We devoted a lot of energy this month to teens and social media. It was terrific to see a good number of parents attend Laura Tierney’s talk. Building on her meeting with parents, faculty, and the kids, the November module of the online parenting course (https://canvas.instructure.com/enroll/8ET77N) seeks to answer a few big questions:
How can we, as adults, help our teens/tweens navigate social media safely and responsibly? How can we "stay on top" of how social media is being used? What responsibilities should I assume as a parent in the digital age?
What first comes to mind when you hear the words "teens" and "social media" connected?
For many adults, the connection likely leads to a number of possible negative ideas regarding the amount of time teens spend on social media as well as how they are often reported as using it. As a middle school educator who has lived through the explosion of social media, I fully believe that social media consumption by early teens is worthy of careful scrutiny and consideration. Stories of cyberbullying among a generation of "cyber-zombies" who lack interpersonal skills dominate much of the discussion of teens and social media. Throw horrifying stories about tech-savvy strangers luring kids into dangerous situations into the mix, and it is little wonder that we adult "digital immigrants" remain wary; we long for a time when being a teen seemed both safer and simpler.
Recently, we were treated to a series of presentations by Laura Tierney, the founder of the Social Institute, who applies a positive, growth-minded approach to teens and social media. Speaking to parents, faculty, and students, Laura's presentations were designed to help students "win" in the way they use social media.
The point is that social media, like any tool, can be used productively or unproductively. In her talk with parents, Laura Tierney expounded on this idea by saying that parents should treat social media as a tool their children need to practice "before going pro." She suggested the following sequence:
A) Rookie Level - As an introduction, kids should only use social media on a family device in a very public place. Rookie technology should be limited to online games, texting, and Facetime.
B) Varsity Level - After a training period at the Rookie level, kids graduate to using a personal tablet (like an iPad) in public places. This should happen before a cell phone to show responsibility. Before a phone is given, kids should research the cost of a phone and phone service plan as well as any downloading fees that apply to the service.
C) Professional Level - After proving responsibility, students may get their own smartphone, but must continue to "huddle" with parents about how they are using it, which includes showing parents their social media pages and sharing their passwords with them.
Earning independence through responsibility is a common parenting technique, but, as the research suggests, many parents give their kids smartphones without much training or supervision. The earned independence approach not only helps kids realize the responsibility they have online, but also sets up a system whereby if kids are irresponsible in any way families can go back to the Rookie level at any time. As Laura said, "Even if you skipped to the Pro level or a kid has earned his/her smartphone, you can always go back so they can learn from their mistakes." Finally, Laura echoed the sentiments of many researchers who strongly recommend that internet access should never extend into kid's bedrooms where it has proven to have negative effects on work habits and sleep. Interestingly, however, I conducted a survey and found that 41% of our middle school students report doing their homework (which often requires internet access) in their bedrooms.
There is a growing amount of research on the effects of cellphones and screen time on this generation (and all generations, for that matter). Some of you may be hearing that "every student at DS has their own cell phone." Actually, Laura surveyed our students before she came for her visit and found that about 80% of seventh and eighth graders have their own cellphones (that means that 20% do not!) and only 29% of sixth graders have their own cell phones. Undoubtedly, cell phones have transformed our society in many ways - positively and negatively - and likely that transformation is most pronounced in our current generation of teens. I linked the September 2017 article below from The Atlantic in the online parenting course - it is a rich, fascinating comparison of this current generation of teens to their predecessors:
I also included the following three documents that families may find useful:
Finally, this is the time of year that Americans traditionally think about gratitude. We have a couple traditions in the middle school to help students appreciate how fortunate they are. Once again students have written personal “Thank-you’s” on turkey feathers to complete a school-wide display of gratitude that you will see on the wave bulletin board when you come in for your parent-advisor meetings. (See a video of some of this year's feathers on the Derryfield YouTube Channel
) It’s an impressive display of giving thanks, and I invite you to fill out your own feather to add to the collection. Lastly, all advisories in the school have collected food to donate to local families for a Thanksgiving feast. It is so important to help students understand how they can turn their own gratitude into service for others who may not be as fortunate. Thank you all for supporting this effort! I hope you all enjoy the holiday time with your families and friends.
Next month’s focus will be on building GRIT.
Head of Middle School