Written and Illustrated by Lisa Chu, Roaming Illustrator-Reporter, ITSPmagazine
I first took notice of My Digital TAT2 at RSA Conference 2017 (RSAC), when the nonprofit’s founders Erica Pelavin, PhD, LCSW, and Gloria Moskowitz-Sweet, LCSW, PPSC, each gave talks in the CyberSafety Village to standing-room-only crowds. All eyes in the audience were riveted on their slides, as they talked about what today’s teens are really doing online.
Based on their clinical work with students in schools, conversations with their teen advisory board, and in-person programs for parents, educators, health care providers, and corporate groups, Pelavin and Moskowitz-Sweet presented a lively, human perspective on the digital behaviors that mirror our behaviors in the real world. Indeed, what we may consider distinct - digital versus offline - today’s teens consider “one world”.
After returning home from RSAC, I wanted to hear directly from more teens, so I attended a monthly meeting of My Digital TAT2’s Teen Advisory Board, held in a charter high school in East Palo Alto, California. Shortly after I arrive, the pizza is delivered. Traffic at rush hour in the Bay Area is characteristically brutal, and students trickle in one-by-one over the next few minutes, apologizing for their delays. Pizza, I am reminded, is a great way to get teens to talk.
I learn the names of those in attendance today: Crystal, Jason, Daniel, Evan, Elle, Joshua, and Noah. They are part of a group of ninth through twelfth graders from high schools spanning from San Francisco to just north of San Jose, a distance of roughly fifty miles. They gather once a month to discuss various topics related to teen life, often guided by concerns expressed by parents in My Digital TAT2’s parent education seminars.
After listening to a lively exchange of ideas on the topic of the day - navigating new rules of gender identification - I ask the group a few questions specifically about their online behaviors. Unlike the tone at RSAC, which is focused on privacy, safety, and other parental concerns, the teens are quite nonchalant in their attitudes toward life online. They discuss strategies for capturing Snapchat screenshots without being discovered (turn on airplane mode first). Crystal, a twelfth grader from San Francisco, says she maintains two Facebook accounts, so she can freely express herself on one of them, while keeping a “toned down” version for her parents’ eyes only.
Elle, also a twelfth grader from San Francisco, confidently reports that her parents started out monitoring her online behaviors, but now she has earned their trust, and they know she’ll be smart about her choices. Daniel, a twelfth grader in East Palo Alto, says he learned everything about technology and social media on his own, and behind his parents’ back. They don’t have social media accounts, and therefore don’t have the means to monitor him.
Echoing a version of this disconnect from his parents’ online savvy, Jason, an eleventh grader, says, “My mom’s good at Instagram…for a parent!”.
I have the unique opportunity the very next evening to attend a public high school parent education event, where Pelavin and Moskowitz-Sweet present a ninety-minute talk in the school auditorium. Over two hundred parents are signed up for the event.
The evening’s messages are about accepting technology and social media not only as realities, but as valuable tools in the workplace of our children’s futures. In their highly scheduled existences, today’s youth have learned to use small snippets of time to interact with friends, and scan multiple applications to access information they need, when they need it.
Pelavin and Moskowitz-Sweet emphasize that parents should treat their children’s digital selves just as they would their “real life” or physical selves. That means, have conversations. Set limits. “Supervise, don’t snooper-vise,” meaning, learn and play together, rather than spying on your children’s devices when they aren’t around.
They also reinforce the message they instill with their student programs, and the origin of the “My Digital TAT2” name: that digital footprints are permanent, and once a post is made, it may fade, but it will never go away (just like a tattoo).
The most memorable phrase from the evening is their signature advice to parents about dealing with teens and technology: “Be curious, not furious.” By remaining calm, chances are better to open a dialog and learn more than by reacting with anger. Easier said than done, I imagine.
The final, and perhaps most challenging, piece of advice offered to parents, is to model the behavior you want to see in your child. In other words, children may not remember a fraction of what you say, but they will remember what they see you do, day in and day out.
In a perpetually connected world, it seems the next generation will teach us, as we learn and change together. My Digital TAT2 is serving as a conduit for information flow and insight among children, teens, parents and educators. By hearing stories from actual teens who have been raised on the “one world” view of digital and offline reality and are living it every day, we learn how they see themselves and world. And we are better equipped to relate and connect with them because of it. We might all be reminded by these words of wisdom from twelfth grader Jason: “It’s about the relationship you have with your kid. It’s not just one question on one day. It’s a long-term thing.”
For more information about My Digital TAT2, visit http://mydigitaltat2.org
About Lisa Chu
Lisa is an artist, illustrator and visual storyteller currently based in Half Moon Bay, California. She was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, and educated at Harvard University (A.B. in Biochemical Sciences) and at University of Michigan Medical School (M.D.). After realizing that medicine was not her passion, and life is too short and too good, she embarked on the adventure of learning new things -- including being a roaming illustrator-reporter for ITSP Magazine.