Only connect.

A cache of all that is relevant to middle school counseling, adolescent development and parenting.


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Raising Online Children

In a society where most of our us, adults and children alike, own more than two handheld devices, technology is making an enormous impact on the way we interact and communicate. For families, the impact is felt most profoundly in the home. While one family could be physically together in one room, each member could be in different cyber worlds due to their devices. As a result, this shift of how we socialize and communicate has prompted significant changes in the ways we monitor children’s behavior. Last Thursday, our Middle School was very fortunate to host speaker Dr. Tracy Navon Pinshow who addressed this very issue of how to raise online children.

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Dr. Pinshow Navon promotes the establishment of parental presence as authority. She defines authority not as a totalitarian dictatorship, yet authority whereby children feel safe and secure with “soft, empathetic boundaries.” She recognizes how difficult it is for parents to fully gauge what kids are doing on the internet, and the struggle to keep up with the “media tsunami” of new sites and gadgets. Considering such challenges, it is important for parents to find the middle ground – to set boundaries which will enable safe use and exploration. Dr. Pinshow Navon uses the metaphor of parents being the anchor in the midst of the media tsunami. Children want to know their parents are in control. While the key to parental empowerment is self control – the choice to be a controlled, non-escalatory presence in our children’s lives.

Dr. Pinshow Navon reviewed three important keys to establishing parental authority: awareness, knowledge and vigilant care. In terms of awareness, it is important that parents keep abreast of technologies available and what children are currently using. The easiest way to know what kids are talking about is by simply asking them to show you what their using. Knowledge involves understanding your child’s usage and determining whether a serious problem exists. Key factors of which to be vigilant are mood changes in your teen, change in sleep patterns, lack of family contact and participation in activities. The third and most important way to establish parental authority is by parental presence and vigilant care which can be enabled through open dialogue and focussed questioning. It is important for parents to express to children your parental responsibility and obligation to intervene and monitor. Prior to meeting with your child, Dr. Pinshow Navon suggests that parents plan questions, consider the time and place of the meeting, create scripts for the child’s different responses and consider one’s reactions to each response. In this way, parents can preempt their reactions and avoid escalation.

In establishing parental presence, Dr. Pinshow Navon emphasizes the difference between monitoring and spying. Traditional monitoring includes questioning, having an open bedroom door policy and screen “peaks” or shoulder-surfing, while digital forms of monitoring include establishing an online presence (i.e. by “friending” your child), and regularly reviewing your child’s browser capabilities and history. Spying, on the other hand, is secretive. In order to maintain trust with your adolescent it is essential to inform them of the fact you are monitoring their online behaviour.

Many parents struggle with the question of whether or not they are invading their child’s privacy. Dr. Pinshow Navon makes the point that privacy is not a supreme right. It is a parental obligation to be present and monitor our children’s activities. As we wouldn’t let our children loose in the streets of Wanchai, nor should we let them loose on the internet. We need to provide guidance and boundaries. She advocates that knowing children’s passwords should be simple parental protocol. While some children will be resistant, we need to express how it is our parental obligation to monitor their use. In recent cyber-bullying cases, parents have been legally liable for their child’s actions on the internet. By informing children that you require passwords and that you will be monitoring, parents can avoid escalation when issues arise.

Dr. Pinshow Navon reminded us of the importance of modeling no-screen behaviour to encourage interaction within the family. Establishing a family “no screen time” will pave the way for alternative forms of entertainment such as sports, board games, music and reading. In this age where we all suffer from some symptoms of digital ADD, now, more than ever, there is a strong need for parental awareness, knowledge and most importantly, presence.


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Should Handheld Devices Be Banned for All Children Under the Age of 12?

Here’s an article which will be of interest to many of you, and will certainly spark some controversy,  10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12.

Recent statements from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics proclaim that children aged 6 – 18 should be restricted to two hours of exposure of technology per day.

