Bookclub Chapter 5: Empathy is the App


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This chapter focuses on the connectedness of the non-digital kind. Heitner urges us to find ways to connect with our children around technology, so we can have a deliberate and productive hands-on role in their development as digital citizens. We’re invited to try and step into their shoes to understand their motivations, their curiosity, and the pressures they are under–from their peers and from within themselves. What does it mean that we all feel the push to be available digitally to our friends and family members at all times? What’s the impact of having every slightly interesting moment of our day be the potential subject of a photo or a share? I love that Heitner asks us to reflect on the underlying emotions that are part of our online worlds.

The hardest thing for me about this chapter, and indeed the whole book, is the emphasis the author places on talking things through, making expectations explicit, and verbally (and through our actions) mentoring our kids. I have one child who’s always up for a deep and lengthy discussion, another who’s willing to talk if we keep it short and sweet, and a third (to protect privacy, these are not in birth order!) who will talk at length about matters affecting other people, but mostly shuts me out if I try to get personal. Figuring out how to be a tech mentor to these three different humans is a bit overwhelming. But in substantiating her case for “Mentoring over Monitoring,” Heitner reminds us that “Parenting is difficult….there are no shortcuts.” While this fact makes me cringe a little, I get it. And I’m on board with the notion that we can’t simply cyber-stealth our kids through this stuff.

From this segment of the book, I hope I can carry with me the urge to try and understand how things are different for the younger generation, and to be curious and discover what’s unfolding for each kid. I plan to come back–once we move into the realm of texting, emailing, and beyond–to review the portion about how much privacy and trust to afford kids in their online activity. I’m glad she offered some productive ways of “spying” (hint: doing it secretly is a no-no) if we decide complete privacy isn’t the way we’ll go.

If you’re following along, please chime in about what in the chapter raised (or lowered) your blood pressure, and what were your biggest takeaways. We’re cooking up plans for an in-person book discussion this fall, and in the meantime we love your virtual comments!

Post by Amy Mason

Book Group Chapter 4: Becoming a Tech-Positive Parent

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This is a good chapter for me to reflect on as I am working hard to be a tech-positive parent. I am inclined to be happier when I am engaging with people face-to-face and not through a screen. As a person who reads body language and facial expressions,  communicating without these can be disconcerting for me. However, Devorah Heitner doesn’t disappoint in this chapter as she talks about wishing our kids to go beyond being “app-enabled” to instead using technology as a tool to solve problems. One tidbit of advice that I think is particularly useful is when one is parenting (in the heat of the moment) preserving open lines of communication with our kids is essential. Devorah suggests that parents should not assume bad intentions around technology and should always remind their child/ren, “You are a good person and a good friend—and you want your posts to reflect that.”

Another interesting point that Devorah brings out is that “Not all screen time is created equal.” She expands on this by having us, as parents, think about consumption versus creative outlet. I love the suggestions that she gives, like reading articles that have different points of view and kids helping plan a vacation. Technology gives kids the opportunity to write in a meaningful way for an authentic (even if small) audience. I love family board game night at my house, but Devorah’s suggestion of having the occasional family game night online made me think. Maybe that would be a good way for me to learn about fun online games, entering my kids’ online world in a fun way. Collaboration and engagement with shared enjoyment is a way to continue to foster open communication and close attachment. However, I would still prefer if instead of planning unplugged time, as Devorah suggests, we plan plugged time. I am saddened by the idea that Devorah puts forward that families have to schedule unplugged time whereby implying that unplugged time is not the majority of our children’s time. What about you?

Some resources that the author suggests in this chapter are the book by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis, The App Generation.  She also recommends the website “GeekDad “and the TEDx talk by Marina Umaschi Ber about young programmers-Think Playground, Not Playpen.  Marina suggests that coding is the new literacy. At the end of the chapter, Devorah has a list of considerations when choosing apps which I found very helpful. Welcoming comments and suggestions from all.

Post by Samantha Farrell-Schmitt

Book Group Chapter 3: What’s MY digital literacy?

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Chapter 3 from Screenwise, Assessing Your Own Digital Literacy, was a chapter I needed.  I’ve realized that much of my own concern about my kids entering the digital world is that I see they’ll use technology very differently than I do. My familiarity with such a small corner of the digital world means I often don’t even know the questions to ask to get started learning.  Heitner understands this and directs the questions away from tech and toward relationships.

She writes “Helping [kids] make good decisions is a better and more effective strategy than trying to protect them from everything that is out there.”  She cites tech researcher Alexandra Samuel whose recent work found that parent approaches to technology tend to fall into one of three categories: limiting tech use, mentoring tech use and an enabling/laissez faire approach. Samuels posits that “shielding kids from the Internet may work for a time but once they do get online… kids [who haven’t been mentored] often lack the skills and habits that make for consistent, safe and successful online interactions.”  This is helpful for me to think about since I certainly use the strategy of limiting my kids’ interactions with technology.

The author sprinkles helpful ideas throughout the chapter.  Often they’re just tidbits of a few sentences – but clear and effective ideas.  She touches on an idea for handling playtime at friends’ homes, sleepovers, a family-friendly way to introduce an app like Instagram, how to decide when to “greenlight” an app, questions that lead to good family conversations about tech, and more.

Heitner also hits on the important role that other parents play.  She writes “I see how hard it is for parents to talk with other parents about their experiences.  Instead there is a lot of internal judgment and negativity, with little consensus. If we all strive for open communication about parenting and technology and take a community approach… we’ll all benefit.”

I’d love for PSTT to play this role in our community:  A place for parents to gather to share their experiences and puzzle out which different approaches might work best for their own families.  This book is giving me a frame in which to think and I’m starting to see how I can begin to build my own family compass around technology.  I’d love to hear what others think.  Has it been helpful so far for anyone else?

