This one is for parents, guardians, and educators. Our most challenging tech problems often need human solutions, not more technology.
As much as I've spent my life championing digital innovation, I'm also well aware (and now more than ever) that the best answers to 2023 challenges are often low-tech or no-tech strategies.
This is especially true among our kids who are struggling right now in the face of tech giants that are profiting off this generation of vulnerable users. Many of these children are not old enough to drive, vote, or drink, but we've given them the keys to an unsafe racecar on an unregulated highway (AKA phones and social media).
The most amazing thing, and not in a good way, is that teens know they are in trouble. Just this month, here's what Pew Research discovered:
1. Six-in-ten teens say they think they have little (40%) or no control (20%) over the personal information that social media companies collect about them.
2. Some 32% say social media has had a mostly negative effect on people their age.
3. Half of teens think criminal charges or permanent bans for users who bully or harass others on social media would help a lot to reduce harassment and bullying on these platforms.
Many years ago I wrote a book called Outsmarting Your Kids Online. It was packed with practical solutions, but some of those suggestions recommended adding more tech to the equation (monitoring software, etc.).
Today, if I wrote that book again, my advice to adults trying to lead the way when kids are in crisis on social media would be a low-tech or no-tech approach. Sure, do a better job thoroughly understanding (and using!) apps such as TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram, but let's also lean into leading the way with better communication, digital mentoring, mental health support, and physical health support.
Let's pick up on those last two suggestions. At a time when kids are struggling the most in the face of social media, they are also less likely to use movement as medicine and outdoor play as therapy. As a parent of a teen, my husband and I have worked tirelessly the past few months to introduce walks and hikes into our weekend plans with our 14-year-old son. He is a different kid in nature, exploring Toronto's many hidden paths and parks.
You might want a more complicated answer to help our kids in this age of technology, but I'm confident that the first step is this:
Spend Less Time on Screens and Spend More Time in Nature
Can tech still play a role? Yes, but leverage the tech to complement the experience, so a low-tech add-on to a no-tech adventure - like using a plant-identifying app on a neighbourhood walk or taking photos on a family hike.
Before we hand over the keys to an unsafe racecar on an unregulated highway, let's slow things down so our kids can be kids.