October 23, 2014

Tear Down That Digital Wall

past-10-yearsTear Down That Digital Wall

By Dan Olschwang

Remember the wild & crazy days of TV dinners and Chef Boyardee, before gluten and GMO were part of everyone’s vocabulary? Now most parents wouldn’t let their kids within 10 feet of a bite of food without vetting its ingredients, calories, country of origin, even how it is packaged.

Parents today don’t think twice about taking extreme measures to ensure kids put good things into their bodies. But what about their minds? Why do we go hands-off when it comes to our children’s digital diet?

It’s not that we don’t care. We care. A lot. In the three years since I began working on building my Dawn app for parents, I’ve spoken with parents worldwide. Without exception, everyone expresses a concern about the effect negative media content has on their children.

Yet, many feel helpless. “What can I do?” Parents desperately want to do something, but we’re frustrated and confused.

Now the new parenting trend is using spyware apps like TeenSafe to censor our kids’ texts and follow their email threads. It’s a start, but it won’t work in the long run. Just as we wouldn’t throw our kids into the pool for the first time without floaties, censorship offers us an initial safety precaution. But eventually kids will learn to swim – and faster than us. The first time they figure out we’re snooping, they’ll find ways around it.

Censorship isn’t enough. We can follow them around in their early years, but soon enough we’ll have to let go and let them cope on their own. The only thing that will work long-term is instilling the right values. Nothing else.

If you want your kids to be safe digital citizens, you have to teach them well – not build a virtual fence around them. If you start downloading spyware to prevent inappropriate email threads about selling drugs, they’ll just turn to whatsapp, viber or line.

The focus needs to be on the hazards and risks in drugs, not on the communication channel. A teen that sells drugs has no issue buying a smart phone with their own money and avoiding the whole interaction with the parents, leaving mom and dad to live under the illusion that everything is fine (and potentially unaware of other alarming signs.)

The solution is building awareness and knowledge, instilling the right values, and developing mutual trust.

Three hundred years ago, the Founders of this country introduced a new idea: rules and laws have to be mutually agreed upon, not handed down by a dictator. When rulers don’t respect the citizen’s rights, citizens revolt.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but today’s child is moving beyond our absolute control. Never before have they been so free to explore and discover the world at their fingertips. Our need to protect them remains the same, but if we’re dictating to them, they’ll lose trust – and rebel.

Instead, we have to do what parents do – get involved in and educated about our kids’ media consumption.

Get informed. Young children have difficulty distinguishing fact from fantasy. Certain content can be even scarier than it’s meant to be. Kids are gullible and don’t always get sarcasm or the sexual innuendo. They imitate behaviors they see acted out on the screen. It’s important to be aware of these and other issues surrounding kid’s media. Learn what your children are really being exposed to.

Form your opinions. As you start educating yourself about the media space, decide for yourself what you want your kids getting exposed to. Define what is appropriate for their unique personality. There’s no shortage of parenting experts telling you what’s good and bad for your child, but you’re the real expert. Nobody knows better than you what’s best for your child.

As you get informed and shape your opinions, start making smarter media choices that manage towards a better alignment between the two.

Managing your children’s media consumption based on your values is challenging in this new era. The earlier you start joining them in front of the ipad & TV, and reading up on the latest research & media guidelines, the smoother it will be as they grow up.

More free information on how media affects your child’s development is available through our “Reading Room” at magicalis.com

About the Author: As founder and CEO of Dawn, Dan uses his unique blend of expertise of digital and mobile media to build a tool that parents can use to better determine which apps, games and media are best for their child, based on their personal value system. Dan has cultivated and curated a team of experts in child development and digital innovation to create the first-ever crowdsourced app, run by parents, for parents, as they work together to determine the values of children’s multi-media programming. Previous to starting dawn, Dan led Jumptap to more than 4 years of consecutive growth and to tens of millions of dollars in revenue as he served as President and CEO. During his time at Comverse, as division general manager, he created one of the fastest and most profitable new product line in the company’s history. He grew the product line (FunDial) from its inception to $50 million in sales.

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