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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.

When Did Millennial-Bashing Become a Sport?

millennialbashing-001I’m not a Millennial, but I work with them. I’m not a Baby Boomer, but I work with them too. As a member of “Generation X”, I remember living through some of the turmoil that seems to be plaguing our Millennial generation today. We were labeled as unmotivated slackers that would rather spend our time in record shops wearing grunge clothing while having meaningless pop-culture conversations. There are any numbers of movies out there showing our cynicism and slacker-ness from Reality Bites to Empire Records to Singles.

“Why don’t you have ambition?” the older generations would ask. “Do you just want to work at a  coffee shop your whole life?”

Fast forward a couple of decades and now many of my Gen-X counterparts find ourselves in a unique position of being caught in the middle of the two largest generations in our country. And, much like two decades ago, the older generations are at it again (with some Gen-Xers adding to the mix), this time turning their ire toward those under the age of 30.

“You can’t all be CEOs.” we say.  “You think you are entitled to everything. You should go to college, get a job, and own a house like we do. Do that before you change the world.”

Over the last couple of months, I’ve spoken with many different people of retirement age and it’s almost like an itch they can’t help but scratch. “Look at that kid with their face in their phone. These Millennials are so disconnected. Why can’t they just talk to each other!?”

Recently, Simon Sinek (@simonsinek), a man I’ve come to respect and who’s work I’ve studied and even quoted in my books, released his own video slamming Millennials in the workplace and in life. Sinek paints a bleak picture of the kids today and the jobs they are heading into. He makes them out to be helpless kids that are addicted to their phones. He even claims that phones should be treated like addictive drugs and alcohol because they release dopamine. You know what else releases dopamine Simon?

Exercise.

And smiling.

Should we get rid of those too?

I’ve been guilty lately of feeling like an old fogey when I start saying “these kids today…” and then I stop and think. What’s the point of what follows that statement? Is it to make me feel smarter and more superior than the generation that follows me? Is it to make them feel inferior or deficient? What is the point?

Here are just a few common quotes I hear from older generations quite a bit regarding Millennials.

Warning: Sweeping generalizations to follow!

“This generation is way too ambitious”

In Sinek’s video he blames the parents for their blind ambition. I don’t know if that’s necessarily true, but if you juxtapose the differences between Gen-X as “slackers” and Millennials as “wild, entitled dreamers” it’s almost like every generation has to be one extreme of this argument. If they have ambition and hope to aspire to be CEO of their own company one day, they are considered un-realistic for not “putting in the time.”  The whole idea of “getting a job at the coffee shop” was considered a negative towards my generation (as we lacked ambition) and amazingly now turned into a suggestion for the current generation (which has too much ambition).  You can’t win Millennials.

“This group is so self-centered and selfish”

This criticism is largely a perception around the way Millennials use social media and as Cathy Hunt (@art_cathyhunt) calls it, “selfie-shaming.”  Older generations see tons of kids taking pictures of themselves and quickly assume it is self-centeredness. While I can’t dismiss what that looks like on the surface level, I will say that I’ve come to know more and more kids from this generation that are extremely generous with their time and energy. They are being raised in a globally-connected world unlike the previous generations and they are seeing that they have to do something about to keep us all from self-destructing under melted ice caps.

“They just need to learn cursive and how to balance a checkbook” 

I love how we want younger generations to go through and learn the things that we were taught, almost like a right of passage (or sufferance). But let me ask you a question: When was the last time you balanced a checkbook? When was the last time you wrote in cursive? Was it when you signed the checkbook? There’s any number of these types of remarks when it comes to the current state of education.  The truth is, they should be learning how to balance a budget and save for their future, since the previous generations will soak up anything left from that old savings account known as “social security.” (remember, you were warned about sweeping generalizations)

“But if they can’t do cursive how will they read historical documents? Plus, I hear it helps with their brain development.” 

Why isolate historical documents written in English here? Because it fits YOUR narrative. There are also historical documents written in Hebrew, but I don’t see older generations bemoaning that they should learn Hebrew. The second part of this statement is dripping with some truth. I do agree that there are positive connections between brain development and physical fine-motor movement, but why stop at cursive? I love the sketch-noting movement for this very reason. I’m sure somewhere in 39 A.D. there was a Gen-A person complaining about how the “millennials” at that time weren’t learning sanskrit and calligraphy any more.

“They are on their phones way too much” 

When I was a kid growing up in the 80’s, I heard this EXACT same argument for when my sister would spend hours on the phone talking to her boyfriend. In actually though, it wasn’t talking. It was more like listening to each other breathe. Back then, you were limited by a cord that confined you to a room, now you can move anywhere and actually exercise, shop, and many other things while talking (i.e. texting) on the phone. Our phones are also alarm clocks, flashlights, radios, computers, cameras, and many other things. If you combine all the time you are on all those other devices, it would probably equate to the amount of time they are on their phone.  At least now they are moving, right?

“…but it makes them anti-social”

Yes, we do need to teach kids AND adults about appropriate times to have face to face conversation and when to be on your phone. 14164183352_01ff363454_bI’ve seen this photo on the right making the rounds on social media the past couple of years showing that antisocial behavior is not new. It’s been happening for decades, except now the news is on our phones not on a giant piece of highly flammable carbon. That said, I do not think this is an accurate side-by-side comparison as newspapers don’t make beeping or vibrating sounds or notify you to look at them. As with anything in life, balance is the key.

“They just need to learn how to boil an egg and hammer a nail.”

Do you remember Home Ec? I remember learning how to sew a pillow and how to make a wooden race car for boy scouts. I enjoyed the hands-on aspect of this, but have no earthly clue how to do that again. At least, not without the help of YouTube. I once heard Brian Smith (@1to1Brian) speak and he said the greatest teachers in the United States are Google and YouTube. While there’s something to be said about the experience of trying, do we really need to spend an entire year learning how to boil an egg? Is that really preparing our kids for their future? If we are going to complain about them not doing enough hands on things in school, we should push for more robotics programs as that’s where their future lies.

Sometimes, Millennials do fight back.  Like the time someone started the hashtag #Howtoconfuseamillennial on twitter, and they came back in full force like the examples below: (full Mashable post here)

screen-shot-2017-01-18-at-8-31-39-am

Or this one:

screen-shot-2017-01-18-at-12-34-54-pm

I could go on and on, but you get the point. I think it’s time for the sport of Millennial-bashing to stop. It’s just not productive.

Rather than bash them, take a moment to be empathic and see the world they are inheriting from their point of view.

The next time you catch yourself saying, “these kids today….” stop and actually think.  Rather than criticizing how they don’t do things that emulate your childhood, think about all the great things they will do to help you in your senior years.

Because like it or not, they are going to be the ones to take care of us in the decades to come.

 

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!