The definition of “connection” has changed greatly over the past decades. In the broadest sense, making a connection means engaging with others and investing in relationships. For children in decades past, building connections with other kids involved playdates, sleepovers, and birthday parties.
Today’s connected kids look more like this:
- Headphones on
- Controller in hand
- Interaction with a screen
Make no mistake, though—the kids in this age of ever-changing digital technology are connected. They’re as equally, if not more, connected to their peers and communities than the kids of just a few decades ago.
Parents can help children understand the importance of relating and connecting through digital media, of developing and maintaining relationships. Many studies have shown that the quality of our relationships will determine our health and happiness throughout our lives. Even though the relationships formed in childhood may not last into our adult years, they influence how we interact with others and resolve conflicts when they arise.
Parents can help kids thrive in the digital world
As parents, we have the ability to help our kids understand what real connections are and see the value in interpersonal relationships inside the digital world.
Kids can’t—and shouldn’t try to—avoid the digital world, and parents shouldn’t encourage abstinence from digital tools and content. The digital world can offer kids a number of ways to connect with their peers and their family. Moreover, children can learn to thrive in their relationships despite living in a digital age.
The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World by Jordan Shapiro aims to help you understand new ways in which kids live with their own selves and self-image in the home, at school, and as part of a digitally connected society.
Since children are on screens more than ever, it’s vital for them to be able to make the most positive use of this time. With the logical and practical approach the author provides, you can help keep your kids engaged, safe, and productive through digital media.
Key takeaways from the book
Here are some key lessons from The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World:
- Using digital media can’t be an on/off switch approach. Parents need to be able to integrate both digital and non-digital activities into kids’ daily lives. Schools, community organizations, and even the places where teenagers work use digital engagement tools. Parents who learn to accept that digital media is integral to the daily life for today’s youth are better equipped to help their kids utilize digital tools for success.
- Video games make great teachers. From providing clear feedback about how to improve at the game to learning how to overcome obstacles and even practicing skills like patience and teamwork, kids can learn a lot by playing video games.
- All kinds of play are part of childhood. Digital and other types of play help kids engage in positive and imaginative scenarios. In the digital domain, children learn how to cooperate with their peers while building worlds, uniting against “the bad guys,” and making decisions that help improve the quality of play. These are the same skills they learn while on the playground.
- Play helps kids learn how to be adults. In both the digital and real-life playgrounds, kids learn to resolve conflicts and get along with different people. When faced with dilemmas that can negatively affect the games they play, they have to use critical thinking skills to amicably settle issues within the group.
- Kids develop a sense of themselves through play. Today’s kids can’t understand who they are as individuals through the lens of their parents’ formative years. Therefore, parents need to be open to how their children will develop this sense of self, especially in the digital world. Kids discover that they can make good decisions, treat others fairly, and feel a sense of empowerment by accomplishing tasks or leveling up.
- The toys of today need to be welcomed in a kid’s world of play. Parents shouldn’t automatically say no to the latest new toy or gadget. Instead, they should try to see how these can be used as positive learning tools. Board games, building sets, and jigsaw puzzles are just some of the old-school toys that digital mediums offer.
- Being focused does not mean you don’t want to be around people. Just because your kid may play video games very intently doesn’t mean they can’t play just as well on the playground. Don’t assume that your child is unable to positively interact with other children during physical play even if they spend a lot of time with video games.
- Today’s kids are always connected. Parents need to find ways to use this in a positive manner and help their kids benefit from this constant digital connectivity. While frequent screen time may seem concerning to many parents, it’s not always the amount of time that matters. If the screen time is promoting an environment of learning, it is worth the time.
- If your kid is anxious, playing video games with them can help. If you’ve gone through a divorce, a death, or even a move across the country, playing video games can help your child adjust to their new normal in a more positive way. Your participating and enjoying an activity they consider important helps them regain some of the stability and sense of security that trauma can threaten.
- Don’t be afraid of the change that comes with digital technology. Change can be very scary for parents, especially if they resist it. However, teaching your kids how to thrive digitally will help them make more meaningful connections in this ever-changing world. As a side note, if you find yourself intimidated by technology, check out your local library or community recreation center to see if they offer classes in the newest apps and games available.
- Teach your kids about the past and nostalgic times. Parents wish for their kids to grow up with the same freedom and fun they had when they were young, but it’s a different world now for kids. So, it’s important to still help them understand that connection is possible within the family unit and communities, even if it doesn’t look like Leave it to Beaver episodes.
