Kids deal with small conflicts every day - it’s part of growing up. But for today’s “always-on” digital natives, there are additional layers of complexity. Constant connectivity complicates their social sphere. Here’s how you can be a good mentor and teach conflict resolution to your own digital natives.
In the last few years, since founding Raising Digital Natives, I’ve been working with parents, teachers and students at schools around the country. I was asked to work with a large group of students a few years ago, and I called in a trusted colleague, Karen Jacobson, a school counselor with lots of great experience counseling kids around digital age challenges with peers to collaborate.
After the workshop, we discussed the preponderance of curricula available to educators that focus on Internet Safety, but don’t delve into the identify-focused, friendship-focused territory that we are especially interested. What is the difference between cyber-bullying and just plain mean behavior? How should kids deal with witnessing their own exclusion in social media? How can kids repair when they make mistakes? How can they avoid conflicts when texting? We decided that we should write a curriculum to share our ideas and exercises that focus on the social/emotional side of growing up in the digital world. Youthlight Press released our curriculum this spring! We’ll be speaking about it at a couple of upcoming conferences. My favorite thing to do with the curriculum is visit a school, lead the students in some of the lessons with counselors, advisors or other mentors sitting in, and then make a plan with those mentors for the work to continue.
We are delighted that Marti Weston, an expert in educational technology integration and digital citizenship has reviewed our curriculum in her blog Media, Tech, Parenting!
Weston writes: “With its flexibility and its focus on adults as connected world coaches and mentors (not lecturers), Connecting Wisely stands head and shoulders above many other curricula in this category.”
As an experienced educator, Weston makes a case for our curriculum to be integrated into curriculum, as opposed to being taught separately. This is exactly our intention with the curriculum. These values and ideas can be woven into both school and extra-curricular activities and should not be segregated into an “Internet Safety” or “Digital Citizenship” silo.
Weston concludes: “If a goal is to make it clear to today’s digital natives that we expect them to carry out positive and respectful values wherever they work and play, we need to take the time to develop a strategy that reinforces those values everywhere they work and play. Connecting Wisely in the Digital Age is a book and a tool to help us get started.”
I just returned from speaking at SXSWedu. I had an incredible time—what an experience. SXSWedu is unlike most education conferences because of the diversity of speakers and attendees. There were app developers, policy experts, publishers, school leaders, teachers, students, and activists all at the same conference in Austin, TX. Not quite as huge as the Interactive and Music festivals that follow, but large enough that it could feel overwhelming at times, or at least cause twinges of the “fear of missing out.” Luckily, my interactions and experiences were so engaging that I had little time to consider what might be happening elsewhere at the same moment. I can’t possibly do justice to my whole experience, nor will I try to make you hungry by detailing all the amazing tacos I ate in Austin. But here are a few of the conversations that I got to dip into that will inspire my writing, speaking, and consulting going forward.
There were a significant number of people who share my obsessions: 1) empathy in the digital age; 2) thoughtful digital citizenship; and 3) parent engagement with educational technology innovation. I was privileged in that my talk was one of the very first sessions of the conference. My Future 15 talk, “This is Their Hearts on Smartphones” offered an update on my TEDx from earlier this year. Afterwards, I got to meet some inspiring people, whom I know I’ll be talking to and learning from again.
I’ve been dying to meet Carl Hooker since we got to work with some other great folks on webinar on engaging parents with edtech. (Free and archived here). Carl and I talked about the huge need for parent support in teaching digital citizenship, professional development for teachers, and student workshops. I got to see him do his incredibly relevant and hysterically funny workshop on parenting in the 21st century called, “Raised by Siri.” Getting to compare notes and strategize about doing this work with a like-minded educator like Carl filled me with inspiration and excitement.
I was also thrilled to encounter Jessica Millstone, a brilliant fellow digital citizenship expert I’ve been hoping to meet for years! She’s at Brain Pop, one of my favorite ed tech companies. We got to chat at a EdTechWomen’s lovely meetup for women in educational technology where we enjoyed hors d’oeuvres, skyline views, and the company of smart women who develop, consult, and innovate in the world of ed tech.
After my talk, I also met Professor Nick Bowman—and I got to attend his panel as well. He’s a professor in the Communication Department at West Virginia University, researching how individuals construct their relationships with social media. I can’t wait to hear more about his research and to share some data here. As a former professor of Media Studies, I love to catch up with academic colleagues to hear the latest in the field.
Privacy vs. Parents: Diving Into the Controversies
SXSWedu has been the site of controversial discussions about privacy in the past, so it was great to hear from experts about the latest recommendations for best practices. Two years ago at SXSWedu, the controversial student data collection/analysis repository inBloom was a major presenter. Parents around the country were very concerned about how inBloom might use and share student data. Ultimately, pushback from concerned parents caused inBloom to close. This story is the perfect cautionary tale of educational technology NOT meeting parental concerns—exactly the kind of breakdown I am working to address.
Since my parent engagement work helps schools understand parental concerns better, this erosion of trust between parents, schools, and policy makers is very instructive to my work. So you can imagine that I was very excited to dive into discussions of privacy at SXSWedu, including a summit on Privacy and Student Data.
