digital and social media | November 09, 2015

Mentoring Kids Online: Alexandra Samuel on Digital Parenting in The Atlantic

In “Parents: Reject Technology Shaming” in The Atlantic, digital tech expert Alexandra Samuel highlights a new, very modern divide between parents, and provides some research-driven advice for moms and dads raising kids in the Internet age—and for the marketers and educators serving them.

We’re living in a world that’s ever-more dependent on emerging technology, certainly. But we often hear conflicting reports about how much, or how freely, children should engage with devices and the Internet. Do we throw up our hands, letting our kids do whatever they want, or do we forbid technology in the home and at school? According to Samuel, “research shows that vilifying the devices’ place in family life may be misguided.” Based on her major study of over 10,000 parents in North America, Samuel argues that “the most successful strategy, far from exiling technology, actually embraces it.”

Samuel divides parents into three groups (and thus three distinct markets): tech enablers, limiters, and mentors. Enablers give their kids free reign on the web, while limiters impose strict boundaries, or withhold technology altogether. Mentors, on the other hand, guide and instruct their kids through the ups and downs of modern tech. To Samuel, these mentors “may be the parents who are most successful in preparing their kids for a world filled with screens, working actively to shape their kids’ online skills and experiences.”

But what does success mean? Statistically, mentors interact with their kids more frequently than the other groups. On a weekly basis, Samuel demonstrates how they’re more likely to talk with their kids about how to use tech responsibly, research new devices they want to use, help them learn new programs, enroll them in tech-based classes, or experience and play electronic games with them.

Looking at it differently, kids who’re left to their own devices or who are forbidden from exploring tech are more likely to engage with pornography, talk to strangers, post hostile comments, and impersonate their peers or adults. As Samuel writes, “Just as abstinence-only sex education doesn’t prevent teen pregnancy, it seems that keeping kids away from the digital world just makes them more likely to make bad choices once they do get online.”

This research has major implications for marketers, educators, as well as for parents unsure of how to guide their kids through technology. Educators heard about what this means for schools and teachers during Samuel’s talk at the Dalai Lama Centre’s Heart-Mind Conference in October. And she’ll be speaking on this topic soon at SXSW 2016 in a talk called “The Myth of the Family Tech Market.”

“It’s not our job as parents to put away the phones,” Samuel writes. “It’s our job to take out the phones, and teach our kids how to use them.”

To hear more about digital parenting and the myth of the unified family tech market, book keynote speaker Alexandra Samuel by contacting The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.