Category Archives: Parents

Technology Fear Therapy for Parents and Schools

Just in time for the Halloween season comes this post inspired by Wes Fryer (@wfryer). A few months ago I noticed a change on Wes’ Twitter profile to now include the job title of “Technology Fear Therapist”. See below:

Notice the title change by Wes…subtle

Annually, I travel to all the booster club meetings and church groups around my district giving talks around technology, social media, and our kids. His title change, while arguably un-subtle, struck a chord with me when it comes to those in my role in a school district. I’d say this same role applies to the teacher that uses technology meaningfully in their classroom or the parent that uses it as a tool in their homes.

We have entered an age of extremism in some ways. Everything is good or everything is bad. It’s either black or white, there is no grey area. Technology, being fairly new on the scene, has seen the brunt of this extremism as you can scan articles, blog posts, Facebook rants, tweets, and even commercials like this one here that are intended to subtly shame people for having their phones out. Parents and schools are feeling judged, whether justified or not, about their usage of technology and that of their kids. What’s interesting is, I don’t see the same level of judgment when it comes to a kid that reads too much or a kid that paints too much. However, once that kid reads or creates on a screen, judgment ensues.

This reminds me of an H.P. Lovecraft quote that I use quite often is:

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”

This fear of the unknown has affected how we approach technology usage with our kids and could debilitate the future wellness of our kids. As with anything in life, balance is what we should be trying to achieve. Being fearful of technology or social media or banning it all together doesn’t help with that balance.  My hope in this article and the accompanying talks is to empower parents and schools to work with kids on this balance. To do so, we need to first look at what is creating or increasing the fear and then determine how do we turn that around so that we can embrace the changes around us.

A Disclaimer on “Research”

Know this, research can be used negatively or positively to persuade an audience. Part of the extremism I mentioned above around technology is usually accompanied by a line that looks something like this: “More and more research is showing that [insert tech term here] is bad for kids.”  Let’s unpack that for a moment. The first part of that sentence isn’t fact-based at all, it’s an opinion to the person writing it that they perceive an increase in research towards one direction or another. The truth is, there is more research out there (which happens over time naturally), but it’s in both directions and sides of the argument (again, remember the extremism).

I recently had an enlightening discussion with a colleague (Dr. Holly Moore) around research and how it’s viewed and used. Essentially, saying the words “there is research out there” supporting a side to an argument doesn’t really make it so (obviously). However, linking to research in the form of scholarly research articles that have been vetted at a university or medical level can be powerful. Links to a New York Times post or a blog post don’t qualify as actually vetted research, those are just the opinions of the writer, meant to persuade readers or increase readership.

Let’s look at the following example that was recently shared with me: A Dark Consensus on Screens and Kids. The title gives me pause immediately as it implies there is some sort of national agreement on what follows. Then take a look at the tag-line “I am convinced the devil lives in our phones” – that’s a major red flag and should add some level of skepticism about what is to follow unless….it supports your own narrative. Looking over the article, it’s riddled with anecdotes and stories from a handful of people. Another red flag – This article includes ZERO links to actual research. At the end, there are some links about some big name Silicon Valley people that made choices around their own kids and technology usage.  Note that the attribution to Mark Zuckerberg isn’t actually Mark, it’s an associate at his former company. There is a link to Melinda Gates where she actually talks about working to balance tech with her kids and even the Steve Jobs article where he talks about he limited technology use at home. That’s a much different story than “consensus of Silicon Valley figure heads is that screens are bad.” But you can see why the title is so attractive and why for some, it helps support their narrative.

It reminds me of a post I wrote earlier this year – EVERYONE Who Reads This Blog Becomes Smarter, Study Shows – as a way to lure in readership. Even in the cases of research that is not just an opinion piece like the NYTimes article above, you have to look at who is sponsoring the research as it may be used to push an agenda in one direction or the other.  The larger concern as a community is that people read these articles and consider them to be absolute truth. This only expands the technology fear and is exacerbated by the following two effects.

The Echo Chamber Effect

We are creating our own echo chambers around all sorts of topics (especially politics at the moment). Whether it be on Facebook or chatting with other parents at our kid’s soccer game, our conversations influence our actions and reactions. However, our conversational circles are extremely closed and lack, in many cases, a diversity of thought or opinion. We tend to surround ourselves with like-minded people that share our morals and beliefs. This also means when someone from our trusted circle brings forth an example or blog post that supports our beliefs, we believe to be a hard fact even if it isn’t. This “Echo Chamber Effect” leads to an increase of the next Technology Fear Factor…

The Anecdotal Evidence Multiplier

Someone saw someone once do something inappropriate with technology. Someone heard from a friend that a kid was having behavioral problems due to screen time. Someone shared an article like the NYTimes one posted above that is really just a series of anecdotes, but cause for concern. This story or situation is shared and re-shared in the trusted circle which therefore causes the human mind to feel it must be widespread when in fact, it’s a single situation shared multiple times. This isn’t unique to technology by the way, but lately it seems that tech is the largest passenger on the Anecdotal Express.  Whenever I hear of someone struggling with their kids and technology, I try to remember there are two sides to every story and there are multiple other factors that might be having an affect on the child (family environment, sleep, diet, expectations, etc.) before I take it in as fact.

Hearing a story, even from someone in your trusted circle, doesn’t mean it’s 100% fact. The culmination of many of the above effects is evidenced by this recent findings from an Australian company called Reachout. (somewhat similar to our CommonSenseMedia here in the states)  One of the lead findings is that 45% of parents worry about social media usage with their teens more so than the 25% who worry about drug, tobacco and alcohol usage with teens.  Technology has now become more dangerous in these parents’ minds than things that actually do physical damage to the body. That’s not to say there isn’t the possibility of emotional and psychological damage due to social media (more on that in a minute), but that we are more worried about the unknown of social media versus the known vices we all grew up around prior to adult life.

Social Media

As you can tell by the above data, social media can seem like a scary place for some. Despite all of its perceived ills, there are some positives as well. According to a Pew Internet Study (May 2018), the feelings of teens when it comes to social media is pretty mixed. While 24% feel that social media negatively impacts their lives, 31% feel it adds some benefit. The rest fall in the middle of either indifference or no impact.

So whether we like it or not, it does have an effect on kids’ lives. As educators, we need to work with students on this impact and teach them how to balance its effect so that positive number is increased (or at least lower the negative one). As parents, we need to have open and ongoing discussions with our own kids around situations that arise on social media, just like real life.

Our district has spent the last two years investing heavily in curriculum and resources around social emotional learning. Technology and social media are intrinsically tied to this initiative. That said, there are some very intriguing resources available to the general public around the topics of social media, mindfulness, and tech-life balance (scroll to the bottom for these resources).

Screen Time

The debate around screen time has been happening since the 1950’s and the invention of the television. It’s not a new argument, but as we have seen an increase in screens entering our lives, there has also been an increase on research around their effect on our eyes and minds. The American Academy of Pediatrics  has put out guidelines around screen time for the last several decades and recently updated some of their recommendations. Schools around the country are faced with a conundrum when it comes to screen time and kids, so keeping the recommendations of the AAP in mind are key when issuing school work on screens. In my parent talks, I reference the following graphic to show that screen time can fall into four quadrants and even within each quadrant is a continuum based on the media being used or consumed.

Screen time can fall into these four quadrants

As a parent, teacher or school district, it’s important to discern how the screens are being used inside the classroom (a place that schools can control) and inside the home (a place where parents can control).  Keeping on the same page as a community around this topic will strengthen the connections being made and help students learn balance and self-management as they age out of our programs.

Trends

A large amount of energy has been spent around the research and effects of social media and screen time and with good reason. These two topics even deserve their own sections in this post (above), so I think it’s important to note that these are two of the top issues weighing on the minds of parents. That said, sometimes I try to think and predict what’s next? A few trends I see globally that will have an effect on our kids are:

The Internet of Things (IoT): When we increase technology access, we increase the chances for something to happen (whether it be good or bad).  On the smart home front, I had my own parenting flop recently when I gave all three of my daughter’s an Amazon Echo Dot in their room and then FAILED to set up any type of restrictions right away. While they didn’t get into anything too bad (turns out the Chordette’s song Lollipop has an alternate version by Lil’ Wayne), they were able to freely purchase anything they liked. “Alexa, send me some puppies” and “Echo, send me a pet from the Amazon” were a couple of requests which resulted in the strange delivery below appearing on my doorstep a few days later.

