“I had to give in, because all her classmates already had one.” Often, this is how parents justify their decisions regarding their children’s digital education.
This applies to cell phones, video games, tablets, TV use, social media participation, and so on.
Is there a viable alternative to simply conforming thoughtlessly to the educational choices others make for their children? Is there a way to “resist” the kids’ nagging when you don’t think it’s appropriate for them to be having particular experiences with the digital world?
Digital pacts: what are they?
The Italian website http://www.pattidigitali.it, proposes that families make a pact—within a class, a church group, a sports club, and other similar environments—to commit to a shared approach to many important choices related to kids’ and preteens’ use of technology.
The increasing presence of electronics raises questions that are not always easy to solve, which is why being unified is as necessary as ever.
The initiative—promoted by Bicocca University, together with associations Aiart Milano, MEC, and Sloworking—offers concrete tools to helping parents with digital education.
The thing driving these promoters is the awareness that the “digital challenge” can only be faced head-on together, according to the model of a communal education.
What is established by a digital pact?
Stefania Garassini, professor of multimedia publishing, content management, and digital journalism at the Catholic University of Milan, explains how a digital pact works.
Outlining the three main points of this “agreement,” the first concerns the age at which to introduce various devices (with the proposal to wait until the end of seventh grade before children get their own smartphones); the second focuses on the commitment of families to educate themselves on the use of technology, followed by in-depth conversations of their own experiences aimed at encouraging a shared, creative approach to tech usage between families; the third touches on rules: groups willing to sign a pact requiring smartphones handled by children under 14 be unlocked for their parents, and are only allowed during certain time-frames and in certain places (categorically not at the dinner table and not in bed). Furthermore, families must always respect age restrictions for apps, video games, and social media.
Digital devices and creativity
A very important aspect, continues Garassini (editor of Click then Educate. Parents and Children in the Age of Social Networks, Ets, 2018), is to get children used to seeing these tools as a means of expressing their creativity and not just passively observing others’ content.
This can start with simple activities, like organizing vacation photos or making a video together of something that interests them. The goal is to help them actively use the tools, sparking their imagination, instead of just passively absorbing content produced by others.
So, creativity is also necessary to sign a digital pact: it should conform to the needs of one’s group. One can then add other goals, in addition to the standard ones, related to one’s specific context.
For inspiration, a list of already signed pacts can be found on the website (in Milan, these pacts have been made in multiple schools, and similar initiatives have been promoted in the municipality of Vimercate and schools in Friuli Venezia Giulia), and all the information for signing a pact is available.
In which countries do digital pacts exist?
The initiative most similar to that taken by the digital pacts network is Waituntileighth (“Wait until the eighth grade,”), which proposes a pact for parents to agree to waiting until their kids reach the eighth grade before giving them a smartphone. Useful resources for parents are also offered at http://www.waituntil8th.org. It includes a list of alternatives to the smartphone while your kids are transitioning into middle school. In the United States, there are numerous parental initiatives that offer information and initiatives for better use of technology in the family. One of the most interesting is FOSI (Family Online Safety Institute), which has been active since 2007 in lobbying legislators and informing and supporting parents in media education.
These are small steps, and we may only be at the beginning; however, if we are to continue to live with technology, it will be increasingly necessary to tame it.