New Study: How the Digital World Impacts Communicating with Your Mentee


New Study: How the Digital World Impacts Communicating with Your Mentee

Posted March 27, 2015

We see traces of the digital world wherever we go. It’s on the train while people scroll through iPads on their morning commute and in the hands of kids playing games on their parent’s phones. It’s easy to assume that children are at risk of getting lost in the digital world and not knowing how to communicate interpersonally with others. But one study done by Duke University director of the Center for Child and Family Policy, Candice Odgers found that the use of media can be helpful to children. So how does this impact the way that Bigs are communicating with our Littles and Parents? Is the digital world helping or hurting that communication and friendship?

For some background, lets first delve into the Odgers’ Study. 

Odgers gave cellphones to 150 California youth between ages 12 and 15, then monitored them by texting them short survey questions three times per day for 30 days. After tracking the phone usage of these youth, speaking to their parents, and doing research on how the media treats youth she found that there are seven common fears about kids in the digital world.

  • concern for the kids personal safety;
  • worry over bullying;
  • if constant connectivity keeps kids from being present in real life;
  • if kids are pretending to be other people online;
  • the digital divide between parents and their children;
  • if constant multi-tasking impairs cognition; and
  • if mobile devices negatively affect sleep.

At the end of the study, however, Odgers found that these fears were nothing for parents to be afraid of. In fact the study found that a strong parent-child relationship is not diminished by time spent online, and in fact can be strengthened by the parent communicating with the child through the device, according to an article by Tim Shea in the Charlottesville Tomorrow.

Now take this info back to our Bigs and families in the program.

Mom Alithea stated, “They text each other and they arrange their meetings a lot of the time through that. In terms of initiating communication AliJah and Brendan are a lot more uninhibited then they were at the beginning of their match.” 

Big Brother Jared gave his perspective and remembers being careful about when he introduced the digital world into his relationship with Little Brother Accacio.

“At first I left my phone in my pocket. But one day he asked if we could watch this funny video on my phone, I said sure and he loved it,” Kortsen said. “The appropriate use of the digital world has helped their relationship grow.”

For some tips on how to navigate the digital world with your Little, check out these blog posts. These are some tips from Jean Rhodes, a writer for The Chronicle of Evidence Based Mentoring and Katie Davis, author of Microsoft’s Cyber Trust Blog. We pulled some of our favorites below and feel like the field of mentoring has a lot to learn from some of its features, particularly as it bears on how we might better connect with teens through texts:

1) Immediacy

Try to respond quickly so that your Little doesn’t feel ignored or left out.

2) Patience

Don’t jump to conclusions. Put your Little first and ask questions. Don’t immediately jump into problem-solving mode, hear them out first.

3) Listening

Sometimes the conversation might shift to really minor problems. It might seem tedious but you just have to listen because that is what they need.

4) Validation

Make your little feel like the feelings or problems they’re having are completely normal. Validate their concerns and the situation to help make them feel better.

5) Model moderation in technology use.

We should remember that adults are powerful models for youth. They see us tied to our laptops, smartphones, and tablets, and they’re taking note! We have the opportunity to model moderation in technology use, show kids there’s a time to put these devices away and be fully present.

6) Use the digital world to express creativity.

Digital media can open up new avenues for youth to express themselves creatively.

7) Remind them of the positives of the real world.

After going through the list of what they wouldn’t have or be able to do, many teens start to consider what they might gain: uninterrupted, lengthier face-to-face conversations; more time for personal reflection; fewer distractions when doing homework.

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