I recently listened to Delaney Rushton’s podcast on how to check our sources which started me thinking about how we teach our teens and tweens to verify what they are reading before they repost or internalize the information. I remember being taught to check on the age of the source I was quoting but now I realize that incorrect information can be very up to date so this is no longer useful checking mechanism. Common Sense media also recently added an article about how to help young voters to decode the news and a quick sheet to help parents to educate their elementary children to spot fake news and decode media messages.
One other article in the Harvard Gazette highlighted a study about disinformation and influence campaigns. We tend to accept claims that conform to what we would like to believe whether they are true or not. The article claims that we believe, we remember, share and hold onto this type of information better as human beings. This article suggests that news reporters, instead of sharing “newsworthy” information which may gartner readship for their shock value, should go back to checking their information and not quoting misleading or misrepresentative information that might be remembered, taint our beliefs and move us farther from the truth.
Greetings from brain-overload-land!
If you’re like me, your mind AND your podcast feed are full of all things health, politics, and tentative-back-to-school. I haven’t had much bandwidth to digest new info around building an intentional digital family life. At home, we’ve set up some summer parameters with the kids, built in some screen-free breaks here and there, and we try to role model and talk about healthy screen habits. So when the new Screenagers podcast launched recently, I let it come and go without listening.
When the Screenagers newsletter alerted me of the second podcast airing, I saw that the length of each episode was a mere 17-18 minutes and figured I’d give one a try. I wound up listening to both of the first episodes, and I’ve since decided to subscribe.
Here’s what I like most so far about the series overall:
- Relevant topics to current kid/parent life
- Engaging guests, including professional experts and kids
- Concrete tips that are do-able and embrace balance vs. all-or-nothing
- Content and style that seems fitting for tweens and teens, as well as parents
Episode 1 delves into Tik-Tok. The focus is not on whether it’s a worthwhile or safe app, but more on how to avoid overindulging. (Many parents delay or restrict access due to safety and privacy concerns). A highlight is that two teens who have been invited to set goals for themselves report back on how their lives improve when they stuck to their plans. The learning from this episode is easily transferable to any of the other apps-du-jour that might engage our kids now or in the future.
Episode 2 explores the challenges of video game overuse. I appreciated the honest sharing by a young man who’d received treatment at an internet rehab center where he now currently works. I also like that the featured psychologist, a gamer himself, urges balance versus total abstinence. Dr. Sussman suggests following an hour of high-dopamine activity like video-gaming with a period at least that long of low-dopamine activity like physical exercise, playing an instrument, or cooking. I was grateful for the reminder that with kids, it’s a good idea to set a regular interval (say, 30 minutes or an hour) so their brains get used to anticipating the end of a session transitioning off-screen is more smooth.
To learn more about these two topics, and much more, our favorite parent resource is CommonSense Media A quick search on these or many other screen-based activities of interest to kids will likely lead you to what you need to know. As always, feel free to get in touch if you’d like help finding more answers.
Wishing you peace and safety for the remaining weeks of summer!
P.S. We’re still sad to have had to cancel our March screening of the Screenagers film sequel. Please let us know if you’re interested in having us host an online viewing opportunity at some point.
Join us in the library at Mary Hogan Elementary School for a conversation about kids and screens. As a group we’ll hear about a framework for thoughtful parenting around tech. We’ll then do some of the most helpful work in parenting: hearing from other parents. Talking together, we’ll share ideas about family tech challenges as well as successes. (Yes, there are successes!). We hope to see you there!
IMPORTANT NOTE: please email us at email@example.com to arrange childcare.
The DLINQ Middlebury Creates is spending the month of January exploring how an attention economy drives the design of digital environments and impacts our relationships as well as our ability to attend to important things. As part of the college community, this department will be exploring the impact of the digital attention economy on students. Topics may include self-care as activism, leveraging UX/design to help channel attention, the impact of automation/AI on attention, noticing in the digital world, thwarting attention metrics in digital platforms, and more! Here is a link for the resource in our Middlebury area.
