“Protecting students from high-risk activities should begin as early as kindergarten. It’s never too early and rarely too late to build resilience in students by teaching strategies for dealing with conflict and the temptations of high-risk activities.”
This morning I did two back-to-back workshop sessions at the Bronfman Jewish Education Centre‘s one-day pedagogical event for teachers at all the Jewish day schools in Montreal. I spoke about applied classroom strategies based on the Digital Citizenship Program in one session, and about teens, technology and risk prevention in the other.
Not too surprisingly, I learned at least as much from the teachers as I was able to share with them. These women and men are on the front lines in the classroom with our kids every day. And there are some things they want parents to know when it comes to students and technology.
Sleep. Kids need more of it. There is only so much teaching they can do when our kids are exhausted. The first period or two of the day are a real challenge for sleep-deprived teens, and parents aren’t always aware of how bad things can get.
Some advice? Make your teen charge their cellphones, laptops and iPads somewhere other than their bedroom. The place they sleep should be a screen-free zone after a certain time. Too many kids put their phones on vibrate so their parents don’t know they are up getting Facebook status updates and text messages way after they should be asleep. Also, suggest that your tweens and teens wind the last 30-60 min of their days down without the Internet. It can be very hard to keep track of time when you are engrossed in Skyping or slaying villains on World of Warcraft.
Screen time. Kids need less of it. Teachers worry that our kids experience so much of life — from socializing with friends to learning about science — in a mediated fashion. They are concerned about the ways it affects their social interaction, about how computers give even good kids just enough physical distance from others to enable mean, petty and hurtful comments they might not otherwise make. They worry that kids aren’t “in the moment” enough, when they want to record every get-together on their smartphones to post on Facebook. They wonder if all this gadget-fuelled stimulation doesn’t rob kids of the boredom that stimulates creativity.
Guidance from parents. Teachers can’t teach our kids how to be good digital citizens on their own. Parents need to model good behaviors themselves (put down that Blackberry at the dinner table!) and supervise their kids activities online. So much of what we need to teach our kids in a digital context is just an extension of the common sense and moderation we apply elsewhere. Just in a different font.
Parenting in the new millenium – these is the kind of question no one needed to ask ten years ago.
There were fewer grey areas in the student-teacher relationship back then. Exchanging telephone numbers was clearly inappropriate. A thank you note dropped in the office mailbox was fine, as was waving hello in the local shopping mall food court. Aside from the occasional incident or rumour, it was pretty straightforward.
Social media changed things. It blurred the conventional methods of communication, making everything seem much less formal. These new rules weren’t written yet, and relying on common sense wasn’t always particularly helpful but people mostly seemed to figure it out. Or maybe not.
A new law passed in Missouri makes it illegal for teachers to be friends with their students on any social network that allows private communication. This would include Facebook or Twitter. The idea behind the law, quite predictably, is to protect children and teens from predatory adults, but critics worry the law might actually prevent kids at risk from reaching out to trusted adults who could actually offer support.
It seems to me this is actually a much more complicated issue than the panicky rhetoric indicates. I never friended my students when I was a university faculty member, not because I worried about any risk I might pose to them or they to me, but because there are still meaningful divides between our private lives and our public lives. I didn’t need them to see my posts and photos of my kids any more than I wanted to know more than they cared to share in class or in conversation about their relationship woes, parties or trips to New York.
As my kids would say, it’s a case of TMI (too much information).
I don’t think I’m being naive or old-fashioned when I say that line between public and private is still meaningful. The line itself may shift with the times, but it’s still important, whether it’s between adults in a college classroom or kids and teachers in a high school. I had no issues with being contacts on LinkedIn (they were young adults counting on me for professional references, after all) or using email and the telephone to keep in touch. And after the semesters ended and students moved on, there were always a few who kept in touch and gradually crossed the line towards friendship.
But I don’t know many teachers of children and teens who cross that line. And I worry about making these things into confusing new laws. The Missouri bill specifically bans teachers from friending current and former students – does that mean students who’ve graduated are always off-limits? Can’t we just assume that most teachers and most parents will be on top of this? We never legislated teachers phoning their students’ cell phones. We haven’t worried about them texting each other. We didn’t make it illegal for them to send each other holiday cards (though I’m guessing few ever do).
So no, I don’t think your teen should be Facebook friends with their teachers, for all of these reasons and more. This should be a part of every school and school board’s media policy. And general common sense about this would benefit from discussion and awareness-raising. This is a case where the adults involved really should know better. After all, they are protecting both themselves and their students.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject, whatever your perspective. Feel free to comment here or message me directly.
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"What a crucial conversation, and what a talented speaker! Dr. Alissa Sklar’s presentation to Akiva School’s parent body was full of clear, relevant, down-to-earth facts presented in a highly engaging manner. No jargon, no scare tactics – just solid information and excellent advice. A no-risk program for parents." -Frances (Cooki) Levy, Head of The Akiva School ("The Power of Positive Parenting: Preventing Risky Behaviors for All Ages")
"Alissa is the consummate professional and speaks with great authority. We hope she will be one of our feature speakers at many future workshops." Kelly Wilton, editor and co-publisher of Montreal Families Magazine
RiskWithinReason is intended as a support and information resource. If you need counselling for your child, consider contacting a trained child psychologist. Your family doctor or CLSC can recommend one, or you can also visit Collage Therapies at http://www.collagetherapies.ca/en