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Category: Kids and Technology

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/Messaging: Snapchat, Whatsapp, Kik
  2. Share pictures/videos: Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube
  3. Play: Minecraft, Fortnite, Roblox

How can you keep up with all of them? Well, you don’t really have to—you just need to know which apps/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 Whisper to talk to strangers, most kids interested in interacting with peers 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. It  also can be stressful and time consuming keeping up ongoing Snapchat Streaks. It’s important to teach young people how to manage these 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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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!

 

Exclusion in the Instagram Age: How Can They be Having Such a Great Time Without Me?

Instagram and Exclusion

I just wrapped up working with a great group of 7th and 8th graders and wanted to share their ideas so that you can use them with kids (and adults) that you know!

If you ask a group of kids if they ever felt left out when they see images or videos posted in apps like Instagram, Vine or Snapchat, they will have a lot to say. Each of these apps can include images and videos of groups of other friends that may not include the viewer.

When I posed this question to this group, the middle schoolers all said that this happens all the time—and can be hard to deal with. They all agreed that it is better not to lie or make excuses if you are busy with one group of friends and another friend wants to hang out. Better to say, “I have plans” than to lie and say, “I have too much homework,” and then share images of yourself at spending time with other friends.

I asked them if they think kids post images with the intention of making others feel excluded. Most of the kids were reluctant to admit it—they’ve been on both sides of this issue. One boy suggested that other kids post pictures in the moment without really thinking about it.

One girl said that even if she is invited but can’t go, “I can feel pretty jealous and even mad that I am not there. How can they be having such a great time without me?” Ouch. This is a great insight into the complicated digital lives of today’s kids.

One student described the experience of vicariously experiencing a pool party that included many people in her class. As an alternative to watching the pictures roll in and feeling terrible, she invited two other friends—who had also been left out—to her house. They watched movies and did some baking. Good strategy!

Working with my Connecting Wisely Curriculum, I challenged students to come up with some strategies for this scenario: You are looking at your phone and see Instagram pictures of your friends or acquaintances hanging out without you—or a party you weren’t invited to. These were some of their suggestions:

  1. Watch some Netflix
  2. Eat some ice cream
  3. Call some other friends to invite them over
  4. Don’t watch—put away your phone!
  5. Exercise
  6. Hang out with your family

They were able to admit that if they had other friends over, it might be tempting to take and share pictures. When I asked why she would share pictures at all, one girl said that she wants to “show that she has a life outside of school.” Another kid said, “it is fun to share when you are doing fun things.” Other kids pointed out that social media is a way to mark the moment and preserve memories.

Putting away your phone is a great idea. Making a choice not to ruminate over your exclusion is a huge step towards empowerment!

I asked the kids, “do you think people just shouldn’t share images of events that exclude people,” and they all said, “NO! people have a right to share.” One girl clarified that, “one is OK, two is a bit much, and three or more pics from the same event starts to be obnoxious.”

As always, kids have great insight and come up with creative solutions. With a little mentorship from parents, teachers, and other group leaders, kids will help co-create the new guiding principles of social media etiquette.


These exercises above (and more!) are in my new curriculum guide that I co-authored with Karen Jacobson. It’s full of challenging and fun activities to help kids think about and manage the new and ever-changing issues 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 & Well in the Digital Age: Social Emotional Exercises For Plugged in Kids, and you can find it here.

 

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Thinking Beyond Screentime: Creativity over Consumption

Kids sharing some screentime!

The new digital tools of the 21st century offer unprecedented opportunities to create. Our most innovative schools are transforming from sites where the “empty vessels” (our children) are filled with knowledge to spaces where kids co-create knowledge with the teacher serving as “Lead Learner.” Libraries are changing, too. They are becoming active learning and creation spaces—not just a place to check out books.

“Screen time” is not what it used to be. For most of us, the concept of “media” is deeply rooted in broadcast media. And why not? We grew up with TV and radio—that is to say, with professionally-created content distributed in a one-to-many format.

The Internet changed all that, and what we see today is a much broader definition of media. Today’s digital natives don’t think of media as one-to-many. They think of it as participatory, not passive. That’s not to say that they won’t be happy perched in front of a TV program—it’s just that their view of media is not limited to that conception.

