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:
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
TechHappyLife – A 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 Gallagher – Kerry 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!
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Unless 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
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:
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
The Problem with Fake News (and how our students can solve it) – (video via John Spencer @spencerideas)
Every year I since 2013, I like to take a few risks and attempt to predict which new trends will catch on in the world of education and ed tech. Some years I’ll get it right, some I’ll get wrong. Among my best predictions were:
2015 – Pearson will lose its massive testing contract in Texas. (100% accurate prediction)
2015 – Drones will make their way into education (mostly true and happening now)
2015 – I will finally publish a book. (took until 2016, but it happened)
2014 – The “21st Century Skills” will be renamed something more appropriate and clever – (sort of happening now with “Future Ready” skills)
Of course, they ain’t all winners folks. Some of my more famous failed predictions were:
2013 – A non-Apple tablet will rule them all (Chromebooks now surpassed iPads in sales in schools, but they aren’t technically a “tablet”)
2015 – A human battery level app will be invented (not yet….)
All in all, I feel like my track record is about 50/50 on these. With that said, let’s see how I did on this past year’s bold predictions sure to be wrong:
Prediction – A school will try a self-driving bus
Outcome – not yet
I know this prediction seems completely unfeasible, but when you think about the practicality of it, should they get the safety part down, I think this will happen in the next 5-10 years. In fact, this year in Helsinki they actually have the world’s first self-driving bus, so it’s only a matter of time until education catches on.
Prediction – MYOT (“Make Your Own Textbook”) Becomes a Reality
Outcome – trending in the right direction
This is actually getting closer and closer to being a reality. With colleges like Rice’s Openstax and MIT’s Open Courseware now entering the fray, I think K-12 will continue to travel down this path sooner rather than later.
Prediction – A “Teen Social Media Prediction” app will be invented
Outcome – Wrong
The truth is, even if there was an app that could predict what kids were doing online it wouldn’t matter. As I wrote in this post (Everything is Social Media) last spring, technically, everything that kids do online can be social. From making comments on Amazon to chatting with friends on XBox, social media is here to stay and it doesn’t really matter if we can predict the next big platform or not.
Prediction – In a district far, far away….someone will develop Star Wars school.
Outcome – NO
Wishful thinking on my part. Learn we must. Create we will.
Prediction – Speaking of Star Wars…the Learning will awaken at iPadpalooza this summer
Outcome – True
We had one of our most engaging iPadpaloozas ever this past summer. With the theme of “May the Learning be with You”, the event featured lightsabers, stormtroopers (in the bathroom even) and a bantha’s worth of high quality speakers and sessions. Can’t wait until 2017! Here’s a highlight video of this year’s event:
Prediction – The Election Will Be Televised…via Periscope
Outcome – Mostly True
While I was right about the fact that social media would play a large role in the election, I was wrong about the tool. Periscope and Facebook Live did play a role in the messages online, but in the end, it was the president-elect’s use of twitter to sway the masses that ended up tipping the tide in his favor. Whether you like him or not, in an age where “who ever says it first must be right”, the reality TV star played that card masterfully to craft his message and sway people into his camp. Now comes the hard part for him….actually being the president.
Prediction – The “Undead” learning movement will happen!
Outcome – Still hopeful
As much as I would have loved a protest of broken #2 pencils being tweeted, snapped, and instagrammed out, this movement never quite took off. That said, more and more schools (like these in San Diego) are seeing the damage of too much standardized testing and thus reducing it from their daily practices.
Prediction – A School will go 1:1 cardboard
Outcome – Almost a reality
With the launch of Google Expeditions spreading like wild fire and the addition of Nearpod’s VR box, we are seeing more and more of these cardboard modeled phone-based VR goggles. Zapbox even makes a headset that does mixed reality. I’m a sucker for cool kickerstarters!
Prediction – I’ll Write a Children’s Book
Outcome – I still have a couple of weeks left
I’m in the middle of finishing my 6th book in the 6-book Mobile Learning Mindset series, so my time is very short here. That said, I have some early leads and a couple of ideas that might help me self-publish my first children’s book in 2017. Here’s hoping!
So there you have it. Some winners. Some losers. Some that remain to be seen. Now comes the hard chore of researching trends from 2016 and attempting to gather them into some sort of coherent list for 2017. Come back in January to see what crazy ideas come to fruition then and place your bets on which I’ll get right or…more than likely….wrong.
