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Tweens and Teens Dating in the Digital Age

Romance, Love, and Crushes in the Digital Age

Pew Center for Internet and American Life is one of my favorite sources of useful data on how kids and families are using technology. In October 2015, they released a study showing that, (surprise!) kids are still falling in love, getting crushes, getting mad, getting even, etc.

So things haven’t changed…that much. But for those parents who worry about the new added complications of technology on dating life, I have some good news: at least in 2015, most kids were not actually meeting or “hooking up” with other people online.

It may feel like dating has moved entirely to the Internet, but according to the Pew study, only 8% of all American teens have met a romantic partner online. Though we see a few young people are using Tinder, Grindr and other “hookup” apps, these are supposed to be only used by those eighteen or older. Also, as one mother of a 9th grader told me, despite the racy implications, her son started a “traditional” dating relationship with a girl he met via Tinder. In this day and age, “traditional” meant that she drove her son to a bookstore café to meet the girl in person for the first time while she waited outside. Since then, this particular mom has met the girl’s parents, and have gotten together to go out to the kids’ basketball games and to one another’s school plays. While the kids live 20 minutes apart in different suburbs–and might not have otherwise met–their relationship itself does not seem different to his mother than if they had met at a swim meet or debate tournament.

Connection, Connection, Connection

Once teens or tweens are involved romantically, their expectations are surely affected by the availability of constant connection. This is directly in parallel with the changes in expectations in our own adult relationships. For example, my husband and I were dating before we had cell phones, and our expectations for being in contact (while far lower than these teenagers!), are still more frequent than they were before we had these devices with us at all times. Fully 85% of young people surveyed, expected to hear from their partner at least once a day. 11% expected to hear from their partners once an hour!

Teens are just getting used to all the physical and emotional changes that come with puberty and one of those is the infatuation with others their age. While in the past, flirtatious exchanges were confined to lunch and the occasional movie, today every couple can keep in never-ending contact via the phone in their pocket. When talking to your child, remind her that even though she can reach out to her crush at all times does not mean she has to. It’s okay not to text.

On the other hand, flirting, dropping hints, and trying to figure out how mutual an interest or crush is (age old preoccupations) has moved more into the digital realm. In the PEW study, 50% of teens reported that they used Facebook or other social media platforms to flirt or express romantic intentions.  While they still may prefer to meet at school or through friends, social media is often times where they feel comfortable discussing their feelings.

 

Breaking up is Still No Fun

On the other end of the “feelings” spectrum, kids are negotiating both breaking up relationships and fending off unwanted attention in both the traditional ways (face-to-face, phone) and the digital realm (social media, texting, email). The PEW study reports that 25% of all teens have unfriended or blocked someone on social media because that person was flirting in a way that made them uncomfortable Perhaps, not surprisingly, Teen girls are more likely to receive uncomfortable flirting online with 35% reporting they’ve had to unfriend or block someone, more than twice as many as the 16% of boys who have had to do the same.

 

Talk to your kid

Ask your kid how other kids in their school and community ask other people “out” or to become involved. What are the local customs? If your are concerned about harassment, one way to open the door to conversations about these kinds of experiences is to ask your child if she or her friends has ever had to block someone for coming on too strong–or being too persistent. Make sure she knows that this behavior is unacceptable and that she doesn’t have to put up with it. If the behavior doesn’t stop by un-friending or blocking the perpetrator, contacting the school–or the authorities–may be necessary.

Most of what we know about dating for young people in the digital age should remind us to have empathy for kids…learning to deal with romantic feelings towards other is as awkward, terrifying and exhilarating as it ever was!

 

 

For Reference

Teens, Technology and Romantic Relationships.Pew Research Center Internet Science Tech RSS. 01 Oct. 2015. Web. 31 Jan. 2016.

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9 Tips for Successful Parent-Teacher Communication in the Digital Age

 

The digital world has changed almost everything we do, and parent-teacher communication is no exception. You probably have more access to your child’s teacher than you ever did—and certainly more than our parents did. More access and more communication can be a great thing, but it comes with some hazards too. New modes of communication means new etiquette and new expectations.

For instance, a common issue is expected response time. You reach out to the teacher, and you don’t hear back right away. But how long is “right away,” exactly? People’s communication habits vary. So you send another message. Now it has potentially escalated into an issue—when it really didn’t have to.

Some teachers communicate their preferences and state an expected response time. But every teacher is different and many won’t state explicit preferences. I often recommend that schools protect teachers from this by having an expected response time as a part of their policy.

