Many parents who come to my events are excited about my becoming a tech-positive parent...up to a point. But they are also sick of battling with their kids. Some of them harbor an idealized version of the past, which can lead to a negative impression of technology. Here are some "next steps" to help.
Is the Pokémon Go craze a good thing for your kids or not? Here’s how to co-create solutions with your digital native, rather than just feeling pressured to jump on the next trend.
Kids deal with small conflicts every day - it’s part of growing up. But for today’s “always-on” digital natives, there are additional layers of complexity. Constant connectivity complicates their social sphere. Here’s how you can be a good mentor and teach conflict resolution to your own digital natives.
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:
- Chat: Kik, WhatsApp, Yik Yak, Streetchat, Snapchat
- Posts—Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook
- Pictures—Snapchat, Instagram
- Videos—Keek, Vine
- 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:
- Mentoring vs. Monitoring: Should I Spy?
- My TEDx “Empathy is The App”
- Dealing with witnessing your own exclusion on social media.
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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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 learning from again.
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.
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.
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!
I had so much fun on Milwaukee’s The Morning Blend (NBC Milwaukee). The wonderful host, Molly Fay has three kids, and she, along with her viewers, wanted to know how much parents should monitor their kids posts, texts and shared images. As I’ve mentioned before, I am a big believer in mentoring over monitoring. And if you do spy, (or check on phones, history, etc.) letting your kids know what you are looking for is a better way to get the results you want.
As I say on the show – you want to help your kids do the right thing, not catch them being bad! The best way to accomplish this is not by putting an app on their phone–but with ongoing dialogue and support. Here’s the segment:
One of my favorite parts of Raising Digital Natives is presenting to parent groups, teachers and administrators. Frequently, parents and teachers share their experiences with me, so I learn as much as I teach. Being exposed to the concerns parents and teachers have about kids in the digital age is extremely informative and valuable to shaping the the ways Raising Digital Natives can help families and schools.
For educators, this list offers a helpful orientation to parent concerns that you may wish to address directly in your parent engagement communication. Here are some more ideas for how educators can respond to parent concerns. I’ve collected some of these common concerns from recent conversations with parents.
See if you identify with any of these concerns:
- How much “screen time” is too much?
These days, it seems children never get a break from technology. Whether at school or at home, for work or for play, there’s always a screen in the room. But at what point do the harms of digital devices outweigh their benefits? When is it time to disconnect?
- How much video game time is too much?
Kids love their video games. If left alone, many kids would have no problem at all spending an entire day building and exploring on Minecraft. While this type of gaming does have its benefits, most adults will agree that a day-long gaming marathon is excessive.
- Are social skills at risk?
Sometimes, kids will choose playing with a computer over playing with their friends. While gaming can be social, is this damaging to their socialization? Does excessive screen time cause kids to miss out on learning how to deal with important social scenarios? How harmful is the lack of real, face-to-face interaction to their social development? In Chapter five of my book, Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive and Survive in Their Digital World, I address the idea that empathy is the app and that kids can learn to consider the people they game with or share social networks with in thoughtful ways.
- How do you ensure safety on the Internet?
It’s no secret that the Internet is chock-full of content that is not appropriate for children. Younger children may be unaware that this type of content—as well as more serious online dangers—exist, they also may not know how to avoid them. How do you protect your children and stay Web-safe without infringing on their browsing privacy?
- Is traditional learning at risk?
When tablets replace notebooks in the classroom, opportunities for digital learning are arguably limitless. However, perhaps children do benefit from old-school, pen-and-paper techniques. By eliminating the traditional methods of teaching, are their developmental learning tools suffering in some way?
- How can a child focus with so many distractions?
“But I need my computer to do homework!” Children can’t be good students without finishing their work, often on computers and/or tablets. But computers, tablets, and other devices are often multi-purpose. That means that they also have games and other opportunities to connect with friends. When tempted by things more fun than homework, how is it possible to let kids use technology but still keep them focused? In Screenwise, I share how to co-create solutions to distractions, while acknowledging that we ALL get distracted.
- Can kids still find fun without technology?
Are the days of riding bikes and climbing trees entirely behind us? When video games and computers offer instant and easy distractions, what happens to the “traditional” ways that kids play? Can kids still independently find amusement, and can we trust them to find creative and productive ways to stay entertained?
- What should parents of different age groups expect?
While many of these questions persist as kids grow, oftentimes, new ones arise. Every age group uses and understands technology in different ways. What particular issues should parents of a six-year-old be concerned about, and how do they differ from those of a twelve-year-old?
- Does social media create “FOMO?”
A major cause of social stress for children and teenagers is the Fear Of Missing Out, or FOMO. Will the sad feeling of not getting invited to the birthday party be made worse by scrolling through the group selfies from the party on Instagram. How do we avoid this, and how do we deal with it if it arises? Kids talk about how to manage Exclusion in the Instagram Age in this post.
