First, let me be clear. I am not in favor of kids spending excessive amounts of time on their devices. The addiction factor, sleep issues, and even growing risk of depression/suicide are all well-known issues for me.
7th grade teacher Pernille Ripp has even recently gone #phonefree in her classroom for these last couple of months, a move her students seem to love as it allows them to more comfortably share vulnerable learning processes.
What I want to discuss is the impact of rationing screen time for our kids. I’m talking about bargaining for behavior, tallying minutes, and otherwise keeping such a tight grip on the amount of time our kids spend on screens that they begin to fixate on it.
It reminds me of what happens when we focus so thoroughly on “forbidden foods” that we end up binge-eating.
What if, instead…
…we regularly discussed the importance of balance?
…we explicitly taught even our young kids that tech can be a tool for empowerment, rather than just an device for entertainment?
…we created reasonable default screen time allowances our kids can count on so they don’t have to spend their days worrying when they will next be allowed to watch a movie or play a video game?
…we talked honestly with our kids about our screen time habits — both how we use it for practical and/or positive purposes, and how we are trying to improve not-so-positive habits?
…we set up rules and limitations in a shared manner, learning together about what helps us achieve balance and healthy lifestyle?
Our kids have been born into an remarkable and unprecedented age of technology. Let’s find ways to work alongside them as they work to develop healthy, positive, and balanced habits.
Last week, my daughter came home commenting about a new bathroom rule at her school: all girls now have to use the restroom 2 at a time due to the fact that girls keep writing on the bathroom walls. As a teacher, I understand why the rule was implemented. As a parent, I understand why she feels frustrated.
Since she just recently asked me to help her set up her own “real blog” (ie, can be read by a real audience), I asked her how she would feel about blogging on the subject. She took to that idea right away — especially once we figured out the speech-to-text feature so she didn’t have to keep fretting about spelling (teacher note: I really like the way speech-to-text requires the kids to pause & reflect to figure out exactly how they will verbalize each sentence).
Once she had her post written, “Fair School,” I, of course, went ahead and shared it with my PLN.
She was amazed to watch the comments pour in, and even took action on a couple of their ideas. She has since shared the post with her teacher, and she plans to try and see if she can meet and then introduce her classmates to their custodian(s) to create more empathy (Thanks, Abe, and everyone else!!)
This has also led to a lot of discussion about how we can inspire people to do good things rather than just try to get them to stop doing bad things. Not an easy task for anyone, that’s for sure, but a very rewarding approach!
Once again, I have found this whole experience to positively reinforce the concepts of digital citizenship, flattened classroom walls, and #StudentVoice. When we provide opportunities for students to share their authentic voices on things that matter to them, powerful learning happens.
I’ve decided to join this year’s #IMMOOC as I finally read George Couros’ book, Innovator’s Mindset. I’m looking forward to making new connections with teachers around the world and to finding ways to push my thinking and comfort zone over the next 5 weeks!
Here’s a passage that has stood out to me most for this week’s reading:
“We are spending so much time telling our students about what they can’t do that we have lost focus on what we cando. Imagine that if every time you talked about the ability to write with a pencil, you only focused on telling kids to not stab one another with the tool. What would you really inspire in your students? Creativity? Unlikely. Fear? Almost certainly.”
It seems that the older my kids get, the more often I hear about the dangers of screen time, online predators, and cyberbullying. Rarely if ever do I hear parents share the amazing ways they are engaging in technology with their kids.
Apart from this being a missed opportunity to build positive associations with the possibility tech affords, it also misses out on some serious opportunities for literacy (both traditional and digital).
As rare as it is to hear about the positive examples among parents, I actually observed an impromptu example just this weekend as my mother-in-law sat at the computer with my nephew. They were searching out some fun gadgets together on Amazon, but what quickly caught my attention was the language my mother-in-law was using with my nephew. As they looked at new products, she helped him scroll down the page, saying things like, “When I’m looking at something I think I might like to buy, I look first at the 1-star reviews. That helps me find out what I might not like about it.”
I listened as they read the reviews out loud together and then discussed whether they thought those would be relevant issues. And as they navigated new products, it was clear my nephew was quickly becoming more discerning about what he was viewing.
Who would have thought Amazon could be rich soil for literacy? But I guess if we’re paralyzed by fear, we’re not exactly on the lookout for ways we might invite our kids to join us in our screen use.
Now, to be clear, if our kids’ device use is also limited to moments we “give in” due to begging or boredom, that’s also a missed opportunity. The key is in how we are engaging with our kids, and in positive, practical ways. I’m looking forward to finding more ways we can show kids what they can do with tech, both as parents and as teachers.
