Tips for engaging young people as Digital Mentors

As part of the National Year of Digital Inclusion, I ran a Go Digi workshop ‘Minecraft for Parents’ with my thirteen year old sister Eliza and her good friend Fraser (pictured).  Just like myself at their age, they love computer games, especially the hugely popular Minecraft.  

Seeing Eliza and Fraser demonstrate Minecraft to an audience of grownups, made me think about the benefits of younger people sharing their skills with adults.  

Eliza and Fraser were able to provide insights in to Minecraft that only countless hours of gameplay could have provided. There was also something special about a room full of parents (and teachers too!) listening intently to young people describing their digital world.

With technology changing rapidly and the shift to online service provision, how can we engage more young people as mentors to help others learn digital skills?

1. Make it fun and relevant

Young people probably aren’t going to get excited about helping their Uncle Bob with the online banking.  To encourage children to become digital mentors and help people they know build confidence with technology, the shared learning experience needs to be fun and relevant to them.

Perhaps they could help their Nanna with Skype or Facetime so that they can catch up online when on holidays, interstate or overseas?  Or for more the more adventurous, use a digital storytelling app to share a family story.  

Games are also a great way to learn about technology in a fun way together.  Why not hold a family games night where favourite video games and board games too are shared with one another?  Maybe there’s even a few retro video games from the 80s in the back of the cupboard that you could dig out.  

2. Don’t underestimate what kids know about the digital world.

With many of our children immersed in the digital world from an early age, it’s no surprise that many children have extensive knowledge about the digital world.

Despite this, it is easy to underestimate their knowledge. For example, although I knew that Eliza was an expert at playing Minecraft, she also had great knowledge about online safety.  She gave me examples of child-friendly servers for playing Minecraft and also which YouTube computer games channels to steer clear of because of bad language as well! 

3. Kids are not just growing up in a digital world, but a highly visual world as well

When putting together the presentation for the workshop Eliza and I discussed how Minecraft is often referred to as a sandbox game, which means that just like a sandpit in the backyard, how you play is largely up to you and your imagination. 

A few minutes after this conversation, Eliza had downloaded some images from the internet, and created a ‘mash-up’ in Photoshop completed with pixelated Minecraft ‘skin’ Steve and some Minecraft tools sitting in a sandpit to demonstrate the sandbox concept.

When thinking about how young people can mentor others, think about how you can tap in to these impressive visual literacy skills as well as digital literacy skills.

4. Mentoring is not one-way  

Often we think about mentoring or helping others learn digital skills as a one-way process. n my experience this is rarely the case. In running the Minecraft for Parents workshop together, I learnt about Minecraft, servers, mods and the benefits of young people playing creative sandbox games to build STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) skills. At the same time, Eliza learnt about how to plan, research, promote and facilitate a workshop.

In helping others learn digital skills over the years, I’ve learnt about all sorts of things from a diverse range of people – from what it was like growing up in Vietnam when helping an elderly person to use Google Maps to explore the village they were born in, to the history of conservation of the Leadbeater’s possum when helping someone to use a Wiki.   

5. Mentoring is not just about building skills but building relationships

The great thing about working with my little sister on the Minecraft for Parents workshop wasn’t just the shared skills but the time spent doing something meaningful together. Mentoring someone to learn digital skills is not just an opportunity to help enrich someone’s quality of life, but to build relationships as well.

If you have a young person in your life who would like to help a friend or family member to learn digital skills – let them know they can become a Go Digi Mentor and watch our short Mentors videos – Inspire, Support, Direct and Lead.

There is also a Go Digi learning guide Minecraft for Parents if you would like to learn more about this popular game.

Thanks also to our Go Digi Network Partner Fremantle City Library for hosting this event as part of the Go Digi Perth Pop Up Festival.