really surprised to achieved a PhD in this area…but then I'm not…you are simply engaged in a modernism, an 'excuse factory'
    for behaviour which is manipulated and manipulative. with them as 'sucker' consumers controlled by people who know how to best profit from the human vegetable's pre-frontal and endorphins. You want to make excuses for them…endlessly…and sound like one of them, which is not a compliment. "Digital Natives' is a pathetic term…these addicts have only one digital sense…their pleasures turning on and off with the mobile as their magic wand or other re-stimulator. The are lost with patience, silence and deeper musings. What you call 'digital' is 'binary'…a very different matter. I wonder about your examiners and sponsor for your PhD….maybe this was just a new area to research. Perhaps one difference is that we care about our children's futures and dependency on addiction. You evidently do not.

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