Navigating the Digital Landscape: Insights from Dr. Devorah Heitner's Learning Together Community Education Series

In an increasingly digital age, parents face unique challenges when it comes to raising tech-savvy kids.
Dr. Devorah Heitner, a renowned expert in digital citizenship and parenting, recently shared her valuable insights during Chandler School’s Learning Together Community Education Series, organized by our Chandler Family Associates. The event aimed to address pressing questions that many parents have, such as concerns about social media and screen usage, navigating digital relationships, and fostering healthy self-esteem in children.

Understanding Screen Time and Social Media

Dr. Heitner began by acknowledging the common concerns parents have about their children's screen time and social media habits. She emphasized the need for parents to recognize that technology is an integral part of modern life, and rather than imposing strict restrictions, fostering empathy and open communication is key. 

One significant change brought about by technology is the decrease in the visibility of parents' phone conversations in front of their children, as many modern parents resort to texting instead of making phone calls. Dr. Heitner pointed out that this shift can impact children's understanding of communication and the importance of face-to-face interactions.

Navigating Digital Relationships

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift towards online spaces for both adults and children. Dr. Heitner stressed the importance of teaching children norms for phone calls, emails, and texting while accepting that mistakes are part of the learning process. Parents play a crucial role in guiding their children through these digital relationships.

Your Child’s Digital Footprints and Self-Esteem

Digital footprints are a significant aspect of our online presence, and Dr. Heitner encouraged parents to help their children set boundaries and learn repair skills should they ever encroach on others’ boundaries. She highlighted the impact of digital footprints on identity and shared anecdotes about adults struggling with their own online identities.

Dr. Heitner maintained the importance of aligning online actions with personal values rather than solely focusing on reputation or college admissions. Building self-esteem, she argued, should come from learning, accomplishments, and helping others rather than relying on external validation like likes and followers.

Teaching Self-Regulation and Digital Etiquette

Teaching self-regulation in the digital age is crucial. Dr. Heitner recommended taking devices away at night for most kids to prioritize sleep, which plays a vital role in physical and mental health. She encouraged parents to think about their values and what they want their children to prioritize.

Additionally, Dr. Heitner discussed the importance of teaching children about texting etiquette and the impact of public shaming on communication. She highlighted the need to be more responsive and less reactive when addressing online conflicts.

Quality Friendships and Mentoring

Quality friendships were a recurring theme in Dr. Heitner's discussion. She stressed the importance of building reciprocal friendships in elementary school to support children's mental health. Her core philosophy is "mentoring over monitoring," where strong relationships with children are prioritized over relying solely on technology for tracking.

Digital Literacy and Consent

As children enter middle school and high school, digital literacy becomes increasingly important. Dr. Heitner underscored the need for mentoring and teaching children about online safety. She suggested having a trusted adult beyond the family to talk to about sensitive topics and regularly asking children about their online experiences and behaviors.

Dr. Heitner also highlighted the issue of kids taking and sharing photos without consent. She stressed the importance of obtaining consent - children from children - before sharing photos, considering their privacy and well-being.

Protecting Children from Inappropriate Content

Open conversations about sensitive topics like mature content and consent are crucial to ensure a healthy understanding of sexuality. Dr. Heitner acknowledged the challenges of addressing these topics with children and recommended modeling healthy attitudes towards sexuality and relationships.

Balancing Screen Time

Managing screen time is a constant struggle for parents. Dr. Heitner discussed the challenges of distinguishing between productive and unproductive screen time and pointed out the importance of allowing children to pursue their interests, even if they are not traditional activities.

She suggested that parents can learn more about their children's interests by observing their behavior and engaging in activities with them.

Taking Children Outside

Dr. Heitner affirmed the importance of taking children outside for their vision and mental health. She encouraged parents to find creative ways to get their kids outdoors, highlighting the common issue of children needing glasses due to excessive screen time.

Dr. Devorah Heitner's insights from the Learning Together Parent Ed session provide valuable guidance for parents navigating the challenges of raising children in the digital age. Her emphasis on empathy, mentoring, and open communication serves as a foundation for fostering healthy relationships between parents and their tech-savvy kids.