Pediatric occupational therapist Cris Rowan is appealing governments, schools and parents to ban the use of devices for children under twelve years of age.  In her plea, she cites ten researched-based reasons for the ban which include brain growth, delayed development, epidemic obesity, sleep deprivation and mental illness.  (Visit zonein.ca to view the Zone’in Fact Sheet for referenced research).

While such findings will certainly give us pause, we must also acknowledge that the figures do not apply in all cases.  The key is balance.  As parents and educators we need to ensure that devices and computers are not the only tools for recreation and learning.  parents should engage children in outdoor sports, clubs and activities which promote social interaction and exercise.  While educators should encourage other methods of research and project completion which do not require technology.  Technology is here to stay and has many benefits, yet as in many things in life, moderation is key.


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Generation Z is moving on!

Oversharenting.  Yes, there is now a term for the social media phenomena of parents who share details and information about their children starting from ultrasound images to adolescent accomplishments. While young adults have no control what has already been posted about their personal lives, they are now taking a different stance on the art of social media sharing.  Generation Z seems to be acutely aware of their digital footprint and the impact has been the onslaught of a new wave of anonymous or self-destructing social media.  Goodbye Facebook.  And hello Whisper.  As the name implies, Whisper is the new way to prudently share personal information, even secrets.   Whisper ensures, even guarantees that content is untraceable due to the anonymity of the user, but it’s only one of several popular apps.  Blink allows the sharing of self-destructing texts and pictures with groups.  Skim deletes texts as they are read, and messages from BurnNote can be viewed only a few words at a time.  Wow.

It seems that young adults are also boycotting oversharing in order to shelter themselves from the FOMO factor – the fear-of-missing-out.  Recent studies indicate that social media such as Facebook and Instagram can leave followers feeling depressed and dissatisfied with their own lives as they view the highlights and fun of others.  Generation Z is moving on, and yes there’s a term for that too. JOMO – Joy-of-moving-on!

Read more:  http://techland.time.com/2014/01/17/oversharenting-backlash-gen-zs-quest-for-online-anonymity/

Digital Devices aren’t the Enemy – Kids need to learn to Concentrate

A great article reminding us of the need to teach kids how to concentrate.  While such skills came naturally to previous generations who were not distracted by digital devices, today’s digital natives need to learn how to use devices wisely while also honing their attention skills.

The author encourages time each day when kids have no access to computers or devices at all.  Time in their schedule to simply chill with a book, or over a board game with family and friends.  He encourages the integration of mindfulness and meditation practices in school environments to not only lessen stress among students but to also strengthen their attention skills.


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Latest Craze among Middle Schoolers: Snapchat!

To many of us digital dinosaurs, there seems to be a new social media innovation every month…every week!

Most recently,  Snapchat is the latest app to hit the social media scene of seventh grade.

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Snapchat is a fun photo-sharing app which allows users to send a photo to one individual or to a group of friends.  What makes Snapchat unique compared to other photo-sharing platforms is the fact that the photo will only be visible to the recipient for 10 seconds before it disappears from the recipient’s device.  Or does it?

In our continual discussion regarding digital citizenship with our students, we remind them of the importance of their digital footprint and how it is essential to be vigilant of what they share online.  While Snapchat seems to offer a safe option for photo sharing as the photos “disappear”, we need to remind kids that once something is out there – it’s out there and can be saved by a simple screen shot.

Just last week, on November 14, 2013, in Quebec, Canada, ten boys aged 13 – 15 were arrested on child pornography charges.  They are accused of allegedly capturing and sharing explicit photos of teenage girls sent through Snapchat as screenshots.

While my intention is not to fear-monger, it is worth sharing this information with our teens as an example of how poor choices lead to difficult and dire consequences.

What can we do?  Talk to kids.  Ask them if they are using Snapchat, to what purpose and to whom?  Remind them of the importance of “thinking before you send”.  Do they really want a picture of them doing something silly, risky…or illegal to haunt them one day?

Again it’s a matter of a conversation.  To only connect!

