Pediatricians, psychologists, and neuroscientists warn of potential negative consequences associated with constant mental stimulation from interacting with our devices. Mobile devices have the potential to provide amazing learning opportunities, but they’re also a major distraction. They can foster social interactions and help us build stronger connections in our community, or they can allow us to destroy relationships by hiding behind a screen. In reading “The Triple Focus: A New Approach to Education,” the authors describe three important skills for surviving in a society increasingly dominated by Internet-connected devices: focusing on self, tuning in to others, and understanding the world as a whole. Although the authors apply these concepts to the broader realm of social and emotional learning, these emphases also apply when we address screen time with our students and children.
Not only do we need to help our students develop the internal focus they need to know how best to navigate their interactions with their devices and the external focus of what positive use looks like, but we also need to foster our students’ ability to recognize the context in which their interactions occur-the other focus. Discussions about screen time are often about just that: the screen. However, this can prevent students from seeing how their actions fit into a broader system.
Ask students to define how their device use affects the class culture. What norms might the class establish? Can students name different contexts in which they do or don’t want to use screens? What actions could students take if they feel class norms have been violated? How can they work together to find solutions to new problems that might arise? To help students develop this different focus, teachers and parents need to encourage this kind of intelligent decision-making. By learning to see a larger system, students develop a better understanding of the impacts and consequences of their actions in the physical and digital worlds.
If we consider the skills of focusing on ourselves, relating to others, and understanding the world as a whole as a framework for our thinking, we can imagine how the discussion about screen time might shift away from how much time we spend with devices to how students can use that time to become more productive citizens in a connected and global society. What if, instead of asking our students to put away their devices, we asked them to think about how they can use those devices to better themselves and their society?
As I was reading a technology article this past week, one thing came to mind with regards to how to approach our kids and understand how they use their tech. Do I talk about it enough with my child? This is something that even working with technology and knowing the risks and benefits of it, I still feel that it is never sufficient. Our EARJ students have 200 school days approximately, spending an average of 6.5 hours a day in class. That may seem like a lot, but it pales in comparison to time spent outside of school. In fact, over the course of a year, students are in school only 15% of their time.
Well, if they are in school for 15% of the time, but on their phones, and computers after class, here we are again as parents, wondering what our kids are doing. And many parents are afraid of approaching their children to ask what they are doing online. Just as parents reinforce their children’s studies on math, reading, and science, remember that technology with a digital citizenship point of view should also be approached.
But what to do? And where to start? It can be difficult for parents to talk to their children about technology. Parents may be afraid of technology and that fear may permeate their conversations.
According to Annabel Sheinberg, VP of learning and partnerships at Planned Parenthood, she spends a lot of time talking to parents and discussing difficult topics which also involves technology at times.
“Remember that when your child asks a question, that is a big compliment and a chance to connect,” Sheinberg says. “Always affirm the asker with a statement such as, ‘That’s a great question’ or ‘I’m glad you asked’ or ‘I’m sure lots of people wonder about that.”
But as a parent, you can’t always depend on your child asking the question, or even starting a
conversation involving technology. So here are some ways you can actually approach your child and try to start a conversation (separated by age groups):
Children 8 and under
Show me how you do that on (name of the device).
What is your favorite thing to do on (name of the device)?
What do you think will happen next in the (movie/show/game)?
How did it make you feel when you saw that on (movie/show/game)?
When I’m on my phone, how does it make you feel?
Can I have permission to share this (picture/video/quote) of yours?
Children ages 8-13
How would you feel if someone shared something private about you online without your permission?
What if I shared it?
What things are private to you? What things are public?
Will you be able to finish your homework on time to (play game/watch show)?
Who are your friends online?
Do your friends ever do things that make you feel uncomfortable online? If so, what are they?
Do you feel (name of caregiver) is on devices too much? If so, how could we be better?
“Use open-ended questions whenever possible,” Steinberg suggests. “These start with what, how, and why, rather than do or when.”
Teens ages 13-17
What do you think that (show/movie/meme) is trying to say? Why do you think it’s saying that?
What would you tell a friend who shared something online that probably should have been kept private?
If a friend told you that you shared something that should have been private or made them feel uncomfortable, how would you feel?
How does technology affect dating relationships?
What’s something positive you can do online today?
Who do you want to be online?
Still, according to Annabel, teens may have difficult questions. They are experiencing a time of transition and figuring out who they are in the world. “It’s OK if you don’t know the answers”, Steinberg says. “Just discuss the question and model how to find the answer online using safe and trustworthy websites.”
“Try to be collaborative and empathetic in your approach,” Steinberg says. “Engage in mutual problem solving when possible rather than using the ‘parent voice’. This will deepen your relationship and connection so that future conversations happen.”
Carlos Eduardo Pinho
Director of Educational Technology
Our Class of 2021 has gone through a tremendously challenging year for their final year of high school and their final year at EARJ. Expectations for what a grade 12 year would be like were not entirely in sync with the reality of what this year has been. All of us as a community have experienced the unpredictability, uncertainty, and inconsistency brought on by the pandemic, not to mention the grief and loss that has touched too many in our community and across the globe! Students have gone through multiple variations of learning modes and teachers have had to adjust instruction, classrooms, planning time, and schedules, all while maintaining a focus on learning. Parents have had to do their own adjusting to these variations as well.
So has this been a stressful time for you as a parent, student, teacher, staff member? The answer to this question seems obvious, and perhaps you want to shout “OF COURSE, THIS HAS BEEN STRESSFUL!” We would probably all agree that the past year has been incredibly stressful. However, which statement below would you choose to sum up how you feel about this stress:
A. Stress is harmful and should be avoided, reduced, managed.
B. Stress is helpful and should be accepted, utilized, and embraced.
Which statement did you choose? This is how Dr. Karen McGonigal begins her book, The Upside of Stress, and she confesses to having to change her beliefs about stress and her approach to dealing with stress because evidence suggests that “stress is harmful only when you believe it is.”
For most of us, we have been conditioned to seek to reduce our stress, to the point that we worry about the impact stress has on our overall mental and physical health. But as McGonigal states, “The latest science reveals that stress can make you smarter, stronger, and more successful. It helps you learn and grow. It can inspire courage and compassion.” She continues, “The best way to manage stress isn’t to reduce or avoid it, but rather to rethink and even embrace it.”
What a challenge for all of us! Instead of commiserating with one another about how stressful this year has been on our children or on ourselves, could we choose to embrace the stress and allow it to transform us? A few quotes shared from a book about stress won’t necessarily change long-held beliefs you might have about stress, but I would challenge you to look at the stress from this past year and find ways to grow from it. I have given up on the idea that we should return to “normal” following this pandemic. Why would we be willing to accept “normal” as the desired outcome? Why not, instead, envision ourselves and our children becoming stronger and more resilient as a result of this past year? As McGonigal writes, “Even in circumstances of great suffering, human beings have a natural capacity to find hope, exert choice, and make meaning. This is why in our own lives, the most common effects of stress include, strength, growth, and resilience.”
Perhaps the reality that no one around the world has escaped being impacted in some way by the pandemic is an opportunity for us to embrace our common humanity. One final quote from The Upside of Stress: “The courage to grow from stress is universal. The strength to persevere, the instinct to connect with others, the ability to find hope and meaning in adversity–these are fundamental human capacities. They can emerge in times of stress no matter who you are or where you are.” As an EARJ community, we will continue to persevere, to connect with each other, to proceed with hope, and to derive meaning that will make us all better for having experienced the challenges of this past school year, whether we are a graduate going off to university or a preschooler promoting to first grade.
Howard De Leeuw
Gávea Upper School Principal