It was at this summit that I caught the latest research from Pew Researcher Amanda Lenhart. The Pew research on the “Internet and American Life” is one of the sources of data I share most frequently in my parent talks. Amanda Lenhart presented updates from Pew’s studies of teenagers. One key data point is that teenagers “do take steps to actively manage their reputations online.” Based on my own conversations with young adults, I find this to be true as well—and use it to reassure the parents and teachers with whom I work.
Meeting app/curriculum designers in person
One of the best reasons to go to SXSWedu was to meet people who research, develop, create, and market the tech tools used by students and educators with whom I work. I had a great time at Edutopia’s party chatting with Ronnie Burt from EduBlogs, a tool that allows students to blog and share their experiences—and Henry Lyford from Edmodo, a collaborative tool used by numerous schools that I’ve worked with. I learned so much from them about how they incorporate teacher and student feedback into their work! Getting to talk to app creators is such a great chance to learn about the feedback process, and to see how important our experience as everyday users is to these companies.
On the empathy front, I was delighted to meet Rachel Zindler and Hannah Rosenthal from Teaching2gether, a new organization that is doing some amazing work around inclusion and rethinking special needs education. Teaching2gether did a great session that helped educators feel empathy for all of their different learners by offering simulations of various learning differences and physical disabilities so educators could experience how they would impair engagement in a typical classroom. The experiential strategy made for great conversations and allowed the audience to engage at a much deeper level than is typical for a panel presentation.
At this session, I met another app designer: Michele Walker, a guidance counselor and mother who created the app Choiceworks to help her own quirky kids thrive in school and at home. Since I use Choiceworks at home, Michele is a hero to me!
Finally, as a co-author of a brand-new curriculum, it was exciting to meet Andrea Lovanhill, who works with the highly regarded anti-bullying curriculum, Second Step. I loved that we met on an escalator and she took the time to have a quick lunch with me so I could learn more about Second Step.
Overall, experiences like this left me feeling like the trek to SXSWedu was highly worthwhile. So many great people were willing to talk and engage—it was an honor to be on the program and get to share my work in such smart company. This post only describes a fraction of the encounters and fantastic conversations I had at SXSWedu. I look forward to continuing the conversations and collaborating with my digital citizenship comrades in the very near future!
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.
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!)
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.
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Photo Credit: Photo is by Daniela Reinsch
Perplexed parent: “My child wants to use Instagram, Tik Tok, Live.ly, Snapchat, Fortnite, (insert latest, greatest app or game here). I’ve never heard of half of these, don’t know what they do, and am not even sure what my yes or no means! Guidance, please?”
Ask. Invite your child to tell you everything he or she knows about the app and why she wants the app. (besides because “all my friends are on it.”) What is the attraction to her? How will he use it? Is it a social app? A game? How much personal information is shared? How do people act in that space? How does it make people feel? Make it a prerequisite to download or purchase that you and she will sit down and interact with it – together.
Consult. Ask a local “expert” for advice. This can be anyone– an older kid, the babysitter, your college-aged niece. Find a reliable young person a few years older than your own kid to give you the down low.
Investigate. Talk to someone like me. Or see what the reviewers at Common Sense Media have to say. Or ask the parents in your parenting Facebook group.
2. GO DEEPER
If you want to know more about what people do on Instagram, you can go to the to Instagram #explore and look around.
Try searching for monkeys, kittens, Justin Bieber or try something naughtier–what might your 12 year old search for? Yes, I know kids are supposed to be 13 to use most social apps, including Instagram, but many kids have Instagram accounts before this birthday!
Know what’s out there, but don’t assume that just because there is instaporn that your child knows this or wants to see it. Just because inappropriate content can be found on an app, doesn’t mean that is what your son or daughter is looking for…but do remember that user generated content is not rated the way movies would be…and that most of these companies are WAY to small to adequately screen content.
And of course, you can always download the app and try it yourself. As a general rule, social apps that skew toward anonymity (like Sarahah, Ask.fm, After School, and some others) seem most likely to harbor mean behaviors. Human beings don’t seem to do their best when anonymously responding to others.
If you are thinking about giving the thumbs up after doing research, here are some questions to discuss with your child:
- Ask him to show you an example of someone’s post in the app that he doesn’t think is appropriate and one he thinks is smart and cool.
- Work with your child to generate a list of do’s and don’ts for the new app.
- For a social app, what is the criteria for connecting with someone?
- What is the potential for drama? Can they give an example of how to avoid drama?
- How much time will she be allowed to spend using the app, and under what conditions?
- What privacy settings will he use?
- Is having her password a condition of use? Being “friends” or “following” her?
- How will he decide what can be shared or not shared?
- Does she know how to avoid “geotagging” herself, leaving a trail of data?
Wading in, going deeper and then having an honest discussion with your child is a great way to keep up with the apps she’s using and make sure what she downloads is safe and fun. If the app seems to be dialing up stress, taking away from other pursuits (sleep, homework, family time) or is having any other negative effects, then it is time to rethink.