Supporting and mentoring kids in the digital age is a community effort. Planning an event at your school is a great way to bring people together to spark meaningful conversations, learn from one another, and better understand the particular issues and concerns facing our kids, parents, and educators when it comes to technology.
Here is a a guest post from Jacq Fisch about helping her son Jacob through his fears of a what turned out to be a hyped up Internet hoax. We all want to protect kids, but we should be mindful that we may be scaring them more than we are helping if we freak out about every “dangerous viral trend” before investigating.
Schools mean well when they inform students and parents about these things, but it is important to do your own homework about issues and find trusted sources of information before jumping on the fear bandwagon.
Jacq did an amazing job mentoring her son by helping him find a mindfulness technique to calm the panic, and by encouraging him to find a more accurate source of information.
Jacq and Jacob’s story:
Kids and fear seem to go together like sunbutter and organic apple butter. Well, it does for my kids anyway. The dark, spiders, tornadoes (we live in the midwest), monsters in the closet, haunted houses, and a room full of strangers are all scary things. Even today, we might wake up in the middle of the night to find one of our two kids having snuck into our bed after a scary dream.
And as a parent, we have our fair share of fears too when it comes to kids and their digital worlds. Will they be on the receiving end of bullying online? Will they accidentally open an inappropriate picture online? Or will they find a picture of their friends all hanging out and feel excluded?
We have no shortage of fears, and a recent one had our 10-year-old Jacob in our bed two nights in a row: the “momo challenge.”
I had heard about it from some other parents and hadn’t heard the kids mention it so I brushed it off and didn’t bother to research it. Until we got a robocall from the school and an official communication about it. The kids came home full of fear that day telling us all about it.
When and What I Heard About It
When I heard about the momo challenge I was super scared because I didn’t know it was fake. When I was playing Fortnite after school and my sister (7) came up to me and said that someone in her class told the teacher about the momo challenge and to she told the whole class to talk with their parents about momo.
I was scared to death even though I didn’t see the picture because of what she told me about it. I wasn’t doing well at not being scared at that moment because I couldn’t concentrate on my sister or my game of Fortnite.
When I was going to hockey, I was scared to put my legs on the floor in the car because I was afraid momo would be there. When I was at hockey in the locker room, momo was the thing that everyone was talking about.
It was my one friend that made me sleep in my parent’s bed. He said, “I heard that she tells kids to suicide and gets them to friend momo on Whatsapp and momo will call you and give you instructions on how to suicide.”
During The Scare
I didn’t sleep well of course because of the momo challenge because I Googled momo challenge, and saw a scary picture. I got so scared that when I saw it, I slammed my computer screen down and thought I broke the computer. When I turned off the computer, I tried turning it back on again and not looking at the face and closing that chrome page. So I fell asleep late because I thought that now that I heard about and people all said scary things like momo makes videos telling kids to suicide and if they don’t momo will kill them and harm their parents.
I was worried I was going to suicide because of hearing about it.
Stopping the Scare With Meditation
After hockey practice me and my mom talked about momo and she told me to relax because I was so scared. When my mom told me to calm down she asked me if I wanted to listen to a meditation audio. After I did that, I felt a little better. It helped me change the subject. When I was at home I showed my mom a picture and she read an article about how it was all just hoax and it was someone trying to get their post retweeted over and over again.
Finally Getting Over It
When I was on my way to our consolation hockey game, I was on my phone the whole time in the car reading about momo. I read a really long article about how it is fake and that the picture is just of a Japanese puppet. When I read this, I kept reading it out loud to my mom about what it said. When I was done reading the article, I was fine because it didn’t bother me anymore. I was fine now that I read about it all being just a big hoax. I was actually happy that I found out because like my parents said that I like to seek knowledge out and find out if it is or isn’t real.
The Annoying Part
After reading the article, I was fine and then the annoying part came. A lot of people had just heard about it and wouldn’t stop talking about it. I had to keep repeating myself over and over about how momo is fake and it is just someone trying to get their post retweeted. I was happy I was doing everyone a big favor by spreading the word about it. On the bus, I had to tell everyone it was fake over and over again because they weren’t listening to me. They still thought that it was real and that if they watched it they would be told to suicide.
As a parent, different things seem to work for different situations. And what works for one scary dream doesn’t work for another. And when it comes to finding scary things online, I know it might happen from time to time.
In this particular case, teaching Jacob how to do research online, showing him how to consider the information source, and the constant reminder that questioning everything is always a good idea, plus a little patience helped calm this situation.
In the moment, however, when fear is taking over their little bodies, all I can do as a parent is help them move past the physical discomfort. During that car ride home that Jacob described, he told me he felt dizzy and like he was going to throw up. This was when I suggested a meditation. I have a few audios ready to go on my phone, so I quickly pulled one up and played it for him. He calmed right away when he started focusing on his breathing.
A grounding meditation is just one tool in my parenting toolbox to help calm the kids when they’re scared.
When the kids are scared, here are some of our go-to calm-down tools:
- Ask questions.
When we ask open-ended questions such as, “tell me more about this,” they feel heard because they have the floor to share what’s going on in whatever way feels good to them.
- Assure them we understand.
The phrase, “Thank you for telling me this, I understand,” is pure gold. It’s another way to help our kids feel understood.
- Don’t freak out.
Freaking out is never a good idea. Especially if kids are already scared. Even if I have to pause and take a breath before responding to a mini-freak out session, it serves everyone when I can meet their panic with calm. Even if I am freaking out on the inside just a little.
Kids are going to have fears pop up now and again. Even when screen time limits, boundaries, and rules fail, at the end of the day, I am their parent and I have the chance to make the world just a little bit less of a scary place for them. And more than just easing a fear, I can teach them the tools to handle fears themselves.
–Jacq Fish, author of Unfussy Mom
PS from Devorah: So helpful to hear Jacq and Jacob’s story. And isn’t Jacob an awesome writer? Obviously, there are times when things are really scary and we can talk to kids about inappropriate content they may find and how to respond. Also, there is a good opportunity to remind kids of free will, no one on a computer can “make” you do anything. If someone tries to compel you, turn it off, get a grownup and remember that YOU are in charge of you!
While many adults worry about kids misusing their digital devices, I am consistently impressed by the ways many young people are using social media to make positive changes in the world. The outspoken students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL are an inspiration – and give us renewed hope that change is possible.
Arming your kid with honest and straightforward responses when things get awkward in their digital world will help them feel confident and empowered to set appropriate boundaries and stand up for themselves - and others.
Many parents who come to my events are excited about my becoming a tech-positive parent...up to a point. But they are also sick of battling with their kids. Some of them harbor an idealized version of the past, which can lead to a negative impression of technology. Here are some "next steps" to help.
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.
A new study out of Stanford is showing that kids can't identify "fake news." This is of concern to parents and educators, so here are some things you can do to address the issue and help kids read more critically.
Like it or not, your kids’ world is a Digital World. But just because they can operate the devices doesn’t mean that they are prepared for success. Let’s remove some of the misconceptions about kids and technology, and make a commitment to mentorship around the issues of digital citizenship.
The Mentorship Manifesto is a declaration of our responsibility to teaching digital citizenship to our kids. As parents, teachers, school leaders, or administrators, mentorship is the single most important commitment we can make to our kids.
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!