On “Digital Mentoring”

A Facebook friend of mine linked this article from The Atlantic — Parents: Reject Technology Shame. The author describes three different attitudes parents may have towards family use of technology: enablers, who “take their cues from how other kids and families use technology”; limiters, who “focus on minimizing their kids’ use of technology”; and mentors, who actively try to guide their children through navigating technology use.

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As a technology teacher, I am very interested in this topic. I like to think of myself as mentoring students through using technology appropriately. If I don’t teach them, who will they learn from — and what, exactly, will they learn? (Disclaimer: I teach early elementary grades. I might take a different view if I taught students of a younger age, though I think my view would be similar if I was teaching slightly older grades.)

A student’s misstep in the digital world can also be a learning opportunity for teacher (or parent). I would not know how to anticipate the things that could go wrong if students didn’t keep me on my toes! Students may click on advertisements that ask for financial information or install malware-like browser extensions; that means I need to teach them how to evaluate whether a link is okay to explore. Students break or damage various pieces of technology, and learn a little about how to treat these components and take care of them better. Students send each other messages, and learn that after you click “send,” you cannot completely scrub or delete a missive from the internet. Students bring up inappropriate images during a search, and it can become a lesson in turning on “safe search” or choosing search terms more carefully — and, even more importantly than that, they learn that they can tell a trusted adult when something comes up on a screen that makes them uncomfortable. That’s an important thing because I want students to know that they can come to me if someone else sends them something inappropriate, whether it be adult content or a bullying message, and I won’t react with suspicion or disrespect — I can and I will help them navigate that situation. (Would I prefer that a child not have to see things that make them uncomfortable when doing an innocent search? Yes. But I don’t determine the content that already exists on the web. I can only filter it and teach a child to filter it.) The mentoring itself is a work in progress, as it always will be, as technology continuously builds on itself, changing and evolving. And I am willing to learn as we go — an important attitude to model for students as well.

An additional bonus to letting a child make missteps is that they understand the consequences of that misstep, no punishment necessary. (Obviously egregious abuses of technology, particularly after specific instruction, are different – but that hasn’t happened very often to me, either.) If a student can’t make these mistakes and learn from them in a safe environment, then I fear them making these same mistakes at a time in their lives when the stakes are higher.

What it boils down to is, if you want to be the primary source of information and guidance on a given topic, then you need to be proactive about providing information and guidance about that topic. If you are not proactive, your child might end up learning about it from another source you don’t agree with or approve of.

 

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