A common question among parents is how to get a grip on our own phone usage so we’re modeling balance and presence for our kids. That’s not easy when personal and work tasks are rarely more than a text, email, or phone call away. This brief blog post isn’t going to answer that larger “how to” for you, but will instead extend an invitation to pause and disconnect in some creative ways that might tweak your relationship with your device for the better.
Our phones can make the holiday season easier–think online stores and grocery lists accessible from wherever we find ourselves with an unscheduled moment. But with our normal demands compounded by longer to-do lists, busier social calendars, and possibly extra work shifts, the temptation to fill every second with to-do’s is real. December’s pace can make intervals of calm presence seem elusive. But if we carve out a few more screen-free moments, we might notice that we’re a bit more “there” for a friend or loved one, we might use the time to watch the snow fall or our kids play, or we might even revel in the novel sensation of doing absolutely nothing for a minute or two. Sounds pretty nice, no?
In under 30 minutes, this podcast offers a glimpse of what it can look like to give ourselves a brief time out to reflect on how we’re using our phones, and why. Jia Tolentino, New Yorker writer, and Cal Newport, author of Digital Minimalism, share some of their insights in this engaging interview. If multitasking is your mantra right now, why not listen while gift wrapping or dishwashing? Let yourself fantasize about what it might feel like to leave your phone home while you run your next errand, or to delete the time-sucking-est app on your device for a day or a week.
At PSTT, we’re keen on the idea of experimenting to find new ways to make our tech work better for us. You might find that a suggestion offered in this episode might be worth a try. If you do, we’d love to hear about it. In the meantime, Samantha, Julie, and Amy wish you a joy-filled holiday season!
It’s been a productive fall for PSTT! In September, we did a presentation at the MUHS 9th Grade Orientation called “Teens & Their Screens” about how parents, at home and in partnership with school, can support students in having healthy balance with their devices.
In October, we facilitated a discussion with parents and educators at Mary Johnson Children’s Center. Hot topics included how to manage our own device use in front of our kids (easy for exactly none of us), limit-setting techniques for preschoolers and older kids, and tips and tricks for a less tempting tech-life (e.g. “dumbphones,” slower-paced/ad-free shows and games, and screen-free zones in our homes).
We also drafted a guest post for the MUHS newsletter about hacks some teens are using to minimize distraction from their phones, and we’re working on mindful tech curriculum units for some upcoming Advisory sessions there.
What’s next? The big news is that we’re working on bringing the much-anticipated new Screenagers film–and maybe a reprise of the original one–to Middlebury! Stay tuned for dates, times, and locations (suggestions welcome on the wheres and whens).
What else should we be working on? Keep in touch so we know what’s important to you and your family!
At 5:15 parents of MUHS 9th graders are invited to attend an open house and cookout including a presentation and conversation by PSTT. We’ll be sharing a framework that can help parents shape what they want their family tech life to look like, at home and at school. We’ll include resources and strategies to support parents on this part of their parenting journey. Let’s get this school year rolling!
During the past couple of months I have been thinking and reading about deep work. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term, it is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task (1). Deep work helps create neuron pathways in the brain, which when exercised can create new understanding and ability in this particular domain. In other words, in order to learn hard things one must focus without distractions for a period of time. This is not easy in our fast-paced world. I came across this fun short video from the BBC; it shows one example of how the iGen is creating environments for themselves that help one complete deep work. I love this solution as it provides not only a distraction-free environment but also opportunity for social contact and stretch breaks as well:)
This summer I have been reading Cal Newport’s Book called “Digital Minimalism.” (He also wrote a book called Deep Work.) In Digital Minimalism one of his main idea is that technology should work for you and not the other way around. He suggests a thoughtful way of looking at the apps on your smart phone and considering which ones bring positive benefits into your life and how to structure usage so these apps or websites do not encroach on your life by consuming your attention and time. I liked the idea that my smart phone would be a tool that enriches my life without consuming my time and attention. One small take-away that I can easily implement and that I did not even consider until reading his book is that I have been using my phone as a watch. Newport points out that each time I check my phone to find out the time, I get sucked into checking other apps whereby distracting me from those around me at the present time. NewPort also suggests we reclaim our leisure time and really think about what we want out of this time, maybe learning a new skill. My favorite part of the book was the conclusion and also the summaries of other books. He starts with Henry David Thoreau and the importance of quiet time alone to process, reflect and gain new insight into learning and ones’ own life. Then he moves on to Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation and many other authors I am now intrigued to read.
