Last Tuesday night The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee hosted its 14th annual Edna Thomas Lecture Series at University School of Nashville. This series was started by Judy Lewis as a tribute in honor of her own mother’s exemplary parenting skills. Each year, the series invites a speaker to address parents and shed light on a particular field or aspect of parenting. This year’s speaker was James Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media, a non-partisan information resource on kids and technology. While it appeared that many parents were looking for specific guidance on how to handle technology with their kids, Mr. Steyer’s approach was broader in scope, with three main takeaways for me.

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  1. Technology isn’t going anywhere. Period.
    Parents need not worry uselessly about whether or not they should ride out this “technology phase” – as it’s not a phase. Rather, technology is with us for the long haul, for both good and bad. Mr. Steyer pointed out that a mere 5 years ago parents were asking questions about kids and movies; whereas today nearly all the questions center around smart phones, Facebook, Instagram, video games and they myriad of new platforms available.

    The challenge this presents to parents is becoming familiar enough with all the platforms and options that kids now have access to and then filtering out what’s appropriate or not. Steyer’s own website does a phenomenal job of providing facts for parents to help with this.
     

  2. Technology has true benefits.
    Yes, there is cyber bullying and ratings creep and other perils that parents must consider. However, technology is also full of opportunities and advancement in education for kids. Mr. Steyer pointed out that the biggest benefit will be felt among those currently struggling the most. Technology allows for more integrated and individualized learning experiences where students can progress at their unique level, while all staying within the same classroom. Beyond just the classroom, digital media presents ways for our kids to connect, share ideas and get engaged with the world around them. This ability can be an incredibly powerful tool, when used fairly and responsibly.
     
  3. Parenting Still Comes Down to Common Sense
    Perhaps the most telling aspect of Mr. Steyer’s speech was his statement that he can’t tell anyone else how to parent their child, only they can. This resonated with me as I sat exploring my own feelings about that comment. Why had I come to his presentation? Wasn’t I essentially looking for the “cheat sheet” here, removing my own responsibility of time and effort? Inevitably, whatever the format for kids may be, it is still my job to pay attention, set parameters, initiate conversation, and continue to stay diligent in the daily events of my kids. And if something doesn’t look/seem/feel right to me as a parent, I need to address it.

I do want to note that while Mr. Steyer’s speech was focused on a big picture look at technology and kids, his books do give some general guidelines and tips. In his latest book, Talking Back To Facebook, there is a section broken down by ages that addresses the most common concerns parents have and references various studies for additional information. Again, the key being that information is a starting place for any parent.