Stuffed animal puppies and a boa constrictor from Amazon! (Turns out my parents were behind this prank)

While the prank above did illicit a fair share of laughs around the Hooker household, it did make me pause and think. As parents in this world of the “Internet of Things”, we have to consider that anything with connectivity has potential benefit and detriment depending on the action of the user. Again, it’s all about the balance.

(for a quick laugh tied to this topic, see my post on “When Smart Homes Attack“)

Augmented and Virtual Reality: The increasing use of augmented and virtual realities in the everyday world will have a tremendous effect on the future of our kids. They’ll be able to pull up their phones or put on some glasses and instantly see shopping deals, directions, and traffic patterns to avoid. Doctors can already use augmented reality tools to locate veins and virtual reality is allowing doctors to train and practice delicate medical procedures.

We can already immerse ourselves in virtual parts of our world and even other worlds (read Earnest Cline’s Ready Player One to see the possibility of this). Just like with smart devices and the internet of things, the increase of technology also means that we’ll need to make sure we increase attention on keeping our tech-infused life balanced. While I see some tremendous benefit to these technologies, I also worry about over-use and misuse of these tools if left unchecked.

The Ever-Changing Role of the Parent

So what does all this mean for the role of parents? As a dad of three little girls, I am both excited and exhausted to think about what the future holds for them when it comes to technology. I know my role as a parent (just as the role of educator) is to help maintain and model what good digital wellness looks like. All three of my girls are different in many ways, but I see this a lot when it comes to their behavior and attitude around screen time (specifically the passive-entertainment based screen time from the graphic above). We have struggled with our middle child around this, but like anything else when it comes to parenting, consistency and communication are the key. We’ve spent a great deal of energy in helping her learn self-management. As the AAP puts it, we need to become media mentors for our kids.

This is NOT easy. The easier solution would be to not have any of our kids deal with technology at all, which is justified by anecdotes and fear-learning stories. Just make it a complete no-tech zone at home, problem solved right? This may be the easier solution in the short-term, but it’s not a long-term way to teach and raise our kids around these tools that will be with them the rest of their lives. Our role as parents and as educators is teaching them the right balance.

After all, we’re raising adults, not children, right?

Tools and Resources for Parents and Schools

This is in no way a comprehensive list, but a good start when it comes to tools and discussion points with parents and school communities around a balanced approach technology usage.

Common Sense Media I’ve mentioned this in this post and several past posts. A great FREE resource for parents when it comes to apps, social media, movies, etc.

Note To Self Podcast – Manoush Zamarodi is an amazing podcast host who brings in people from a variety of industries to discuss how we keep life balanced in this every changing world.

TechHappyLifeA site created by Dr. Mike Brooks (a local Austinite) on tools and tips for balancing a “tech happy” life. I’ve also had the pleasure of watching Dr. Brooks speak and would say he’s a great person to consider brining in to your next parent group meeting. He’s even put out a book recently titled Tech Generation: Raising Balanced Kids in a Hyper-Connected World.

Dr. Devorah Heitner – I’ve become familiar with Devorah’s over the years and have seen her present at SXSW here in Austin. I also interviewed her for my own book series around this. He book ScreenWise is a tremendous resource for any parent and I see now that she’s even offering up a Phonewise Boot Camp for parents!

Center for Mindfulness & Human Potential – The Education Initiative out of UC-Santa Barbara has some potential for helping high school students when it comes to actual strategies and training around digital wellness and life-balance. Dr. Michael Mrazek and his team of researchers are discovering new ways to help schools with this and with the help of the Department of Education, hope to be reaching at least a million high school students yearly from now until 2025.

Right-Click: Parenting Your Teenager in a Digital Media World – This book came highly recommended to me from colleague Brianna Hodges and has many easy to digest scenarios and tools for parents of teens and pre-teens.

Kerry GallagherKerry is another colleague that I’ve come to know over the years when researching digital wellness. She is a practitioner (she’s an AP at a school in the Northeast) and a tremendous speaker on a variety of topics but especially in the world of digital connection and our youth.

Mobile Learning Mindset: A Parent’s Guide to Supporting Digital Age Learners(shameless plug alert) A 10-chapter book I wrote around this topic along with tools and scenarios for parents to consider.  Got to pay the bills some way!

 

Digital Parenting BINGO

I’ve spoken with parents from all over the country. One item that constantly comes up is “how do I know what I don’t know?” when it comes to raising kids in the digital age. While I always emphasize that tech or no-tech, parenting is still largely about relationships, communication, honesty, feedback, rewards and consequences. When you add a layer of technology to parenting, there are some additional items to be aware of and some “tools” you should have in your digital parenting toolkit. I created the Digital Parenting Bingo card as a way to easily show some talking points for parents that are dealing with either school-issued devices and/or personal mobile devices. Listed below are the talking points listed out in greater detail. Feel free to use and share with your community!

Devices in a common space – whenever possible, try and keep devices in an open, common, shared space. Even with the best filters, it’s a good idea to not allow devices behind closed doors.

Check filter settings – While devices are filtered on campus, they are on your network at home. Check your filter settings with your Internet Service Provider. Many provide free filtering software or you could use a service like OpenDNS or Disney’s Circle to help monitor and regulate activity on your home network.

Turn off devices 30 minutes before bed – The brain comes equipped with a circadian rhythm that adjusts based on the day-night cycle of the sun. In his TED Talk, Dr. Russell Foster suggests that ideally, you should turn off bright lights and screens at least 30 minutes before bed to get a better night’s sleep.

Use Guided Access for focus – In the settings of your iOS device, scroll to General->Accessibility. There you find a tool called “Guided Access”. Once enabled, it will lock the user into an app until unlocked. The code used for take the device out of Guided Access is different from the one used to unlock the device. For more information, check this support page.

Charge the device nightly – One of the most common issues that affects learning with mobile devices, is forgetting to charge the device at night. Investigate setting up a centralized charging station in your home and try to avoid having your kids charge their devices in their bedrooms.

Rules at a friend’s house – A new variable when sending your child to a friend’s or neighbor’s house are reviewing what their policies are when it comes to the internet and mobile device use. Review these rules with your child and, if possible, with the family he/she is visiting.

Know their account information – You should have access to all your child’s accounts and passwords. This shouldn’t be set up as a way to “spy” on your kids as much as it is to help with openness and transparency about what your child is  doing and posting online.

Be a good role model – Do you tell your kids how to act with their mobile device, but then you demonstrate the opposite? Imparting wisdom on your kids is important and much of that comes with how you model those best practices when it comes to your own mobile device.

No devices at dinner table – With our virtual world continually intermingling with our face-to-face world, many families use dinner as a sacred “no tech” time. A time to have conversation, reflect and discuss the happenings of members in the family.

Spot check the photo roll – Many of today’s social media apps are very photo-driven. Periodically, spot check items in the photo roll and also which apps are accessing the camera on the device.

What happens if they come across inappropriate content – Even the best filters fail. If your child comes across something inappropriate online, discuss what steps they should take to communicate this to parents. Sometimes these can turn into teachable moments, but not if your child is hiding it from you.

Discuss how the device is being used – Ask your child to share examples of how he/she uses the device in and out of school. Doing this allows you to switch roles with your child as you become the learner and he/she becomes the teacher.

Who are they sharing their data with? – Even as adults, we often quickly read through the ToS (terms of service) agreements with companies that access our data. Be sure to review which apps have access to your child’s personal information. Also, make sure they are not sharing their account information with friends or people they meet online.

Balance entertainment with educational screen time – While there needs to be a balance of screen time versus non-screen time, you should investigate how they are using their screen time as well. Educational, interactive screen time has a more positive effect on the brain versus passive entertainment-based screen time.

Check battery usage for which apps they are using – If your device’s battery  is draining too fast, or you want to “see” what apps your child is using regularly on their device, look at the battery usage under settings. It will detail which apps have been on the screen the past 24 hours and 7 days.

Set limits – The average person spends over 4 hours on their mobile phone. At times, kids will need help monitoring both how and how often they use technology. Work with them on setting realistic limits as to how much time they spend on their mobile device.

Check browser history – If you suspect your child may be visiting inappropriate sites, check the browser history in either Chrome or Safari. If you notice the history is blank or they have been surfing in “private” or “incognito” mode, you might want to have a conversation with them about what sites they are visiting and why they would want to hide those from you.

Create a techie agreement with your child— Rather than come up with a set of rules and limits for you child, work with them to create a tech or media use agreement. There are several examples of these on the internet that you can start with, but it’s important your child takes ownership in creating the agreement.