A recent blog post caught my eye – the blogger had read Newport’s book and tried what he suggested. The blogger took a month break from screens and wrote this blog post about her experience. What I loved about (the author) Tsh Oxenreider’s article was how she noticed both immediate and longer term benefits in her life. I could relate to her experience as a parent where I have moments when I am playing or reading to my children and I will check or answer emails or texts which could wait, slipping into not being presence to those with me in the moment. Awareness has helped me fight the reaction to respond immediately.
I do believe that at school, college and beyond we are asking our students to do deep work that is hard. Changing neurons pathways is not something that people can do while attending to other things. Students with ADD, ADHD and/or learning disabilities have to work even harder to do the deep work of learning novel information. Being a parent of one such student I know first-hand how much effort and dedication this takes on the learner’s part. I also recognize the positive and powerful role technology will play in helping my child to access curriculum and share their learning. I would love to close with this interesting article written from the perspective of a college professor who teaches about the theory and practice of social media. Love to hear what you think…
Supporting Our Schools: “Away for the Day” in context
Here at PSTT we’ve spent the past two school years learning about the ways in which our schools need support around kids’ use of personal tech. We’ve had conversations with school administrators and counselors and we’ve (informally) surveyed teachers. Certainly, our schools are already hard at work integrating technology into our students’ academic learning and MUHS is also adept at providing tech tools to facilitate student navigation of due dates, calendars and activity schedules. Our schools are moving toward a goal of 1:1 access, students: computers. This can provide equity; supporting students to use technology to grow their understanding and learning together in the classroom. What we’ve been hearing loud and clear from school staff and parents of high school students is a need for support of students around digital citizenship –meaning ethics, online safety, privacy awareness, relationships & communication, etiquette, and more. In short, we’re looking at helping our schools focus on how to model and how to mentor healthy relationships with technology since unbalanced relationships with tech are showing up in classrooms, hallways, the lunch room, the locker room, etc. We hope this is the start of developing a school culture that is both tech positive and balanced.
To support modeling and mentoring positive use of tech, ACSD’s Digital Learning Plan calls upon the district to “Design/adopt, trial, and implement a curriculum scope and sequence for Digital Citizenship education.” When this didn’t happen on the timeline set out in the Digital Learning Plan, PSTT facilitated efforts to begin to include a digital citizenship curriculum as part of the MUHS advisory program. With PSTT’s ongoing support, this went into effect in spring 2019 and will continue in the fall.
Alongside modeling positive tech behaviors to students and mentoring students through tech challenges, the third important piece is providing structure. We encourage our schools to provide structure to tech life much like they provide structure to the MUHS curriculum. We are interested in helping MUHS look at ways to structure student space, student time and tech access itself to best support students in using their personal tech thoughtfully. One aspect of structuring tech is looking at when and where students have access to their personal tech. Responding to concern from many staff and community members, PSTT is exploring interest in implementing an “Away for the Day” policy at MUHS. We don’t yet know exactly what this might look like and there may be allowable reasons for some students to use personal tech during a school day (parent communication or personal medical monitoring come to mind). But exploring the possibilities seems important.
If you live in the ACSD community and would like to be added as a supporter to our Statement of Interest, please send us your name and town of residence.
As we continue to support MUHS and ACSD in modeling & mentoring healthy relationships with tech, and structuring school to support personal tech success, please consider joining the conversation!
