Tag Archives: technology

Kids and the Internet: What the teachers taught me

AppleThis 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.

 

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Parenting pledges for a great school year

This morning, my 12-year-old twins had their very first morning of high school. My youngest would be starting third grade if it weren’t for the fact that she had a really high fever last night (score an extra day of summer for her, an extra day of childcare for me).

Like many families, we are in serious back-to-school mode. Supplies, uniforms, clothing and new shoes have been purchased. Items have been labelled. Student bus passes are ready to go. Desks have been organized. Backpacks are packed.

It’s a lot of work, and a fair bit of expense. But it’s also very exciting, a time to reflect on transitions and growing up. It’s made me think about the kind of parent I want to be to my kids, especially now that they are entering their teenage years.

So I’ve come up with a list of back-to-school resolutions. My intentions are good, but my will and patience are not perfect, so I fully intend these more as a set of self-imposed guidelines, and not an iron-clad code. I find it useful to have these kind of things to look up to, especially in the darker moments of parenting (and we all know what those are like!).

Know when to say no, and when to say nothing. Sometimes the word “No” has to be enough. I don’t have to justify all of my parenting decisions to my kids, and what passes for explanation is really their attempt to negotiation. If I think those shorts are too short, or they are too young for a school dance, or they’ve been Skyping for too long, that’s all I need to say.

Conversely, sometimes I need to bite my tongue. They don’t need to hear my opinion of everything. They don’t always want to know what it was like when I was 12 (really? That’s a shocker). I don’t need to pass along my issues from adolescence. This is their turn.

Take advantage of natural consequences, when appropriate. I’m a big fan of Barbara Coloroso. When my kids were toddlers, I went to hear her speak, and was particularly impressed by her adamant insistence on kids learning things for themselves. As long as it isn’t immoral, illegal or unhealthy, they’ll learn more from their own mistakes than our rules or lectures.

Let them go outside without their jacket and realize how cold it is.  Let them goof off instead of studying for a test and get a bad mark. Let them forget their lunch and go hungry for one day. It may sound harsh, but none of those things are immoral, illegal or unhealthy. The stakes aren’t particularly high and the consequences are tolerable and contained. If we do everything for our kids, they never learn to do it for themselves. And we are reduced to shrill, nagging parents. Sure, if any of these things become more than one-off problems, we need to step in with guidance and supervision, but most kids, most of the time, will quickly learn their lesson.  (Another amazing parenting book with this philosophy is The Blessing of a B Minus, by Wendy Mogel).

Set firm boundaries for technology use. How much screen time total can you (and they) tolerate. At what point does it eat into their time for exercise, family interrelationships, homework, sleep? A recent study found that one-third of American teens sleep with their cellphones by their bedside or under their pillows, and text well after their bedtimes. Many said they set the phones to vibrate so they will wake them without alerting their parents. Phones, laptops, iPads should all be outside of their bedrooms when they go to sleep. Teens already have enough issues with sleep without this extra distraction.

Get them to eat breakfast. This is one of the hardest pledges to keep. My older girls are simply not hungry in the morning. They feign nausea at the mere sight of food. Chalk it up to their adolescent circadian rhythms or their natural metabolisms, but I struggle to get anything into them at all. Going to school hungry pretty much guarantees a lack of energy and focus for the first couple of hours, so that’s no OK. We’ve tried smoothies, Greek yogurt, cereal.

Out of desperation, I’ve given up on my usual insistence on whole-grains, no high fructose corn syrup or refined sugars. I find myself buying the crappy processed crap that used to make me all self-righteous at the grocery store, like “What kind of parent would serve that to their precious children?”

Me, that’s who.

At this point, even Aunt Jemima frozen pancakes are looking pretty good. If they want pizza or a chicken sandwich, fine. My minimum requirement is a glass of orange juice or chocolate milk and a cereal bar.

So that’s what I’ve come up with for now. I’m sure I will stumble a few times (feel free to call me on it, but remember that thing about people living in glass houses…). I’m sure there will be more pledges necessary. What resolutions do you make in your household?