Enable restrictions if necessary— If your child is having a hard time focusing or using the device appropriately, you have the ability to set additional restrictions on the device. Here are steps on how to set up parental restrictions on an iOS device.

Balance between tech and non-tech times— Too much continuous screen time and sedentary behavior can be unhealthy for people. Part of being a responsible user of technology is knowing when to take breaks throughout the day.

Encourage problem-solving— We want our children to ultimately be self-sufficient. There are times when a website or app isn’t work they way it should on your child’s device. Before running to a parent or teacher, encourage your child to troubleshoot first and try to solve the problem on their own.

Keep device protected— The majority of device damage comes during transport between classes or between home and school. Use the district-provided protected case whenever in transit and be careful when tossing backpacks  on the ground as the impact could damage the device inside.

What happens when they come across an online stranger?— Just like when coming across inappropriate content, you want to encourage your child to share with you if they are ever approached by someone online that they don’t know.

Spot check email and social media accounts— Having access to their accounts is one step, but also occasionally spot-checking email, text messages and social media accounts can help keep you informed of what your child is posting. Ideally, this would also involve a conversation with your child about transparency and not necessarily involve you “spying” on their accounts.

The above list and bingo card are NOT meant to be a substitute for parenting. While some of the tools allow you to check-in or “spy” on what your kids are doing, I would always encourage you to have a conversation with your child on being transparent about what they are doing and saying online and on their devices.

When Smart Homes Attack

Editor’s note: The following is a recreation of actual events that happened on January 16, 2018 in Austin, TX. No one was harmed as a result of the events, save for some emotional scarring.

This past weekend, I decided to install a new wireless router. While this seems like a fairly mundane task of the 21st century family, what follows is an actual account of the events that transpired as a result of this.

First, some back story.

The last time I changed our home wireless router was 2012. I remember it well. It was a much more peaceful time then. Wireless connectivity was really only needed for my laptop and phone on occasion to save on data. We frolicked in the fields, played video games and watched cable television.

As what happened next will prove, present times are not so innocent and simple.

10:06AM – I started the morning by unplugging my gerbil-wheel-powered first-gen Netgear router that I bought at Radio Shack.

10:07AM – I began to look through the manual for my new, fancier, ultra-strong bandwidth system that’s all but guaranteed to make your skin tingle when you walk by it (It’s called something like the RoBoWiFi 3000 or the like).

10:19AM – A cold chill began to fill our home as I fumbled through the various cables and plugs under my desk.

10:22AM – The chattering teeth of my family alerted me to a major problem. You see, we use a Nest thermostat to control our house temperature. Without wifi, it had gone off-line and in “away” mode thus shutting off our heater during the coldest day in Austin since 1884. Suddenly, I knew the pressure was one to get this new router set up.

10:27AM – I went to turn on the lamp near my desk to get some better light and nothing happened. Last year, I had installed a Twist speaker bulb that was controlled by my phone through our wireless. It turns out I didn’t set it into an off-line mode, essentially, making the bulb useless.

10:31AM – I hear a tremendous shriek from our living room. We had cut cable a couple of months ago, which has been great, but also meant that any type of TV watching experience was now reliant on a combination of Chromecast, FireStick, AppleTV and aluminum foil antenna.  My kids plans for snow-day of watching every episode of “Dragon’s Edge” was now interrupted.

10:33AM – Shortly after scrambling for something to distract them under their heavy blankets, I mindlessly hand them their iPad. One problem, their favorite Animal Jam app required network access. This was getting serious.

10:35AM – “Alexa, add firewood to the shopping list.”

10:35:08 AM – Alexa’s response, “Sorry, I can’t connect to the network right now and are therefor a useless black monolith sitting on your kitchen counter.”

10:37AM (or so I thought) – I checked my watch to see how long we had been without Wifi.  As chilly breath became visible out of my mouth, I realized my Smart watch no longer had connectivity.

The world was ending in the Hooker household in little less than an hour.

I saw my life flashing before my eyes but realized it was only the flashing amber light of the new router attempting to connect. Years later, when they become adults, I imagine my kids will be telling their families how hard life was for them. They’ll tell them about the time their father nearly killed them when he pulled the wifi during a snow storm. The struggle was real.

Back to reality.

10:55AM – I got the wifi back online and quickly connected all our mobile devices, laptops, Nest, security systems, Alexa, light bulbs and even our Crockpot. (Yes, our Crockpot has wifi, don’t judge!)  The whole scene played out like that scene in Jurassic Park where Samuel Jackson was frantically trying to get systems back online. (see side bar)

Reflection

This whole experience made me reflect at how quickly we have slow-boiled ourselves into a world where we rely on constant connection. My family owns a  lake cabin and have recently been debating whether or not to put wireless access there. Currently it’s equipped with all the essentials of life: An Atari, board games, a campfire, and woods. Life seems different there.

Not better or worse…just different.

Today I came across a short story by Ray Bradbury called The Veldt.  He wrote this story in 1950 and essentially outlines a future world where our homes are uber-automated with virtual walls, virtual smells and experiences that feed off of our thoughts. Our bathtubs bathe us, our toothbrushes work automatically, and we don’t have to life a finger to fold laundry. (cue the Laundry-folding robot from last week’s CES event). I won’t give away the ending, but let’s just say, life takes an unexpected turn for this family. (here’s the cheesy 80’s video version for those of you non-readers)

In a curious turn of events, I remembered one of my favorite Deadmau5 songs is called “The Veldt” and discovered the video is essentially a shout out to this Ray Bradbury short story. After you read the story, watch the video below.

I would love you to leave your comments below and hear your thoughts on what this all means for us as parents, as humans, and as a society.  I don’t see this future getting any slower for us, but I think an awareness of the pros and cons of automaticity should happen as we connect more appliances to our homes.

Hold on to your butts!

 

 

When Should I Give My Kid a Smartphone?

We recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of the launch of the iPhone. That means the iPhone has been in production two years longer than my oldest child. Every student in elementary school today cannot fathom a world where smartphones don’t exist. I LOVE this Douglas Adams about technology in our lives:

 

With the invent of the smartphone being so new to those of us over 35 yet part of the natural way of things for those under the age of 10, you can see how this can become a major topic of contention. One of the major discussions amongst parents in my community and others is when is the right time to give a child their first phone. This is an ongoing debate in the Hooker household as well. While my kids have access to devices like iPads (both at home and at school) there are times where it might be helpful for them to have access to a phone.

Here’s one example that was shared with me recently:

When we were kids and we went to a friend’s house, we had to call our parents to let them know we had arrived.  The only problem with that solution today is that many households are getting rid of landlines which makes it hard to communicate with your child when they aren’t within your grasp.

Now, some could argue that may seem like more of a convenience then anything and to just get your kid a “dumb phone” for that purpose. While we’re still on the fence about when to give our oldest her first phone, here are a list of reasons why it might make sense to do it sooner rather than later.

Becoming a Good Digital Citizen

What does it mean to be a good citizen much less a digital one? Much of this practice happens at home at an EARLY age when we teach our kids how to be respectful, say “please” and “thank you” and not to chew with their mouth open. While there is much more to being a good citizen than just that, we do start building those traits as soon as our kids can speak for the most part.  Enter in the smartphone and the world online.

While many of the rules of modern society apply to an online environment, some do not. The ability to be “anonymous” (I put it in air-quotes because no one is truly anonymous online) on the internet can bring out the worst in some people. Just look at the comment section of any online discussion or better yet, listen to the story of Lizzie Velasquez (video below), who’s father I used to work with. Lizzie was looking at YouTube one day when she came across a video that was titled “The World’s Ugliest Woman” and was shocked to find footage of herself on the video. While this is an extreme example of what the online world can do to people, her reaction and subsequent inspirational talks turned what could have been life-devastating to life-defining.

The sooner we start to work with our kids on appropriate online behavior the better. When we thrust them into this world in the middle of their teen years, many bad habits have already started to form. Throw in the fact that they have “teenage” brain and don’t believe a thing their parents try to teach them, and you start to see that it might be more beneficial to have those conversations about online behavior at an earlier age.

Handling a Cyberbully or Troll

Lizzie’s example from above was just one of countless examples of cyberbullies or trolls that you can find on the web. Bullying has been around long before the days of Eddie Haskell on Leave it to Beaver. With social media and instant communication, it is now easier to torment or harass someone. Every year it seems, there are stories out there about teens committing suicide due to being the target of a cyberbully. Your first reaction as a parent is to protect your kids and prohibit them from entering this online world. I know that’s mine. You figure, if they aren’t online, they won’t have to deal with a cyberbully.

