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Why Are Parents Afraid to Teach Digital Life Skills?

To be ready for the challenge, to change your rules and adapt -- that's what digital peoplemaking is about. That's what I would call screen. We're not just wise to the issues, but smart about how we go about solving them.
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Most Americans today say they enjoy learning after they leave school. According to a Pew Research Survey, 73 percent of Americans consider themselves lifelong learners. They read how-to magazines, attend book clubs and conferences related to a special interest. But gaining technology skills -- that's not on the list.

The life skills they go after are either work or hobby related. It's not exactly old school, but it's not enough if you're a parent, teacher, counselor or involved in any way with a digital native.

To change the 'negative' dismal outlook that has shrouded so much of the digital world lately (think cyberbullying and sexting), we all need to be have degree of screen smarts. That, I think, is different than being screen wise.

Screen wise parents know that we must safeguard our attention and turn off our phones. Technology in general is not considered a resource but a health hazard.

A screen wise parent monitors a child's digital life online by checking his or her browser history or social media profiles, according to research (71 percent do, according to Pew). Screen wise parents were probably alarmed, but not surprised, by the fact that a Common Sense Media poll showed 77 percent of teens say they feel 'addicted' to their smart phones.

It seems strange that there is such a disconnect between parents and young adults in particular when it comes to our digital lives. The devices are right under our noses. More young adults live with their parents in this country than ever before, according to the Wall Street Journal. Notice they chose a photo without a phone on the table.

We are cautiously entering an age of digital peoplemaking. I can't take credit for the word peoplemaking. I grew up in a house full of therapists who read books that were actually titled (not kidding) things like Peoplemaking. by Virginia Satir, who, more than Freud or Ericsson or Horney's writing, has influenced a great deal of my parenting. Now I'm extending her influence to my family's digital life. Satir didn't know from digital. She was, however, a family therapy genius and a true disruptor, when she published her book in 1972. In one chapter towards the middle of the book, she writes:

I hope that we have seen that rules are a very real part of the structure of the family.....and then later asks the reader... Can you be challenged into making some changes?

To be ready for the challenge, to change your rules and adapt -- that's what digital peoplemaking is about. That's what I would call screensmart. We're not just wise to the issues, but smart about how we go about solving them.

My challenge to you, particularly parents, teens and school administrators, is to think about how huge an impact you could have, as a community or school or group of teens or concerned parents, if you made a positive digital footprint. What would happen if instead of focusing on your child's college-entrance footprint, you gathered together and created something so big it did great things for your entire community? What if you focused your attention on doing things that are collectively overshadowed the negative links and mentions you might have spent hours trying to delete online.

If we want to change the course of lives for our children, we honestly need to think past the individual and being wise to what they are doing. We need to be collaborative -- positively, actively, digitally collaborative.

We have already begun that conversation at work, where I am part of an amazing network of organizations contributing to the Digital Citizenship Summit. It's amazing to think that the Summit began as a single Tweet. The year started with $35 in our bank account. And today, we announced that we will hold a national Digital Citizenship Summit at Twitter Headquarters on October, 28, 2016.

If you don't know what a digital citizen is, here's the answer: it's safe, savvy and ethical use of social media and technology. If you have no clue why a Summit might be a cause for celebration? Ask yourself this: Would you like to see the end of cyberbullying, screen addiction? Would you prefer that your voice was heard instead of feeling like you're shouting into the wind at your next town hall meeting?

Then start practicing good digital citizenship. Ask your kids or your colleagues or the town librarian to help you become a little more screen smart every day. You can't share your wisdom if you aren't part of the conversation both online and offline.

As you raise your hand to take a selfie or shoot a video at graduation or your child's first day of camp, ask yourself: What can I do with this photo that will literally change my world. Sounds silly at first, but that's what digital people making is all about. Using technology in a smart, savvy and ethical way -- and sharing it with the same sense of purpose.

If social media isn't your thing, start something offline and then bring it to the attention of your school or parenting group to see how it can be digitized and shared. We are all in the business of digital people making, and we can all raise the level of conversation in our own community.

To unplug and divert your attention away from social media and screens isn't going to work for long (although I highly recommend it!). Start the summer by finding a cause, a hero, a piece of positive or informative news and share that with your community.

What you will be doing, in essence is the very thing most of us have avoided all along -- teaching digital life.