 

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the meaning of risk

life is risky

A few weeks ago, I watched one of my daughters ride her bike with no hands. I thought “be careful!” and “keep your hands on the handlebars!” and “don’t do that!”

But I said nothing.

She was wearing a helmet, on a quiet path, with no obvious obstacles or cars nearby. If she fell, she might get a bad case of road rash, or need stitches. She might even break an arm. But that was unlikely — she was really good.

I remembered riding my own bike with no hands on the wheel, the rush of wind in my face, the front tire slightly wobbly on the cracked pavement, the exhiliration of learning to balance the bike with my weight, the adrenaline that surged through me. I knew I could fall and scrape myself on the road, but I don’t think I did (I have no memories of that, at any rate). For those few minutes, I felt incredibly competent. I was confident of my own abilities to keep my bike moving smoothly forward.

I wanted that experience for my daughter. It’s what we all want for our kids.

The world is a risky place – it’s one of the first lessons of contemporary parenting. Danger lurks in every unprotected electrical outlet, at the top of every flight of ungated stairs. We are called to assess those risks for our own children from the very beginning: natural birth or epidural? Breast or bottle? Crib or co-sleeping? Organic food or not? Re-mortgage the house to pay for private school or support the public system?

But a certain amount of risk is normal. It’s part of being human. In fact, a total aversion to risk would make life boring and unlivable. Creativity is the flip side of caution. We need to take chances to learn things about the world and about ourselves. We need to let our toddlers take their first hesitant steps on wobbly jello legs, gently push our 5-year-olds into the strange new kindergarten classroom, let our pre-teens ride the city bus. We can’t keep them in that beautiful bubble forever, and we need them to believe that we know they can do it (no matter what old episodes of Rescue 911 replay endless loops in our neurotic minds).

The challenge is to do so thoughtfully, picking and choosing the kinds of risk, assessing the degree of danger and possible consequences. Measuring this up against chances of success. That takes judgement, and we know that judgement is one of the last things to develop in the teenage brain. The wiring of brain circuitry is a work in progress, and the prefrontal cortex (where executive functions such as decision-making, organizing, impulse control and judgment happen) aren’t fully developed until around the age of 25.

Add to this another wrinkle of adolescence  – the increased propensity to take risks and seek intense sensations. All this can suddenly make a lot clearer seemingly inexplicable activities such as car surfing, the choking game and websites like The Honesty Box.

For parents and educators, that means tailoring expectations to abilities. Leaving your 16-year-old home alone for the weekend may not just be a bad idea, it may end with their party trending on Twitter. This is why close supervision of teens is so important – knowing your teenage child’s whereabouts after school is correlated with lower rates of drug and alcohol use, pregnancy and delinquency, as well as making them less susceptible to peer pressure.

As a blog, RiskWithinReason looks beyond the usual risky activities we worry about with teens (alcohol, drugs, sex) to the computer-related technology around (and through) which they increasingly converge — social media like Facebook or MySpace, texting, sites like YouTube, online gaming, online gambling and other virtual communities of influence that complement (and sometimes overshadow) the real world friends and family of today’s teens.

RiskWithinReason is designed to be an online resource for parents, educators and mental health professionals interested in teens, technology and risk. The blog is not anti-technology — in fact, the argument is that we adults need to know more about these resources in order to facilitate our teens’ use of them. In addition to regular postings about different issues, you will also find links to related articles presented along brief commentary about what makes them interesting or relevant.

I welcome your comments, stories, observations and suggestions for different topics and links. I know I’m not the only parent out there who knows what it’s like to bite your tongue from time to time and watch your kids learn to spread their wings. On this occasion, it was totally worth it, but I keep a box of band-aids on hand for the times they fall, even though I am fully aware there are some hurts no band-aid will be able to fix. Sometimes, it’s a chance we have to take, but it’s one we must take thoughtfully, with the information we can gather. After all, that’s what parenting is all about.

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