The Creativity / Consumption Continuum

When we lump everything into “screen time,” we fail to make a crucial distinction between creativity and consumption.

In actuality, it’s not binary—really, it is more of a continuum. For example, watching a TV show is clearly about consumption, but what about when your kids are tweeting along to a live broadcast? Or texting in their vote on American Idol? That’s a different relationship with the screen, to be sure.

What about watching a YouTube video about how to play Minecraft vs. making a “how-to” video on YouTube about Minecraft strategies? Even though they are employing the same platform (YouTube), the activities are completely different (passive vs. active).

There are also shades of difference in what they are creating, too. For instance, your teen might have a Tumblr blog (also known as a Tumblelog) with mostly reposted content—a collage, if you will. Or she could be writing her own original content rather than just curating others’ works? These are all shades in a rainbow of engagement.

So, what can you do you to foster this kind of creativity?

Setting Different Parameters

If kids are using their screen time for creativity over consumption, that makes you think differently about imposing limits, doesn’t it? It’s not passive “zombie time,” it’s learning and stretching their imaginations. What I recommend is rather than hard and fast “screen time limits,” consider the context. If your kid is composing a song on Garageband, maybe you might make that exempt from your family’s time limit rules. That would be very different that binge-watching a Netflix series. Though even binge-watching can have its place (out sick from school, the polar vortex like we have in Chicago at the moment, etc.), you can see how you might set different time limits on these different activities.

Writing and Creating

One way to help make the transition from passive to active is to encourage them to create their own books, music, and videos. There are so many great tools out there that are easy to use, and it might even be an activity that you can do together with your child. For instance, your kid can create her own book using Book Creator. Or how about a video of your favorite family activity using simple video editing software such as Windows Movie Maker or iMovie? Post it to YouTube, and it’s something your whole family could enjoy—even aunts, uncles, and grandparents!

Designing and Programming

Many tech folks idealize programming in Scratch or other programming languages as the ultimate in creativity with technology. As I have said elsewhere, programming is great! But only some kids will get excited about it—and you can’t force it. If your kid gets pumped up about designing houses, cars, fashion, or even a new kind of animal from within an app—those are all fantastic creative endeavors. But try not to value that over “simpler” creative projects. Using a drawing app to create original artwork is still creativity at work, and a offers a different level of engagement than simply scrolling though other people’s content?

Thinking Critically and Making Improvements

This is another great avenue for teaching important skills to your kids. How can you teach them to make assessments about existing content and/or products? Try to look at how kids are engaging with the world. You could have them create a parody of their least favorite TV show—why don’t they like it—and what they could do to make it better. Or maybe have them try to improve one of their video games. For kids not ready for actual video game design, they can prototype with pen and paper. This is a great way to get them thinking about how to make something better. Have them iterate different versions. You can introduce them to the idea of “user experience testing” if they seem ready to take that on. So many great possibilities.

Contributing to a Community

For many of us, social media is about consumption, but if used properly, it’s a great way to teach your kids about belonging to—and contributing to—a community. What are your child’s favorite hobbies? I’ll bet there’s a community out there for each of them. It could be crafting, knitting, cooking, playing guitar, soccer, video games—you name it. There’s a lot your child could learn about each of those activities. But even more importantly, it’s the opportunity to learn about the idea of making a contribution to that community. That is Digitial Citizenship for sure. You can model the idea of healthy participation, whether it’s in a digital or real-world community.

I hope this helps you think differently about your kids’ screentime. Anything strike a chord with you? Are there other things that you are already doing with your kids? I’d love to hear it—in the comments section below, on my Facebook page, or good old e-mail.

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!

Top 10 Parent and Teacher Concerns about Children and Technology

Top Ten Concerns about Children and Technology

Top 10 Parent and Teacher Concerns about Children and TechnologyOne 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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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?
  6. 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.
  7. 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?
  8. 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?
  9. 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. 
  10. 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. 

Getting Your Child a Phone?

Are you ready? Are they ready? Join my Cell Phone Boot Camp to get ready to support them through this important transition. Already got your child a phone and now wishing you’d been more prepared? This class will also be helpful for a family that has recently purchased a phone for their child (in the past year) and would like some help making it work.

Thank you, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Photo credit: “Parent Appreciation Day” by Jose Kevo is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. Unchanged from original.