- Use digital technology to teach about ethics and values. Digital technology is not an enemy to your child, so don’t use this as an excuse to steer clear of it. Parents can use digital forms of play to help kids learn right from wrong and maneuver through gray areas, too. There are many moral and ethical dilemmas in video games that kids have to work through. Use these dilemmas as an opportunity to have discussions about these situations and ask your kids how they handle them and how they feel about the outcome they chose.
- Kids are not “addicted” to their digital devices. Kids use gadgets and their smartphones all the time because these are the devices of the day. Would you say your child was “addicted” to reading if they always had their nose in a book? Probably not. (Thanks, Mom, for never saying that about me.)
- Manners can be taught in the digital world. The future our kids face will be digitally connected in many different ways. It’s a parent’s responsibility to teach their children how to be courteous and use non-offensive speech in both the real and the digital world in order to achieve success in both.
- The days of the school bell telling the time are fading away. Parents need to help their kids learn to be flexible in their daily routine. As times continue to evolve, so does the way the school day goes, as well as the future workdays for kids. Parents have to learn to adapt their way of thinking to help their children move past time restrictions.
- Digital content is just as valuable as printed content. There are many reasons why parents and teachers need to provide more ways for kids to engage with digital content. One of them is familiarizing children with the expectations they’ll face as college students and adult employees.
- Parents should show their kids how to use digital mediums as tools of empowerment. Teaching kids to have a strong sense of self while also showing them how important diversity is can go a long way in helping them feel more connected in the digital realm. Useful digital tools that allow kids to build and self-express can guide them towards understanding that they can develop their self-identity and, at the same time, use that to connect with others.
- Keeping one’s self-identity while being part of the digital community can be a challenge. Kids who can develop a strong sense of self will be better equipped to connect in the age of the “New Empath,” where practicing diversity and tolerance doesn’t mean all people have to be the same. Parents should find ways to teach kids that they are separate from their social media identity and that authenticity is necessary in the digital community.
- Ask your kids about the games and digital content they engage with. Parents who show curiosity about what interests their kids will find that their kids will want to engage with them on that level. Just as a parent will ask “How was your day at school?”, so should they ask “What happens on this level of your game?” and “How can you get better at doing that?” These are hospitality-building skills that teach children how to relate to one another and engage in polite conversation.
- Educate kids that media is constructed with algorithms but doesn’t have to be put in a corner. This part of the book was the most constructive, in my opinion. One of the reasons parents fear what digital media is doing to their kids is because they see that it’s targeted at their kids. Think about your online shopping. Within an hour of placing your order, you start seeing ads for products similar to what you just bought. It’s scary for parents to think that their kids are being “watched” all the time by internet sites that want to sell or tempt them with things. The author offers 3 thoughts on this, and they are very powerful tools in the hands of parents:
- Viewpoints can be errant, including your own: Teach kids that they need to be open to hearing what others have to say and help them understand it’s how critical thinking is developed.
- Show kids how media is constructed to be helpful but can also keep them in a state of “niche consumption”: Your kids aren’t robots, and they can do more than keep swiping across a screen. We’ve asked school children to produce book reports, analyze movies, and write about current events from the newspaper—it’s time to let them dive into what makes video games tick and how they are set up to promote critical thinking and discernment. The author offers a website suggestion: www.gamesforchange.org, which shows video games with a social impact theme and how they can help foster these skills in your kids.
- Teach kids that what they put online stays online: The avatars they create, the actions they take in a chat room, the pictures they post on Instagram, or the videos they upload to TikTok can have both a positive and a negative impact on their future. Teach them how to share safely and help them be authentic in both the digital and the real world.
The new childhood
Kids are growing up in an age of immense pressure and expectations to be a part of the digital community. They literally have no choice but to join. As a parent, it’s imperative that you educate yourself about the impact the digital world will have on them as individuals, in their school and home life, and on their future choices.
The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World is a no-nonsense wake-up call for parents who have continued to believe that sheltering kids from the digital world will help them. It’s exactly the opposite, and Jordan Shapiro offers a multitude of ways parents can take what this digital world is presenting to our kids and shape it for their good. Teaching them critical thinking skills, empathy, and control over their lives while they connect outside and inside the digital world will help today’s kids succeed.
The New Childhood
- Children are active agents in their development, and they need you to show interest in what they're interested in.
- The toys of today need to be welcomed in a kid’s world of play as children develop a sense of themselves through play.
- Don’t be afraid of the change that comes with digital technology.
You need this if...
- You want to understand what it means for kids to live in a digital world.
- You want practical advice on how to parent and effectively educate your kids in a connected world.
- You're looking for tools for using technology to engage with your child and help them learn and grow.