Nancy A. Remondi


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Best be AWARE !

A great NYT article to share with your adolescents when they are adamant that what they share online doesn’t make a difference to their future.

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http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/10/business/they-loved-your-gpa-then-they-saw-your-tweets.html?src=me&ref=general

It’s also worth watching this video together as a family as a great launch to the discussion.  Be prepared to be amazed!

 


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What to ASK about Ask.fm?

Recently in my school, we are learning of the increasing popularity of ask.fm.   Ask.fm is an anonymous question and answer website which is quickly attracting the attention of young adolescents around the globe.  It allows anyone to post anonymous comments and questions to a person’s profile.  Due its aspect of anonymity, ask.fm is unfortunately increasingly being used as a means to communicate abusive and bullying content.

In order to begin receiving questions and posting answers, users must create an account and provide a user name, their full name, email address and password.  Users have the the option of signing in using their Facebook or Twitter credentials, and are encouraged to share their profile on these social networking sites .  After providing these basic details, users are then given the option of filling out more personal information such as date of birth, gender, location and a bio or short personal statement.  Photos of the user can also be added.

Ask.fm operates a similar friend system to Twitter: users can choose to “follow” other users.  However, unlike Twitter, a user can never find out who is following them and can only know the overall number of followers he/she has.

Ask.fm is highly integrated with Facebook which makes signing up even easier for young people, but it also means that they have the option of cross-posting the question they receive and the answers they give to their Facebook timelines.  If the questions and answers are cross-posted, they appear to everyone on Facebook (depending on Facebook privacy settings of course).  This means that any information shared on ask.fm and even abusive, sexualized and bullying content would be showcased to an even larger audience on Facebook. (“Ask.fm:  A Guide for Parents and Teachers.” Webwise, 30 May 2013.  www.webwise.ie/AskfmGuide.shtm)

As adults, it may be difficult for us to understand why adolescents would provide information to anonymous persons, particularly personal and private information.  Questions we have seen on ask.fm range from innocent ones such as “What’s the last thing you ate?”  to the more inappropriate “Who do you think is the most popular girl/boy in “x” House?” or “Who do you like?”.

We know that due to their developmental stage, many adolescents are focused on their peers, how they fit it and their social lives in general.  Ask.fm is providing a platform to find out information without revealing themselves to others.  It’s so easy to give away information when you are not face to face to the person asking.  It’s also so tempting to ask questions you would never dare ask face to face.

So what do we do as adults?  Ask.  Yes, ironically, we need to ask some questions

1)  Ask your child if he or she is using the site.  If so, have them explain it to you by showing you the site.  If they aren’t using ask.fm, ask them if they have heard of it, and if they know kids who are using it.  Chances are they have and do.

2)  Ask why they feel the necessity to give away information to someone who won’t identify him/herself?  This is an opportunity to discuss the importance and sanctity of privacy.  We do not owe anyone information just because they simply asked: especially someone who won’t identify him/herself.

3)  Ask why they feel they have the right to ask others questions without identifying themselves.  Sure it is easier to ask questions anonymously but bring up the fact that there is also an element of cowardice to the gesture.  Could it be that the question is inappropriate and that is why it’s safer to hide behind one’s anonymity?  Is it a question they would feel confident asking to a person’s face.

4)  Ask them to T.H.I.N.K.!  Ask if the content they share is:  True?  Helpful?  Inspiring?  Necessary? Kind?

5)  Ask them if they would show their grandmother their activity on ask.fm?  This question has become a popular and common question to young adults with regards to their digital citizenship.  If they would be comfortable having whatever they post online read by their grandparent, chances are the content is fine.

We mustn’t forget that while adolescents may be considered digital natives, they are not digital experts.  They still need our guidance in using social media in a responsible way.  In particular, they need help in navigating the important life issues regarding the right to privacy and the importance of one’s integrity.  It is in these domains where our life experience as adults is so critically valuable.

Nancy Alessandra Remondi