Just a little heads up that PSTT is keeping a pretty modest pace this summer. Aside from clocking a lot of hours outside and pursuing the perfect maple creemee, we do want to share that we have a few organizational priorities lined up:
- Meet with parent organizers from Burlington High School and CVU about their/our efforts to support our school systems around tech intentionality;
- Begin gathering the names of ACSD parents, students and other community members interested in having an “Away for the Day” policy at MUHS; and
- Post on our blog at least once each month, so you don’t think we’ve gone completely AWOL.
Please keep in touch! We just love hearing from our readers. Happy summer!
I’ve been lured by the idea of screen-free vacations in the past, but though we’ve loved our 2-3 night unplugged camping trips, our family has never committed to a full week sans device. We’ve decided to kick off this summer with a weeklong break from phones, iPads, and laptops, and I’m really happy about it. I know several families who have done a screen-free week (or more!) at home, and that’s something I’d also like to try. But for now, I’m grateful for the change of scene, and personnel, that will make this a fun, and hopefully easy, travel experiment.
This Friday, our three kids (8, 10 and 12) will finish up their last day of school and then we’ll join my parents for a week at a rental cottage on Lake George. We’ll also bring the beloved 22-yo college student from Argentina for whom we serve as host family. Since she’s pursuing a career in child psychology, and not a person typically tethered to her phone, she’s been enthused about this tech plan–especially since she thinks it’ll increase the likelihood of more rounds of her favorite board game, Clue.
I realize we are stacking the deck a bit by bringing along the “big sister without the bickering” bonus kid and the much-adored grandparents, and we’ll be lakeside with kayaks and grandpa’s boat and lots of other summer-fun accoutrements, so our digital detox is perhaps less meltdown-bound than some trips. But it’s something new to us, and I’m glad we’re taking the plunge. We’ve had fun talking about which games and puzzles to pack, and I feel my pulse slow a bit every time I picture us dispersed with our stacks of books.
I’m eager to see how I, personally, will be impacted by being that unplugged. I can almost taste the feeling of being truly “in the moment” and of allowing myself to listen indulgently and without distraction to my loved ones. I admit, it’ll be a stretch for me to go on solo walks (and even do dishes) without my usual podcast accompaniment, but I suspect that’ll lead to some beneficial reflection time and the chance to notice birdsong, and maybe I’ll even capture some of the elusive zen of dishwashing.
As I sat down to write this post, I decided to see if there were other handy resources I could share with families preparing for the summer ahead. If you’re also considering a break from screens, you might appreciate the many tips in this piece I found, called How to Take a Screen-Free Vacation. I identified with the writer’s urge for a break from fighting about technology, which while thankfully not a huge part of our lives is still one of the larger sources of disharmony.
What is your family doing about technology this summer? Are you anxious about the prospect of filling those less-structured days? Does the idea of a screen-free week make you itchy? Here’s a gentle alternative from from one of our favorite sources, the Tech Talk Tuesday blog, about resisting digital compulsion by simply turning off notifications. This other piece from the same blog has some great general advice on how to handle technology over the summer.
I’ll be sure to report back on our screen-free week, and we’d love to hear from others who’ve experimented with unplugging a bit. We at PSTT wish you all a smooth transition into summer!
This piece from Child & Mind Institute offers some analysis of why simply confiscating your child’s phone as punishment might not be as useful a response as it might seem. At PSTT, we love parenting approaches that maximize learning and growth, particularly when positioned as mentorship of kids’ development as digital citizens. Thankfully, this piece doesn’t suggest we shy away from setting limits or from occasionally removing access to certain phone features when justified by the situation.
We’d love to hear what works in your household when things go awry. Do you appreciate having the phone as leverage? At any rate, we urge you to give this piece a read. We found it pretty useful and appreciated the inclusion of practical tips from clinical psychologist Beth Peters and from Catherine Steiner-Adair, author of The Big Disconnect. Happy reading!
