Raising Kids in the Digital Era: Help is Out There!

By Stacey Ross

I have spent quite a bit of my adult life working with first-generation children of immigrants and second language learners and have found that they are trail-blazers in their own rite, setting a precedent for generations to come as they learn the ropes and the language of the land and find their place in a new culture.

Similarly, I suggest that those of us who are Baby Boomers or Generation X-ers, who weren't raised with a bottle in one hand and an iPad in the other, are learning the "language of the land online" so to speak, right alongside our offspring. That dynamic is a compelling one, worthy of its own bit of tender loving care.

We need time to foster a relationship with our kids that establishes a system of communication and guidelines for this world, which seems so natural to them but is still so novel to many of us old fogies! We are helping our kids navigate in a new online language and culture, while at the same time assuming roles as strong parental figures. As we do this, we are wise to bookmark resources and find mentors that can help.

Entrusting kids with adult-like privileges such as e-mail accounts, smartphones, social media platforms, etc. is no small endeavor. It is my hope that I, along with my fellow digital non-natives, will create an understanding and trust level that will help pave the way for my kids' digital milestones and online successes. It honestly makes me quite nervous, as I am learning many of the ropes for the first time, myself.

So I turn to the Web for help with my own personal journey, hoping that I can be more at ease when working with my husband and grade-school kids. Here are just a few of my favorite online resources:

Multiple Mayhem Mamma is a fabulous blog run by PR consultant Samantha. I appreciate her insight and was particularly taken by her post Parenting in the Digital Age: The Medium is the Message, where she argues that we are reshaping our lifestyles as we embrace the conveniences of technology.

"To this end, our children are just as adept and in some cases, more so than we are in their use of the latest digital tools. They, too, are emailing, texting, streaming and sharing in the digital reality in which we reside. This being the case, parents everywhere do their best to 'speak the same language' in an effort to connect with their children."

Samantha's passion is exploring the "intersection of technology and parenting," as society and the way we communicate evolves. I am right there (virtually) with her!

Elizabeth Berger, M.D. is my online guru for fostering character-building in children. I have never met nor engaged with her, but I adore her every morsel of insight!

I recently began reading her book Raising Kids with Character, which has me considering how to approach parenting a pre-teen, which is one of the biggest challenges I have ever faced and one that I have been pretty vocal about!

I am all ears as she addresses the notion that grade-schoolers are experiencing an identity crisis: "Our culture is increasingly putting pressure on children at younger and younger ages to act more like little teenagers."

Her book emphasizes that raising children to become young adults whom we can be proud of requires our involvement, values, interactions and reactions as loving parents. She suggests that we help our kids through their growth process by examining the developmental stages of childhood, the emotional impact it has on us, and how we involve ourselves positively in the process. Nourishing and guiding them vs. managing them is the key. (Easier said than done!)

PBS.org has a series called FRONTLINE - Digital Nation. Parenting in the digital age is a challenge, no doubt. Having watched The Password Battle, I benefited from the debate surrounding the delicate balance of keeping kids safe online, empowering them as digital citizens, and determining what constitutes their "privacy." I urge all parents to engage their kids in these conversations before allowing them to venture online.

Personally, I believe that just as important as all the online bells, whistles, filters and precautions, is the acknowledgement of what a fundamentally crucial undertaking it all is. This is much more important than allowing kids to watch TV, talk on the phone, or search the Web. This is about shaping our children's digital footprints, and none of it should be approached lightly.

The Internet is where we go on a daily basis, and in our lifetimes we will log in a significant amount of time, together, alone, and "together-alone." Just as if we were buying a new house, we have a lot of work to do before we settle in and start painting the walls. Like every major investment, we are planting seeds with the intention to reap greatness, hang up our hat, and stay awhile!

Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of SanDiegoBargainMama.com. A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.

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