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Spy vs. Spyware: Should You Monitor Your Kids’ Digital Communication?

To Spy or Not to Spy: New Parenting Issues in the Digital World

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.

Spy vs. Spyware: Should You Monitor Your Kids’ Digital Communication?I always start by examining their goals. What is your objective? What are you looking for? What do you hope to see or NOT to see? What would be a yellow flag to you? What about a red flag?

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.

When you put all these together, it’s easy to see why this is such a source of stress for families. Do you wish there was a course on this? After years of research and talking with families, I’ve  created:

Phonewise Boot Camp (for parents)

This is an online class for families launching a new phone user. This could be useful anytime in the first year or so with a phone.  How can you decrease conflicts and improve family communication, and clarify expectations about the phone and how your child will use it.

This course will cover:

  • Assessing your family’s current digital situation
  • Planning and organizing your physical space at home to maximize positive outcomes
  • Common digital citizenship challenges for new smartphone users
  • What social skills kids need to be successful with their phones and more.
  • Planning for boundaries around when your child will have access to the device

 

Sign Me Up!

 

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!

 

PS: Getting Your Child a Phone? Are you ready? Are they ready? Join my Phonewise Boot Camp to get ready to support them through this important transition. Would you like informative posts about raising kids in the digital in your inbox by the author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive and Survive in Their Digital WorldSign up here.

Photo credit: “Looking For Clues” by Casey Fleser is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Kids crave their parents' attention, but sometimes digital devices get in the way.

Your Attention Please!: Kids Design Apps for Their Parents

Kids crave their parents' attention, but sometimes digital devices get in the way.In my last post, I talked about “app development” workshops that I do with 4th–7th graders to illuminate the issues that technology introduces into our lives. We start by identifying a common problem, then trying to solve the problem with a designed solution.

We talked about apps to help with impatience and persistence with regard to text messaging, group chat dynamics, and setting boundaries in kids’ use of technology. You can read the whole article here: Kids Design an App.

In the course of these workshops, the kids went beyond peer-to-peer issues. Every single kid had stories about their parents not really hearing them when they are talking, texting while they are driving, or having their kids text for them so they could drive. Some kids reported resorting to hiding their parents’ phones while they are cooking or otherwise distracted so that they can talk with them. Other kids told stories of having to repeat entire stories about their day as parents drive, text, and talk with their kids. Hearing this made me never want to risk a pedestrian crossing again!

The kids are way ahead—and again, they came up with some great solutions. I have to warn you, though. As a parent myself, these were somewhat guilt inducing, and caused me to be very self-aware. It’s a good thing, ultimately, but I can’t say that it was easy. You may have the same reactions, so there’s my disclaimer up front!

Their biggest concerns were around attention and protection, which is not surprising for this age group. Let’s look at the issues, and the solutions that the kids designed:

Parental Attention

Kids understand that smartphone technology—and the connection that comes with it—makes demands on our attention. How many times have you seen a parent focused on the “second screen” while a child tries to get his/her attention? It’s easy to spot when it’s another parent, but be honest—have you done this before? As mindful as I try to be, I know that I am guilty at times. And this is a big issue for kids.

The most common solution to this issue that the kids “designed” was a voice recognition app that temporarily disables the parent’s phone if the child is speaking in the same space. If your child is speaking in proximity to you, it disables texting, social media, and phone calls. If you are talking on the phone, it gives you an indication to end the call.

Kids recognized that it wasn’t always realistic to just stop doing whatever you’re doing—they get that parents have jobs and other stuff to do! They understand that sometimes you need to finish up what you’re doing before you can give them the attention they want. But when “5 more minutes, please” turns into an hour, they want help. One group of kids designed an app that puts a time limiter on your device. So when you say you need 5 more minutes, it grants you that—but then shuts down your phone. They appropriately named this the “5 More Minutes” app.

They also want to use the STEL app that I mentioned in my last post as a gentle reminder to their parents to “Stop Texting, Enjoy Life.” Sometimes it’s that simple, right?

Inappropriate Content

Kids design an app to help to help manage their parents!It’s also a good sign that kids are aware that there are things they shouldn’t be seeing. They reported coming into the room, usually after bedtime, and seeing things on TV that they know is not appropriate. If you watch Scandal, House of Cards, or anything on HBO, you know what I’m talking about. The kids expressed some clever ideas about how to manage this.

