Memory matters

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Sad, but true, I finally finished a novel this past summer that I had started reading the previous summer.  I have read most of John Irving’s novels, so I was determined to finish: In One Person.  (From a New York Times review:  “In One Person is a story about memory.”)  I can always count on Irving’s stories and characters to make me think deeply and differently about social justice and issues.  After I finish his novels, there are always a few lines or passages that stick with me.

The main character of In One Person eventually becomes a writer.  Written in the first person, this character quotes some of his own writing and thoughts on growing up (p. 259-260):

That moment when you are tired of being treated like a child – tired of adolescence, too – that suddenly opening but quickly closing passage, when you irreversibly want to grow up, is a dangerous time.”

Ambition robs you of your childhood. The moment you want to become an adult – in any way – something in your childhood dies.”

This bit about memory also lingered with me:

Your memory is a monster; you forget – it doesn’t. It simply files things away; it keeps things for you, or hides things from you. Your memory summons things to your recall with a will of its own. You imagine you have a memory, but your memory has you!”

It is an interesting reminder to me that while growing up is desired and (mostly) inevitable, it can come with a sense of loss.  We have our memories, but maybe some of the forgetting is important in the process of letting go of our childhood and becoming an adult.  Why do we remember certain things and forget other things from our past?  I have about a handful of experiences that I can recall from early childhood, a lot more as an older child, and so on.  It is interesting to think about the early memories that I have retained to this day, and yet they might also be forgotten one day.  I value the different things my memory has helped me with, but it is easy to take it for granted.

I know that memory is extensively researched and continues to be.  There are so many interesting aspects of memory to wonder (and worry!) about.  It intersects with the understanding of cognition, learning, aging, etc.  I recently read the article, Our Memory Quirks:  Are They for Us or against Us?  The author reviews a book about memory research and shares some good points to consider. For example:

False memory research, especially, should concern us in an era in which leaders often lie and fake news has flooded social media.”

And also,

Although some researchers suggest that education might evolve toward critical thinking skills over information memorization, in fact, there is a need for both. Critical reasoning doesn’t work on its own.”

I wonder if collaborative online sites like Wikipedia will become even more important in verifying facts ahead. Check out:  Once Reviled in Education, Wikipedia Now Embraced by Many Professors.

Does our memory have us, or are there things we should do (or should not do) to help memory (short term and long term)?  A very recent study by the University of Waterloo (Ontario), for example, found that reading information aloud improves memory.

I know that I should finish novels in a shorter time!

 

 

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“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.

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.

Re-Purpose

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I know I am not alone in pondering “mid-life” and/or changes to one’s career or life purpose.  I am also quite sure that I am not alone in wondering how it would be best to make a difference given the current issues of today and recent political news and stories.  I wonder how much this is also on the minds of younger people just starting their careers.  I don’t usually read “life purpose” articles too much, but I recently found some good questions for reflection in this article: Does “Life Purpose” Really Equal Life Happiness?  (shared by @JasonLauritsen on Twitter).  The author makes an interesting distinction between “life purpose” and living “on purpose”.  Here are the questions that caught my interest:

  • What do I feel I should have done by this time in my life? Can I create a similar impact with what I can do now or with the wisdom I have accumulated?
  • What do I want to feel more often in my life? What gives me these feelings now?
  • How can I ensure my commitment to living a life where I feel good about the impact I have on others every day?

Thought I would share, in case it helps anyone else — at any age.  I am not sure I have all the answers yet for myself, but it has helped my thinking, planning and prioritizing.

“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!

 

Break out… as you wish

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This winter has definitely been kinder to many of us in Canada (so far).  Even though the weather can be strange and the trends can be worrisome, I have been hearing the relief, if not giddiness, in conversations about this warmer winter!  I have heard many say that January went by fast, so maybe January was less “blue”?  I think it might be worth breaking out in song or dance about!  Whatever the reason or excuse, it might be good for us to do!  I recently read: Landmark study measures healthy dose of the arts.  It lists many ways that one can engage with the arts including (and simply): “Maybe it’s listening to 20 minutes of your favourite music on the way to work or doing a colouring book in your lunch hour or if you have the money going to the theatre.”  Good to know that it may not be as hard to include into a day as one might think!

For further inspiration, I searched for some of my favourite dancing and singing “break out” scenes from movies:

I haven’t seen the new Peanuts movie yet, but for a start:

How about a boogie from Billy Elliot?:

How about a flash mob (before we called them that?):

And who can’t at least smile at “Little Miss Sunshine’s” dance? Olive’s family’s reaction and support is one of my favourite scenes as well:

Breakfast Club style?

Breaking out in song might be more my style.  (Check out the benefits of singing in a choir here.)

A few of my favourites:

 

 

 

 

It’s not perfect in the movies either, so as you wish.. 🙂

Feel free to share your favourite inspirational “break out” example too.