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Fortnite is not the problem. Education is.

Fortnite is not the problem. Education is.

There’s more to social media and smartphones than meets the eye. We just don’t know about it. But for our kids’ sake, we need to.

There’s a reason why our kids are hooked on devices. They’ve been made that way. It’s no accident that tech companies and phone manufacturers have created such sticky gadgets, games and platforms. They have to – their share price might bomb if they fail to innovate and compete. Apple and Facebook have both experienced negative headlines about their future in the last month or so. To retain and acquire new customers, you have to win their attention, and that includes children, not just adults. In fact, tweens and teens will be the next generation of ad buyers, in-app purchasers and clickers, so manufacturers and developers are laying down the path of connection through branding ahead of time. A famous ex-employee of Google, Tristan Harris, proposed in his now-famous TED Talk (https://bit.ly/2wZRg1x), that there’s thousands of developers working on the other side of the screen to keep us glued. And, even though it was reported last year that a new trend of ‘digital wellness’ has emerged, from leading tech companies offering screen time management tools and more, I just don’t buy it, to be honest. Their business relies on your consumption, and new apps and functionalities work upstream against the promise of your digital downtime. 

But what’s the big deal, I often hear, about being online for long periods of time? For adults, you can do whatever you like, of course. And for kids, well, some young learners are more adept than others at handling what they see, and how much stimulation they receive, so there isn’t a one-size rule that fits all teens and tweens. But the likelihood is that, the more time there is online, the less there is of other important components that contribute to mental and emotional health, connection and balance. And, the inspiration they are taking in from YouTube may not be inspiration you had in mind for them, after a decade of parenting, late nights and establishing ‘offline’ ground rules. 

So what’s my point? Our kids were given their phones by us as parents. Some too early, some appropriately timed, and some even later than normal, but either way, they never received a guidebook, an A-Z, a map. They were given the keys to drive without earning their licence. It was an understandable hiccup, because, truth be told, no one imagined the delight of the new technology and the feverish pace of technology development (read: explosion). Parents didn’t have the tools, many still don’t, neither did teachers or schools. In fact it appears even some of the greatest minds in the world (Tim Cook, CEO of Apple) will wrestle with his over-use of his phone. So what’s the point? The tip is that to establish a new set of rules, a new way of being, many of us will have to start over.

We will need to start with claiming responsibility for handing devices to kids, for not researching apps enough, for not establishing online rules to accompany our offline rules, and monitoring things more closely, doing our best to track where they are (digitally, emotionally, mentally) and guiding them when they take the wrong path. And then we will need to re-approach the challenge with compassion – this was not the fault of the teenager or the pre-teen. It was the by-product of a world-changing product, and of the voracious hunger of tech companies that roars on unabated, that has our kids hooked. That’s not to say we need to be floppy and apologetic with our offspring. We, of course, need clearer guidelines and form robust agreements, but against the backdrop of the fact that we are asking someone to change their behaviour (away from something very entertaining, curious, exciting, voyeuristic, escapist, without a better alternative). Finally, we will need to be patient and consistent, which may include us looking at our own device use – what they see, they often do. These are genuinely difficult truths.

So yes, of course a parent feels that responsibility to solve this problem. But the truth is that it’s a three pronged approach. The solution – the way we see it at MySociaLife.com – is an in-school program that unfolds over time, allowing for a frequent and repeated message, to build a case for healthy online awareness and behaviour. These are supported by teacher training and parent seminars, all parties uniting to share the load, from a steady stream of researched information, supported by experts in each field, which provide clarity and tactics to the ever-evolving beast that is the internet. Fortnite is not going away right now, but when it does, there’s a few more waiting in the wings. Fortnite is not the main problem here. Education is.

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