Wednesday, April 16, 2008

How To Bridge The Gap

The gap between today’s parent & child is digital in nature.

As long as they’ve been alive, the world has been a connected place. They text, they IM, their iPods are continuously in their ears… if they’re not watching their favorite show on TV, they’re watching it on the net. This is the generation of young people who prefer to learn by doing rather than being told what to do.

Poor parents. Most of us don’t truly “get” the phenomenon that our kids can be standing just a few feet away from each other, and still choose to text or IM rather than walk over to initiate a conversation. Adults are less likely to value an online interaction the same way we would a face-to-face conversation.

Sociologists refer to these kids as “iGeneration” (born after 1996), “Generation Z (born after 2000)” and “Net Gen” (born between 1977-1997). They only know digital, and are growing up with easy access to information.

Even though some of our future “Zeds” have not been born yet, experts understand the key challenges they will face in their life, and can predict their key traits. For example, because this generation will be exposed to marketing at a young age, they will demand relevance.

I recently read an article which stated that babies 6-months of age can recognize mental images of a company’s logo. This means that brand-loyalties can be established at the age of 2-years, and when these children go to school, high numbers can recognize these brand logos. (see article)

But I digress.

The point of this blog entry was to take a closer look at how to bridge the gap.

When it comes to children, any degree of risk is seen as “unacceptable.” Today’s parent lives in a “risk-averse culture” and it has been argued that children’s immersion into the “virtual world” is partly due to the limited encounters of today’s children outside the home. If our kids can’t play alone outside, they shouldn’t venture unaccompanied on the internet. (see “Safer Children In The Digital World") Correct?

Yes. But while aiming to protect our children, we might actually be thwarting their developmental need to socialize and establish risk identifiers, assessment and management skills that can help keep them safe. (see Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid)

In an interview with Larry Rosen (author of “Me, MySpace and I: Parenting the Net Generation”) he spoke to the importance of proactive parents. The challenge, Rosen said, is that most parents he talks with “have absolutely no idea what their kids are doing. They don’t even understand what MySpace is and what function it plays.” As a result, too many parents skew to extremes. They ban video games based on parental buzz, rather than knowledge. (see full interview)

Few parents believe that online games encourage collaboration among players and provide a context for peer-to-peer teaching. Most are of the opinion that online gaming is addictive and dangerous. Don’t forget, just shy of a year ago, the American Medical Association tried to label video-game addiction as a mental illness. (According to a Harris Interactive Poll conducted last year, the average “tween” plays 13-hours of video games each week.) The “Zeds” look at gaming as a social outlet. They are playing in groups, online communities form around games, and players literally “add to” existing games to share their vision with others. (see more about “Net Gen”)

The reality is, computer-based activities play a central role in today’s youth culture. As parents, what we need to do is find a healthy way for kids to blend these two worlds. And until KooDooZ is ready for you to bridge that gap, there are a few simple things you, as parents, can do:

  1. Knowledge is power. With the internet, 80% of it is going to be parenting, and 20% of it is going to be your understanding of it. Parents need to do their research – just like they would check out any other activities your kids were selected in the real-world. Not all sites are dangerous, not all games are bad -- but some are. Set limits & rules that your kids can understand... monitor them!
  2. Don't dismiss their way of doing things. If your kids text, then use that tool as one way to communicate with them. (See the 04/16/08 article “Text messaging improves parent-teen relationship”)
  3. Play games with your kids – board games and interactive. Learn to appreciate the age-appropriate online games your kids like as much as the board or card games that you grew up with. (43% of parents who have gamer children never play along)
  4. Learn to see the kid in front of you, not the kid you wanted to have. The aspirations of your kids are unique to them. Take a moment to stop & listen to their dreams.
  5. Promote a sense of family by making the kids responsible for specific household decisions and chores. A dinner for example can involve a kid's participation in the shopping and preparation as well as enjoying the meal with you.

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