If you can empower your child build their contact list slowly and deliberately, this can help them to avoid overwhelm later on when they scroll through their contacts and don’t recognize half of them. Make sure your child knows it’s perfectly fine to simply ignore requests from people she doesn't know or don’t want to chat with.
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.
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 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:
- Watch some Netflix
- Eat some ice cream
- Call some other friends to invite them over
- Don’t watch—put away your phone!
- 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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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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Conflict is difficult, even for adults. But for today’s kids, it’s particularly complex. The interpersonal conflicts that you remember as a child are all still there, but the landscape has changed somewhat. Digital devices in the hands of our kids offer more connectivity (good!), but it comes with many more opportunities for miscommunication.
Tensions between friends can arise from something as minor as an unanswered text message. Kids understand that instant messaging isn’t always instant. In my workshops, kids easily come up with 20 legitimate reasons that someone might not answer a text.
In addition to showering, dinner with family, homework, sleeping and practicing music or a sport, they also mentioned that sometimes they just don’t feel like texting. We need to let kids know that this is OK—that whether you are in 6th grade or a grownup, it can be OK to unplug for any of those reasons, including the last one!
Despite acknowledging the things a friend could be doing instead of immediately replying, they still get upset. Their feelings get hurt, and often, their anger escalates the longer it goes unanswered. Sometimes they text again, and again, and again—resulting in a screen that looks like this one.
Group texts, popular with tweens and younger teens, are a mess of challenges. Now the issues are not one-to-one (difficult enough!), but over a network. Within a group dynamic, they feel obligated to participate. But how much? Too much can feel overbearing, not enough can feel aloof. Many kids express reluctance to completely bow out, as they fear their peers will talk about them while they’re not there. There are so many potential land mines!
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.
So what can you do to help your kids with texting, NOW?
Model patience. This is the single best thing that you can offer your child. For instance, when you text your spouse and don’t hear back immediately, pounce on this as a real-life teaching opportunity. Speak aloud, and talk through all the things your spouse could be doing instead of answering your text. Talking to a colleague. On the phone with a client. Driving. Running to catch the bus. Just because you send a text message doesn’t mean that the recipient needs to drop everything to respond!
Avoid emotional issues. Text messaging is a great way to stay in touch and feel connected to your peers. It’s great for quick exchanges, planning, and meeting up. In other words, functional and practical uses. Emotional issues, on the other hand, don’t translate well in text messages or social media. They are too complex for such a simple medium. Teach your kids to stick to the functional aspects. That doesn’t mean that you can’t show support for a friend with a well-timed smiley emoticon, but talk with your kids about different situations so they can get a feel for what’s appropriate and what’s not.
Express boundaries. Help your child: 1) set some rules on her own; and 2) construct some simple language for expressing a clear boundary to peers. For example, “I don’t group text” or “I can’t respond to texts after 9 pm.” Not only does this teach them about boundaries (useful in general too!), but it also helps them feel less worried about how they will perceived if they don’t respond right away. Their need for inclusion makes it very difficult for them to come up with this on their own, so it’s a great opportunity for you to help.
Take it offline. When kids have a conflict, they need skills to mend fences in person. A sense of urgency can take over when trying to resolve a dispute. It can escalate quickly. Exercise restraint, be patient, and resolve the issue in a face-to-face discussion. The phone can work, too—but it’s extremely difficult to successfully resolve an argument via text message. Teach your kids to defer with a simple message, such as, “Texting might not be the best way to discuss this—can we talk F2F?”
Invent your own solutions. I love doing this exercise with kids. Pose a question to them—what would you invent to fix this? One group of kids I worked with invented an app to deal with the challenges of group texts. They offered a way to “step out” temporarily (to do homework or take a shower) without coming back to 900 texts. They also offered a feature for getting out completely, and a reminder about who is participating (since you only see phone numbers for non-contacts) so they would know not to talk about those individuals. Really clever stuff, and it’s such a great exercise to make them cognizant of the pitfalls of texting.
Texting can be fun and fulfilling if your child understands how to use it correctly. It can be an important part of their social sphere, so it’s worth investing the time to help them learn the unwritten rules. I hope that these suggestions help you!
Help Me Get Ready For My Child’s First Cell Phone
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.
This course will cover:
- Planning and organizing your physical space at home to maximize positive outcomes
- Common digital citizenship challenges for new cellphone/smartphone users
- 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
Getting Your Child a Phone? Are you ready? Are they ready? Join my Phonewise Boot Camp for Parents to get ready to support them through this important transition. Would you like informative posts like this in your inbox? Sign up here.
Photo Credit: Top Photo is by Daniela Reinsch