How can we learn to live the kind of lives that we want our children and ourselves to have? The conversations in this book and similar ones can be uncomfortable. The digital world creates anxiety for many of us. We’re insecure about our own skills and knowledge, which can cause us to swing to extremes. We may thoughtlessly over-sharent about our kids and teens or irrationally limit their and our digital engagement. Anxiety takes us wherever the rapids of the world around us or the bumpiness of our own unconscious leads. Anxiety makes us nauseated passengers, not captains, on that Tom and Huck–style raft.
Just as we need to have our kids and teens grow up through play, we need to free up ourselves to be more exploratory. We need to place greater trust in our own abilities as parents, educators, and caregivers. Now that we’re through the episode of “Law & Ordinary” that is this book, you can be both judge and jury. What do you think? Do you now understand privacy the same as or differently than you did when you began? How about childhood? Are you convinced that sharenting is a problem to be solved? Or do you come away thinking that sharenting actually is a solution to living in the digital world—a way that parents, teachers, and other adults use to connect to one another and create their children’s digital dossiers, which in turn creates their current and future life opportunities?
If you think sharenting is a problem, what should we do about it (other than wait around for the robots to get smart enough to fix it)? The compass spins: play, forget, connect, respect. How could these principles reorient us? And what steps would this reorientation have us take? Do we change our laws and regulations so that companies, public institutions, and other entities are prohibited from using digital data about children for certain sensitive purposes? Do we attempt to use the law to prohibit parents, teachers, and other adults from sharenting in the first place? Do we spend public money to build the equivalent of playgrounds and parks for the digital era so that we strengthen play-centered childhood and adolescent experiences rather than focus on the protection of youth data?
Or do we think nonlaw reform tools might be better? Instead of or in addition to legal change, we could look to create new tech offerings for safe sharenting. We could change our own habits in our homes, schools, and beyond. (Practicing safe sharenting seems preferable to just saying no to sharenting.) We could do all the things that have nothing to do with anything on this list.1 What do you think you’re going to do?
Whatever else we do, we should ask the children in our lives what they think we should do. We should ask because we will learn something—and because we are raising them to participate in a democracy.2 We need our children to grow into adults who have the autonomy and agency to speak their minds and to learn to make their own decisions without a data determinism that can look suspiciously like a caste system. We need our kids and teens to be comfortable in iterative spaces and, within those spaces, to be comfortable raising tough questions and offering new solutions.3
The sharing we most need to do is with our children, not about them. We can share in a play-based ethos that empowers them as individuals, protects childhood and adolescence as unique life stages, and fosters democratic participation. Play is about creation and about imposing order on the world in a meaningful way. Going all the way back to your own childhood, ask yourself: does learning to participate in a democracy depend on the freedom to push each other around on the playground a bit, without the victor of a particular game of tag being added to a database? Yes, in some small way. On the playground, you’re experiencing liberty, fostering the creation of order, dealing with the consequences, then trying again tomorrow. You are not being tracked, categorized, and restricted. The sky’s the limit. Second star to the right, and straight on until maturity. Perhaps to infinity. You’re always young enough to let the stars lead the way. What do you want to be when you grow up?
[preview image by Roundicons]