Parenting Digital Kids

Life Beyond the Screens

If you ask most teens what item is their most prized, important possession, they will say it’s their smartphone. In fact, I’ve heard teens say that if they could only take one thing on a deserted island it would be their smartphone, in spite of the fact that it would be useless once the battery dies. A lot of kids use their phones constantly and are addicted to the internet. They sleep with them and answer text messages in the middle of the night. They absolutely panic when they can’t find it or when someone takes it from them for even a second. They are quite open about it too; they admit that it’s a vital part of their existence.

 

The concern about technology’s impact upon the social, emotional, and spiritual development of our boys and girls is growing. “The average amount of time a preteen spends in front of a “screen” (including TV, DVD, video player, pre-recorded programming, video game, computer, etc.) is approximately 37 hours per week. This reality is in sharp contrast to the 7-14 hours per week recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.” (tweenparent.com)

Continue reading “Parenting Digital Kids”

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Introducing Kids to Nature

How to Turn Kids On To Nature

I can’t tell you how many times one of my middle school students has melted down because he or she could not find his or her cell phone. They just come unglued.

Most kids are hooked on their screens. In fact, many of them are better named “screenagers,” addicted to digital images and text. They bounce from their cell phone screen to their television screen to their computer screen to their iPad screen, and in many cases their screens are all on at the same time. It’s quite an exciting existence to the average teenager. They can’t think of anything more interesting than laying on a comfortable couch in front of a satellite-connected high-definition TV, with their smartphone and X-Box controller on the coffee table, their iPad on the lap, and the computer nearby (just in case). If you think I am exaggerating, just ask a teenager if they think that sounds like a nice way to spend a summer day.

These screens are more like screen-doors or screen-windows than windows to the real world. You can see and hear things to some extent, but the clarity and depth perception is inferior. You are not fully in the world, even though you can hear and see and maybe even feel some of what’s happening out there. These digital doorways are virtual experiences at best.

The best way we can unhook them is not to take away all their screen time and tell them to go read a book. The answer is to get them hooked on something even more interactive and real than what’s on their screen. And what better antidote for digital addiction than fishing, hiking, or hunting?

Jake Hindman, an agent with the Missouri Conservation Department and a true outdoorsman, speaks to adults around the state about how to get kids interested in the outdoors. Here is a summary of his 3-point sermon: Continue reading “Introducing Kids to Nature”

Mister Rogers

I’m a huge Fred Rogers fan, so I was skeptical when I heard about the video remix recently done about him. I expected something satirical and mean-spirited, so I watched with my guard up. Instead, we have this.

There are so many things to learn about in this world and so many people who can help us learn.” – Fred Rogers

Thank you, John D. Boswell, for making this video. And thank you, Fred Rogers, for being a great man, a great teacher, and for leaving behind a great body of work for children throughout the world. Rest in peace, Mister Rogers.

How Do We Live With Our Cell Phones?

We are all in the midst of a cultural revolution, and it’s in the palm of our hands.  We are trying to figure out how to use all these internet-connected mobile devices in a healthy way.  We are fumbling in the dark, as we attempt to use new, powerful tools to live better lives. And yet very few, if any, people are able to proclaim, “This is how you do it.”  In fact, it may be a decade before we establish a healthy set of public safety laws and social morays related to digital devices.

As parents and teachers, we wonder how to handle the iPad, the DVR, and the smartphone in ways that are healthy for our kids. Some are eschewing these digital devices outright, due to a host of fears or utter frustration. Others are welcoming everything that Apple spits out, trusting that Steve Jobs and his successors know what is best for us.  However, most of us are somewhere in the middle, looking around, wondering who has some wisdom.

We look to others for answers, as we consider our own values, and very few people seem to have it figured out.

Now that summer is here, I will be writing more on this topic in the months to come, and I welcome any suggestions, comments, and questions on the topic.

I’ll be considering this train of thought: “What technology makes easy is not always what nurtures the human spirit.” (Sherry Turkle)

For more on this, visit Sherry Turkle’s TED Talk

A Scholastic Tuneup

Many teachers will tell you that it’s the middle of the school year when most learning takes place. So, let’s take a quick look at some old and some new ideas for helping young students get the most of their education right now in the heart of the school year.

Some Basics

Rest: Get 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep.  The more consistent, the better.

Eat a large healthy breakfast, like oatmeal and eggs. Don’t skip a meal. And don’t eat high-sugar foods during the day.

Focus: Use any spare class time to work on homework, rather than socializing. If needed, ask to sit away from a friend who can’t stop talking.

Friends: Use recess, passing times, lunch, and before/after school time for socializing.

Drink water throughout the day. Take a water bottle to class.