These stories are tragic and shouldn’t be ignored, but we also shouldn’t completely put our kids in a cyber-bubble. The numbers of teens that have experienced or witnessed some form of cyberbullying is nearly 90%. However, bullying behavior, whether online or face-to-face begins as early as Kindergarten. As kids get older, they tend to be more reluctant to report bullying to parents. While this may not seem like the best reason to give your 10-year old a phone, one thing is for sure, the sooner they learn how to handle this sort of online behavior with your support, the better.

Regardless of when you give them a phone, you need to be actively involved in your kid’s online and daily life. That means understanding the social media sites they frequent. While we may not understand the fascination with the SnapChat dog-face filter, we should look for opportunities to have our kids teach us the ins and outs of a platform while we play the role of student. Not only will this open up lines of communication, but it will also give you an opportunity to relay some life wisdom to your child and discuss scenarios of what to do when a troll or cyberbully attacks.

Again, just like with citizenship, when our kids are in their primary grades they is a strong likelihood they will witness, become a victim, or participate in some form of bullying. We need to be involved and on the look out for signs like depression, anxiety, anger or fear. Unlike face to face situations, we have a multitude of digital tools to help us monitor and track when a cyberbullying situation may be taking place. I like the advice given in this article which includes setting up a Google Alert for your child’s name. The sooner we can have these hard conversations and problem-solve the solutions the better.

Data Privacy

This past year, I started having social media and cyber safety talks with 4th and 5th graders. I did this for many of the reasons stated in this post but mainly because I felt like a lot of bad online habits were already forming by the time students were in middle school. One of the most interesting discoveries in talking with 10 and 11 year olds wasn’t that they don’t know what a floppy disk was (although I found that depressing), it was that they were adept at identifying what information to not tell a stranger online.

They knew not to give out their personal information, address, credit card number, etc. whenever they were involved in an online discussion or game. However, when I showed them the terms and services agreements that often pop-up where a company wants access to your information, most just said they click “ok” or “I agree” and continue on (Parents are guilty of this too). A stranger can come in all different forms, from an online person acting like a child to a multi-million dollar company stealing your information and selling it to others.

Be careful what you agree to…

Having kids check with their parents before downloading malware or accepting terms and agreements that make their data privacy vulnerable is important. When kids enter middle school, they are testing their independence and for the most part, decide they can make these choices for themselves. While it’s important that they gain some independence, we need to scaffold and build a foundation of understanding in them early on when it comes to their data privacy online. Otherwise, they might all be trying to give a Prince in Nigeria money by accident.

Learning How To Balance Life

Research shows that most habits and much of a child’s personality are formed by the age of 9. One thing we started working with our kids on as early as 4 was self-monitoring their screen time and appropriate times to use technology in everyday life. While we as parents don’t always model this the best, our kids have begun to internalize the best practices that come with using technology and social interactions in everyday life.

By scaffolding these skills early on in their life while their habits are forming, we will likely be more successful battling against things like internet addiction or social isolationism. Will there still be battles in the future as our kids become teenagers? Absolutely. But by building those habits in their early years, we’ll have a strong foundation to build on. My wife and I are far from perfect parents and still have moments where we battle this digital balance with our kids. However, as the years go on, we’ve found that our kids have become much more cognizant of an overuse of screen time.  Recently, during my usual Sunday football viewing, my middle child told me, “I think that’s enough screen time for the day, let’s go out and play.”  This type of internalized self-awareness doesn’t happen without tons of practice while they are in their highest habit-forming years.

Building Healthy Relationships

Part of that life balance besides just screen time, is building the skills to have healthy relationships both online and in person. Many adults and older teens, to whom the smartphone is still considered “new” have struggled with the management of peer-to-peer and parent-to-child interactions. Some of this is due to the instant gratification and distraction that comes with constantly checking our phones.  Modeling when to be on our phones and when not to is one of the best ways to show how to have healthy relationships and interactions. Modeling can only go so far in teaching our kids the best practices of relationships though. Having some access to a device to “practice” and fully internalize this skill early on will help as they enter their later teen years.

Avoid Parent Shaming

At this point I should put a MAJOR disclaimer: This post is not to be considered a persuasive essay on why we should give every kid a smartphone at the age of 6. Let’s agree on something – every child and family is different. Some kids can easily handle the social pressures of online interaction early on in life. Others have noticeable changes in behavior just by having access to a screen for more than 5 minutes. Regardless of which child you are raising, teaching them to be digitally aware is not easy. But then again, neither is parenting.

Much in the way that I won’t judge or shame a parent that gives their child a phone in first grade, I won’t judge or shame a parent that has chosen to wait until they are in high school. We all carry with us a variety of ideals and ideas when it comes to raising our child. I have respect for those that are choosing to wait to give their kids a phone until later in life. A smartphone is an expensive device that requires a level of responsibility that some kids can’t manage. The truth is, as a parent, we’ll never know the perfect age to give our child their first smartphone.

But keeping it out of the hands of our kids hands because of our fears or worry of being shamed isn’t right either. This post is more meant to give parents that have chosen to give their kid a phone some skills to work on and be aware of. Why not take advantage of building those skills early on in life rather than later when the more harmful online encounters happen?  Doing so could give your child an edge on their peers when it comes to online and social interaction. It could also create a trusting, open line of communication between child and parent throughout their teenage years and beyond.

 

13 Reasons Why You Need to “Talk Tech” With Your Kids

The Netflix phenomenon “13 Reasons Why” based on the Jay Asher novel of the same name has captivated the teens of the nation. There are countries banning it and others applauding it because of its awareness (and graphic nature) of teen suicide, sexual assault and “slut shaming.” The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) even released a white paper about the show.  I asked my Facebook friends what their thoughts were on the series. The responses ranged from this:

To this:

The reality is each child is different and this is ultimately an entertainment series, albeit a dark one. The fervor around this show does highlight a larger issue when it comes to modern media and our kids….we parents don’t understand it and as a result, don’t want to talk to them about it.

Here are my 13 reasons why you should “talk tech” with your kids:

1.  Device Responsibility

Kids are getting smart phones earlier and earlier in life. Whether you give your kid a phone in 1st grade or 8th grade, there needs to be some level of discussion around the responsibility of such a device. One mom I spoke with recently gave her daughter a responsibility test by giving her an old iPhone with wireless access only. She explained that she expected it to be plugged charged every night and to know where it is at all times. If she was able to do this for 6 months, then she earned the responsibility to own a working phone. Within 2 weeks, her daughter had lost it. We need to remember the financial and social responsibility around these devices and have a discussion BEFORE we hand them the power of the world at their fingertips.

2. Give them room to grow

When we give our child a bicycle, we put training wheels on them so they won’t fall until they learn their balance. The same should be true with technology BUT we also don’t want to keep the training wheels on too long. If you do, the second they turn 18 and leave your house, the training wheels come off and they fall down for the first time without your support. Another analogy a student shared is “social media is like water, you can either teach us to swim or we will drown.” If your teen is interested in social media, don’t just let them run wild with multiple accounts, but also don’t shut them out completely as they’ll never learn how to swim in that world.

3. 24-hour rule

So now your kid has a device and a social media account almost immediately they get into some mischief. It might be a good time to talk about the 24-hour rule. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) instituted a “24-hour rule” when it came to an air traffic controller making a mistake. If they make a mistake (that didn’t result in a fatality) they have 24 hours to admit and report the mistake without any punishment. The thinking being that the FAA can learn from the mistakes if they are reported. Instituting a similar rule with kids could come in handy when it comes to reporting wrong-doings and learning from them. The alternative would be NOT reporting something they did wrong for fear of punishment which doesn’t give them the opportunity to discuss and learn from the mistake. In the show 13 Reasons Why, many of the kids have drama in their life that they don’t feel like they can discuss with their parents.

4. Crowdsource household rules

Creating some household rules with input from your entire family is important for them to take on ownership. You might have to massage in some common sense rules covertly, but if your kids have input in the rules and punishments, they’ll be more likely to follow them.

5. Rules are a two-way street

Don’t forget that household rules apply to everyone in the household if they are to truly have meaning. If you have a rule of “no technology” at the table, that should apply to mom and dad too. I used to struggle with this for years and had an awakening moment when my daughters told me that they thought I’d rather pay attention to my phone than them.

