“Digital Parenting”: Struggles and Solutions

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I recently read this interesting post, On Retreating from Social Media, by Sonja Burrows.  The author, also a parent, discusses what she believes are the three most significant reasons to retreat (step back) from social media:  (1) Emotional Well-Being; (2) Vulnerable Data; (3) Kids.  She makes a good case in each area and I thought her “Kids” section offered some good considerations for parents.

A few points that stood out for me:

The parent generation is collectively navigating completely new terrain, attempting to guide our children through experiences we ourselves never had as teenagers and young adults. We cannot therefore fall back on our own adolescent trials to instruct us in our child-raising practices around digital tools and social media.”

Also,

Many parents find ourselves conflicted. On the one hand, we may wish to prevent our children from participating in social media for as long as possible. On the other hand, we may also acknowledge that stunting our kids’ ability to engage socially in these spaces could have harmful effects, insofar as we would be removing them from interacting in ways that most likely every one of their peers already does.”

She offers this solution,

Social media has become a fact of life for the younger generation; therefore, I believe both parents and schools need to coach kids around safe usage of these spaces, rather than prohibit them altogether from participating. Part of educating youth in safe conduct on social media is first to raise their awareness about how platforms work as well as the consequences of different kinds of usage. We especially need to educate kids about the possible negative effects on emotional health and wellbeing, on the proliferation of cyberbullying, on the vulnerability of their data, as well as on social codes of conduct within these spaces. As always in guiding youth, parents and schools need to encourage kindness and empathy, and we need to establish trust so that kids involve us directly should they need hands-on support.”

I fall in the same category or “gap” that Sonja describes — parents who didn’t have mobile phones until after 30 🙂  While it is true that people becoming parents ahead will have had more direct experience with communication technologies, social media, etc., I wonder if there will always be new challenges.  I feel certain still that my “non-tech” teen experiences and stories that I shared with my children had value and nudged some reflection on their part in regards to their use of mobile phones.

I also enjoyed reading a couple of posts on this topic by Doug Belshaw, The Trials and Tribulations of Being a Digital Parent.  He makes a note in his post for readers that he was a teenager in the 1990’s. I appreciated his reflection in regards to that.  Some points/concerns that stood out for me:

The difficulty is that this generation of young parents are on the front line here. We’re the first ones to have to deal with screens everywhere. At the same time as we’re warned about the dangers, we’re also exhorted to prepare our offspring for jobs of the future.”

Another good point about conversations:

It’s difficult. I know that what we should be doing is sitting alongside our children, exploring the digital world together. But that’s just doesn’t seem possible sometimes. And, just as children tend to the question “what did you do at school today?” really tedious, so they don’t particularly want a conversation about what they’ve been up to on their tablets.”

I agree, this may not be discussed enough:

One thing that’s missed when dealing with digital parenting at a macro level is the issue of personality. I think there may also be gender differences too, but I’ve got too small a sample to be able to tell. Some people have more addictive personalities than others.”

I am glad to see more honest writing and discussions lately about the challenges of “digital parenting”.  I think these honest discussions are important.  Parents can have so many things to feel insecure and self-critical about.  Regardless of the age and experience of parents, supports will be needed to navigate technology and many other  things.  I hope shared stories from different perspectives continue to be a part of that support.  I would think even the most “tech-savvy” parent might still be caught off guard and frustrated by impacts on their own children.  The content coming through on phones and apps seems to be constantly changing, as are the features and privacy settings.  I appreciate Sonja’s message for schools and parents in her suggestion for this navigation.  How do schools create the spaces for support and collaboration, as well as encourage non-judgemental and honest discussion?  Do parents want this support?  What should it look like?  What would be most important and helpful?

**Thank you to Donna Miller Fry (@fryed) for her resources, questions and persistence with this topic.  Her questions and posts to Twitter prompted this post.

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Some thoughts about “iGen”

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I recently saw a job ad with the following “skill” requirement listed:

“must have the ability to be off phone for more than 10 consecutive seconds”

I suppose that made a strong point to potential applicants, or maybe it was related to issues with past employees… It was a position that would require driving and moving stuff.

