How to Protect and Empower Kids Online: An Interview with Wired Human
In a world increasingly ruled by technology and instant information, it can be tempting to move toward progress and enjoy the benefits without stopping to think how it affects one of our most vulnerable populations: children.
In their new book, The Glass Between Us, authors Jason and Lisa Frost of Wired Human put children and teens at the forefront of the discussion surrounding technology and how it affects us. NCOSE had the opportunity to sit down and talk with the authors about their critical work on this topic, and their insights are key to any parent, teacher, or person that works with youth as we fight to keep our children safe and empowered in a world filled with exploitation and abuse.
NCOSE: Tell us about your book!
Jason: Our book covers a number of topics, but at the heart of our work we aim to empower what we see as a marginalized, vulnerable piece of society, kids and teens. Oftentimes they aren’t placed at the center of the discussion when policies or laws are created, when business models are taking shape, or when exploitation is happening.Just because it’s not happening directly to our leaders or people in positions of power is not an excuse to overlook the vice grip Big Tech has on the development and future of this rising generation. This book is for parents and professionals working with youth to get equipped to mentor this young generation to reject digital exploitation and make value-driven choices when approaching social media, gaming, and especially pornography.
Lisa: I would say a big piece of us writing this book was working on the front lines with kids. We have been working with teenagers for almost 10 years now. We have honestly felt helpless at times not knowing how to respond to some of the issues we would see in the classroom, like a child coming to us with a sexting scandal and asking for help. We stood there literally not knowing what to do, and feeling like those professionals around us also didn’t know what to do. Our book is a guide for those working on the front lines to have tools to spark conversations and ideas and to wrestle with questions together with the teens, tools that we would have wanted when working with kids.
Jason: It’s almost an inevitability for technology to come into every home and say: we know what’s best for your kids, whether you like it or not this is going to happen, and there’s nothing you can do about it. That’s what started this journey, and as we tunneled down, we realized just how angry we were at Big Tech. We ended up producing something we want people to stand on as advocates, to be able to confront the legal and policy issues in place surrounding Big Tech and the lack of responsibility. We’re saying: hold up a second, let’s come back to what our values are as a country and society, and let’s put those values at the forefront of how we see this issue. Let’s empower our kids to not be indoctrinated by the values of Big Tech, especially those produced and pushed by pornography.
NCOSE: You’ve mentioned exploitation, you’ve mentioned sexting. What is your number one concern for kid’s screen use?
Jason: I would say the corruption of identity. Technology is obliterating the healthy way teens and kids should be able to see themselves. It’s because Big Tech has a specific set of values that are inherent in the tech they’re producing and it’s promoting a corrupted form of self-indulgence. They are eliciting a response that is highly profitable to these industries—time and attention. These are essentially the most valuable assets that we carry as human beings, and teens are just giving it up in massive amounts each and every day with little to show in return. That’s a huge concern because we feel when you talk to a teenager or a child and you start getting into their personal lives—where do they want to go in life, what are their dreams and ambitions—most of the time it includes things like: a healthy relationship with a committed partner, or they’re super passionate about finding an occupation with meaning and purpose, goals that are often in misalignments with the values being learned online.
Our book discusses how identifying and strengthening our core-values can empower teens to use tech in alignment with their goals. We define values as a piece of our identity. Core values, such as the ability to be externally focused on other people, to be loving and caring, to use empathy, are crucial for living successful lives. We’re finding that technology is producing a value system that is indoctrinating kids around the globe. What direction is that steering them in life? Does that actually take them to the places they want to arrive at one day, or is it sabotaging the direction of their life and landing them in a place of bondage, self-hatred, depression or anxiety? All of which are off the charts in today’s rising generation. We want to confront that. Our hearts are sold out for putting an end to this by equipping parents and leaders to empower kids and teens to pursue and live by a value system that will guide them to their goals and dreams that have their heart’s fervent yes in life.
NCOSE: This brings me to a question that may not have an answer, but do you think there are positive impacts we can get out of technology?
Lisa: Absolutely. We do not have a tech-negative approach overall. But what we are seeing is a generation that has not thought about intentional, value-driven technology use enough for it to support their life goals, their relationships, their ambitions, their ideas.
Let’s talk about connection and relationships. We talk a lot about the “loneliness crisis” of this rising generation—because statistically it is the loneliest generation compared to other generations. Social media says we can stay connected and build relationships. For me personally, social media has been hugely beneficial to stay connected with people all over the globe, to feel like I can leave the place I grew up in but stay in those relationships with the people I’ve met along the way. I think the same accounts for teens. They have that ability, but oftentimes the way they spend their time online doesn’t equate to stewarding those most meaningful relationships. So we talk a lot about the possibilities of what the Internet can bring, but also where if we look to the Internet as the place where we get our most fundamental human needs met—for connection, for intimacy, for purpose—if all of that moves online and doesn’t spill over into our offline lives, it’s not going to fulfill us or the teens in the long run.
NCOSE: What else do you highlight in your book that would be important for readers to understand?