6. Experience vs. Newness

When my niece started her SnapChat account in 2015, I wasn’t sure what it was and how it worked. (I could argue that’s still the case)  However, I asked her to show me the features and the ideology behind it. I then used that moment of me as learner and her as teacher to flip the script.  This was an opportunity to share my wisdom and life experience with her while she shared her social media experience with me. Never pass up the opportunity to have these discussions with kids. Letting them teach you something also opens up their receptors to your words of wisdom.

7. Oversharing

You’d be surprised what kids have to say when I ask them, “If you wanted me to tell your parents something about social media, what would you want me to tell them?” The response is generally the same, “They share too much.” Parents can be equally guilty of oversharing too much information online as kids. Have a discussion with your kids about when, what and why you should share images, posts, and links on your social media accounts. You might be surprised with what they have to say.

8. Digital permanence

When the SnapChat phenomenon launched, there was a tremendous amount of excitement around the idea that photos would magically disappear within seconds. Of course this was immediately proven false by the ability to take screen shots on phones. One thing I shared with my niece was the fact that photos don’t magically travel from phone to phone(see images below). They go from phone to internet to server to internet and then back down to phone. Along that path an image is captured and retained on that server. Always a good reminder that nothing shared digitally is truly temporary. In the show, one of the many reasons for the young girl’s suicide revolves around the fact that there is an inappropriate image of her making the rounds.

 

How we think messages/photos are sent

How messages/photos really travel between phones

9. Sleep is good

In his TED talk, Dr. Russell Foster mentions that teenagers need 9-hours of sleep at a minimum but many get less than 6. Part of what affects that sleep is the circadian rhythms that are upset by bright lights and screens. A child that doesn’t get enough sleep is prone to frustration, anxiety and ultimately, depression. Making a house rule of “no devices in the bedroom” can help with this as there is less temptation to check in with friends and have late night texting conversations between friends.

10. Ask about their interests

The show highlights the fact that parents are generally too busy to chat with their kids except for a few drive-by conversations at dinner or breakfast. Keeping involved in your child’s interests on more than a passing basis will help build a stronger relationship and also alert you when there is a change or sudden lack of interest in a hobby or sport that they previously were gangbusters about.

11. Likes don’t equal self-worth

Recent research about teens (especially girls) shows that some are affected emotionally by the attention (or lack there of) of their posts. If they dont’ get enough “likes” or “hearts” or “favorites” on their social media posts, then you must not be important. I’ve spoken with some teens who mention that they’ll pull a photo off Instagram if it doesn’t get enough likes right away. There is a lot of social pressure already in the world today, adding a layer of social media pressure can cause teens to do or post things they shouldn’t which could add even more drama to their lives. A lack of self-worth can lead to depression, so it’s an important conversation to have with your kids when they enter this world.

12. Immediacy and empathy

In my interview with Devorah Heitner (author of the book Screenwise), she mentions a story about an 11-year old girl being completely distraught because of her friend’s lack of response to a text message. In today’s age of instant-gratification, we all tend to lack patience when waiting for someone to respond. In the case of the 11-year old, she started to send multiple messages asking for a response, each message adding stress to her life that her friend wasn’t happy with her. After a couple of hours and a complete melt-down, she gets a response – “My parents don’t let me text during dinner.” One thing I liked about the show was that it really highlighted the lack of empathy for the main character. It’s something that becomes even more important in today’s fast-paced world.

 

13. Reflection and mindfulness

There is a lot of research out there about the balance of our connected lives with our non-connected lives. Professor David Levy at University of Washington actually has a course on “Mindful Tech” where he teaches his students how to mediate, reflect and just “be”. There are some tremendous mental health benefits associated with movement, the outdoors, and sitting and reflecting on a day gone by. When my youngest was 6 months old, I remember vividly feeding her a bottle and checking Twitter on my phone at the same time. I was missing one of the most important things in my life and it was right in front of me just to stay connected.  While it’s important to talk with kids about meaningful use of technology, we also need to help them train their brain to be still and enjoy the “now”.

Discussing these 13 reasons may or may not help your child cope with a social-media, tech-crazed world. But I can tell you one thing for sure, you never know until you try.

Teaching Kids About Fake News

fakenewsgraphic-001Unless you have been living under a rock, the last several months in the U.S. has meant an onslaught of news stories around our election and the political aftermath that followed a Trump presidency. As someone who works closely with students and teachers, I’ve been traveling to various schools both in and out of my district to talk about a great many things surrounding social media. Lately, many of these talks have turned towards “fake news” and the premise of what is real and what isn’t.

As kids learn and grow up in the 21st century, they quickly realize that information is cheap. Unlike hundreds of years ago, where only the literate could relay information (sometimes with their own spin), now we have everyone, including the leader of our country sending messages directly to the masses in 140-characters or less. While this level of direct communication may seem like a great way to filter out the “fake news” types, it also means that news is not being vetted as it reaches our inbox or Twitter feed. Students (and adults) today now need to take every post, tweet, or website with a grain of salt.  Kids may be able to get information freely and instantly, but it takes work to determine what is real and what isn’t.

“Fake news” isn’t new

In 1938, Orson Welles decided to get behind the microphone of his radio show and realistically re-enact an invasion from aliens in a show he called “The War of the Worlds”. As people believed that anything from the radio was true, hearing this tale of aliens taking over the planet created a state of mass-hysteria. Back then, as the radio was the only means of mass communication, it meant that intermingling news with entertainment happened from time to time. People not privy to this fact were indeed sent into hysterics as they ran outside their homes looking up for the UFOs that would surely be landing at any moment. Making it seem real was what made it so believable.

Images drive historical and modern media

The original click-bait - courtesy - https://www.flickr.com/photos/gazeronly/20452052572

The original click-bait – courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/gazeronly/20452052572

Thousands of years ago, ancient civilizations told their stories by drawing pictures on walls in the form of hieroglyphics. We are now experiencing a revitalization of that image-driven movement on the web. Memes, animated gifs, and infographics now clog most of our social media feeds as an eye-catching way to get a click. Look on most major websites and you’ll see links to several stories with sensational titles and an image to make us click.  Headlines like “What happened next will shock you” with an image of a man with a shark behind him seem to crowd my “recommended stories” section of most websites I visit. This too, isn’t a new thing with mass media. The National Enquirer in some ways was the original “click bait” before the internet even existed on a wide scale. Grocery store shoppers standing in the check-out isle would see the headline about batboy or the latest from Brad-gelina and be tempted to purchase just to see more details inside.

Most sources have a spin

Between the direct messages we can receive on social media, there are also professionally published news stories that reach our stream one way or another. A couple of months ago this image  went viral as it broke down various news agencies based on range of complex to sensationalist vertically and liberal to conservative viewpoints horizontally. This is a great image to share with students because it shows that while all of these websites, newspapers and broadcast shows are technically “news” they do come with their own biases. Vanessa Otero actually created the original infographic and has a great breakdown of the Reasoning and Methodology Behind the Chart that really is worth the read. She even points out that she created the graphic because we are in a day and age where we don’t read everything and that we are more and more visually driven (see previous point).

So how do we teach kids about all of this?

Teaching kids to think critically about all of this can seem like a monumental task. During my talks with 4th and 5th graders this month, I’ll show them a series of websites and images and ask them to determine if they are fake or real. One of the best recent resources I’ve discovered comes out of a study taken last year from Stanford University. The study (executive summary here), shows a variety of activities shared with high school students to determine whether or not a news story is real or not. One example that I’ve used from the study is the Fukushima nuclear flower picture and post below:

Nuclear flowers? via http://imgur.com/gallery/BZWWx

Nuclear flowers? via http://imgur.com/gallery/BZWWx

Many students immediately say the picture is fake or photoshopped. When I reveal to them that it is actually a real photograph, most claim that it must be a true photo and probably happened new Fukushima, Japan. However, when I ask them how they know it was near Fukushima, they realize that they poster of the image could have made that up, especially given that the site imgur lets anyone upload and comment on images without vetting the sources.

Having these sort of activities with students can cause them to pause and be skeptical of sources and not just take them at face value. And while sites like Snopes are essential in the critical thinking tool kit, students should still check multiple sources before validating and image or resource. Need help getting the conversation started in your class or school? Check out this 2:10 video on how to quickly fact check fake news sites via Channel 4 FactCheck to help kick off discussion.

