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Hold The Phone: 8 Signs Your Kid Isn’t Ready For a Phone

The decision to get your kid a phone is an important one. Don't make the decision lightly.
Smartphone in hand, your kid can access the entire world with just a few swipes and clicks. This is a huge responsibility. Here are some clues that your child might not yet be ready for the responsibility a phone brings.

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child's first cellphone, ready for a cellphone, smartphone, texting, parenting, middle school

Your Child’s First Cell Phone: How to Know When They Are Ready… and How to Know When YOU Are Ready

Your kid's first smartphone is a big deal, and you don't want to rush into the decision. If you are feeling pressure from your child or other parents to buy him/her a phone, let me help you understand some of the challenges so you can make a thoughtful decision.

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other parents, uncomfortable conversation, kids and technology

How to Talk to Other Parents About Their Child: New Rules for the Digital Age

What happens when one of your kid's friends is doing something inappropriate with social media or the Internet? Having that "uncomfortable conversation" may not be fun, but looking out for each others' kids is good for all of us as parents.

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Technology as a Distraction: Raising Kids in the Digital Age

Distraction is a real issue with kids and tech. Having a plan can help mitigate the shortcomings of tech and help your kids find balance.

When I speak at schools in communities across the country, parents approach me with their concerns. In every community, technology as a distraction comes up as one of the most frequent—and urgent—issues that worry parents.

Recent data from iKeepSafe suggest that parents are right to be concerned, with 28% of teens reporting that their digital engagement interferes with schoolwork. Even outside the classroom, 44% of tweens admit that their digital pursuits take them away from other things they are doing, and 17% of tweens say that their digital engagement causes problems in relationships with friends and family.

teens and smartphones
Click here for rest of the iKeepSafe study.

 

 

Internet distraction
Click here for rest of the iKeepSafe study.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adults are hardly exempt from the distraction issue (myself included!), with 14% of adults acknowledging that they need to spend less time with technology. If this issue is challenging for adults, imagine how difficult it is for kids. Teens and tweens are in need of mentorship to help them navigate these challenges. Let’s face it, most of us aren’t ready to unplug completely as our digital engagement bring about significant advantages. We shouldn’t expect that our kids are, either. Let’s look at the issue more deeply.

This data is helpful as it breaks down some different scenarios for distraction/disruption. One of the biggest reveals, later in the study is how much teens and tweens online engagement can interfere with sleep. The is a huge issue, and can masquerade as distraction, as focus is difficult to achieve when you are exhausted! 


Internet Safety

teens and digital distraction

Two Tech Attitudes – Which One Are You?

As I describe in Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World, the research on kids and distraction falls into two broad categories: The Optimists and The Cautionists.

  • The Optimists. Techno-optimists believe our minds are getting stronger because of digital technology. Freed from having to remember a ton of facts, we can create and link ideas together in new and interesting ways. Cathy Davidson argues that “monotasking” is not compatible with how our brains work.
  • The Cautionists. Techno-cautionists believe we are all in “The Shallows,” skimming and scanning and not truly reading. Indeed, before we all jump into eTextbooks, we should look at some of the evidence that format matters.

While there’s more research to be done, there are studies like this one that suggest that we retain information better when it’s in paper form rather than digital form. One question to keep in mind: Is this true only for people who already have a history of learning from paper texts? Or are there properties of printed text that affect memory—such as the physicality of turning a page and knowing where you are in a book? And how is this different for digital natives—our kids?

Annie Murphy Paul says (in research summarized in Slate in 2013) that groups of college students doing important homework checked their phones quite frequently. We seek out breaks in our work and the mental work of toggling back and forth is where we risk sacrificing our best abilities. It seems like only a few seconds of interruption, but it takes us a while to re-engage and get back into the flow. This “dislocation” is a problem as we may get fatigued from the effort of repeatedly bringing ours minds back to a task. Thus, one hour of homework can take 2-3 hours, yet be more exhausting—but the effort is not from the work itself, but the work of constantly re-focusing.

What this may suggest, is that for major work (a longer paper or a serious assignment), your teen or tween student should print out her drafts and proofread them on paper. Editing on paper may be better for many of us. Paperless sounds great and is very ecologically desirable, but many of us need to proofread our most important work on paper. Let’s dive a little deeper into parents’ biggest concern about distraction—homework.

Homework and Distraction

Does this scene sound familiar? Your child goes up to her room to complete her homework—perhaps on a school-issued iPad. Three hours later, she isn’t finished. Was she perhaps iChatting or Facetiming with her friends? Perhaps it started out about the homework, but then she got pulled into other topics. Was she listening to music and “had” to make a new playlist? Did she get distracted by someone’s post on Instagram and feel she was missing out on a social “hangout” that very instant? Or was she just “old school” daydreaming and not focusing?

Most kids in elementary and middle school shouldn’t have 3-4 hours of homework. The homework epidemic is a topic for a whole different book, but do check with your child’s teacher for guidelines about how much time they expect homework to take. If it’s taking way too long (or not long enough), it could be an indicator that there’s an underlying problem.

Many kids need to unplug for homework. Again, check with your child’s teacher. Not all homework requires online time, so offline time (or even turning off your home wifi) during “home study hall” could be an amazingly effective tactic. Imagine the conversations with your spouse and the dishes that would get done if you couldn’t check your email right after dinner!

What You Can Do to Help Your Kids

If you observe that your children are struggling with distractions when completing homework on a tablet or laptop, collaborate with your kids to figure out how to tame the distractions. Here are some strategies—find which ones are best for your family:

  • No double screening. Many students I’ve spoken to say their parents have rules about no double screening, but it can be a huge help. Though it requires some will power, put the other device away. Even if homework requires a tablet, for instance—stick to one device so you can focus.
  • Use tech to fight tech. Some kids will appreciate and enjoy “distraction blockers” like Leechblock and Freedom. While this won’t solve the problem on its own, it can help! As I type this post, I am blocking social media myself. My friends’ babies are cute and breaking news is exciting, but I need to focus.
  • Turn off the tech. Many parents find that simply turning off their home wifi really helps kids get their work done. Again, the Internet and connectivity is only a small part of most kids’ homework. Sure, they may be expected to be in an interactive space with classmates to post a comment, but that is likely only a tiny portion of their homework. Even a blog post as an assignment can be written offline and posted later.
  • Start unplugged to get plugged. If your kids say, “but I need to (collaborate with my friends, be online, use the Internet, etc.) to do my homework,” have them complete all the non-Internet homework first and then have them do the plugged-in homework. Impose a time limit or be present yourself so that they know that they need to finish.
  • Show your struggles too. Lastly, be open with your kids about your own experiences of distraction. Tell them your struggles—how it can be a drain on your productivity at work or that it feels tough to keep up with sometimes. Knowing this can be very helpful to them and make them feel like their own struggles are not “abnormal.”

Hope that you find these suggestions to be helpful. Our devices add a lot to our lives—both positive and negative. Digital Citizenship is about learning how to harness the positives and minimize the negatives. Distraction is not just about the devices, but how we use them. If you can get at the root cause of distraction, you will be in a much better position to mentor your kids on to fight through it and get their homework done!

Please share your most positive experiences with navigating distraction and any challenges in the comments!  Do you have any best practices to share?

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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.