Are You Raising an Impulsive “Liker” or a Critical Thinker?

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I recently looked on one morning as my teen scrolled through several of her social media feeds liking posts, photos, and videos so fast her thumb became a mere blur. With a furrowed brow and pursed lips, the kid was moving at the speed of like.

“Whatcha likin’ there?”  I asked.

“Just stuff people posted,” she replied.

“Yeah? What?”

“I dunno, just stuff.”

The key word in this brief conversation is “stuff.”  That’s scientific-sounding enough right?

Her intensity and speed of liking content without even thinking (it seemed) raised a few mom flags in me. So what exactly is “stuff” and why is she so quick to give it her public approval? What’s the teachable moment here?

I started mapping out the conversation I planned to have with my daughter when she returned from school that day. I would talk to her about slowing down, thinking, and reading content before throwing out her approval like a clown chucking candy at at a holiday parade.

Then the annoying Truth Mirror popped up—as it so often does—and interrupted my little fantasy lecture.

I started thinking about my own spontaneous digital approvals I give several dozen times a day (like said clown, at said parade). Am I doing the same thing my daughter is doing only at half the thumb speed?

I decided to test myself for a week. Sure enough, I too have some passive digital habits that need to go. Seems I forfeit critical thinking online more than I’m comfortable admitting. I’ve become accustomed to my online friends, my communities (that send me likes back) and my cozy, reliable online perceptions.

A case in point: I recently noticed a handful of Facebook friends enthusiastically sharing a video that seemed right up my alley. The video, called Look Up, has had an incredible 27 million plus views and makes the beautifully poetic case to unplug our phones before life, literally, passed us by. The video was cool, really cool. It had me at hello; got my head and heart nodding . . . and almost clicking.

Then I paused. Am I being a passive thinker here? Am I following the crowd and just sharing what’s popular without being fully present? Am I opting for what “feels good” over what it consider to truly “be great”?

I needed to actually give the video a few more listens before mechanically hitting a share icon. After some internal debate, I decided not to share it. But why—what’s the big deal—it’s a good video? you might ask.

Because “good” is not my goal. More and more, in this mom’s opinion, good content is edging out great content online. Why? Because contagious clicking often (not always) lacks critical thinking and the viral train, isn’t always the most genuine to hop.

In this case (personally) the video wasn’t reflective of what I try to achieve in my online circles. By pausing I realized the video was far too black and white on the topic of technology and that it felt manipulative and preachy rather than challenging and solution-driven.

Once I took the time to understand and consider the content, it no longer made the cut. More than being inspired, my goal is to be well informed and in turn, to inform.

The goal is discernment. So the moment mattered.

The example showed me that I while I’m not reckless by any means, I don’t always invest the necessary thought into my clicks. I had to ask myself some tough questions: Do I want to raise kids who are digital lemmings; followers who just go with the flow? The bigger concern is that lemmings that forgo true thinking will likely compromise in other areas online, like personal safety.

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Discernment comes over time and requires practicing discipline and restraint in our thinking as opposed to undisciplined, spontaneous thought. And, let’s admit it, the online culture and pace challenges that ambition every second. It’s easy to dilute critical thinking online. Information comes at us quickly. Clever headlines spark our emotion. Ideas communicated brilliantly provoke us to act. But consider this: If it’s tough for adults to pause and reflect, how much harder is it for our kids? (Remember, their brains are not even fully formed yet!)

10 questions to help ignite critical thinking before you share:

  1. What is the author’s agenda?
  2. What do I really think about this?
  3. Is this a value I share or am I just following my friends?
  4. Am I posting impulsively?
  5. Can I trust the source sharing the information?
  6. What’s the other side/opinion on this issue?
  7. Would this post helpful to the people or community I care about?
  8. Do I need to add a personal comment to clarify my position on this post?
  9. Am I exercising my best judgment or someone else’s?
  10. What would be the advantage/disadvantage of adopting the author’s view?

Do we have the time to ask all those questions before we post? No way. However, just grabbing onto a few of them will help your kids slow down and discipline their minds to think before they post, which will serve them well in any arena.

Since I actually ended up sharing Gary Turk’s video Look Up in this blog post, I’ll clarify the link with this discerning comment: “This heartfelt video about disconnecting from technology—though a bit melodramatic—is a great reminder that balance is key to living (and loving) in a wired world. Enjoy!”

How do you challenge yourself or your kids to think bigger about online content and not follow the crowd? Do you have questions to add to our list?

 

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Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @SafeEyes. (Disclosures).

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