Everyone has a responsibility to one another in learning the new rules: Parents, teachers, and school administrators too! But let’s focus on what we as parents can do to  set a positive tone and foster a good parent-teacher relationship.

  1. Start with empathy. Your child’s teacher has a difficult job—one that is often underestimated and under-appreciated.  There’s new educational technology, new standards, new testing—all of which take time for your child’s teacher to learn and integrate.
  2. Let the teacher choose mode of communication if possible. Communication will be much more free-flowing it you make it as easy as possible for the teacher. Respect her communication preferences. If she prefers e-mail to phone, then e-mail it is! Of course, there are times when only face-to-face will do, but try not to pressure your child’s teacher about the way things “should” be done.
  3. Help if you can. Teachers are often under-resourced and overburdened. Are you super tech-savvy? Maybe you can support the class web page or blog. Your support is not only a nice gesture—it can help the whole class!
  4. Teach boundaries to your child. If your child is old enough to e-mail the teacher herself, then the child should also be aware and respectful of these boundaries and expectations. Just because you and your child can e-mail the teacher, doesn’t always mean it is a good idea.  Before you (or your child) e-mails the teacher, check that the question can’t be resolved another way. If your child didn’t write down the homework assignment, is it available from a classmate or the learning management system? Your child should not make a habit of e-mailing the teacher instead of writing things down or knowing how to look things up. For more on how boundaries can help all of us in the digital world, check out my book: Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive and Survive in Their Digital World.
  5. Have patience. The learning process can be difficult and time-consuming. Sometimes your child will breeze through a subject with great ease, and other times it will seem like a never-ending slog. Don’t blame the teacher…If possible, dig into the homework assignments with your child. Then, if you can see things are taking far longer than homework policies state, do communicate the specifics with the teacher so you can collaborate on a solution.
  6. Know the teacher’s tools. Is there a digital version of the textbook? Does the textbook—or the homework—require Internet access? If so, how much time? These are great questions to ask the teacher, so that you can mitigate distraction during homework time. If you know this, you can set up unplugged time for homework, or partially-plugged time (computer or tablet not connected to wifi).
  7. Adhere to school rules. Don’t make life difficult by sending your kid to school with devices when they are prohibited by the school. Despite good intentions, it will likely create a classroom issue. You may have a good reason, such as an urgent family matter or a particular health issue. If you need an exception, ask the school first.
  8. Too much access to communication is not always the best thing. Lots of schools now let you check your child’s grades on quizzes and tests as they are posted. Unless you are managing a particular struggle, this much access to information may cause more stress than it is worth! Same thing for texting your kiddo during the day to “check in.” If they aren’t supposed to be on their phones, don’t make it hard for them.
  9. Don’t assume the worst. Unless there is strong evidence to the contrary, you can trust that teacher’s intentions are good. If they are not responsive by email they may be dealing with their own family crisis, a grading tsunami, etc. A completely unresponsive teacher does present a challenge that  you may need to address with the school, but someone who doesn’t answer an email right away may be in the middle of reading your child’s essay, attending a professional development workshop, or eating dinner. Assume the best about your child’s teacher, not the worst. It goes a long way.

New technology and new methods can have an amazingly positive effect—if we handle them the right way. It’s all a great opportunity for us as parents to get more involved in our kids’ education. To be generous, to offer support to our teachers, and to do so with a light touch. It’s easier for the teacher to collaborate with you to solve problems when you approach communication thoughtfully, and with empathy.

Please share your most positive experiences and any challenges in the comments! How did you fix it? Do you have any best practices to share?

 

Devorah Heitner, PhD is the author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive and Survive in Their Digital World and the founder of Raising Digital Natives a resource for schools and families wishing to cultivate a climate of digital citizenship.

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How Teens and Tweens are Using Social Media: It May Surprise You

Social media comes in a variety of forms, but the goal is the largely the same for kids. It serves as a “third space” for teens and tweens—an additional place outside of home and school. It’s a place where young people can “hang out,” even when they are not with their friends.

Most grownups think of social media as Facebook and Twitter. While those are the most popular ones worldwide, they may not be the ones that your kids favor. For instance, Facebook has fallen out of favor with many (though not all) younger kids because to them, it’s “for old people.” Think back to when you were a kid. You didn’t want to hang out where your parents hung out—it wasn’t cool.

There are literally hundreds of different social media platforms, and the goal is usually one of three things: To chat, share, or play. Some platforms do more than one thing. Here are some of the most popular examples:

  1. Chat: Kik, WhatsApp, Yik Yak, Streetchat, Snapchat
  2. Share:
    1. Posts—Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook
    2. Pictures—Snapchat, Instagram
    3. Videos—Keek, Vine
  3. Play: Minecraft, Clash of Clans, Candy Crush

How can you keep up with all of them? Well, you don’t really have to—you just need to know which site(s) your child is using. Then you can learn a little bit about the platform, how your child is using it, and with whom they are connecting.