Jason: If you are stewarding your core values and stick to it, the Internet can be a powerful tool in your life because you’re the one in the driver’s seat and it’s not exploiting you. Instead, you’re using it as a tool to further yourself. So how do we get there with kids or even teenagers? That’s something we wrestled with a lot especially when working in the school system and running different programs with youth—building that open door to be able to speak into a youth’s life and not at their life.
We call it the RUMB model, which stands for Relationships, Understanding, Mentorship, and Boundaries. It’s a model we use to get to the place where we can mentor this generation and be able to instill boundaries that protect their goals and vision for their lives..
Lisa: One thing we haven’t highlighted yet that’s also hugely important to us is that it doesn’t start and end with youth, but rather the current state of the Internet does not protect this rising generation. We also have a section in our book that’s calling for a wider debate of how we can challenge Big Tech. There is a huge component that says let’s empower the teen, let’s let them ask the really good questions and wrestle with them together, but also where is it our responsibility as parents and professionals to say enough is enough and we need to see change at a societal level and with Big Tech altogether?
NCOSE: You’ve mentioned some really helpful things like boundaries—what are some other tips for parents and teachers to help lessen the negative impacts of screens on kids, particularly as more children are relegated to technology with many schools going virtual?
Lisa: It’s challenging! We would like to see a shift from discussions surrounding screen use being mostly focused on limiting screen time, to focusing on a more value driven approach to screen time. How are you spending your time online instead of how long are you spending online? What are you actually up to and what longing is behind your engagement? It might sound really abstract, but we break the idea down—we call it the RUMB challenges. They’re things you can actually try out in your family or in your classroom. To give you an example, we talk about the value-driven screen contract. It’s great to have rules surrounding tech and safety, but we believe it is even more important to have a contract that focuses on values that we commit to together as a family or a class like—We commit to using the Internet more for creation than consumption. We commit to kindness instead of spreading pain—something I think would be very good for all of us to follow in such a time as this.
Jason: It also important to remember to leave space for fun. Mentoring and setting boundaries with youth does not always have to be an intense and serious discussion. It’s important to have those boundaries in place, but I also think it’s critical to come up with these solutions in the context of a relationship. We ask that parents sit down and watch one of their kid’s favorite movies together and identify the values the lead protagonists live by, and which of these values bring them closer to their goals. What values make them heroes? For example, Marvel movies portray plenty of values you can extract that take the hero to the place of victory. There are also values these heroes chose that lead to great difficulty and failure. This is just one example that relates to where youth are at; something they value and find important, and something that’s tangible.
NCOSE: That’s so helpful and sounds fun even for adults! Is there anything else you want to mention about this topic or your book?
Jason: The Internet in itself is not evil or bad, we see it similar to the auto industry. In the first decades of automobile history, safety was an afterthought. Automobile death rates were 96 percent higher than they are today. . Cities had no streetlights, no stop signs, no traffic cops, hardly any infrastructure whatsoever for keeping drivers in check. You can see over time that we learned from those things and made adjustments to make cars infinitely safer. We see the Internet as a similar construct. Right now, we’re in the early 1900s of Internet technology with high-speed Internet, smartphones, and Big Tech running rampant. There’s nothing about it that we should accept as an inevitability.
We really try to look at history and think when has there been other scenarios in America of normalized injustice? How is that repeating itself through the way we’re using the Internet today? We learn from our past to make adjustments and hopefully continue to progress in those areas. We need to do the same thing with technology. The current laws—the EARN IT Act, things that NCOSE is involved in—if we’re frustrated and talking about it we need to put one foot in front of the other and not be afraid to go and challenge the status quo and be able to make our voices known. We have a lot of freedom in the United States to be a loud voice and confront these things. NCOSE is on the front lines showing people it’s possible.
We leave off with this, that youth must be empowered to be the first line of defense to rejecting digital exploitation because tech is omni present in their lives. However, it does not end here. What are our responsibilities as adults who actually built the world these kids are being born in to? We really want to rise up with other organizations and allies and inspire readers of the book to see themselves as an active participant in empowering youth, holding Big Tech accountable and demanding reform to current internet legislation..
Lisa: The starting place in our minds is so simple. We think it starts in the home, it starts in the classroom. It’s stewarding a culture of presence, and it’s not just in regard to the offline world, but the online world as well. We have found that youth love talking about these issues surrounding tech use as long as they don’t feel judged or shamed, and feel there’s an open door, interest, and relationship that can handle whatever comes up. We want critical engagement, curiosity, and interest and we want parents and teachers back in the driver’s seat so they do feel like they can give some deeper understanding about what makes a life a beautiful life. To say: I am willing to learn with you and guide you as we discuss these challenges.
We hope you also feel inspired and empowered as we do after learning about the Frosts’ book! You can learn more about the Frosts and their work on their website, WiredHuman.org. They’re also on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. as WeAreWiredHuman.
Are you a parent, teacher, professional, or concerned advocate needing more? You can purchase a copy of The Glass Between Us to learn more about the incredible strategies and solutions surrounding technology and youth today.