Post by Julie Barry

Summer Book Club: Screenwise, Chapter 2

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This week, I read Chapter 2: “The Kids Are Alright.” Here, Heitner talks about how tech-capable kids are, but reminds us they don’t have the wisdom that comes from practice and reflection as digital citizens. Parents, on the other hand, have more wisdom about how to function in the world, but may lack technical skills and an understanding of what kids are up to. Fortunately, she sees a way through these challenges.

Heitner uses several pages to outline how kids use social media. I was surprised that they use YouTube so heavily to search and learn, and that YouTube increasingly replaces parental and peer media influence as they age. This was a blind spot for me, as YouTube is one area over which we’ve insisted on a lot of restraint. I appreciate Heitner citing such research to illustrate what’s really happening in the constantly shifting digital realm, with YouTube being just one area.

While kids are quick to embrace new forms of technology, and to find ways to sidestep adults’ restrictions, they’re not always knowledgeable about the consequences of their online actions, or about the permanent traces of themselves they leave on the web. Heitner says this is where grownups need to step in: mentoring kids about how to think about their technology use, which has lasting real-life impact on themselves and others.

Heitner cautions adults not to over-rely on roadblocks to keep kids from accessing content or function. If we focus on monitoring rather than mentoring, we may miss the chance to develop the self-regulating skills our kids need when we’re not present. Instead, she urges us to be in regular conversation with our children about how they’re functioning online, and what challenges they might encounter.  I found it reassuring to close this chapter not with an overwhelming compulsion to research every possible tool my kids might use or to employ every access-limiting technique available. Rather, I feel called to focus on my relationship with my kids as their digital mentor, and to simply try and keep the conversation going.

If you haven’t yet jumped into this book, it’s not too late. Our 11yo daughter picked it up last night, read the thing cover to cover, and laughed at Brian and me for having our bookmarks on pages 19 and 44. She was skeptical about some of the content, saying “I don’t think the author really GETS how kids think. I mean, I NEVER mind when you ask me to text for you because you’re concentrating on driving.” I’ll be eager to ask her more about her take as I get farther along in the book. Anyway, it’s a quick and easy read and I invite you to pick it up. Whether or not you read the book yourself, we hope you can continue to join us in the discussion!

Post by Amy Mason (with permission to quote her daughter)

Summer Reading: Screenwise, Chapter 1

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This week I read the Introduction and Chapter 1 of Screenwise, in which the author, Devorah Heitner, shares that her book was designed to be a resource for parents raising children in a digital age. Devorah believes that this digital age presents some unique challenges for children, tweens, and teenagers. One of the many nuggets of wisdom that Devorah shared spoke to me; she hopes that this book will help parents start conversations with other parents. Devorah suggests that we may have become isolated in this digital age where we fear being judged by others for whatever our policies are around screen-time. This fear keeps us from talking openly with each other. She also writes that, if we are able to gather together in a non-judgemental way, we can support each other, learn, and gain a crucial resource: parents supporting each other. I would love for PSTT to help start these non-judgemental conversations in our community for both parents and educators. Let us know how we can help facilitate this by commenting on this post or messaging us here or over on our Facebook page.

In Chapter 1 the book begins to discuss various topics and challenges around the digital age paying attention to the different age groups and what might come up for parents during these ages groups. Devorah stresses that the most important thing you can do is to let your children, tweens, and teenagers know that they can come to you with anything and that you will do your best to help and not punish. She ends with the hope that her book will help us to live and thrive with technology in day-to-day life. I learned that apps could be hidden on a device. What about you? Anything new that struck you while reading? Anything that was particularly helpful?

Post by Samantha Farrell-Schmitt

Summer Reading

I will read “Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World” by Devorah Heitner this summer.  Is anyone interested in an online book discussion? Each week I will post a short summary of a chapter and would love for people to post their own thoughts or questions about the chapter or my post. I have checked with the Ilsley Library and there are three copies available through interlibrary loan.  I will post if I obtain more through the library or another source. Happy summer to all!

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Keeping it Positive

standard_1500x1125_TeenOnDevicesThe folks at The Social Institute say they are on a mission to help students (and their role models) navigate social media responsibly and positively.  This article by the company’s founder notes what teens get right about social media – and how we can use that to inform our own efforts to guide them.  She notes that we often spend our energies teaching kids how not to use social media (don’t post anything mean, don’t sext, don’t…) instead of teaching them how to use it positively (follow positive role models, share your congratulations, etc).  It’s refreshing to see this upbeat and realistic support for parents as they navigate social media challenges alongside their children.

[The Social Institute operates using a membership fee which provides access to tools like “Huddles” where parents will find conversation guides about tricky social media situations and their “Platform Playbooks” with in depth guides and reviews of popular apps.]

Positives and Negatives of Social Media

Although this piece in the Economist, and certainly its title, skews toward highlighting the negative effects of social media, it’s interesting to note the reported positive effects on well-being among study participants. Here at PSTT, we’re lovers of great graphics and compelling data, so we thought this was worth sharing.

Speaking of positive impacts of tech, we loved the tip shared by Delaney Rushton, MD in her recent Tech Talk Tuesdays blog post to start family tech conversations with an acknowledgment of something positive tech does in our lives. She writes, “This helps kids remember that we really do appreciate the countless benefits of the tech revolution and that we really do understand why they want to be on screens so much.”


Say Cheese!


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With summer and all of its sunny, beach-y photo opportunities right around the corner, Devorah Heitner of Raising Digital Natives is thinking about thoughtful sharing of family photos.  She writes that if we want our kids to grow up be thoughtful about when to share their own photos, whether of themselves or others,  we need to start modeling that to them now.  So when it comes to sharing photos of our school aged kids,  she suggests “Ask first.”

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