Tag Archives: preteens

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.


Parents, kids and technology survey – update

This isn’t just your usual boring, annoying reminder to participate in my quick parenting survey about kids and technology. That’s because the initial response has been so positive, and I’d like to share a few of the emerging facts BEFORE I urge you all to: 1) spend two minutes to complete it yourself (if you haven’t already) and 2) to please share/ repost it for your friends and followers.

One of the questions I ask parents was what their top concerns were about having their kids online. Now it’s important to bear in mind that all my respondents, since they found me through my blog, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or some other online source, are already at least somewhat comfortable online, and this may colour their responses somewhat. Nevertheless, their top 5 concerns jive pretty closely with what I’ve been hearing from parents in workshops over the years.


Personal information is really a huge concern, as it should be. Not only do parents worry about the privacy issues, but they are also concerned their kids may jeopardize their future job and social prospects with inappropriate posts now while they are young. Time is a huge issues, and helping our kids control the impulse to be online constantly is a difficult battle to win when most adults struggle with the same issue. Finally, dealing with sexual and violent content on the Internet remains a justifiable concern, as research indicates in desensitizes our kids to these things at younger and younger ages. There are other concerns listed here as well, and some parents were kind enough to share their own fears with me as well.

These results are fascinating to me, and I plan to spend a lot more time discussing them individually, but I need your help. The amount of data I’ve collected is a great start, but I’m still limited by what I can say until I get the numbers of responses up there. Please help me out by sending the link (https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/RWRparentsurvey) to your friends and colleagues, sharing it on your walls or Twitter accounts, or even putting it at the bottom of your own blog posts.

In return, I promise to write about the results and offer some practical suggestions to parents and teachers based on current research, best practices and whole load of common sense. Because as a mom of three pre-teens/ teens myself, I know how confusing it can be to stare at a lot of scary numbers.  My goal is to translate those charts into practical steps that will make sense in your home, with your kids.

Alone together: How technology competes for our attention (and wins)

textingYou know that moment when our children pour out of school at pickup looking for their parents? How they scan the crowd to make eye contact with the mom or dad who actually made the trip to school to collect them? According to MIT Professor Sherry Turkle, today’s children are just as accustomed to seeing the top of their parents’ heads, staring down at their Blackberries or iPhones. We are there waiting for them, but our minds are somewhere else.

Does that sound familiar?

Are you ever the parent in the park scrolling through your email while your kids build sand castles or play on the swings? The one who sneaks in a quick text message driving your kids to work, telling yourself it’s OK because you are stopped at a red light? Have you ever stolen a glance at the screen of your smartphone during the children’s school play or piano recital, because you saw the blinking red light?

C’mon. Tell the truth. At least to yourself. We’ve all been that parent.

Case in point: a few weeks ago, I surprised my three daughters with two days at Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando. To avoid roaming charges, I had shut off my Blackberry, and our day together roaming the Harry Potter castle was all about old-fashioned face-to-face togetherness. But when we got to Disney, I paid $10 for a day of data so I could use an app designed to let you know the waiting times for each of the rides. Cool idea. But having my phone wired again meant I could also text friends, check my email and upload pictures to Facebook of us having fun.  I tried to control this need to keep checking (after all, I was with my children in the Happiest Place on Earth!) but I succumbed several times. Finally one of my 12-year-olds fixed me with a withering glance and said “Mom, that is so rude. Who do you need to talk to? We are right here.”

Wise words from one so young. She was right. I shut the phone off. (Also my battery died. Damn Blackberry Bold.)

The truth is, those smartphones have radically changed our expectations and experiences of communication, according to Turkle, author of The Second Self. In her newly released TEDx Talks video “Alone Together,”  the director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and the Self describes the way this new form of communication has dramatically rewired the ways we connect to others. Not just in practical, technological terms, but in the deeper sense of changing intimacies and rewired human relationships.

“We are very vulnerable,” she says. “We are lonely but fearful of intimacy. Connectivity offers for many of us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.”

Wow. That hit home for me. It made me think of the glib status updates and tweets we are so tempted to send off without thinking. Sure it’s nice to connect with old friends and family online but how real is that? How dependable, when the time comes to really need actual people in our lives?

She explains that there is something innate in the human experience that leads us to text rather than talk. That connecting online lets us control the demands real connection would place upon us. We are too busy communicating to truly connect.

Turkle reminds us that those kids coming through the schoolyard are being trained by their parents’ smartphone use. They are learning that technology is the competition for their time together. Ironically, instead of despising the little portable computers in our purses and jacket pockets because they take us away from them, they cannot wait to get their hands on their own.

And when they do, they will begin to ignore us. We will have to text them to come downstairs for dinner. Accept their text-speak rendition of how their history exam went (it was gr8!) or how they are feeling when their girlfriend dumps them (sad emoticon). Or worse, we will suffer their half-attention to our conversations as they scroll across the screens in their hands.

Just as we have done to them.

Turns out it’s possible to feel lonely with your loved ones in the same room, if they have smartphones in their hands.

Turkle begs us to reconsider some conversations we’d shut down in our almost unthinking acceptance of these marvelous gadgets. She worries about the way we curate our online personas to only share what is easy to share. When we cut off conversations in our personal lives and professionally to omit the real problems and stumbling blocks of our daily lives, we make connections harder and less meaningful. She calls this “reclaiming conversation” and challenges us to consider the ways we can be more honest with each other in our status updates and text messages.

What do you think about the way our technology use has changed our ability to connect with our families? Have you ever experienced being “along together”? Do you see technology as competition for real time to connect with our kids?