In my experience working with parents, this is a big worry for them. They fear that kids will be talking to strangers, making themselves vulnerable to predators. The reality is that while kids may use services such as Omegle to talk to strangers, they are predominantly interested in interacting with other kids they already know. To them, social media feels like a peer space. They don’t want to be talking to adults—they want to extend and enhance the time they spend with the friends they already have.

Even though they are communicating mostly with their peers, kids can sometimes lack a full understanding of the scope of their social sphere. They sometimes share things intended for a few of their friends and forget that their parents (or even a wider peer group) might see what they’ve shared. It helps to gently remind them from time to time—that you saw one of their posts, for instance. You might use it to open a discussion about who else might have seen a text message. Or what has happened to you when you’ve sent a text to someone in error. This is not to scare them, but to just be a little more aware of the effects of unintended communication.

Young teens’ and tweens’ identities are in flux, so they are especially attracted to the social media photo communication applications like Snapchat. They get the chance to test out personae. The backside of this is that sharing photos can lead to surface judgments and virtual beauty contests. These challenges exist in the real world too, but social media can depersonalize it and encourage kids to take things out of context. It’s important to teach young people how to manage these “new” challenges.

Despite all of these challenges, social media can be important to the development of your kids’ social skills. Learning social norms and appropriate behavior is difficult for kids—even in the real world. The help you offer to them is no different, despite the medium. Here are some of suggestions for Helping Kids Manage the New Rules of Digital Etiquette.

If you are a regular reader, you know that I favor mentorship over monitoring—and using empathy as the keystone of your strategy. Here are some other resources to help you with each:

In addition to needing peer hangout time,  kids do crave spaces  to think about the role of social media in their lives. I just published a new curriculum, co-authored with Karen Jacobson, full of challenging and fun activities to help kids think about and manage the new and ever-changing challenges of the digital world. While it’s pitched towards teachers and group leaders, parents could get a lot out of it too. It’s called Connecting Wisely in the Digital Age: Social Emotional Exercises For Plugged in Kids. (You can buy the curriculum here.I’ve been leading workshops with these exercises at schools around the country. Students have responded very enthusiastically!

Young people really crave opportunities to discuss these issues…Let them lead, but ask them about the latest app, or something they’ve seen their peers do in social media, and give them a chance to reflect. You’ll both learn so much!

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“Kids Don’t Understand Privacy Anymore”

A common refrain that I hear from parents that today’s kids “have no regard for privacy!” Their evidence? A teenager’s “rant” on Facebook. An inappropriate divulgence via Twitter. A photo that would be better deleted than shared.

I still remember walking home from 7th grade when a friend said she hated her parents. I had never dared to think something like that, let alone say it aloud. I rolled it around in my head. As I got to know her, I realized she had good reason to be deeply angry with her folks. But communicating her truth to me was private and profound. Now consider the same message, but this time, conveyed via social media. “I hate my parents” could easily be taken as light-hearted or a joke—or it could be much more serious than that.

The fact is that these two “social spaces” are vastly different. The issue is not that kids don’t have a sense of privacy, but instead a lack of understanding about how to manage each one of these terrains. Teaching kids how to manage these distinctions is tricky.

All of this centers around a strong set of values—which parents and other mentors, can model for kids. The new world of social media does mean we all get to ignore our values, but it does require us to help young people navigate how their ideas get filtered and shared through these new means of communication. For instance, you have a sense of when it’s OK to resolve an issue via e-mail, but you also understand when it’s best to have a face-to-face discussion. The issue for kids is no different at its core—it’s just the medium that’s different. The challenge for you lies in the nuances of each communication mechanism, be it Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. Stick to your core values. It is OK to emphasize things such as loyalty, but show your kids the difference between the the ways we communicate.

Take for example a situation where you are angry with a friend. You need to vent. You call another friend of yours and do just that. You unload all the details. You feel better. Yes, there’s a risk in this—the “venting” conversation might get back to the first friend. But imagine how different that would be if you instead vented about your friend on your blog or Tumblr—and she discovered the post 3 weeks later? The issue may actually have been resolved in person by now—but social media will “remember.” For all intents and purposes, it’s a permanent record—even though it feels ephemeral.

This is incredibly challenging for kids to understand. So what can you do?

