Bookclub Chapter 8: School Life in the Digital Age

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In Chapter 8: School Life in the Digital Age, Heitner highlights some benefits and challenges of devices for students, particularly in schools that have instituted 1:1 programs (meaning each student has a dedicated device for classroom use). Knowing that our own school district (ACSD) is moving to 1:1 this year, I was particularly interested in this aspect and will be curious to see how the strategy plays out in our community.

With regard to homework, students can benefit from increased access after hours to teachers and peers, and Heitner reminds us that kids may need help understanding certain boundaries such as:

  1. when to reach out to peers vs. the teacher with questions (tip: try other options before contacting the teacher!);
  2. when tech tools are serving to enhance learning and productivity and when they’re leading to cheating/intellectual dishonesty; and
  3. which tasks are better suited to paper and pencil/unplugged time (such as editing drafts) and which are well-served by using a device?

Heitner reminds us that schools are tending to grow more communicative about grades and progress, and sharing more frequent updates about school happenings, but that the increased connection can sometimes lead to parents being overly focused on small matters vs. larger progress, and to being overloaded by the sheer volume of information. In the same regard, having more access to our kids during the day to “check in” isn’t necessarily a boon as they’re developing independence from us. 

Distraction is one of the biggest challenges of devices. While crafting this post, I heard my email ding four times—which I resisted reading, except the notification popup—and received one unimportant text which I looked at but managed not to answer. Each time my brain lost its place, and it took me a moment to get back on course. Multi-tasking comes at a cost, Heitner reminds us, and bopping back and forth between tasks can result in a project taking longer (and possibly being less cohesive) than if we’d avoided distraction. She suggests using a “one device at a time” guideline to avoid what she calls “double screening.” She also says we can tap into tech tools to help with that, like using apps to block social media during certain time periods, restricting apps to certain devices, or even turning wi-fi off for a time period. She also cautions us to clue into our kids’ homework time and if it seems an assignment is taking longer than it should, we might want to check in. She urges us to mentor kids on how to streamline the homework process, so devices improve rather than inhibit productivity.

Heitner urges parents to be curious and proactive about how tech use is handled in our schools. As ACSD moves into the 1:1 realm, and navigates this transition without the benefit of the recently departed (and valued by PSTT) Innovation Specialist Tim O’Leary, I think it will be more important than ever to ask a) what are the policies and practifor tech use during the day at each school and b) how well are these policies being followed? Most importantly, we need to be asking, as the author suggests, “How does 1:1 affect the recommendations we always hear about limiting screen time?” A priority of this group is to think about our kids’ 24-hour digital diet and be intentional about how and when kids use screens at school and home. It’s great to hear Heitner thinks we’re on the right track!

Post by Amy Mason

A little followup note: I can’t resist taking a moment to express my frustration about the final paragraphs in this chapter. Heitner calls the segment “But What Am I Supposed to Do?” and then she dishes up what she calls “Some big picture tips for navigating parenting a connected student.” And with this setup, where do we go? Well, Heitner lists a single tip (pointing us to a different book, which sounds great, but still!) embedded within 8 other bullet points that are questions without answers. Ms. Heitner, I love your book. But if you’re gonna caption a section like this, and promise some big picture tips? Please give us some answers rather than more questions! Were any other readers struck by this? We’d love to hear your thoughts!


Book Group Chapter 7: Friendship and Dating in the digital Age

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This chapter was key for me as a parent of two teenagers.  The author talks about exclusion and how a teenager can be participating in a group text but still feel left out, while another might be blissfully unaware that anything is amiss.  This was a good reminder for me to check in and possibly help my child connect with others outside of school or in other communities. Sometimes the internet can help our kids connect to others that they more readily identify with, while other times it feels isolating. One of the main differences we as parents should be aware of, Heitner says, is that before the digital explosion kids could come home and hide/recover from the drama at school, but now the drama continues 24/7 online and therefore is hard to get away from. I liked her suggestion that if your child feels negatively impacted by social media, it’s important to help them unplug in the evening. A permanent disconnection or the deletion of an app will probably feel too extreme for your child, but framing it as a temporary measure might be the best way forward for your child.

Heitner points to the concept of friends and how that might have changed for our children, and she suggests that as parents we should explore and discuss the concept of friendship as part of our value set. For LGBQT kids, the internet can be a positive source of validation, information and community. However, it can also be a source of bullying, so parents should be aware of the difficulties their kids might encounter while they try and navigate different identities in different situations—particularly on social media. Heitner mentions some resources: safe schools, impact program and glsen as well as a book (titled This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids.)

Research around dating shows that most tweens and teenagers are still meeting in person, not through the internet. The difference seems to be around the expectations for constant connectivity when dating. It can be useful to remind your teen that just because we CAN reach out at all times doesn’t mean we have to.

When harassment takes place online, parents can and should help their kids by guiding them and setting boundaries when necessary. Heitner suggests opening the conversation with questions like, “Have you or your friends ever had to block someone for coming on too strong or being too persistent?” She reminds us that mentorship seeks to build communities, not form divisions. So if another parent approaches us about our own child’s online behavior, being open rather than defensive—as well as reporting back—will help build community and open lines of communication between parents. This chapter is worth reading, as there are many more useful pieces of information.

By Samantha Farrell-Schmitt


Book Group Chapter 6: Family Life Gone Digital

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Heitner titled chapter 6 of Screenwise “Family Life in the Digital Age” and provided me with a view toward some of the challenges families face in learning how to use tech successfully. She begins by noting that parents can always model the behaviors we want to see in our children.  In the past, kids used to learn greetings, conversation and how to sign off a traditional telephone conversation as they listened to their parents calling a friend, a family member or the dentist on the telephone.  But she points out that most digital activity is done privately, between an individual and her/his screen, so children don’t see the same modeling that they once did.

This means that if we want our children to see and learn the processes we use with technology use we need to be intentional about modeling it and even involving them in it.  Heitner makes simple recommendations like speaking your thoughts aloud, such as saying “I’m going to turn my phone off… so that I don’t get distracted.”  She also advocates that families together create a family media plan and a family social media plan (if age appropriate) to help guide everyday habits and practices.  Onto this, she layers the interesting idea of a “media ecology” for the home: “setting up the habits, routines and a physical organization in your home that makes it easier to balance the use of technology.”

Heitner absolutely advocates a “tech positive” approach and in this chapter she notes that media can be a great way to open conversations about bigger issues.  It made me think of Delaney Ruston, MD, of the film Screenagers, who recently posted a list of the 10 Best Documentaries to Watch as a Family.

In this chapter the author also tackles a question on the minds of many parents “When is my child ready for a smartphone?”  While she points out that this decision should be focused upon the child’s maturity, I found this section less helpful than I think it could be.  In many other areas of the book Heitner provides great lists of questions for parents to consider as they examine their own values around tech.  A list like this could have been helpful here as well so maybe at some point I’ll come up with my own – better articulating the skill set that I think demonstrates the maturity necessary for tech use.

As in other chapters, Heitner sprinkles helpful ideas throughout: designing appealing unplugged zones in your home, avoiding post-screen meltdowns by implementing habits and routines to provide structure, avoiding making tech-decisions based primarily in parental fear, providing training wheels for email use, thinking about real world allowance and digital money and more.

I find the book continually leading me to consider incorporating (positive) tech use into our family in ways we haven’t before and to do it thoughtfully and intentionally. I’m grateful that I’m not being driven to find a cave in the woods in which to hide from the digital world!

Post by Julie Barry

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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