One of the most important ways that young people learn is through modeling. The actions and behaviors of parents and family members are key to teens’ learning about how they should engage with the world around them. In the physical world, we model effective behavior in a variety of ways. For example, on a trip to the park we might find an opportunity to pick up a piece of trash on the ground and throw it away. Even if we don’t say anything, our modeling has just taught an important lesson that even if it’s not our trash, we should still take responsibility for making a shared space better by cleaning it up.
Modeling effective behavior is just as critical in the digital world. As a parent, it’s likely that you are already using technology in ways that would be valuable to model for your teen. This might include noticing that a local food bank you follow on Facebook needs donations and posting a message online encouraging your followers to join you in contributing. Or maybe posting about an experience where you stood up for someone who was not being treated fairly and encouraged others to do the same.
But there is an additional challenge to modeling effective digital behaviors. Unlike picking up a piece of trash, or holding the door open for someone who is carrying groceries, to a kid watching a parent using a computer, all actions look the same. Whether we’re checking email, playing a game, or doing acts of service online, to the observer we are just sitting at a computer. This may not be helpful for modeling good digital behavior.
A simple solution is to learn to be overt about modeling good digital behavior. For example we might take a moment to tell our kids what we are doing when we’re helping someone else online; “I’ll be right there, I’m arranging a ride to help a neighbor get to her doctor's appointment tomorrow”. When possible, we can involve them in our digital acts of kindness and service too; “I’m posting an invitation on Facebook to promote the blood drive next week - how does it look?” Making our acts of digital kindness overt models these behaviors in a way that helps shape and define the type of people our teens will be in digital spaces now and in the future.