  • Set a social media policy for your family, what can be shared and not shared. Talk about it directly.
  • Walk through hypothetical situations, using real friends and family. That way, your kids will understand it in the context of real empathy and real emotions.
  • Have your kids look for and point out to you things that their peers are doing “wrong.”  This will get them to cast a critical eye on social interactions, using real examples. It gives you a good sense of their judgement.
  • If your child does complain about you on social media, DON’T return the favor. Criticizing your child in your own social media posts is always the wrong way to go. Don’t shoot your child’s laptop.  Do explain why airing this kind of grievances publicly is NOT a good way to resolve family conflict. Look for alternate ways to re-establish trust and communication.

In the comments, please share your experiences with kids and privacy. How do you teach your kids, or your students to understand what to share, where to share and how to communicate their thoughts and feelings with regard to their own privacy as well as privacy for others.

 

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Raising Digital Natives at SXSWedu: Digital Citizenship, Empathy and Apps

I just returned from speaking at SXSWedu. I had an incredible time—what an experience. SXSWedu is unlike most education conferences because of the diversity of speakers and attendees. There were app developers, policy experts, publishers, school leaders, teachers, students, and activists all at the same conference in Austin, TX. Not quite as huge as the Interactive and Music festivals that follow, but large enough that it could feel overwhelming at times, or at least cause twinges of the “fear of missing out.” Luckily, my interactions and experiences were so engaging that I had little time to consider what might be happening elsewhere at the same moment. I can’t possibly do justice to my whole experience, nor will I try to make you hungry by detailing all the amazing tacos I ate in Austin. But here are a few of the conversations that I got to dip into that will inspire my writing, speaking, and consulting going forward.

There were a significant number of people who share my obsessions: 1) empathy in the digital age; 2) thoughtful digital citizenship; and 3) parent engagement with educational technology innovation. I was privileged in that my talk was one of the very first sessions of the conference. My Future 15 talk, “This is Their Hearts on Smartphones” offered an update on my TEDx from earlier this year. Afterwards, I got to meet some inspiring people, whom I know I’ll be talking to and learningScreen Shot 2015-03-12 at 7.57.16 PM from again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Citizenship

I’ve been dying to meet Carl Hooker since we got to work with some other great folks on webinar on engaging parents with edtech. (Free and archived here). Carl and I talked about the huge need for parent support in teaching digital citizenship, professional development for teachers, and student workshops. I got to see him do his incredibly relevant and hysterically funny workshop on parenting in the 21st century called, “Raised by Siri.” Getting to compare notes and strategize about doing this work with a like-minded educator like Carl filled me with inspiration and excitement.

I was also thrilled to encounter Jessica Millstone, a brilliant fellow digital citizenship expert I’ve been hoping to meet for years! She’s at Brain Pop, one of my favorite ed tech companies. We got to chat at a EdTechWomen’s lovely meetup for women in educational technology  where we enjoyed hors d’oeuvres, skyline views, and the company of smart women who develop, consult, and innovate in the world of ed tech.

After my talk, I also met Professor Nick Bowman—and I got to attend his panel as well. He’s a professor in the Communication Department at West Virginia University, researching how individuals construct their relationships with social media. I can’t wait to hear more about his research and to share some data here. As a former professor of Media Studies, I love to catch up with academic colleagues to hear the latest in the field.

Privacy vs. Parents: Diving Into the Controversies

SXSWedu has been the site of controversial discussions about privacy in the past, so it was great to hear from experts about the latest recommendations for best practices. Two years ago at SXSWedu, the controversial student data collection/analysis repository inBloom was a major presenter. Parents around the country were very concerned about how inBloom might use and share student data. Ultimately, pushback from concerned parents caused inBloom to close. This story is the perfect cautionary tale of educational technology NOT meeting parental concerns—exactly the kind of breakdown I am working to address. 

Since my parent engagement work helps schools understand parental concerns better, this erosion of trust between parents, schools, and policy makers is very instructive to my work. So you can imagine that I was very excited to dive into discussions of privacy at SXSWedu, including a summit on Privacy and Student Data.

It was at this summit that I caught the latest research from Pew Researcher Amanda Lenhart. The Pew research on the “Internet and American Life” is one of the sources of data I share most frequently in my parent talks. Amanda Lenhart presented updates from Pew’s studies of teenagers. One key data point is that teenagers “do take steps to actively manage their reputations online.” Based on my own conversations with young adults, I find this to be true as well—and use it to reassure the parents and teachers with whom I work. 

