Concern about the risks to children from smartphones and other tech devices sparked a Utah couple with five children to develop a program to prepare their kids for wise technology use.
Now Dave and Emily Jones have founded Family Tech University with an online course for other parents who have similar concerns. The Internal Filter Workshop is designed for kids 12 and up, with a series of modules that address things parents worry about, including the dangers of pornography, texting while driving, online kindness and smartphone etiquette.
A brief scan of online parent discussions about kids and technology reveals a prevailing emotion: fear.
"My husband and I discovered my daughter has been involved in inappropriate texts and photos with a boyfriend… We are mortified and heartbroken…"
"I fear my son may miss out on some REAL socializing because of his phone…"
"My daughter wants a private Tik Tok account to use with her friends. I haven't let her get it... I want to say yes, but I am SO afraid."
"I feel this sense of panic, that if I'm not an expert on every new app and social media platform, that my kids are doomed."
These excerpts were gathered from the Facebook Group "Parenting in a Tech World."
These expressions of fear are hardly surprising. Parents are continually bombarded with frightening information about the negative impact of tech on the well-being of children.
It was precisely that kind of concern that led Dave and Emily Jones to create Family Tech University.
"When our oldest son started asking for his own phone, we got online to try to figure out how to prepare him and we came away totally freaked out," Emily says. "Everything screamed 'Beware! Keep your kids safe! It's terrible out there!' But the fear approach didn't sit well with us. There was something missing."
Dave says, "I had this coworker who was an awesome, involved father. He had put together a detailed 'smartphone contract' for his kids to help them commit to living well with phones. He put a lot of work into it and it was full of great stuff, but it didn't go over well with one son in particular. One day this father came upon the contract and discovered that his son had taken a lighter and actually burned his own name off the bottom of the contract!"
"I've thought a lot about this great dad." Dave says. "Why didn't this go well? This was an involved, caring father. And then it dawned me… that son wasn't convinced, in his own heart, about the principles in that contract. He didn't yet own the wisdom that his father was offering. That son hadn't yet connected with the idea that wise tech use was really for his own happiness."
Emily adds, "That's when we realized that this was the missing piece we were looking for. With all of the online emphasis on shielding our kids from the horrors of the online world, we've forgotten that they are living breathing people who need this wisdom in their own minds and hearts. Filters and protections are critical… but they are the training wheels and not the endgame." And what is the endgame? "A child who walks out the door, away from filters and oversight, and still chooses well: A child with a robust internal filter."
Wisdom is something we cannot give to our children. The bedrock of a powerful internal filter is the forming of opinions that they own. It's not 'because mom said so,' or 'because dad said so.' It becomes theirs.
This epiphany motivated Emily and Dave to develop a course for their children to prepare them for wise technology use: The Internal Filter Workshop. This online course is designed for kids 12 and up and is jam-packed with teen-appealing articles and videos meant to convince kids to make wise decisions with tech for their own happiness. The real secret to the workshop's success is the fact that kids can have all of this powerful content in front of them to learn from, and form opinions on.
"Wisdom is something we cannot give to our children," Emily asserts. "The bedrock of a powerful internal filter is the forming of opinions that they own. These come through a little bit of study and thinking and practice. It's not 'because mom said so,' or 'because dad said so.' It becomes theirs."
Dave adds, "It really is okay to ask our kids to do a little bit of work before we hand them that fully loaded smartphone. Think of this kind of training as their "driver's ed" for a powerful vehicle. We don't need to be afraid. There is hope for these kids. They really can learn to harness these powerful technologies for a good and happy life."