As I’ve shared, this isn’t a new phenomenon, but now the variety of channels of mass media and a contentious presidential election has brought this issue to the forefront and it’s time we started having these discussions with our students. Seriously. Let’s get real.

Other resources on this topic:

My slides from my Elementary “Tech Talks” with 4th and 5th graders

Connected Teaching and Learning post – How Can You Spot Fake News? via Ann S. Michaelsen @annmic

The Problem with Fake News (and how our students can solve it) – (video via John Spencer @spencerideas)

The Truth About Teens – Everything is Social Media

 

It’s interesting what we think of when the words “Social Media” are mentioned. For parents, our minds drift to a couple of different places mainly; Facebook and bad things with teens.  For kids, it’s actually a very different experience.  Looking at the definitions above (courtesy Merriam-Webster), the technical definition of social media is “Spending time together interacting and communicating(social) through a system which can be spread to a large number of people(media).”

This past month, I had multiple opportunities to host discussions with students of all ages when it comes to social media and technology.  The first opportunity was with my very own Westlake High School students. The second was with the students of Casady School in Oklahoma City, OK (home of EdTech guru Wes Fryer @wfryer. Here’s a link to his post about my visit). I wanted to use these opportunities as a chance to not only have conversations with kids about social media, but also pick their brain about what they think is happening online and better yet, what they think adults think about their use of social media.

Given this dedicated time with students who live and breathe in this world, I wanted to make the most of it.  Here’s a break down of some of the challenges I did with students during our time together.

2-minute challenge

In teams of 3 or 4, I challenged the students to name as many social media platforms as they could in 2 minutes.  While I knew this would bring about some silly answers, I also knew that the competitiveness would kick in at some point.  Many of the teams had more than 25 different responses, including 32 from one team of middle school students.  I did my best to collect these quickly and have students explain the ones I didn’t get.

Here are a couple of the lists from the Westlake group (excuse my bad handwriting):

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 11.59.43 AM

 

Some of the usual suspects were shared by both groups:

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Hangouts, Skype,Vine, Reddit and Tumblr

Some of the messaging faves:

Kik, WhatsApp, GroupMe, Text Free

Some not so usual suspects:

Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Omegle, Soundcloud, MySpace, Weibo, 4Chan 

There were some mentions of dating sites as social media:

FarmersOnly, Tinder, Christian Mingle

There were some sites I have never heard of:

Phhhoto, Discord, Twitch, and 9gag

And some we warn our kids about:

Yik Yak, Brighten, AfterSchool

Then things got interesting.

One of the students stood up and said “Amazon”.  I went to write it down and paused….”You mean, like the place you go to buy stuff?”

Yes. The student began to explain his thinking.  He says that if you recommend something you can actually use that space to interact with customers and companies. Therefore making it “social” in nature.  Looking at our definition of social media stated above, I would say he’s actually on to something here. At that point students began to mention many other platforms and places where they are social online.

Social media sites we don’t consider as social media:

Amazon, NES (Nintendo Entertainment System), Google Docs, XBox Connect, Yelp, Text Messaging

This left me somewhat floored.  Not only were these lists growing, but now EVERYTHING could be social media?  It actually reminded me this video that Wes had shared with me a month ago:

(Note: This is satire…not everything on the internet is real)

Using comment sections on any site instantly turn it into a social media site. I don’t know about you, but I want to check out this new “Happy Fast Kitchen” site.

Agree/Disagree Challenge

The second activity we participated in was a game I call “Love/Hate” or “Agree/Disagree”.  In this case, I asked students to stand or move to one side of the room if they agreed with the statement.  If they disagreed, I asked them to stay seated or move to the other side of the room.  Here are the questions and some of the results:

Statement 1: Cyberbullying is getting worse.

Agree: 65%

Disagree: 35%

At Casady school, as it was done in a large performance hall, I used my CatchBox to elicit audience response. It’s always a dangerous thing to give a teenager a microphone in a large crowd, but the kids at Casady were honest and respectful when answering.  Here’s what it looked like: (thanks again to Wes Fryer for capturing this)
https://vine.co/v/ij7tq9BqH0g/embed/simplehttps://platform.vine.co/static/scripts/embed.js

Responses: Many of the students agreed with the statement with the rationale that because there are so many more social media sites out there, there must be more cyberbullying.  Some students mentioned the ease with which you could be anonymous now on many of these platforms, which makes it easier to cyberbully.  Those that disagreed said that they felt their generation is much more aware of the permanence of their actions online and how everything has a trace, even if you think it’s anonymous. According to this report by U.S. News, it’s actually been on a steady decline since 2005.

Statement 2: You can post a photo, then delete it and it will be gone forever.

Agree: 0%

Disagree: 100%

Apparently students at both campuses have heard this loud and clear.  Not a single student even stood up as a joke.  They know that if it’s online it could be accessed. However, when I relayed my story about my niece Jordan and her first run in with SnapChat, it made some of them squirm in their seats.  I told Jordan that I could hack the SnapChat server (like this guy) and access all the user accounts, including their photos.  Her face began to turn pale as did the faces of many of the kids in the audience when I relayed that story.  So while they believe in this statement, their actions may not necessarily follow suit when it comes to posting “temporary” photos.

Statement 3: Adults don’t understand what teens do on social media.

Agree: 50%

Disagree: 50%

This one and the next statement had the groups the most divisive.  Those that agreed with the statement mentioned in some cases that parents hear a negative story about an app or a kid on social media and assume that means only terrible things are happening online. Another mentioned that his parents just don’t take the time to ask and understand what an app is and how he is using it.  One student summed it up by saying, “Imagine if their (adults) parents told them to stay off the phone because someone could potentially prank call them. That’s how we feel sometimes when it comes to social media and our parents.”  For those that disagreed, they mentioned that parents are much more tech-savvy these days.  They have smartphones, access to other parents easily (via social media ironically) and can Google search just about anything.

Statement 4: I think my social media use could help me get into college or land my first job.

Agree: 50%

Disagree: 50%

Another statement that had the groups split right down the middle.  In fact, it was almost corollary with the previous statement in terms of who agreed and who disagreed.  Those that disagreed with the statement claimed that it depends on the type of job, which might make this statement false.  They also said that they had been made so scared to get on social media that they hoped it didn’t hurt them in the future. Many of the students that agreed mentioned how it could help build their online profile and make connections with them that would help in the future. One precocious 12-year old girl shared that “more and more colleges and businesses are looking at your online profile everyday.  That means their is a great opportunity to use that profile to help you land a job or get into college.”

I relayed my own story of how I screen our Ed Tech applicants through social media. While it doesn’t hurt the applicants not to have anything online, it doesn’t help them either.  This CareerBuilder.com press release goes into great detail about how many companies are looking at social media profiles and what they are finding that is either helping or hurting prospective employees.

Google Yourself Challenge

For the final challenge, I asked the students if they have ever “Googled Themselves”? Most of the students raised their hands.  When I asked some of the students to share what they discovered, there were some amazing and hilarious stories.  One of the students mentioned that his name comes up as a local car dealership for Mini-Coopers.  Another shared that he shares the name (and look) of a famous soccer player. When I asked them how many had googled their teachers, about half the hands were raised (along with some snickers and giggles). About the same amount admitted to Google searching their parents, where one teen mentioned that she discovered that her dad had been part of a pretty famous rock band before her time.

As part of their “homework”, I asked the kids to consider things they could do to improve their online profile and also ways that they could use social media for good.  I also asked those kids that were sitting during the statement about parents “not understanding” about social media that they use this as an opportunity to have a discussion with mom and dad about all the good things they are doing online. (I asked the parents to do the same at a parent talk later in the evening)

I’m sharing all of this because I think schools need to be having these conversations with kids and parents.  We can bring in an Assistant DA to scare kids and parents away from social media, but the reality is, we need to work together on ways to understand these new methods of interacting, communicating and well, being social. That doesn’t happen when you tell kids what they should be doing. It happens when you ask kids what they think they should be doing. I’m hoping that if you’ve read this far, that you will try something similar with the kids in your school or neighborhood.  Please post comments below and share your social media story.

When we share, we learn!

