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!
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.
I’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?
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. I’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)
Or this one:
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.
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:
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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)
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.
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 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.
The 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)
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.
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?
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-week 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.
(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.