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Category: Mentorship

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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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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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.

In my student workshops, I ask kids to brainstorm about how to correct such a mistake. A common problem is an “overshare,” where they have shared something too personal about themselves. Another is when your child shares a friend’s good news—or even a secret.

They know that they can’t put the overshare or secret “back in the box,” but kids’ instincts are to try to limit the damage. Quickly. In these workshops, they suggest taking down the offending post, deleting the picture, and apologizing, or at least letting people know that it was a mistake.

But how can they make it right? In many settings, from youth groups to religious schools to public schools student propose solutions that are concerning or ill-advised. For example,  many kids will try to “spread some lies” to cover up when  they’ve shared someone’s secret and that person is upset with them. Another bad idea: “I’ll let them get revenge.For example: I’ll let my friend spread a rumor about me. As a parent and educator, I find myself shaking my head! But,  when embroiled in a social error, kids feel an urgency to take further steps to fix it “for good,” quickly.

These problem-solving techniques came from 5th and 6th graders who are just learning how to negotiate complicated social relationships. Many of these kids are just getting their first communication device, which adds another layer of complexity to the equation. It is important to look at where these kids are developmentally when we consider getting them a smartphone.

We have to help kids understand that rumors, lies, and revenge strategies just exacerbate the situation. Kids are focused on the immediate issue, and often have trouble seeing the larger picture. Sometimes when the parameters of trust in a relationship change, it takes time to fix—and your child can actually make it worse by trying to fix it in one gesture.

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP? 

Adults can model the concept of repair for children. The best way is to offer a personal story of a communication gone wrong and how you solved it. For example, this one came from a parent at one of my workshops:

“I thought everyone knew Aunt Jodie was expecting a baby and so I said something about it on Facebook. She had every right to be mad at me—it wasn’t my news to share. I should have checked with her about how public her news was before I assumed. I called her to apologize — I feel really bad about it, but we had a good conversation and I certainly won’t do something like that ever again.”

We all make mistakes. 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.

Patience is the toughest thing to teach to our digital natives. Speed of communication is a virtue in today’s world, but it heightens the sense of urgency. Kids feel like they have to resolve things quickly, which we can understand. No one wants to feels the stress of a relationship that’s struggling. But repair is not always fast. It can take time. Teach your kids that it’s OK to take time and gain perspective.

This is an opportunity to teach them good life skills in general. Owning up to your missteps, apologizing earnestly, and returning to “being a good friend” is the best way to move past any issue. And of course, learning how to avoid such a misstep in the future.

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.

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.

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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.  The course is an online class self-paced class for families who are getting their child a phone this year, or are in the first year with a phone and want to decrease conflicts and improve family communication about the phone.

This course will cover:

    • Assessing your family’s current digital situation
    • Planning and organizing your physical space at home to maximize positive outcomes
    • 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!

 

Image by Kelly Hogaboom.

New Year’s Tech-Resolutions

social media "keynote speaker" "internet safety" cyber-bullying raising digital natives Devorah Heitner "social media" snapchat "middle school" "kids and texting"

Happy New Year (and Back to School) from Raising Digital Natives

Back to school is a great time to make those tech-resolutions for a more balanced, more empathic, more thoughtful use of technology in the coming year.

Now…that sounds great. But I’ve been locked in my home with my child for 48 hours during an “arctic event.” We have plastic over the windows, but it is still cold, even inside.  It is about as cold as Mars out there.  Many tech-resolutions have been made…and then broken as the rooms of our house start to seem smaller and smaller.

One highlight of our cabin-fever day–made possible by technology–was a google hangout conversation with the my parents where my son and his grandfather read to each other from The Lorax. Some of our other tech-time was a little less inspiring…but that’s another story.

Nothing like 40 below with the wind chill to bring on a lot more digital engagement than we might otherwise choose.  If you are lucky enough to be in a location where it is warm enough for your kids to head back to school today, then try to grab a moment to jot down a quick list of new year’s tech-intentions for your family.

To get you started…

Here are some quick ideas to help integrate/regulate/domesticate the new tech devices that may have entered your home during the holidays. Now that the boxes are in the recycling bin, the first question you may have is, should this go to school?

If your child is the proud owner of a new smartphone, iPod Touch, gaming device or tablet, this is an important question. Find out what the school’s rules are and what is allowed by your child’s teacher. If the device is supposed to be contained all day in a locker, it may be easier and safer to leave it at home. Even if you don’t agree with restrictions at your child’s school, don’t encourage your kids to be sneaky. Get them to think with you about why the rules are in place and what the alternatives could look like.

Settings

Now that you’ve had this new item for a little while, you may want to be sure the settings are appropriate for your child’s age. For an iPod touch: go to settings, then general, then restrictions. You will make up a passcode and from there you can turn off apps you don’t want your child to have access to. You may want to turn off the ability to install and delete apps as well. You can also turn off “in-app purchases” so your little gamer doesn’t spend your mortgage on gold coins. You may want to replace Safari with a kid’s browser as well (AVG and McGruff are two free ones.)

For those using iPads or other Apple products, you may not want to share an Apple ID with your child— unless you also want your child getting your messages and calendar updates. Think carefully! Android tablets have some nice kid safe modes that will work for younger kids and completely annoy older kids.

What to do with older kids?

Talk early and often! Ask them what they are doing and with whom. Have them show you examples of social media profiles that they think are cool, and others that they think are tasteless or gross. The more they can articulate about their standards, the more you’ll know where they need mentorship. Opening up the conversation is the most important step you can take to help them navigate this terrain. Consider keeping smartphones in adult bedrooms overnight (especially for middle schoolers!)

For Teachers

A new semester offers a perfect time to assess both how your connected learning efforts are going and how you can include parents in your class’s learning community. Are there opportunities for the students to show off their process—not just their product—to parents in a hands-on demo event? Can a working parent be a guest speaker in your classroom through tele-presence? If something is NOT engaging the students the way you hoped, can your students come up with some ideas about how to tweak the project or change the dynamic?

For the Whole Family

What will your “unplugged time” look like each week? And what is some media content that you can all enjoy together this year? How will you model thoughtful and balanced use of your own shiny new devices?

A new year is a great time to think about the opportunity to change what you didn’t like from the previous year…You may want to post your resolutions. Stay warm, and if you are already warm–I am officially envious!

Wish me luck, I hear we may be back to school tomorrow.

PS: Would you like informative posts like this in your inbox? Along with occasional updates and offers from Raising Digital Natives? Sign up here!

Photo Credit: Photo is by Daniela Reinsch

 

 

Should Parents Monitor Their Kids Online?

SHOULD PARENTS MONITOR THEIR KIDS ONLINE? A million dollar question…this article in the NYTimes profiles a couple of families who monitor their kids, sometimes using software like
net nanny


Big Brother: No It’s Parents

If so, should they let their kids know they are doing it?

Should they have their passwords?
“Friend them?”
Use “spy” software?

Here are some ideas parents have shared with me:

• Computer in a public spot (no laptops or computers in bedrooms).
• Making sure kids feel safe talking with parents about what they are doing/seeing/experiencing.
• Making password sharing w/ parents a condition of use.
• Relying on friends and family members to “friend” their child and keep an eye on things.
• Reminding kids that they can do whatever they want when they buy their OWN computer.

Please share your thoughts…

I think this article raises important questions—For example, in the case of the young woman in the article who claims to feel safer because her parents monitor her…How might parents mentor kids to feel safe online more independently?