Mark your calendars! PSTT (Parents Supporting Thoughtful Technology) will offer a workshop called Tweens, Teens & Screens during this multi-topic event. Parents/guardians of kids grades 6-12 welcome. PSTT’s workshop will focus on how to navigate screens at home with tweens and teens. We hope to support parents in sharing what works for them and what are the challenges they face within their own families. We’ll share some of our learning around screens and their impact on our teens/tweens. Come ready to share in small groups and gain tools for thoughtful use of technology. Other workshops will be available at this event, too.
Our PSTT co-founders were busy in the community last week! While Julie assisted the high school in preparing digital citizenship curriculum tools for their Advisory program, Samantha and Amy were at Middlebury Community Television taping an episode of the show Growing Bright Futures. Cheryl Mitchell interviewed us about our work in the community supporting families, kids, and schools. We’re also gearing up to participate in a local event on April 10th for parents of kids in grades 6-12, so stay tuned for those details.
Huge thanks to Middlebury Union High School, ACSD, Building Bright Futures, and Middlebury Community Television for engaging with us as we help build practices of intentional technology use here in our community.
Last month, Cal Newport’s new book Digital Minimalism was published. I’ve just ordered a copy and in the meantime wanted to share a link to a podcast episode called “How Social Media is Ruining Your Life” in which he discusses his work. Despite the unfortunate title, the episode is worth a listen. Newport explores the ways new technology is created and how it can be used to enhance our lives. He also explains how technology can create barriers to connecting with others in real time, can inhibit deep thinking, and may explain the rise in anxiety we’re seeing in teens. I don’t agree with all Newport’s points, but I did appreciate hearing so many of his ideas come together in under an hour.
I was struck by the connection Newport makes to the new Netflix series Marie Kondo about what brings you joy and what makes your life more cluttered. Why not look at your core values and then make choices about what apps you want to have on your cellphone, rather than keeping every single one you might someday use? For example, you might really want the meditation app to help you focus and stay calm, if that’s in line with your core values. But perhaps there are other apps you can do without, or could limit to laptop use only. This streamlined way of using your phone might free you up to be more present with those around you and even allow moments of boredom–imagine that–which are essential for processing and mental health. I’m looking forward to reading his book. Let me know what you think!
Post by Samantha Farrell-Schmitt
Recently we hosted our 7th grade daughter’s 12th birthday party, to which 10 classmates were invited. Aside from figuring out what to feed everyone and where to cram all their sleeping bags, Brian and I wrestled with the decision about how to handle phones. We know at least some of the girls, including our kid, don’t yet have their own phones, but we wanted to find a way to keep phones from playing a big role in the event. And we didn’t want to come off as judge-y of other families. Our chief motivations for restricting phone use were 1) to allow the party-goers to focus on real, interpersonal interactions without the distraction of devices and 2) to avoid the need to closely monitor online activity that could result in kids accessing social media or other content best saved for high school or beyond.
After some mental gymnastics, reading this article, and talking with a couple of other parents of phone-free kids, we decided to send an email to all the other parents, which included the following: “Just a heads up that we are hoping to have this be a phone-free event. We’ll plan to collect any phones when kids arrive and keep them safely in our entryway or kitchen. If your daughter wants to access her phone for a moment to text or call you to say goodnight, or to reach you for another reason, that’s certainly fine. You’re very welcome to call or text us at 802-123-4567 if you want or need to.”
We didn’t hear complaints from other kids or parents, and the overall response was favorable and grateful. Moms and dads said things like “THANK YOU for the party being phone free!” and “I love that this is going to be phone-free!” and “I can’t even imagine girls at a sleepover all on their devices….what is the point of a sleepover like that?!”
It wasn’t a completely tech-free evening. The girls listened to some music on bluetooth speakers playing from an iPod, and they watched a cheesy movie they chose that was deemed age-appropriate by the convenient online resource CommonSense Media.