Courtesy Wes Fryer's Flickr - https://www.flickr.com/photos/wfryer/26095959761/

Courtesy Wes Fryer’s Flickr – https://www.flickr.com/photos/wfryer/26095959761/

Choosing the Next Device: A Method for Crowd-Sourcing Input

In the spring of 2015, our district passed a bond which included over $5 million for a line item called “Student Mobile Device Initiative.”  For the past 4 and 1/2 years we’ve been a 1:1 district K-12 using the 16GB iPad2 as our device of choice. With the passing of the bond, we now had an opportunity to not only reflect on the first few years of the program but also to garner input from a variety of sources. This post is an inside look at the process we used and the ultimate results of that process.  It’s my hope that other districts will do the same when investing money into devices and also realize that purchasing the device is the easiest thing, it’s changing pedagogy and creating meaningful learning with technology that is the hard thing.

Formation of the Digital Learning Task Force

With opportunity comes great responsibility.  Ok, so maybe that wasn’t the exact Spiderman line, but we knew that going forward we needed to make sure we had several voices represented in choosing our next device. Rather than just form a “Technology Committee”, we decided to create a “Digital Learning Task Force” (DLTF).  The name was symbolic in that this was much more than just a selection of a device. The task force would be made up of teachers, students, parents, community members and administrators.

In the summer, we publicly posted an application for members of the district community to apply to be a part of a newly formed task force that would ultimately recommend the final device. (Here’s a copy of the application) In September, we gathered some board members and administrators to look through the applications in an attempt to bring a diversified group of parents from different schools in our community.  We then did the same thing in choosing our teachers, students and administrators to be a part of this team.

In our first meeting we discussed the two goals of this group:

  1. Look at what our current reality is when it comes to integration of technology AND
  2. What do we want our preferred future to be?

The task force then constructed multiple ways to not only gather input from the district community but also to learn and investigate the current state of devices in schools.

Digital Learning Symposiums

In an effort to create more discussions around digital learning, we decided to host several symposiums open to the community as a launching point for these conversations.  Each of these were captured via Livestream for those parents that couldn’t make it in person or wanted to watch at a later date. The first one was an expert panel made up of industry experts, university professors and people from the local start-up community. The second was a panel of teachers from across grade-levels and disciplines and included some round-table discussions as well as the panel discussion. The final symposium was made up of students from 1st grade to 12th grade and also included some round table discussions.  During the teacher and student symposiums, we asked students to submit their questions via video to the staff.  We also had a different person moderate each symposium.

Also the symposiums, feedback posters were placed around the room that correlated with online feedback walls.  The four posters asked the following questions (links to virtual walls included)

  1. What are some things we are doing well with technology?
  2. What are some things that we need to improve?
  3. What other things do we need to consider when it comes to tech? What’s next?
  4. What future ready skills do our students need?

Site Visits

One of the first assumptions from the public community was that iPads were not really being used much at the K-2 area.  There was a feeling that we could provide laptops or higher end devices to the high school students if we just took away the devices from the lower grades or went to a shared model. Before any decisions were made on that front, it was decided that the task force visit an elementary, middle and high school campus first.

Though those visits, the task force saw that the in fact some of the most meaningful uses of the devices were happening at the lower levels of elementary.  While they had the devices the least amount of time, they actually had integrated them much more fully than even some of the upper level high school classes. It was through these site visits that another recommendation would come in that we need to do a better job of communicating what’s happening in the classroom and which apps are being used district-wide.

Focus Groups

As the symposiums were very public, it makes it difficult sometimes for people to share honestly what they were feeling or concerns they had. As a result, we hosted focus groups for students, parents and teachers at each of our campuses and even hosted a central one just for parents. These focus groups provided some great qualitative data as well.  It’s through the focus groups where we heard the most about the day-to-day issues with distraction and the need to occasionally have access to other devices when needed. One other outcome as a result of this is the idea that even though we’ve made our final device recommendation (skip to the end to see that), we want to continue to have these focus groups yearly so we can make necessary adjustments on the initiative.

Online Interactions

As many on the task force mentioned, not everyone can get to a physical meeting or symposium.  We all live busy lives and it only seemed to make sense that since this was all about digital learning that we have an online component.  So besides the symposiums being posted online and the interactive feedback posters (via Padlet.com), we also created a Google Community. The community was a place where anyone could join and post questions or resources when it comes to digital learning. We also used the #EanesDLTF hashtag whenever information was shared or posted as a way to gather data. This hashtag would also be used as a way to curate questions for the panels at the symposium.

Survey, survey, then survey again

One of the final methods of data gathering was the use of many surveys.  Each survey focused on a different segment of our population and were focused on gathering information on both the current reality and our preferred future.  Here are copies of our surveys that your are free to look at and remix for your own purposes.

The results of the surveys were very diverse and gave us a wide range of feedback.  We saw a general tendency that the older the students were, the more they wanted to have a physical keyboard or laptop. Here’s an example of some of the data we shared with the school board on that first survey.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 11.51.32 AM

As a result of this and a discrepancy at the high school in terms of what students and teachers preferred, we decided to send a follow-up survey once we had narrowed down the device choices. Many of the students and teachers that preferred laptops wanted a high-end MacBook as their preferred machine of choice.  As budget for the program wouldn’t allow for a $1200 device and for the uses they had outlined being so varied based on class, we needed to land on a base-level device to use for all classes. We then took the final three devices (Macbook Air 11″, Dell 3350, and an iPad Air 2 64GB w/keyboard case) and made them available for viewing a week prior to sending the final high school survey. Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 11.57.45 AM

We sent out follow-up surveys to both the students and staff of the high school to land on our final decision.

Final Recommendation:

One thing for certain, was that no matter what the selection, there would be some groups happy and some upset with the choice.  After 600 hours of focus groups, discussions, meetings, presentations and symposiums as well as over 6000 survey responses, the task force voted unanimously for the option that gave us the most flexibility, with the best support model as well as ease of integration. In choosing the iPad Air 2 (64GB) for all levels, we are giving students and staff a model of iPad that goes 12 times faster, holds 4 times as much memory and now allows for split-screen multitasking. We also added a keyboard component for upper grades and some options for keyboards at the lower grades. This also honors the work of many teachers who have utilized the iPad to improve student learning in their classrooms for the past 4-5 years. It also reinforces the work we have been doing on the horizontal and vertical alignment of tools and curriculum within our district.

For more information I created this infographic which was distributed along with a press release today. (blog coming later on how I made the infographic using Keynote):

DLTF recommendation infographic

 

Sexting And Cyberbullying in Schools

When students have access to mobile devices in school, either in a 1:1 or BYOD environment, much of what happens in their school lives cross over into their personal lives.  Here at Eanes ISD, over 80% of our secondary students have smartphones that they bring with them to school on top of the school-issued iPad they are given.  While we have some say about the activity on the school device, students’ use of their phones for inappropriate activity is an issue both in and out of school.  Last year, I wrote this post about the app YikYak and this one about Secret photo-sharing apps.  I wrote these (and accompanying letter to district parents) not to scare adults into taking away kids’ phones, but instead to spark a conversation between child and parent.

Today, I sent home the following letter about sexting and cyberbullying via a couple of different apps that we’ve become privy to here.  I share this letter with the rest of the world in the hopes that other schools and communities will also start having this conversation, no matter how uncomfortable it might be.

The following is a letter sent to all parents of secondary school-aged children at Eanes ISD on January 11, 2016:

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Parents of Secondary Students,

Adolescents today have access to knowledge and learning right at their fingertips.  They are accessing and creating content on their school-issued iPads and on school computers.  More and more of our students also have their own smartphones to access the web and social media.  With that access comes greater responsibility and education about the appropriate use of technology and social media.  This letter is intended to help raise awareness with families about some trends around the country and possibly among our own students.

Sexting

There have been several recent instances at high schools around the country of teenagers transmitting illicit images of themselves to other students (also known as “sexting”).  Here’s a recent case at a Colorado High School – http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/07/us/colorado-sexting-scandal-canon-city/  

In the case of the school in Colorado, many students used a photo vault app like the one we shared last year that looks like a calculator. Students exchange these photos like trading cards, and in some cases, students feel pressured to share inappropriate photos with other students.  Once these photos are shared, they can be shared with others and even posted on the web.

Cyberbullying via apps like Brighten and After School

Bullying is not a new occurrence in schools, unfortunately. With technology and social media, there are now new venues for this same bad behavior. Two particular apps that have been brought to our attention as pathways for cyberbullying are  the Brighten app and the After School app. Brighten was originally intended as a way for people to send random compliments to each other to “brighten” their day; however, students have used this platform to anonymously bully, make racial slurs, and post other inappropriate comments about other students. Brighten has a way to issue a “time out” if inappropriate behavior is pointed out, but they are not actively monitoring posts.  When I reached out to them, they responded with this: If you are seeing specific instances of bullying, please send people to alec@brighten.in and I can personally take care of it.”  

