How to help kids develop healthier relationships with technology

Jason Dorsey is a millennial married to a Gen Xer, but he spends a lot of time thinking about and leading national research on Generation Z. That’s the cohort of young people born after 1995, which includes his 5-year-old daughter and every child and teen in America. As chief strategy officer and co-founder of the Center for Generational Kinetics, Dorsey has become the go-to expert on Generation Z — or iGen, as he calls it.

Dorsey says Generation Z is the first truly tech-dependent generation. These young people have never known a time before the World Wide Web (1989), and only the oldest can remember the early days of Wikipedia (2001), YouTube (2005) and the iPhone (2007). For them, he says, “The age at which you get your first smartphone is more important than the age at which you get your driver’s license.”

It’s no wonder, then, that telling teens to put down their phones seems akin to telling them to stop breathing. So how can you help your children and your Scouts develop healthier relationships with technology? Dorsey has several ideas.

Understand the Technology

The first step is to understand a phone is not just a phone; it’s a window into a larger world. Kids in a group who seem absorbed in solitary pursuits may actually be connecting with each other — albeit through text messages that must bounce off a cellphone tower first.

“It’s easy for us to assume they’re going to use [phones] in a way that’s detrimental or takes them out of the experience, but that may not be the case,” Dorsey says. “A lot of Gen Z males are using videogames to talk to each other; they’re actually chatting while they’re playing a videogame.”

Establish Fair Rules

Next, work with your kids and Scouts to set rules that are fair, clear and consistent. On a Scout trip, you might allow device use during long car rides, but allow only short technology breaks during activities.

“Savoring being on the mountain is one thing, but there may be the desire to actually post to Facebook because your friends will think that’s cool and maybe they’ll want to join Scouting,” Dorsey says.

Whatever rules you set, be consistent.

“Gen Z in particular really believes in fairness,” Dorsey says.
“If you’re going to have a rule,
everybody has to abide by the rule.” And that includes adults.

Teach Responsibility

Finally, talk with your children and Scouts about the risks of technology. Research from Dorsey’s organization shows 42 percent of kids in Generation Z say social media has a direct impact on how they feel about themselves — twice the rate of baby boomers. Caring adults can help them understand that their self-worth should rely on far more than their number of retweets or Instagram followers.

“Scouting for generations has taught us right from wrong, has taught us how to be leaders and has taught us how to solve all kinds of problems,” Dorsey says. “It’s only natural, from my viewpoint, for Scouting to also give us a guide on how to handle the technology experience today.”

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