In the movie Harry Potter, one of the most fantastical moments happens when Harry receives his invisibility cloak, passed down from his father. It was a powerful moment in those movies and a tool that Harry would utilize many times over in the following films to help get him in and out of trouble.
While this magic may seem like fiction, I have news for you. Most of us now harness the power of invisibility in the palm of our hands. My wife and I began to refer to the magic of what we called the “Invisible Cell Phone Shield”, or ICPS, back before smartphones were even a twinkle in Steve Jobs’ eye. I remember my first encounter with this phenomenon back in 2004.
I had recently purchased what I then described to my wife as “the last cell phone I’ll ever own” —the Motorola RAZR. It was so cool and slick and shiny and even looked like it could be some sort of weapon. At any rate, we were waiting for a friend outside of a University of Texas basketball game who was supposed to bring us some tickets. Texting wasn’t really wide-spread at the time so I was stuck with this RAZR attached to my head trying to get a hold of him. We wandered around outside the arena for about 20 minutes, my wife’s foot tapping impatiently with every passing minute.
At that moment, I captured my first glimpse of the power of invisibility. As I wandered over by the “Player Will Call” door, phone still firmly planted on my ear and a furrowed brow across my face, the door magically opened. An usher, seeing my stress and now doubt high-status phone had surmised that we must be trying to get in. However, rather than bother me with a question like “can I see your tickets?” he instead let us wander right in through the back door and practically onto the court.
When we got inside my wife looked at me in dismay and said, “what just happened?” I didn’t have an answer for her, but somehow we were now sitting court-side at a basketball game in seats we had no business being in. We both began to get nervous. I called my friend again. No response. The game was about to start. An usher, looked in our direction and started walking toward us. Carefully and purposefully, I picked up my phone and placed it on my ear. This time, I acted like I was in a deep conversation. The usher approached, paused for a moment, then moved on with a sort of dumb-founded look on his face. It worked again!!
After tip-off we were able to finally locate our friend and go to our actual seats, but that moment stuck in both of our heads. What was this witchcraft that made us invisible? Could it work anywhere else? (short answer- no, something I would find out the following year when I tried to use it to sneak into the 2005 National Championship game)
We had discovered a secret power this mobile technology held. It made us not only somewhat invisible, but also protected us from harm or questioning. It was the Invisible Cell Phone Shield and it was a great thing to behold.
That was 10 years ago. Today, you see this ICPS as common place throughout modern society. People walking down the street, holding the phone up to their ear to avoid real conversation. Hanging out near a grocery store exit around Girl Scout cookie time is a great time to watch this phenomenon in action. Even the Girl Scouts can’t seem to penetrate its defenses. Common waiting areas like bus stops, elevators, doctor’s offices, etc seem to also have a case of widespread ICPS. I even witnessed our beloved former UT football coach Mack Brown using the Invisible Cell Phone Shield recently when I saw him walking through the airport.
What started out as a magical tool, a cloak that could help me get in and out of trouble, has now become a means of social isolation. It has become a necessity when going out into the world and mixing in public places with strangers. And now that these are all smartphones (update: the RAZR was not the last phone I ever bought) it seems as if we don’t even have to press the device to our ear to gain the power of invisibility.
This video called “Look up” was released recently and has gone viral on social media (ironic considering the content).
In the video the author demonstrates a situation where he chose to make himself invisible and in doing so, misses the opportunity to interact with the future love of his life. While I think this is an extreme example of how too connected/not connected we are as a society, it demonstrates perfectly what’s happened to this once magical power. It’s almost like Harry got the cloak, put it on, and never took it off again, especially when it came to being a crowd of strangers.
So my new challenge for all of the world is not to just go out and be ‘visible’ by detaching yourself from your phone. Instead, I challenge you to break someone’s Invisible Cell Phone Shield and actually interact with them. It will seem uncomfortable and almost like an invasion of privacy. But it isn’t. You’ll probably get a perplexed look that says “can’t you see I’m on the phone?” or “seriously, I’m texting someone now, why are you bothering me?” but I encourage you to fight against this disease that I once considered magic.
After all, you never know who you might meet….
Note: This post is the fourth installment of a 5-part series on digital zombies, re-animated, if you will, from my SXSW presentation on Surviving the Digital Zombie Apocalypse.