Move. Don’t skip recess or PE. Exercise helps academic concentration.

Homework: Setup a spot in the home that is quiet and supplied for schoolwork.

Time: Set aside time every night for homework and have an adult available to help if needed. A little exercise right after school is helpful.

Daily Planner: Use a planner to keep track of assignments, tests, quizzes, and project due dates.  Use it in every class, everyday.

Locker: Keep it organized and tidy. Organized students learn more and get better grades.

Something New

Young people will tell you that they think best when they have music on and when they can access their friends with their digital devices. Continue reading “A Scholastic Tuneup”

Raising Boys to be Real Men

Boys are misunderstood.  Too often, they are disciplined and shamed by their teachers, parents, or grandparents because it is falsely assumed that good boys should act just like good girls.

Raising boys is a topic of numerous books, but one that stands out is Raising Cain, by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson.  I had the privilege of hearing them speak at a conference, and their wisdom impressed me deeply.  Here are my notes and thoughts from two of their sessions.

Emotions.  Give boys permission to have an internal life. Give approval to their wide-ranging emotions, as long as they behave civilly. Their tendency will be to hide their emotions at every turn, but this is not healthy. Help them use words to express their feelings effectively, since it is not in their nature or in their culture to speak openly about their feelings. So, give respect to their inner life, and speak about your own inner life. Share your likes, dislikes, fears, sorrows, regrets, hopes, and weaknesses with each other.

Activity.  Accept the high activity level of boys as a healthy part of who they are. Give them a safe place to express their need for action. Embrace their physicality as natural, normal, and in need of channeling, rather than suppressing.  Boys need to learn to manage their physicality, but they do not need to be shamed for their exuberance.

Speak to them.  Talk to boys in their language – in a way that honors their pride and masculinity. Be direct with them. Say what you mean and mean what you say.  And when possible, use them as consultants and problem solvers. They will love feeling important to you. It is important to communicate with them in a way that honors their wish for strength and respect.

Re-define courage.  Teach boys that there is more to being a hero than physically defeating an enemy. Continue reading “Raising Boys to be Real Men”

Growing Up Too Fast

Our culture tends to throw kids in the deep-end of the pool without teaching them how to swim. Kids are given adult freedoms and privileges, without the responsibilities and training to help them handle it.  Now more than ever, it’s essential to give kids age-appropriate responsibilities, privileges, and freedoms.

Knowing exactly what is and is not age-appropriate is no simple task.  The unpredictable nature of adolescence makes it especially difficult. Every day I am amazed at how 13-year-olds are both incredibly immature and mature.  With any group of seventh graders, there will be some kids with tremendous maturity and some with absolutely none.  Even more amazing is how a single student can seem so mature one moment and so utterly immature the next moment.  It’s a paradox that makes my job as a father, teacher, and coach constantly interesting and challenging.

This is not a new phenomenon, but I think it has grown from a simple stage of development to a societal problem.  The problem is that many children are growing up too fast without developing properly.  Kids are growing up fast but not well; they are not ready to handle the adult things that they are getting in to so young.

David Elkind wrote The Hurried Child in 1981 and has updated it several times since, in response to the fast-changing world of media and technology in which kids live.  He discusses the effects of television on kids in great detail.

Continue reading “Growing Up Too Fast”

Parenting With and Without Fear

Fear is universal.  Columnist Dave Barry writes, “All of us are born with a set of instinctive fears — of falling, of the dark, of lobsters, of falling on lobsters in the dark, or speaking before a Rotary Club, and of the words “Some Assembly Required.”

We are all deeply motivated by our fears, and they influence nearly every one of our decisions.   Some fears are entirely legitimate, while others are unwarranted.  Some fears are healthy, while others are neuroses.   And while children are naturally prone to fears of all sorts, due to their lack of knowledge, adults are often victims of unfounded fears due to faulty knowledge or perspective.

Parents, in particular, are afraid of anything that poses a threat to the wellness of their children.  In their best-selling book Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner explore the fears that control parents (and grandparents, teachers, coaches, etc.):

 No one is more susceptible to an expert’s fear-mongering than a parent.  Fear is in fact a major component of parenting.  A parent, after all, is the steward of another creature’s life, a creature who in the beginning is more helpless than the newborn of nearly any other species. This leads a lot of parents to spend a lot of their parenting energy simply being scared. Continue reading “Parenting With and Without Fear”

Creating Consumers or Citizens?

This article, “Reversing the Consumer Mindset” is well-worth reading.  More importantly, as a parent or grandparent, it is worth reflecting upon, since we shape the kids in our care in more ways than we care to admit.

Here is a sample… “I was taught to throw out broken items, rather than seek to repair them myself or do without them. I was taught that love is given through tangible gifts.”

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