- Is the parent/teacher connection at risk?
Rest in Peace, Red Pen. With tablets replacing traditional homework methods, parent involvement almost inevitably decreases. This is a surprise to some parents—something they weren’t expecting. When it’s harder to see teacher feedback on homework, how can parents bridge that gap with educators in order to continue to help their kids in the same way? I’ve also written some guidelines for parent/teacher communication in the digital age.
Do you have other concerns about children and technology that I haven’t addressed here?
Check out my new book, Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World. Let me hear from you! I’ll be sharing solutions and strategies for each of these concerns on my blog and in the book that I’m currently writing. Would you like a free chapter of Screenwise?
Thank you, and I look forward to hearing from you!
Many parents ask me—should I spy on my kids or is that an invasion of privacy? Apps like “My Mobile Watch Dog” and “TeenSafe” give parents the power to read all their kids’ texts. But then what? I tell parents: Mentoring is more powerful than monitoring.
It helps to understand your own goals before you take action. Has there been an incident that spurred a spying strategy? Or is it a general fear about what your child could be doing—because you don’t know about it?
In addition to looking at your goals, set a plan before you start. Think about what your response will be if or when you encounter:
- Bad (or inappropriate) language;
- Negative talk about other kids;
- Negative talk about adults or teachers;
- Negative talk about you or other parents.
- Inappropriate pictures.
Mentoring vs. Monitoring: Be honest with yourself about your goals
The new digital world that our kids inhabit leaves parents feeling like they have less and less control to do the work of parenting. A natural inclination is to take some control back. Impose rules on device use, or monitor kids’ activities. After all, how can we have influence over them if we feel like they are isolated from us?
While this can be effective (and maybe even necessary), let me make a brief case for mentoring rather than monitoring.
- First of all, if you are covert about your spying, you could lose the opportunity for mentoring. You may feel that it’s your right as a parent, but your child will see it as a breach of trust. When this happens, your child may “close off” or feel that she has to be sneaky now. In other words, you could actually do more damage by spying, and have the opposite effect of what you intend.
- Plus, your kids may already be on to you. They are clever, and I’ve seen a few kids go to great lengths to evade covert spying. For instance, keeping and managing two Instagram accounts—a “family-friendly” one and another “real” account, using a fake/code name. You can usually tell which one is real by their engagements with other kids, etc.
- Speaking of other kids, spying on your child’s communication means that you are reading other kids’ communications, too. There are a lot of issues around that, from invasion of privacy to assumed responsibility. Do you tell the other parent up front, or wait until an issue arises? What if another parent is reading your child’s communications to their kid? Would you want them to call you about your child’s communication? To my point about goals, it really helps think these things through in advance.
- You may never see your kids’ friends the same way if you are reading their texts. Or your own. Are you ready?
What if you decide to spy?
If you do spy—and there are some situations, including new stages of experience (i.e. first time users) that may warrant this—then here are a few tips:
- Be honest. Tell your kids up front that you are going to be watching, and why you feel you need to do this. Demonstrate to them how your relationship will be better and more open because of this. After all, you are being honest with them—not covert.
- Show how it will help. Tell your kids that you are going to help them understand how to communicate better. Socializing via text and social media is complicated, and you’ll help them navigate it. Assure them that they won’t lose their own style of communicating.
- Set a duration. Be clear that if they meet your expectations in how to communicate, that you will feel the need to check less frequently or you will stop completely unless you sense there is serious trouble and your child isn’t telling you.
- Create an alternative. Instead of spying, are you open to having them give you a tour of their social media accounts once a month?
- Raise a flag. Have your child point out to you when they get a message that’s not appropriate. Prompt them, if necessary. If they learn to do this on their own, not only can you use the opportunity to teach them, but you’ll also be building up your trust in your child as well.
What if you see something you don’t like?
Suppose you see something you don’t like. An inappropriate picture exchanged, mean or hurtful words about a classmate, or worse—an accusation or threat. What do you do?
- First, try not to over-react. You could be missing a lot of context by seeing this one infraction. I’m not saying not to take it seriously—just make sure you remain calm and think it through before reacting. You have to tread very carefully, and it helps to have a strategy.
- Ask, don’t accuse. You need more context to assess the situation and make good decisions. Ask some open-ended questions about what’s going on, rather than confronting your child directly.
- Assess and take action. How serious is the situation, and how urgent is it? For instance, if you have reason to believe your child is being bullied, in an abusive relationship, or getting threatening texts from a peer (or an adult), you need to act immediately. But if we are talking about the everyday social dramas of elementary, middle, and even high school, it is more helpful to be supportive and not overbearing.
- Teach “repair.” It’s ideal if the child can fix the issue on his/her own, and your mentoring can really help here. Teach your child that if a post or text message upsets them, it is better to calm down and speak to the person directly (if possible), or to seek help from a parent or other adult if the situation is too serious to handle on their own.
