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'They still need us': How to help children navigate, process the digital world

Julie Smith (left) and Marialice Curran (right) encourage adults to embrace social media and help children process what they are consuming.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
Julie Smith (left) and Marialice Curran (right) encourage adults to embrace social media and help children process what they are consuming.

More parents and educators are pushing to involve children in media literacy discussions to encourage “humanizing the screen,” Marialice Curran, founder and executive director of the Digital Citizenship Institute, told St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh.

On Friday’s program, Curran joined Julie Smith, media and communications instructor at Webster University, to discuss how adults can use social media and online information to help children better connect to the world, develop authentic relationships and model acceptable behavior.

They talked about how families and children can learn to navigate digital and social media, and humanize others they come across online.

“It’s such an exciting time because we can really connect and collaborate in really meaningful and deliberate ways online and that brings in those local, global and digital communities,” Curran said.

Smith explained that while many adults are critical of too much screen time, “not all screen time is equal.” She compared playing video games with watching a television show, which can often be passive consumption.

“In the internet and video-game experience, people are interacting and making decisions and making choices and solving puzzles and, in many cases, collaborating and communicating with people on the other side of the globe,” Smith said.

She encourages people to be aware of how much time is spend online and “look at their relationship with the media in a different way.” She noted that the average person consumes 11 hours of media a day.

“If we’re spending this much time with something, we should be talking about it more than we do,” Smith added. “So we should be evaluating [media] and studying how we use it and how it uses us.”

‘Co-watching’ kids on social media

Teaching a child how to navigate the depths of online media can be overwhelming, but Curran encourages parents to “co-watch” – asking children questions about what they consume and helping them process what they see, and not waiting until children reach the age of 13.

“Instead of talking about what not to do … what are we doing to encourage what we should do?” Curran asked.

Smith added that adults who decide to avoid social media rather than experiencing it “are making a big mistake.”

She suggests that “if you have a hobby or something that you like to do with your child, start an Instagram account based on that hobby, follow other people who do it and do that together so you can learn about it together.”

Curran said that she takes that collaborative approach with her son.

“My son and I, we had a mother-son account, and we were learning together,” Curran said. “I think he’ll be more mindful because of [that].”

Smith noted that the average age of cellphone owners is 10 years old.

“Young people are so much more advanced, but just because they might be more comfortable in this digital world, they need us … parenting hasn’t changed,” Smith said.

“It's still a minefield,” Curran joked.

Related Event:

What: Webster University’s 4th Annual Digital Citizenship Summit
When: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22
Where: East Academic Building, Edward Jones Common, 545 Garden Ave. 63119

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex HeuerEvie HemphillLara HamdanCaitlin Lally and Xandra Ellin give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.