Author shares advice for living in digital world

Speaker helps parents cope with issues kids face in texts, group chats, online environments


Last updated 10/25/2023 at 2:52pm | View PDF

Parents can best help their kids manage their behavior on electronic devices and technology by modeling and mentoring.

That was the advice of Devorah Heitner, author of “Growing Up in Public: Coming of Age in a Digital World” and the latest presenter in the Community Speaker Series sponsored by Districts 86 and 181.

One area where parents can mentor good behavior is by asking permission from their kids before posting their photos on social media, she said Oct. 18 at The Community House. Establishing a “consent-based culture” at home also teaches kids about boundaries when it comes to sharing photos of friends or when someone asks them to share nude or “underpants” photos of themselves.

“They know they don’t have to say yes to everything people ask for them to share,” she said.

When it comes to reading texts or using apps that spy on kids, Heitner believes open communication is better in the long run.

“Swimming lessons are better than an electric fence around the pool,” she said. “I don’t think building an electric fence around the pool is an effective way to parent in the digital age. For me, putting an app on their phone that spies on them is kind of like the electric fence around the pool.”

A kid who posts racist or xenophobic content picked up that behavior somewhere, and adults need to look at the whole community to find out where, Heitner believes. If one kid is saying something inappropriate, so are others — or the post wouldn’t be circulating.

“If you just make it about that one kid and really focus all your retribution and rage ... you’re missing a tremendous opportunity to work as a community to do better and to help the targeted community,” she said.

The use of devices at night is problematic for many kids and teens. Students in elementary or middle school or early high school shouldn’t have connected devices in their rooms overnight, she advised.

“If you pick one battle with your kids about tech, I would say it should be sleep,” she said.

When she talks to teens, she tries to sell them on the importance of sleep.

“If you had access to a drug that was free and legal and had no bad side affects and all it did was make you smarter, better looking, in a better mood and more athletic, would you want it?” she asked one group of teens. “And they were like, ‘Yeah.’ And I was like, ‘It’s sleep.’ And they were like, ‘Oh.’ ”

Heitner also said kids need to know their parents will help them if something goes wrong. If her child shared a private photo with someone he trusted and that trust was violated, Heitner said she would be getting a lawyer for cease and desist orders rather than lecturing her kid.

“I think what’s really important for our kids to know is that we would be on their side if someone was harming them in that way, by disrespecting their privacy and sharing their picture without permission,” she said. “The most vulnerable to exploitation are the kids who feel like there is no adult they can turn to.”

Parents interested in continuing the conversation can attend a book discussion group from 7 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 8, at the Hinsdale Public Library, 20 E. Maple St.

Register at or Copies of “Growing Up in Public: Coming of Age in a Digital World” will be on the library’s book club holds shelf and available for checkout.

Author Bio

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean


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