Of fearless parenting in this unmapped landscape

An author, pundit and parent on helping our kids think about the mark they’re leaving in this connected world, not just in social media

By Anne Collier

This is a sidebar to my post about EduCon 2.5, held at the end of each January in Philadelphia at the Science Leadership Academy.

Author, entrepreneur and pundit Seth Godin is a parent too, father of two, so in the interview with Krista Tippett (also a parent) for her show on American Public Media, parenting also came up. It was natural that it came at the very end of the interview and folded in everything else (about noticing, creating value, and navigating life now vs. when we were growing up) the way parenting folds in everything else. But I wanted to be sure you see it, because I think you’ll find, as I did, that this perspective helps….

“Most of [our children] are not concerned whatsoever about Dunbar’s number and this notion that they can only have 150 friends and family, or else their brain melts. They have 1,000 people that they’re connected with or 5,000 people. And they are living a life out loud…. And so as parents, we’re often pushed to make this choice. And [we think] the choice is, keep your kids out of the connection world and isolate them and make sure they’re ‘safe.’ Or put your kids into the world and, you know, all hell will break loose.

“Those are the things that they talk about at the PTA meeting. And I don’t think that’s the choice. I think the choice is everyone is in the world now. Everyone is connected….”

Godin asks: “Given that they’re in the world, what trail are they going to leave [not just in social media, right]? What mark are they leaving? Are they doing it just to get into college? Or are they doing it because they understand that their role as a contributor to society starts now, when they’re 10, not when they’re 24. And that the trail they leave behind starts the minute someone snaps their picture.”

And here’s the kicker: “If we can teach children that there isn’t this bright line between off duty and on duty, but that life is life and you ought to live it like people are looking at you, because they are….” The age that’s right for working tech and media into their social experiences is completely individual, and I doubt Godin’s thinking 10-year-olds need to be in Tumblr or Instagram, but it’s a good idea to start working on the how-to-live-life-out-loud part when they’re well under 10, ideally before a connected device is put in their hands. And then, once their social lives, online and offline, are more theirs than part of ours….

“Then we trust them. [Emphasis mine.] And we trust them to be bigger than they could be because they choose to be bigger,” Godin said. “And it’s that teaching, I think, that is so difficult to do as a parent [it’s even more difficult without trust] because what you really want to do is protect them and lock ’em up until it’s time.”

We really don’t want to “lock ’em up until it’s time” very simply because then we wouldn’t have given them the chance to develop and test their internal filter and moral compass in social media while we have their backs, while they’re with us. It may be scary but it also seems kinder to let them figure stuff out when there’s some guidance and love right at hand.

“The bravest thing to do,” Godin concludes, “is have these free-range kids who are exploring the edges of their universe, but doing it in a way that they’re proud of, not hiding from.

Related links

* Parent and professor David Finkelhor on “juvenoia”: At least since 400 BC, we’ve had what he calls this “exaggerated fear about the influence of social change on youth,” but why are today’s fears so focused on the Internet? Finkelhor had the best explanation I’d seen yet in a 2010 talk on what he termed “juvenoia.” Here are my take-aways in two parts.
* Two posts about an important study by MediaSmarts.ca in Canada: “Kids & teens not only ok, but smart!: Study” and “What has online safety wrought (with parents)?!”
* Picking up on some wisdom from parents and professor Lynn Clark Schofield: “Parenting or (digital) public humiliation?” “Parenting or (digital) public humiliation?”
* “Teens, social media & trolls: Toxic mix”
* For other fans of free-range kids: Lenore Skenazy’s blog on the subject
* “So we’re all becoming cyborgs, Dr. Turkle?”

Leave a comment