Aside from the usual sleepover fallout of not enough shuteye, the party was free of major drama and there was lots of laughter and fun. The benefits certainly outweighed any discomfort for us and, we hope, for the kids. We won’t hesitate to do the same for future events.
We at PSTT wonder, what has and hasn’t worked in your house in terms of phone use and online access at your kids’ gatherings? What might you do differently?
Post by Amy Mason
Yikes, it’s been ages since our last blog post! Lest you fear your PSTT team has been slacking, let us reassure you that we’ve been doing lots of behind-the scenes work to follow up on suggestions parents and educators had at last year’s community events. Chiefly, we’re in the midst of conversations with MUHS and ACSD to help support initiatives that optimize the digital experience of our students. Stay tuned for updates! In the meantime, we wanted to make sure no one missed this powerful article in the October 26 issue of the New York Times.
For many years, talk of a gap between kids from lower income and higher income families stemmed from the concern that students from higher income families would have greater access to technology at home and school, and therefore be better prepared for a world that prizes tech skills. This led to lots of investments by school systems and other organizations to help assure students across the board had equity in terms of access. “One-to-one” initiatives, in which there’s a dedicated computer for every student in a school, are becoming the norm, and in fact ACSD’s Digital Learning plan, adopted in January, calls for budgeting that will “sunset current lease agreements on user devices to shift that spending model toward cloud-based and affordable devices in order to put more devices in more students’ hands.” Vermont’s Agency of Education advises, “All Vermont schools should be providing full-time or near full-time access to technology for all students, especially those in Grades 3 and higher. This does not necessarily mean that technology is being used in a full-time manner, but that the availability is there as it is needed to support learning.” The focus in the world of education has been on increasing access as a means toward equity.
According to this NYT writer, however, the divide in more recent days has shifted to benefit students whose parents and educators are more likely to be present in the student’s digital world to set limits and help students learn to set their own limits. The article quotes former Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson as having said, ““The digital divide was about access to technology, and now that everyone has access, the new digital divide is [about] limiting access to technology.” Families with greater means are increasingly choosing private schools where screen-free learning modalities are emphasized, and public school systems in more affluent communities are responding to parental pressure to restrict access to devices during the school day, to teach about digital citizenship and to show more restraint in balancing technology with a focus on other types of learning.
In a recent issue of her Tech Talk Tuesdays blog, a source we PSTT founders find truly worthwhile, Dr. Delaney Rushton also delves into the ways in which some families are exercising greater restraint around the use of technology. Check that out if you’d like to read more.
PSTT’s overarching message at this point can be summed up as, “Thanks for working to ensure kids have equitable access. Let’s make sure we’re truly intentional about how to use that access, knowing that more is not always more, and staying true to a healthy 24-hour digital diet.” The PSTT team wants to know: what are your thoughts on this disparity of opportunity for families? How should we address this in our schools, homes and community? This is a topic we’ll continue to keep front and center in our work to support ACSD families and schools.
Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks
The latest blog post by Screenagers director Dr. Delaney Ruston lays out the hows and whys of Apple iOS 12’s new Screen Time function. We’ve started using this in our house and it’s been a good conversation starter, and also a reality check! I like that you can set up a family plan to check in on the other connected devices, and I appreciate being able to look at a single day’s use or a week’s worth. We’re uncovering some limitations, too, like the fact that once the screen goes dark, the tracking of audio, for example, is no longer being tallied. Since we’re interested in knowing about ALL the ways our kids are using devices, including listening to audiobooks, the tool is falling short a bit. But it’s still early days and we are still getting used to it. Dr. Ruston’s blog post has step-by-step instructions if you’d like some help getting started. Has anyone else tapped into this new Screen Time tracker? If so, what are your initial impressions?
Post by Amy Mason
I love the researcher being interviewed in this On Point podcast. She is so deliberate and thoughtful in her presentation. I also am super interested to hear that research is being done on how the change in our reading habits and screens are affecting our brains and the way we learn. This is totally worth listening to.
Posted by Samantha Farrell-Schmitt