I recently had the good fortune to hear Catherine Steiner-Adair speak about how technology affects family, education, and our culture as a whole. I had previously read her book, The Big Disconnect, which helped me wrap my mind around the concept of “digital citizenship” and why it is so important for educators and parents to model.
Digital citizenship is an ever-expanding set of best practices to guide our navigation of the digital world. It is inclusive of things like netiquette, giving credit where credit is due, and creating a positive digital footprint on social media sites and beyond.
While the phrase is no longer foreign to most, Steiner-Adair reminds us to continue the hard work of thinking – and acting – more intentionally when operating in the digital world. Being a consistently “good” digital citizen is not easy, and we adults have some blind spots that aren’t helping.
For the most part, public dialogue has focused on the intersection of youth and technology as the place where digital missteps most often occur. But Steiner-Adair and a growing number of others urge us – adults, parents, educators – to look in the mirror first when a child does something he or she shouldn’t do while engaged with the digital world.
Were our expectations clear? Did we speak about and teach those expectations effectively? And, most challengingly, did we model the very behavior we expected to see our children emulate?
In her talk last week in Charlotte, Steiner-Adair said some things that were hard to hear. For example, research shows that we don’t just lose empathy for those we are engaging with online – we also lose empathy for those we love most, like members of our own families. When they interrupt us while we are in the midst of digital communication with someone who isn’t in the room, we can be short tempered, even rude to the very people we depend on. She said that she interviewed more than 1000 children about what it’s like to grow up in the digital age – and overwhelmingly, they said that it’s lonely.
How terrible but true that a tool with the power to bring us closer together leaves children – and adults, too – feeling alone . With more attention from the adults who make or enforce the rules of our roads, real or digital, perhaps it doesn’t have to be.