In the wake of #FakeNews, and, more recently, President Trump’s “Fake News Awards,” it makes me reflect on our role as educators when it comes to media literacy, which has me again pondering the purpose of education. In 1934, John Dewey wrote,
“The purpose of education has always been to every one, in
essence, the same—to give the young the things they need in
order to develop in an orderly, sequential way into members of
society. This was the purpose of the education given to a little
aboriginal in the Australian bush before the coming of the white
man. It was the purpose of the education of youth in the golden
age of Athens. It is the purpose of education today, whether
this education goes on in a one-room school in the mountains
of Tennessee or in the most advanced, progressive school in a
radical community. But to develop into a member of society in
the Australian bush had nothing in common with developing into
a member of society in ancient Greece, and still less with what
is needed today. Any education is, in its forms and methods, an outgrowth of the needs of the society in which it exists.”
In this unprecedented, exponential, and experimental age of communication, information, and sometimes misinformation, all previous norms and rules start to blur. As online rhetoric becomes more polarized, it starts to seem that our needs as a society are also becoming divided.
But the ability to ascertain truth remains a common, fundamental need of a democratic society, which makes our free press all the more essential. As educators this pursuit of truth comes through cultivating healthy media literacy. The ISTE standards are a powerful resource, as they can all be used to strengthen our students’ capacity to assess whatever information comes their way. Here are my thoughts on what this might look like.
1. Empowered Learner: “Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences.”) →Helping students learn to identify bias, and giving them the technological know-how to discern among different types of online media (ie, social media posts, blog posts, journalism, etc.)
2. Digital Citizen: “Students recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical.”) →Helping students learn specific strategies for fact-checking, and a general “think before you share” mindset.
3. Knowledge Constructor: “Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.”) →Giving our students immersive opportunities to read a large cross-section of sources when embarking on a new unit.
4. Innovative Designer: “Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.” →Encouraging students to be part of the solution when it comes to misinformation by creating their own carefully-sourced media literacy resources (infographics, videos, etc).
5. Computational Thinker: “Students develop and employ strategies for understanding and solving problems in ways that leverage the power of technological methods to develop and test solutions.”) →Teaching students the science and driving force behind “click bait,” as well what methods mainstream news outlets use to fact-check.
6. Creative Communicator (“Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals.”) →Giving students the opportunity to have authentic audiences via student blogs to increase their literacy as online contributors.
7. Global Collaborator (“Students use digital tools to broaden their perspectives and enrich their learning by collaborating with others and working effectively in teams locally and globally.”) →Join a global collaborative platform such as The Wonderment where students can gain a sense of themselves as citizens of a global society, in which their voice matters.
There are many unknowns as we continue to collectively feel our way through this unparalleled time. But we can be certain that media literacy will empower and equip our students and ourselves to better access and anchor our society in truth.
In an article on TED-Ed clubs this last summer, one tip particularly stood out to me:
“Don’t tell them ‘you can’t’ even if the idea is crazy, tell them ‘you can’ and you will see the magic.”
On the same day I read the article, I had also read about a boy who has invented a small device intended to save babies accidentally left behind in hot cars.
It’s clear from this video that this is a child who is told “you can” on a regular basis in a loving environment. But what if he weren’t?
The naysayers in Facebook comments on this story were abundant, insisting that this idea would just encourage lazy parents, or that it would be futile against extreme heat anyway. And while many of these people are just exhibiting the unfortunate behavior typical of those who don’t see themselves as digital citizens (ie, they enjoying the roles of anonymity, consumption, and sidelines over authenticity, contribution, and involvement), they completely miss the beautiful picture here:
A 10 year-old child has actually devised a prototype in an attempt to better the world around him!
It still makes me wonder, how often do we, as the grown-ups, shut down our kids’ ideas, though they might have potential for brilliance? With my own children, I know I can sometimes have a much greater tendency toward anticipating the mess and the the improbability and the disappointment.
The point is, even if there is validity in our grown-up criticisms (it will take forever to clean up; it won’t help as many people as you think; it will be way slower to do it your way), when a child exhibits any kind of enthusiasm, compassion, and initiative, do we really want to shut that down?
So again, I remind myself:
“Don’t tell them ‘you can’t’ even if the idea is crazy, tell them ‘you can’ and you will see the magic.”
The attention-grabbing headline pulled me in, but nothing seemed terribly unexpected as I scrolled through the article. I nodded through passages like, “hanging out alone in her room with her phone…” “dramatic shifts in behavior…” “proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent…”
Until I got to one phrase that made me stop short.
