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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"Raising Children in a Digital Age" (Bex Lewis)

TITLE: Raising Children in a Digital Age: Preparing Your Children for the Digital Jungle
AUTHOR: Bex Lewis
PUBLISHER: Oxford, England: Lion Hudson plc, 2014, (256 pages).

As the book title has suggested, how can parents raise their children in an increasingly digital world? How do we deal with a world that is resembling more and more like a technological jungle? In fact, it seems like technology is spiraling out of any human control. This is exactly what is happening right now in a world driven by technology. We are forced to move beyond questions such as "How do we control the Internet?" to learning to live with the Internet. No longer is one able to simply switch off the Internet like what baby boomers are used to switching off the TV. With more gadgets becoming more portable, it is almost impossible to keep away wireless signals or to lock away the computer. Technology has invaded the family lifestyle, both in public as well as in private. What goes onto the Internet stays on the Internet. Indeed, the world now is drastically different from previous eras. When the technological tsunami happens, most of us will not be able to avoid the effects. Cellphones, portable tablets, as well as the ubiquitous Internet have posed a new lifestyle altogether. Both children as well as adults are hooked onto the Internet day and night, whether one is traveling or stationary at any one place. With this in mind, this book addresses the following questions.
  • Are our fears or paranoia over the digital world a legitimate one?
  • What are the facts and fiction about the promises of the Internet?
  • How did we arrive at our current technological state?
  • What guidance can parents give to their children?
  • What specific guidance is necessary for children of various age groups?
  • What are the technologies out there?
  • What practical advice can parents get?
  • Is technology a boon or a bane?
  • What are the promises and the pitfalls of the use of technologies?
These and many more are dealt with in this very comprehensive and updated book about learning to live in a digital age. Covering a wide range of issues from computers to tablets, from mobility to social media, Lewis, a Research Fellow at the University of Durham has given us a book that is packed with information and tips for parenting children in a digital age. Eighteen chapters describe the technological landscape that impacts families, kids of all ages, and people in general. The underlying belief is that parents need to learn how to engage with their children in the proper use of these new technologies. This means learning the terminologies used. It means knowing such tools exist in the first place. It means knowing what the purposes are and to distinguish fact from fiction the news that peppers us constantly. Parents need "digital literacy." Children needs parental guidance. In general, we need to be aware of the risks without becoming paranoid of the dangers. We also need to embrace the promises of the technology without becoming too idealistic of its ability to fulfill expectations.

One wonders why a book like this needs to be written in the first place. After all, there are already many books on parenting and living with technology. Let me pose three reasons why we need another book like this. First, it is a necessary corrective to a world infatuated with all things technology. What is most important in this book is the danger of "hyperconnectivity" as well as addiction. Way too many people are infatuated with speed and size without actually asking about the implications of such new capabilities. Speed thrills but it also kills. It is one thing to be fearful about the downsides of the digital world. It is yet another to be blinded by paranoia that are suffocating and ridiculous. Let us face it. Children are more likely to respect us more when they can sense we understand their world and where they are coming from. While technologies can change, relationships and respect are two areas that need to be upheld.

Second, we may not be able to stop the wave, but we sure can learn to surf on it. If we do not understand what we are opposing, it is quite silly to dismiss technology away. Moreover, we may not earn the respectability as adults honestly wanting to understand children. As children grows up, they will rely less and less on rigid controls, more and more on flexibility and understanding. That is why parents need to be educated and informed about what is going on in the digital world. This book fills in the gaps for many. In fact, I learned a fair bit about some of the websites I have never heard of. The best that any parent can do now is not simply to limit but to teach children to be wise and discerning.

Third, stay open and approachable even as technologies are constantly changing and improving. This grows in importance as kids grow from teenagers to young adults and beyond. One can take the iPhone out of the hands of the young, but parents cannot surgically remove the wanting in them. For when the parents are not looking, the clever kid can always find a way to get his or her hands onto another digital device. By staying open to both technologies as well as our kids, we gain the best of both worlds: the world of learning the technology and the world of building better rapport of openness and honesty with our growing children. Learning one thing is not the end of the story. It may very well be just the beginning. The key is to maintain a posture of learning so that one can adapt appropriately. By our example of modeling, we can inculcate in our children an openness to learn from us as well. That way, children as they grow up will be more open to adults as they see adults more open with them.

This book is certainly unique in that it is not just the spouting of technologies but the revealing of how ordinary folks see and perceive technologies. I appreciate the way Lewis weaves in the various snippets of her survey and study to give us a very down to earth picture of the technological landscape at a very human level.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Lion Hudson plc and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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