Parenting Blog

The official blog for Ann Douglas, parenting book author and weekend parenting columnist for CBC Radio. Ann is the creator of The Mother of All Books series and the author of Parenting Through the Storm. Her most recent book, Happy Parents, Happy Kids, was published by HarperCollins Canada in February 2019.

Helping Kids to Thrive Online: Q&A with Devorah Heitner, author of Screenwise

“Kids may be tech savvy, but you have wisdom. You hold the most powerful piece of the puzzle.” 
-    Devorah Heitner, Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World

That’s a powerful and reassuring message for parents who find themselves grappling with the challenges of raising the first generation of so-called digital natives

As Heitner notes in this practical and supportive guide for parents, you don’t have to understand the ins and outs of every conceivable social media platform or app in order to help your child thrive online. What matters more than your own technical savvy is the life experience you bring to the table—that and your willingness to mentor and guide your child as she begins to explore the online world.

And, of course, that means accepting the fact that kids will make mistakes online, just as they make mistakes in real life. “Start from the assumption that your children want to do the right thing; they just don’t always know how,” Heitner advises. Instead of hitting the panic button when kids commits a digital faux pas, help them to figure out a better way of handling this particular situation the next time. 

The upside of going this route can be huge because your kids will be willing (and not afraid) to come to you if they encounter a situation that is too big or scary for them to handle on their own. This can be life-changing for parents and kids alike. As Heitner explains, “Even if they have done something they regret, they need to feel that they can talk to you about it. If kids don’t feel isolated, they are far less at risk.”

Having this kind of frank and open dialogue about technology (one that allows for missteps and u-turns) will also allow you to mentor your child through the process of setting limits on her digital life—an all-important skill for the next generation of digital citizens, starting in childhood. “Making the right choices about how and where to spend time is harder than ever,” Heitner explains. “Without mentorship and guidance, rabbit-hole distractions could claim large chunks of precious childhood.” 

Here’s so helping our kids to sidestep at least some of those rabbit holes. 


Q&A with Devorah Heitner, author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World.

Q: You spend a lot of time in your book reassuring parents that they do, in fact, have the skills they need to raise digital natives. Do you think parents feel a lot of anxiety about this — including pressure to master every conceivable platform/app? Where does that anxiety stem from?

Devorah Heitner: "The anxiety stems first from guilt. We have all been sold the idea that minimal tech for kids is 'better' parenting and that 'letting' our kids use technology 'too much' is a sign of bad parenting. That guilt is a barrier to honest conversations with other parents that could serve us well and help us encourage and support our kids in their tech pursuits rather than simply 'let' them use technology. The anxiety also comes from a feeling that things are moving faster than we can keep up with. Rather than try to keep abreast or get ahead of your child, let them teach you about the things the love, or investigate requested apps together."

Q: How can we, as parents, avoid black-and-white thinking when it comes to technology: either thinking of technology as all good or all bad? Where is the sensible middle ground?

Devorah Heitner: "You can do unwise or mean things in any social space—from Google docs to group texts to a game. You can also do lovely things and innocuous harmless things in most places. We need to recognize that reality and respond accordingly. Apps and games and search engines can all be tricky territory and kids do need mentorship. Rather than look at tech as good or bad, look at its role in your life or in a particular relationship and evaluate if something needs to change. Our kids learn a lot about how to use tech from us as their models, so we also need to be reflective about that!"