The ad made me think of a recent article, Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?.  In spite of the alarmist title, I still read it.  The article was an adaptation from a new book by Dr. Jean Twenge.  Soon after that article was posted on The Atlantic, I saw a few responses and articles dismissing the claims made by the author/researcher.  As I thought more about this topic, I decided to listen to the 50 min. segment from the BBC:  “Are Smartphones Harming Teenagers?”.  I thought the panel discussion was quite good and it included Dr. Jean Twenge.  This is the list of the participants:

Dr. Jean Twenge – Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University

Amy Orben – College Lecturer in Experimental Psychology at The Queen’s College, Oxford University

Tanya Goodin – Founder of the digital detox consultancy Time to Log Off, and author of ‘Off’

There were also two teenagers participating in the discussion as well.

It took me a few “sittings” to get through it, but I made a few notes of points from the discussion that made me ponder and reflect.  Here are a few that I thought were key:

  • it is important to consider what is on the phone, not necessarily the phone itself
  • if teenagers are spending approx. 6 – 8 hours of leisure time on their phones/screens, what does that “crowd out” of their lives?
  • social media/online time is very diverse/complicated — important for research to consider the “3 C’s”:  content, context, and connection
  • software is designed to be “sticky”, so how do we moderate effectively?
  • suggestion that more evidence is needed, but research always lags behind real world experience
  • should we do nothing then? What is the downside of doing nothing at all? “Guinea pig” generation?
  • differentiate study of the different social media platforms?

It was good to hear the input and insights from the two teenagers.  I also noted that they both attended schools that did not allow cell phones in class.  They also both reported that their own phone/screen use was reasonable and manageable.  They also didn’t think it was necessary for younger children to have smartphones in response to the finding that the average age of having a phone in the UK was 9.

It is a complex area to study but I find it hard to dismiss the new data and possible trends.  It is difficult not to have concern about the possible impacts on independence and mental health. The decrease in sleep at night is enough to concern me.  There seems to be multiple sources of stress now in the lives of teens and young adults.  I think we need to care about how smartphone access and use adds to stress and anxiety.  Both youth and adults have a role in getting smarter about moderation.  I still see my 20+ year olds struggling at times with the use of their devices and screens in practical ways instead of excessive ways.  It takes work and self-discipline for sure.

Dr. Twenge’s research pointed to some positive trends for teens as well.  I am now following her on Twitter and keeping an open mind about this.  My kids are grown up, but it is an area that I still care about.  I also recently read the article, In Praise of Mediocre Kids.  I thought the article spoke to valid pressures in the lives of children as well.  It doesn’t mention smartphones or social media, but I think technology has increased how much parents compare the “successes” of their kids and families to others.  I am not sure “mediocre” was the best word for the title — what about just well-grounded kids, or kids just doing their thing…?  Where do things start to get off track?

My thoughts as an “old” parent…

Peers in Pockets

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I enjoyed spending some time reading this post by Daniel Willingham, “Give a kid a computer…what does it do to her social life?”.  He discussed a number of studies in this regard, some findings and the limitations of the data.  Please read his post for the further links and insights he provided.

In addition to his good points, I related to his concern he wrote about in the last paragraph:

My real concern about digital technology use in teens is hard to quantify. When I was a teen I, like most, probably assigned too much value to the opinions of my peers.  They necessarily stopped influencing me when I got off the school bus, and I was influenced mostly by my parents and two sisters. I don’t relish the thought of children taking their peer groups home with them in their pockets, influencing them 24/7, and diminishing the impact of their families.”

A book by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté, Hold on to Your Kids, came to my mind, but before I could add the comment, someone already had thought of their work and done so,

The comments you make in your final paragraph remind me very much of what Gordon Neufeld says of the rise in peer group influence and the correlative decline of parent/family influence in the lives of children and teens.”

I am not always sure what to make of some of the studies about the impacts of digital media on children, teens and family life, but I do think the impacts of social media and instant messaging/texting need to be examined separately.  They are often intertwined, but attention to each may vary (my most recent post about texting and relationships here).

I still feel relieved that my children didn’t have their “peers in their pockets” until their late teens.  Maybe the conversations in families are starting sooner now and the impacts may change.  New parents may be having very different conversations and decisions to make right from the start now: The ‘joy’s of digital media in new parenting.

If you wish, I thought this was a good review here of the Neufeld and Maté book and this link is about the book on Gabor Maté’s website.