Meeting app/curriculum designers in person

One of the best reasons to go to SXSWedu was to meet people who research, develop, create, and market the tech tools used by students and educators with whom I work. I had a great time at Edutopia’s party chatting with Ronnie Burt from EduBlogs, a tool that allows students to blog and share their experiences—and Henry Lyford from Edmodo, a collaborative tool used by numerous schools that I’ve worked with. I learned so much from them about how they incorporate teacher and student feedback into their work! Getting to talk to app creators is such a great chance to learn about the feedback process, and to see how important our experience as everyday users is to these companies.

Empathy

On the empathy front, I was delighted to meet Rachel Zindler and Hannah Rosenthal from Teaching2gether, a new organization that  is doing some amazing work around inclusion and rethinking special needs education. Teaching2gether did a great session that helped educators feel empathy for all of their different learners by offering simulations of various learning differences and physical disabilities so educators could experience how they would impair engagement in a typical classroom. The experiential strategy made for great conversations and allowed the audience to engage at a much deeper level than is typical for a panel presentation.

Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 8.21.14 PM

 At this session, I met another app designer:  Michele Walker, a guidance counselor and mother who created the app Choiceworks to help her own quirky kids thrive in school and at home. Since I use Choiceworks at home, Michele is a hero to me!

Finally, as a co-author of a brand-new curriculum, it was exciting to meet Andrea Lovanhill, who works with the highly regarded anti-bullying curriculum, Second Step. I loved that we met on an escalator and she took the time to have a quick lunch with me so I could learn more about Second Step.

Overall, experiences like this left me feeling like the trek to SXSWedu was highly worthwhile. So many great people were willing to talk and engage—it was an honor to be on the program and get to share my work in such smart company. This post only describes a fraction of the encounters and fantastic conversations I had at SXSWedu. I look forward to continuing the conversations and collaborating with my digital citizenship comrades in the very near future!

 

Empathy is the App: Raising Thoughtful Kids in the Digital Age.

 

 

Screen Shot 2014-12-20 at 11.06.33 AMHappy new year! My TEDx is up! 2014 was an incredible year at Raising Digital Natives! I’m delighted that I got to speak with many of you in the last year. Excited to share my recent TEDx talk with you. TEDx was created in the spirit of TED’s mission, to share “ideas worth spreading.” It supports independent organizers who want to create a TED-like event in their own community. In the talk, I share insights from my research and consulting with kids, parents, and school communities.

Click here to view

In the talk, I explain that we need to get really curious about our kids’ day to day lives with technology so we can have empathy for their experiences. Further, I describe solutions that I co-created with kids in my school workshops. The kids are so creative and brilliant. Their inventions will inspire you re-examine your relationship with your devices.

Sharing this talk is a great way to introduce my ideas to your community and to start a conversation about the role of technology in all of our lives. Please comment on the Youtube site, or send me your thoughts directly.

Please share on Facebook & tweet to your smart followers.

Other updates for 2015:

? More corporate Lunch and Learn offerings for working parents!
? New School Consulting Packages. If you want more support on parent engagement, parent research, faculty professional development, digital citizenship policy consulting, on an ongoing basis, contact me. 4-12 month packages available.
? My Connecting Wisely curriculum (co-authored with Karen Jacobson) will be out in the next few weeks with Youthlight Press! See the cover below. Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 2.36.42 PM

This spring will take me to New York, Chicago, Washington DC, Indianapolis and many other communities. Please contact me at [email protected] if you would like to work together!

Instead of Worrying About Sexting, Parents Should Be Thinking About Empathy

Channel Two News called me recently to ask about how families can help their kids navigate the word of smart phones and constant connectivity. I had a great conversation with Erin Kennedy in my office, and the crew also filmed one of my parent talks at a school. Additionally, they interviewed a lovely family with three teens about their experiences.

My biggest message was that parents should supporting their kids with empathy and mentorship and nurturing kind and thoughtful interactions digitally and in person.

You can watch the full segment here:

Everyone Makes Mistakes: Teaching Kids How to Fix Things When Texting Goes Awry

Instagram, texting, kids and cellphones, tweens and smartphones, friendshipAs parents or teachers we can get too focused on PREVENTING digital mistakes that can ruin friendships and reputations. We need to offer mentorship to our kids on how to repair things (when possible). We can model this in our own social media lives.

Kids need to see that relationships are complex, even for adults. It’s important for them to see how to manage a mistake—with honesty, empathy, and patience.

We can’t make them feel like a digital mistake is ever a good reason to end their own lives. We must stop catastrophizing and focus on repair.

To read the full article, When Texting Goes Wrong: Helping Kids Repair and Resolve Issues on A Platform for Good, click here.

Image by Kelly Hogaboom.