My favorite is the “Earmuffs App,” which was spontaneously developed by one group of children in a recent workshop. If you, the parent, are watching TV with “swearing” and “inappropriate content” and your child comes into the room, the app senses it and 1) switches the content to your smartphone or tablet and 2) mutes all the “swear words.” Brilliant!

Don’t Text and Drive

When the subject of parents and their technology comes up, children invariably bring up driving. You may not text and drive, or you may not think that your kids notice when you do. But so many kids in these workshops mention the issue—it is clear that this is happening. Some kids also report that their parents ask them to text or call for them while they are driving, which is safer but still annoying as kids want to tell you about their day in the car, not play secretary.

Not only do I want to be safe, but I also want to model good behavior for the kids in the back seat. Children seem to understand the safety issues of driving distracted, but I get the sense that it’s not their primary concern. They can’t relate to the responsibility of driving, and they trust in their parents’ capability and control. For them, the issue is parental attention. They kept going back to the apps mentioned above—limiters that can turn off technology and turn on parent-to-child attention.

***

As I mentioned above, some of this was hard for me to hear. All of this suggests that parents are not listening to their kids—and that kids feel frustrated about it. Clearly, our kids want more from us than they are getting. This hit home for me as I often check email as my son plays with Lego or digs into a coloring book. While I tend to think of this as parallel play, I need to check in with if and how I am making myself “unavailable.”

This certainly echoes Catherine Steiner Adair’s findings in her book, The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, and some of Sherry Turkle’s findings in Alone Together. App design was a great solutions-oriented way for kids to get creative around these problems and to recognize that many of them share common challenges.

Lynn Schofield Clark wrote a great book called The Parent App: Understanding Families in the Digital Age that addresses how families in different demographic groups use technology, but in reality, there is no “Parent App.” It’s up to us as parents to recognize the signs, get self-reflective, and make corrections on our own. Our kids are watching and learning from every little thing we do, and from these workshops, they are speaking loud and clear about what they need from us.

P.S. I hope that you’ll take this post in the right spirit. The twinges of guilt that I experienced subsided into something productive after the initial shock. I wish the same for you—that this will help you see things in a new light. As always, I welcome any comments, criticisms, observations, or new ideas. We’re all in this together!

 

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Kids design an app to help with excessive texting!

Kids Design an App: Stop Texting, Enjoy Life!

Raising Digital Natives in a classroom workshop.When Raising Digital Natives works in school communities, I do a lot of classroom work with students about navigating friendships and social interactions in the digital age. My favorites might be 4th and 5th graders—they are often aware of the problems, and have a genuine desire to come up with solutions. They are kind, creative, and collaborative—a real pleasure!

I am a big proponent of technology. I believe that when it’s used carefully, it can provide kids with opportunities for exploration and growth. But it’s not without a cost. Digital devices can exacerbate, or even create, new problems. And as parents of digital natives, sometimes the landscape looks so different from the world we grew up in, we wonder how we can even begin to help our kids.

My solution? Let kids help. They know the issues, and they come up with great solutions. As I mentioned in my last post, I conduct a fun exercise in my workshops—I have kids design an app. First, we brainstorm a list of everyday issues with technology. Then I break them into small groups and task them with building a quick prototype of an app that addresses one of the problems we identified.

The result is twofold. Not only do the apps they developed tell us a lot about how kids experience one another and their parents’ communication via devices, but they also help kids think through and understand the issues. Imagine the next time they encounter one of these issue in real life. They will be well equipped to address it—or even avoid it!

I thought I’d share with you some of the clever things that come out of these workshops.

There’s an App for That!

As I open this exercise, we discuss some of the general daily relationship challenges that can come with more connected lives, a situation that for most of them, is pretty new. One of the first problems that routinely surfaces is texting impatience and persistence. Re-texting a zillion times when doesn’t get right back to you.

Apps for Solving Impatience and Persistence

Kids design an app to help with excessive texting!These are always the top issues in any of these sessions. The kids offer a simple solution: an app that prevents you from sending more than 3 texts in a row without a response. Seems like a good one! If you try to send a 4th text, the app reminds you to be patient, with a message that suggests that the other person might be busy. One version of the “patience manager” is a cute bird that comes up to remind you to “Stop Texting, Enjoy Life” or STEL.