**update (Sept. 28/17):  Adding this video of a talk by Gordon Neufeld.  At the start he mentions that the book had a revision to include a chapter about technology, since it was originally published before Facebook, etc.  The talk/Q&A is over an hour, but covers many good points.

Paths and Gaps: Part 3

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I have written about about “gap” years a couple of times — in both the general and personal sense:

Graduation Caps and Gaps

Paths and Gaps: Part 2

My daughter who took a “gap year” before going away to another city for university was recently home on her study break or “reading week”.  It is also now that time of year in Ontario when many Grade 12 students are starting to receive and consider their acceptances to university and/or college.  My daughter is now in Year 2 at university and I asked her again if she was still glad she took a gap year.  She gave me permission to document her answers and thoughts on my blog:

I benefitted by the exposure to the “work world” that year.  It gave me a new perspective on ways to live life and be successful in different ways.  It helped me improve other qualities and skills other than just “book smartness”.”

I had time to find out a bunch of things I wasn’t … in order to be able to start finding out who I am.  This happened in both my gap year and also during my first year at university.”

I thought the gap year would give me time to figure out what I really wanted to study at the post-secondary level, but it was really about learning other things instead of discovering what I wanted to study.”

In the end, I realized I just needed to try something at university in order to find what I wanted to do.”

My daughter included the subjects she was passionate about in her first year of university.  I think that this is one advantage of a first year at university — she was expected to take courses in different faculties.  This worked well for her as she could include her love of science, math, art and women’s studies.  It was through this “sampling” that she was able to decide what she didn’t want to study in depth while also leading her to what she did want to focus on.  It was something she hadn’t thought of initially at all.

My other daughter didn’t take a gap year after high school.  We had discussed the option with her, but it just wasn’t something she found comfort in doing.  As it turned out, a gap year after university before a college program was more beneficial to her.  We are happy with their paths and choices and I am sure other decisions would have worked out fine too.  There will be bumps regardless of the path!

Given all my thinking and reflecting on this, People for Education’s report released this week about career and life planning in schools caught my attention.

The press release here.

Career and Life Planning in Schools full report here.

I still need to spend some more time with the report, but they have made some recommendations for improving student portfolios for career/pathway support, the community involvement requirements, guidance counselling, and more (for a quick look start at page 14).  “Multiple paths, multiple policies, multiple challenges” indeed.  I don’t recall the mandatory “career/life planning portfolios” that my daughters brought home here and there as being very useful at all, but their community volunteer hours proved quite valuable in different ways.  I will be curious about what changes ahead.  What do others think?  What are the areas that need to change the most… and when?

“They’re just texting…”

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I have posted before in attempts to understand and discuss the impacts of texting and “instant” messaging on youth.  As parents, we attempt to monitor who are children are associating with — in person, via devices, and online. When children are younger, it may be easier to chat about the experiences and communications that they are having with friends – both positive and negative.  When they are older and relationships become “romantic”, it gets a bit more challenging.  Experiences and communication become more private from parents.  Parents may also try to give more “space” and privacy.  It can be a tough and delicate balance though.

I often hear the messages of “letting kids fail/fall/make mistakes”, etc.  I believe kids can learn from bad experiences and relationships just as much as good ones.  They have to navigate friendships and relationships and learn from that too.  The advice to parents may also be: “Let them figure it out for themselves”.  But does this serve well as support for their “instant connecting” worlds?  How do parents know when things go too far or become unhealthy given all that can be “unseen” with communication technologies?  How do they know when to intervene and how?  I am not sure there is enough discussion or clear advice available on this, especially when kids are in their late teens and in relationships.  Are there conversations that need to happen sooner?

This is my attempt to provide some support and useful reading.  I may add to the list over time ahead:

Know the Signs:  Spotlight on Nonstop and Excessive Texting

Text Messaging:  Effects on Romantic Relationships and Social Behavior

Obsessive 24/7 Texting From a Partner or Ex Isn’t Cute

In(ternet) Love: Have a Healthy Online Relationship (a lot of good resources for relationships on this site… do explore for other relevant topics)

12 Alarming Ways Texting Controls Modern Relationships

MediaSmarts recently posted a guide for post-secondary students.  I think it is excellent and practical, as well as useful for parents to read or have handy as a resource:

On The Loose: A Guide to Life Online For Post-Secondary Students

The Impact of Cell Phones on Romantic Relationships

Have you got other useful resources or articles? Please suggest!

