Tag Archives: Internet

Start your school year off on the right foot – Parenting workshops on cyberbullying, digital responsibility and risk prevention

1st day of schoolWe sent our baby off to her first day of fifth grade yesterday. Never mind that our baby is over five feet tall, brimming with that distinctive tween mix of confidence and curiosity. She hasn’t let me walk her into class since she started pre-kindergarten at four years old, but she always makes an exception on the first day.

I love that half-hearted squeeze of my hand when she sees her friends, taking off and leaving my holding the bag of carefully labelled school supplies. “Bye Mom!”

She never looks back; I don’t turn around until she’s out of sight. That’s what parenting is all about.

The bittersweet mixture of pride, sadness, relief that accompanies the start of a new school year is tempered for many parents by a concern about new issues, such as Internet safety and responsibility, and old issues with a new twist, such as cyberbullying. These are subjects that come up again and again in the hallways, carpool lines and anywhere that parents gather. Many feel unsure of themselves, as if the rules have changed. They see new pitfalls and dangers that didn’t seem to be there when we were kids.

They are both right and wrong. Digital technologies place new, powerful devices in our kids’ hands that can get them — and others — into more trouble than most of us ever knew at their ages. But the parenting techniques that we can use to keep them safe aren’t vastly different: education, moderation, guidance, supervision, encouragement.

Over the past few years, I’ve given many, many workshops on bullying, cyberbullying and Internet safety and responsibility to groups of parents at schools, community organizations, libraries, churches and synagogues. I work hard to empower parents with practical tips they can use to keep their kids safe and teach them responsibility, but I also make sure to reassure them that they are probably already doing most things right. Parenting is still parenting, and you need to trust your good instincts when you make decisions for your children. Complement that with some specific education and resources for keeping up to date, and you are doing just fine.

Want to know more about my workshops for parents, communities, teachers and school staff? Email me at alissa@risk-within-reason.com and I’ll be happy to outline the different workshops on bullying prevention, digital responsibility and risk prevention.

What’s your wifi code? Reflections on the new normal

Have you noticed this is the first thing each new kid says to you as they walk in the door of your house? The younger ones are clutching their iTouches or iPad Minis, covered in coloured duct tape designs and stickers, tricked out with Rainbow Loom handles ; the teenagers have phones without data packages and full-sized iPads.

Free wifiIn the end they are all the same: they want the Internet. And we hold the key.

Never mind that it contravenes all established rules of courtesy to bring your own gaming or communication device over to someone else’s place. You are supposed to be playing games or talking or hanging out, no?

No. Not for this generation.

Now they huddle together looking at their own screens, or occasionally each other’s screens. They do things that are inexplicable to adults: snap pictures sent by Snapchat, programmed to self-destruct; watch home-made television shows available only online, play games with no discernible purpose (or even worse) they watch videos of other people playing games.

Their necks are craned, their backs are hunched. It’s too hard for a parent to watch this kind of posture so best to turn away while they are with their friends, and leave them to it for controlled amounts of time. Just when they seem to be mostly ignoring each other, in their own worlds, the digital sound is punctuated by bursts of laughter, excited talking at warp speed, waves and waves of giggles.

I bring out cookies, popcorn, fruit. I bite my tongue for long stretches of time, wanting them to Just Go Outside. They are sweet and earnest when they look up from their screens. They are making a video or posting a short story or Tweeting or blogging or gaming. They are so completely immersed in their semi-shared binary worlds that they don’t even understand that we don’t understand this kind of socialization. They don’t really care anyway.

We weren’t any different; it’s just that our playthings had different names: Sony Walkmen, Atari, Intellivision. Let’s be honest – we would have killed for something like an iPad back when we were 14.

I give out the code, but they need to ask me for it. Face to face. In real time. That’s my small assertion of control. The younger ones get supervision and a timer; the older ones have earned some privacy and leniency.

I listen to them making sense of this new world in their conversations. They have their own code. I wonder if we will ever get it.




Why posting to Facebook feels so good

Baby faceEver wonder why it feels so good to share information on Facebook or Twitter? A new study by two Harvard-based psychologists found that these status updates the same pleasure centres in the brain activated by eating a delicious meal, shopping or having sex.

Ooooh. This explains a lot.

And while posting your party pictures or tweeting your lunch choices may not hit quite the same pleasurable high notes as sexual activity (for most people), it does explain a recent survey of Internet use that show 80% of social media posts are simply announcements about one’s own immediate experience.

Part of the study involved MRI imaging of test subjects to observe brain activity as they answered questions about their’s and other’s opinions. Researchers found that the brain regions associated with reward — the nucleus accumbens and the ventral tegmental area  — were very active when people were talking about themselves, and less engaged when they were talking about someone else.

In one interesting twist, the researchers also found that participants would turn down money to talk about someone else, in order to enjoy the more pleasurable sensation of talking about themselves. In the second part of the study, they set out to determine how important it was to people to have someone listening to their self-disclosure:

“We didn’t know if self-disclosure was rewarding because you get to think about yourself and thinking about yourself is rewarding, or if it is important to have an audience,” Tamir said.

As anyone with 700 Facebook friends might have guessed, the researchers found greater reward activity in the brains of people when they got to share their thoughts with a friend or family member, and less of a reward sensation when they were told their thoughts would be kept private.

What does this mean for our kids? Since we already know that the reward centre in the developing teenage brain is more active than in adults’ brains, we can see how it would be even harder for kids to control their impulses to share everything with everyone. All the time. Similar work by Laurence Steinberg at Temple University found that teenagers doing a simulated driving test took more risks — and had greatly increased activity in the reward centre of their brain — when they thought other teens were watching them.

It also makes it clearer how much harder it would be for them to exercise their still-emerging good judgement, since research on the teenage brain shows good judgement and impulse control are among the last parts of the brain to develop. As this Wall Street Journal article put it: “If you think of the teenage brain as a car, today’s adolescents acquire an accelerator a long time before they can steer and brake.”

All of this means we need to work a little bit harder with our kids (and ourselves) to figure out appropriate limits on self-disclosure. Do they really need their 800 Facebook friends to know about a fight with their boyfriend, or how wasted they were over the weekend? Are they sharing details that may prove embarrassing to them next year? In 20 years? Let’s try to help them find other, safer ways to achieve the pleasure of self-disclosure, such as through actual face-to-face conversations with trusted friends or family members (I KNOW. That’s just crazy!). But knowing what’s behind it all gives us a good head start on finding workable solutions.