“I call them iGen. Born between 1995 and 2012, members of this generation are growing up with smartphones.”
It was the identification of my own child, born in 2010, as a member of this iGen group.
In a brief episode of primal fear (after all, this article says the iGen are in mental health crisis), my mind flicked through every contact my child has ever made with a smartphone, like some kind of frenzied mental Rolodex.
But as I slowed, regrouped, took a few deep breaths, I remembered something: exposure is not the issue here. It’s connection.
This, of course, requires purpose, balance, and prudence on adults’ part. And with the very real and weighty issues presented in The Atlantic in mind, I would like to share 5 ways we can cultivate a sense of opportunity over fear as we teach our iGen kids digital citizenship.
#1: Recognize that their childhoods won’t mirror ours — and that’s ok.
As some neighborhood kids recently got together to play in our backyard, I noticed them huddled around a smartphone:
If I were to share such a photo without any background, people might jump to the same conclusions they did when the photo below was shared of kids in a museum (ie, “Kids these days!!” or “Look at them glued to those devices!!”)
But the context they’d be missing would be that this is what it looks like when digital citizenship becomes woven into the fabric of daily life. Right before I snapped the photo, these kids were darting around the yard creating a stop-motion movie of their make-believe play (and the context of the above tweet is that these kids were using an interactive museum tour app).
Of course, this can also be what zombie-land phone addiction looks like, but that’s why it’s so important to seek out and be aware of context.
#2: Model appropriate balanced use.
There are those who feel the need to altogether keep devices out of their young children’s physical sight-lines — and while this may be a temporary solution, it removes the opportunity for open dialogue with our children about how we use our devices. They need to hear not only what we do with our phones, but what strategies we employ to keep obsession at bay, especially in the face of social media.
#3: Make the good you do with your device louder than the bad they hear about.
Speaking of modeling, educators Edna Sackson and George Couros have inspired my thinking time and again about this concept:
Cyberbullying, white ribbon week, internet safety — these are all good and important concepts to cover with our children. But if they are exclusive, then we are missing a huge opportunity.
#4: Emphasize creation over consumption.
Videos like the one below help convey the incredible ways we can view, express, and share the world around us.
And resources like this might help them comprehend the sheer creative potential they hold in their hands (and to appreciate how far we’ve come in a short period of time):
Of course, consumption has its place and we should have honest conversations about our sources and habits there, too. But an important part of citizenship in general is that in a community, people need to both give and take.
#5: Emphasize the personally meaningful ways you are using tech to enhance relationships.
This “Dear Sophie” video inspired me so much back in 2011 that I decided to do the same with my own kids. This is a beautiful example of how we can leverage the technology to connect with our loved ones in historically unprecedented ways.
Our iGen kids are part of an exponentially shifting period of history — and of course, this is just the beginning. Our best bet for helping them navigate safely is to embark on the journey together.
Not only did he do a fabulous job fielding ordinary customer service questions, but he interacted with customers in a way that definitely caught Twitter’s attention. And young as he is, several interested parties already appear to be trying to poach him for their organizations:
This is definitely one young digital citizen that has his 4 C’s down: communication (fielding hundreds of comments), critical thinking (figuring out helpful responses), creativity (engaging with people in a fun way that got the attention of thousands), and collaboration (working with Neil).
Ultimately, this thread brought me back to reflecting on digital citizenship and literacy yet again. While we know that the jobs of the future will little-resemble the jobs of today, we still often treat the very devices and platforms that will carry our students toward that future — as nuisances. Banning phones, blocking Youtube, insisting on a single way of note-taking.
But here, we have an example of what happens when our students are given authentic opportunities to engage with those devices and platforms and audiences instead.
The fact is, digital citizenship empowers students to amplify their voices for good. Shunning it for fear of the distraction, cyberbullying, etc. perpetuates the very mentality that encourages abuse of these resources: namely, that they are not part of the “real world” and are therefore relegated only for entertainment purposes.
So next time you encounter a blanket ban of a digital resource that seems to favor adult convenience over student ownership, here are a few questions you might ask:
How might teaching digital citizenship help students treat the resource with more responsibility?
What are alternative courses of action to remove the nuisance factor?
How often do you personally treat this resource as an opportunity to create, share, and connect, vs. simple entertainment?
How often do you share with your students the ways that you use this resource to create, share, share, and connect?
How can you re-envision my students using this resource in a powerful, meaningful way (both now and throughout their lives)? How can you help your students see themselves using the resource in that way?
Will this ban help or hinder students in their development of the 4 C’s of 21st century learning?