For the receiver, another solution to the problem is called, “Stop Texting Me” or STM (see below for more examples).

Another app features a panda that reminds you not to text if you are having a conversation with a real live person, in the same room. The microphone on your phone can recognize your voice, and if you are talking—the app disables outgoing text messages.

Escaping Group Chat Purgatory

Every single 4th-7th grader I have worked with who has used group chat has expressed how annoying it is to get involved in these conversations (or “strings”), and they always express confusion about how to get out or take a break. Another huge challenge is resolved by the “Separator” app that gets you out of those annoying group text strings that can leave 347 messages on your phone while you are out playing soccer.

This app offers helpful auto-responses, such as:

  • “NT, I don’t like to GM” (“No thanks, I don’t like to group message”).
  • “AFN” (“Absent for now”), so you can pause the string for a specified period of time, but don’t wish to be permanently dropped from the group.

The app also reminds you who is in the group chat in case you forget—and are tempted to say mean things about that person. Of course, even if someone is not in the group, the nature of group chat means it is quite likely that it could get back to them anyway, as I always remind the kids.

Kindness Apps: Sparkle Chat and more

Numerous kids are concerned about unkind speech. One app, called “Sparkle Chat,” rejects mean-spirited statements. It can detect bad language before you hit “send,” asking, “are you sure you want to say that?” or “how do you think the recipient will feel?” If you still insist on sending the mean text, it might warn the recipient that they are about to get it. One version of Sparkle Chat might also send the offending text to both kids’ parents.

I find this app to be intriguingly parental—yet is suggests that kids are seeking boundaries and guidance. I asked the girls who designed this app if they are able to imagine using the app’s criteria without actually having the app. They got it.

Speaking of apps that seem parental, another one they designed protects your sleep by observing the hour and your calendar for tomorrow. The app speaks to you, suggesting: “put me in another room so you can get some sleep, you have a big test tomorrow.” Many adults I know could use this app!

I’ll stop there because I have a whole other set of apps that kids designed for their parents, too. I’ll share those with you in my next post. Please subscribe to my newsletter or follow me on Facebook or Twitter to make sure you don’t miss those!

Technology, and the connection it offers, is alluring. These apps teach us to resist our impulses to be annoying or thoughtless. They make us more like the people we want to be.

Doing this exercise with kids shows me that even 4th and 5th graders are not too young to critically observe their day-to-day experiences with technology. They are very aware of the behaviors they need to change, and have great ideas for how to do so. Their ideas and collaboration skills are excellent and I know that there are many great things to look forward to as we continue to foster kids’ digital citizenship.

Kids design an app to help with excessive texting!  Kids design an app to help with excessive texting!  Kids design an app to help with excessive texting!

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Text Messages, Texting, Texts, IM, Conflict, Digital Devices, Smartphones

Texting Trouble: When Minor Issues Become Major Problems

Text Messages, Texting, Texts, IM, Conflict, Digital Devices, SmartphonesConflict 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!

Snapchat, textingDespite 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!

Your own experiences with navigating relationships can be so helpful to your child. Remember that you have wisdom…and try not to panic when things go wrong in your child’s digital world. Some challenges are inevitable and learning to deal with them is part of growing up in the digital age.

 

So what can you do to help your kids with texting, NOW?

      • 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 correctly. 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!

Help Me Get Ready For My Child’s First Cell Phone

When you put all these together, it’s easy to see why this is such a source of stress for families. Do you wish there was a course on this? After years of research and talking with families, I’ve  created:

Phonewise Boot Camp for parents to help parents get ready for this milestone.

This course will cover:

    • Planning and organizing your physical space at home to maximize positive outcomes
    • Common digital citizenship challenges for new cellphone/smartphone users
    • What social skills kids need to be successful with their phones and more.
    • Planning for boundaries around when your child will have access to the device

 

Sign Me Up!

 

 Getting Your Child a Phone? Are you ready? Are they ready? Join my Phonewise Boot Camp for Parents to get ready to support them through this important transition. Would you like informative posts like this in your inbox? Sign up here.

 

Photo Credit: Top Photo is by Daniela Reinsch