The After School app is promoted as a way to anonymously post messages about your school or those in your school.  According to After School data, currently 363 Westlake students are listed as users of this app. When I reached out to them, they responded with the following: We are very, very sorry about the experience some of your students are having on After School. Our moderators and I are keeping an extra close eye on Eanes Independent School District . We added extra moderators. We are launching an investigation.”  They also shared this link: 5 Tips for Parents on Monitoring Their Child’s Social Media Use, which contains some good nuggets of information.

Why are you telling me about this?

We are sharing this news with you to both raise awareness and also to encourage you to have conversations with your child about these apps and sexting. While we can monitor school-issued devices, we can not directly monitor what students are doing on their personal devices. However, if we suspect a student is doing something inappropriate with their personal device, we will confiscate the item and contact parents.  

What do I do if my child receives an inappropriate photo or is cyberbullied?

Many students are afraid to turn in other students or afraid that they themselves will get in trouble when it comes to having sexting-like messages on their personal devices. Some students actually feel pressured to take illicit images of themselves as a form of cyberbullying. If a student receives an image and reports it immediately, there will be no punishment as the infraction is being reported. However, if there is intent to possess or promote inappropriate or illicit images, there will be disciplinary action. 

What does the law say about this in regards to sexting?

While there are some differences in terms of age (18 years old being the line between minor and adult), the possession or promotion of illicit content of a minor via sexting is similar to being in possession or promotion of child pornography. According to Texas SB 407 – (http://beforeyoutext.com/modules/3.html) A student in “possession” (having illicit content for an unreasonable amount of time) or “promoting” (sending/sharing illicit content with others) can be charged with anything from a Class C misdemeanor to a second degree felony.  

What is the district doing to help this?

Our counselors and administration are aware of the situation and ready to help any students that come forward with information around this topic.  In addition, we are holding “social media talks” with student groups at the high school as well as discussing digital citizenship and online safety at all levels.  For parents, we will continue to host parent talks during booster club meetings and also send out information on our Digital Parent Newsletter (you can sign up here). Starting in the spring, we will hold our 4th “Digital Parenting” course (for more information go to http://eanesisd.net/leap/parents).  We have formally requested, as we did with YikYak last year, the app developers put up a ‘geofence’ around our schools.  A geofence would block use of the app even on personal phones. However, these companies are not required to comply with this request and even if they do, the geofence is only active around the school, not at home.

What can I do as a parent?

Again, we think it’s important that you have repeated critical conversations with your child about their use of personal technology.  Talk to them about the risks of inappropriate use when it comes to sexting and cyberbullying, including breaking the law. Also, most smartphones have ways of checking which apps are being used. For instance, on an iPhone, owned by over 70% of our students, there is a way to check battery usage in settings (with iOS9).  Through this check,  you can see what apps your child has accessed in the last 24 hours and last 7 days. (see below)

Screen Shot 2016-01-11 at 8.37.27 AM

Please report any situations that you are aware of to either the local authorities or school administration.  We want to make sure our students know that we are having common  conversations between home and school when it comes to sexting and cyberbullying.

Thank you for your support, and please let us know if you have any questions or concerns.

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Secret Photo-Sharing Apps…The Latest Teen Trend

Much like the Yik Yak incident of last fall, I’ve recently been asked to communicate to our local community about another trend with our students.  These particular apps an element of “secrecy” and some social sharing involved.  I also have to admit, some of them are very clever in terms of how they can be disguised. In light of some recent incidents with our high school students, I created a letter as both a source of awareness but also a resource for tools.  What follows is the letter that was sent out to all Eanes ISD secondary school parents on the afternoon of February 10, 2015:

This past week we discovered a new trend among teens with their personal use of technology.  While seemingly innocent on the surface, the latest in hidden photo-sharing apps could potentially cause trouble with our youth down the road, especially in the area of “sexting.” While the Eanes ISD staff have taken the necessary precautions to block/restrict these types of apps on our network and devices, students still can engage in misbehavior on their own personal devices which can lead to serious distraction and, even more severely, possible prosecution. 

Similar to last semester’s issues with the Yik Yak app, we are once again asking for parents to keep an eye out for the following apps (or similar ones) that might be making the rounds on your child’s phone.

We are sharing these tools and resources with parents in order to promote discussion around responsible decision making, to correct poor choices, and open up a dialogue between parent and teen about their digital lives. What follows is information about some specific hidden photo-sharing apps, next steps to take, and where to go  for help and support as a parent.

Keep Safe Private Photo VaultScreen Shot 2015-02-10 at 7.53.49 PM

Keep Safe Private Photo Vault is one of many new “secret vault” type apps making their way through the app stores of Apple and Android. This app is  advertised as a way to keep photos and videos safe behind a private PIN and not post them on your public photo roll.

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 7.54.00 PMThe app is easy enough to identify (see icon here) however, if you share iCloud accounts or check your child’s photo roll regularly, you  won’t notice it as photos don’t appear there. While hiding photos is one issue, our concern is with the “Invite friends” premium feature. With this enabled, kids can potentially share photos privately without anyone knowing. One additional premium feature is called “Secret Door”. This allows you to make the app look like another app. Pressing and holding down on the “fake” app enables the PIN pad.

Next steps –

If your child is a Keep Safe Private Photo Vault user, (or a user of other “private vault” type app) a conversation should happen with him/her about why they feel the need to hide their photos and share them privately. If you don’t see the app, but suspect it may have been downloaded, you can also check in the Updates section of the App Store under “Purchased” on your child’s phone. Any apps ever downloaded are stored in there.

Additionally, there are new apps that are disguised as a calculator or a folder on the device, so it’s becoming harder to find these. Two such apps include Fake Calculator and Best Secret Folder   (Both pictured here)   

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 7.56.31 PM

These apps look innocent and most of the calculator apps actually are real WORKING calculators. However, if you punch in a secret combination of numbers and symbols, you can “unlock” the secret photo compartment hidden behind the calculator.   Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 7.54.25 PM

Rather than checking every single app on your child’s device, one quick way to check on an iOS device is to go to  Settings->Privacy->Camera. There is a list of every app that uses or has used the camera at one time or another. 

While deleting the app takes care of the immediate issue, there may be a larger issue at hand when it comes to the use of private photo sharing by your child. Please take this opportunity to have that conversation about how NOTHING on the internet is truly anonymous or temporary. 

So….Why should I worry about this?

Much like with Yik Yak in the fall, it is likely that many students will learn about these apps from friends and be curious to try them.  Teens have a certain level of curiosity and experimentation anyway, but with the added peer pressure, it could lead to a more serious issue like “Sexting.”  Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton goes into the details of sexting laws in the state on this site. While the majority of these cases are tied to state courts, here is some more information on the federal side of things.

What else is out there?

Besides those stated above, there are many other apps being made that provide the same service.  Here is a Mashable.com post that describes 7 different apps for iOS and Android that are out there to hide photos and videos.  Much like social media and kids, the best method of avoiding any type of negative behavior with this technology is openness, awareness and communication with your child.

Where Can I Get Help and Support?

Common Sense Media always has helpful resources for parents and kids.  Here is an article for parents on how to discuss sexting with your teen.

Eanes ISD also provides multiple resources and platforms for parents to get assistance or to report any issues that may be discovered down the road. On February 25th we’ll hold our second annual “Parent University” at Riverbend church to discuss these and many other issues with raising kids in the digital age. Click here for more information on Parent University. I also send out a monthly “Digital Parent Gazette” to interested parents to alert them of any concerns and showcase some great examples of how technology is being used in the classroom.  To receive this newsletter, sign up here.

Finally, I’m offering another “Digital Parenting  101” iTunesU course this semester.  This is a free 12-weekScreen Shot 2014-09-26 at 10.01.02 AM online course offered to the public that covers a variety of topics such as social media, screen time, gaming, and helping your child make a positive digital footprint.  The course has already started but it’s not too late to sign up.  It officially runs from February 2nd through May 1st.

Click on this link on your iOS device to enroll today

(note: download the free iTunesU app before enrolling)

Thank you for taking the time to not only review all this information but also to talk with your child.  We know that it may be difficult, but it is important to have an ongoing conversation about social media and digital footprints. If you have any other questions or concerns, please contact either your campus administrators, counselors, or me.

It takes a village to raise a child.  The more we communicate, the better the learning experience for our kids.

Thank you!