 

Show Time

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A mix of TV series trivia, silliness, and nostalgia in this post…

Like many families, we often watch certain movies and TV shows with our children — simply for the fun and shared experience of watching them together.  We did this throughout our children’s younger years and it somehow continued as they became young adults.

This past year, without really planning to, we started watching Grey’s Anatomy together each week.  When the show’s season ended in May, we seemed to need something else to keep this viewing time together going.  Since we had recently bought the entire (and only) season of My So-called Life on DVD, my husband and I suggested that.  The girls were skeptical at first (“that’s your old show…” ).  Early in our marriage, my husband and I watched the TV series, Thirtysomething. When we learned that My So-Called Life was created by the same producers, we tuned in.  We were new parents at that time and we thoroughly enjoyed the show during our quieter evenings… until it was cancelled suddenly after one season!  One of the reasons for the cancellation may have been because it competed in the same time slot as the series, “Friends”.  We weren’t big fans of that series, so #mscl it was. (I was surprised to find an active hashtag for the show on Twitter!)

And it turns out, our girls got hooked on #mscl and the characters.  We managed to watch the whole season over the course of the summer.  Although my husband and I recalled many of the episodes well, we still enjoyed the revisit to the stories.  As a family, we laughed, cried and discussed.  I think the girls were quite impressed to watch Jared Leto in his first TV gig.  And just like when we watched it over 20 years ago, the show still captured the essence of high school “hell”, teen angst, and the complexities of relationships.  Our daughters’ reactions and comments confirmed that.  We also had to smile when they commented about the situations that the teens got themselves in and out of… “without cell phones”.  So that led to a few stories of our own teen years to share.  We had also forgotten that the teens on the show inserted “like” a lot into their verbal communication.  Did that, like, start in, like, the 90s? 🙂

It was great that the show still led to many insights and affirmations about being a teenager for our girls, as it did for us in the past.  It captured teen angst, but also parenting angst as well!  I suspect that our girls may have gained some insight and appreciation of their parents as both people and parents.  It was nice to experience a sense that “some things don’t change” when it can seem that so much has.  From the back of the DVD case, “Whether you’ve memorized every line, or it’s your very first time, My So-called Life remains as fresh and honest today as when it premiered”.  I definitely agree!

So if this winter gets long, you can borrow our DVD 🙂  We also enjoyed checking out some related youtube videos about the show and the characters:

What happened to the cast of My So-Called Life

The Collected Wisdom of Angela Chase

Angela and Jordan – The Hallway Scene

The Evolution of Jared Leto: From My So-Called Life’s’ Jordan Catalano to Oscar Nominee

What old shows or movies have become new again for your family?

 

 

 

Paths and Gaps: Part 2

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In January of last year, I wrote Graduation Caps and Gaps.  I included some discussion about life after K-12 schooling and following paths and passions.  I referred to a few other related posts written by others.  I also discussed the “gap year” in that post.  Somewhere in between that post in January and June of last year, our own 2 adult children had decided, with our support, to take a “gap year” before post-secondary and graduate studies.  We, individually and as a family, have been reflecting about the past year and its outcomes.  We used the list of the benefits of a gap year which I provided in my January post (although the full article I linked is not accessible now):

  • experience the world of work in a real way
  • become more mature
  • become more independent and experienced in your decision-making
  • clarify your study and career future, and make new or more informed decisions
  • work with people from different walks of life
  • experience different types of workplaces
  • learn new skills.

We feel quite confident that the past year of work and life experiences has provided our daughters with these benefits and more.  However, the year was not without some doubts that the choice was the best.  We may not even realize all pros and cons until a later time.  But now we are looking ahead to the planning and tasks that come with heading back to school and moving. It seems to be the right timing again and comes with some renewed excitement.  It has mostly worked out for our family, but I am not saying that it would be the right choice for all.  There is a lot to consider, eg.: knowing and listening to your children, the family situation, the opportunities in the community, personal goals, etc.

I thought this article (provided by a university in the UK) was another good one on the topic, Take a Break? The pros and cons of a gap year, but a search for “gap year benefits and disadvantages” will prompt a number of articles and resources.

(photo credit: me ~ taken during a family trip to Vancouver)

 

 

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