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
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.
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