Building a strong, honest, and open relationship with your child is the best defense against the “digital issues” your family faces day to day. Protection apps like “Phone Sheriff” (and hundreds of other similar apps) are simply no match for your experience, and won’t help your child develop good judgment in communicating. Issues are an opportunity for learning—for you and your child!
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Conflict is difficult, even for adults. But for today’s kids, it’s particularly complex. The interpersonal conflicts that you remember as a child are all still there, but the landscape has changed somewhat. Digital devices in the hands of our kids offer more connectivity (good!), but it comes with many more opportunities for miscommunication.
Tensions between friends can arise from something as minor as an unanswered text message. Kids understand that instant messaging isn’t always instant. In my workshops, kids easily come up with 20 legitimate reasons that someone might not answer a text.
In addition to showering, dinner with family, homework, sleeping and practicing music or a sport, they also mentioned that sometimes they just don’t feel like texting. We need to let kids know that this is OK—that whether you are in 6th grade or a grownup, it can be OK to unplug for any of those reasons, including the last one!
Despite acknowledging the things a friend could be doing instead of immediately replying, they still get upset. Their feelings get hurt, and often, their anger escalates the longer it goes unanswered. Sometimes they text again, and again, and again—resulting in a screen that looks like this one.
Group texts, popular with tweens and younger teens, are a mess of challenges. Now the issues are not one-to-one (difficult enough!), but over a network. Within a group dynamic, they feel obligated to participate. But how much? Too much can feel overbearing, not enough can feel aloof. Many kids express reluctance to completely bow out, as they fear their peers will talk about them while they’re not there. There are so many potential land mines!
So what can you do to help?
Model patience. This is the single best thing that you can offer your child. For instance, when you text your spouse and don’t hear back immediately, pounce on this as a real-life teaching opportunity. Speak aloud, and talk through all the things your spouse could be doing instead of answering your text. Talking to a colleague. On the phone with a client. Driving. Running to catch the bus. Just because you send a text message doesn’t mean that the recipient needs to drop everything to respond!
Avoid emotional issues. Text messaging is a great way to stay in touch and feel connected to your peers. It’s great for quick exchanges, planning, and meeting up. In other words, functional and practical uses. Emotional issues, on the other hand, don’t translate well in text messages or social media. They are too complex for such a simple medium. Teach your kids to stick to the functional aspects. That doesn’t mean that you can’t show support for a friend with a well-timed smiley emoticon, but talk with your kids about different situations so they can get a feel for what’s appropriate and what’s not.
Express boundaries. Help your child: 1) set some rules on her own; and 2) construct some simple language for expressing a clear boundary to peers. For example, “I don’t group text” or “I can’t respond to texts after 9 pm.” Not only does this teach them about boundaries (useful in general too!), but it also helps them feel less worried about how they will perceived if they don’t respond right away. Their need for inclusion makes it very difficult for them to come up with this on their own, so it’s a great opportunity for you to help.
Take it offline. When kids have a conflict, they need skills to mend fences in person. A sense of urgency can take over when trying to resolve a dispute. It can escalate quickly. Exercise restraint, be patient, and resolve the issue in a face-to-face discussion. The phone can work, too—but it’s extremely difficult to successfully resolve an argument via text message. Teach your kids to defer with a simple message, such as, “Texting might not be the best way to discuss this—can we talk F2F?”
Invent your own solutions. I love doing this exercise with kids. Pose a question to them—what would you invent to fix this? One group of kids I worked with invented an app to deal with the challenges of group texts. They offered a way to “step out” temporarily (to do homework or take a shower) without coming back to 900 texts. They also offered a feature for getting out completely, and a reminder about who is participating (since you only see phone numbers for non-contacts) so they would know not to talk about those individuals. Really clever stuff, and it’s such a great exercise to make them cognizant of the pitfalls of texting.
Texting can be fun and fulfilling if your child understands how to use it right. It can be an important part of their social sphere, so it’s worth investing the time to help them learn the unwritten rules. I hope that these suggestions help you!
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Photo Credit: Top Photo is by Daniela Reinsch
I got an interesting call the other day, asking for commentary on a brand new application that allows you to see tweets, instagram streams and any other geotagged, shared material. If you want to see what your neigbors are posting, or what people at your child’s school are posting, just sign up for Geofedia . You can also find some of this information through the apps themselves, but this makes it much easier. I’ve perused some middle and high schools and seen images like this…
So NBC News Chicago invited me to comment, and you can see the full newsclip with my comment here:
As well as a little more of the interview here:
If this creeps you out, don’t geo-tag your posts! I can only imagine that within weeks, this will mean that someone will walk up to you in a store to say: “I see you are tweeting about wanting a warmer coat. We have one on sale.” The journalistic potential is incredible, but the marketing potential is what this app seems designed to capture. Knowing where you are and what you want is about as close to mind-reading as technology has gotten–yet.