Look Up

Perhaps this video is a bit of an overstatement. It oversimplifies the problem, but I like the main theme. Train yourself (and your kids) to live beyond the net. Don’t overuse your phone.

Video by Gary Turk.

 

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The Connected Family

2014 is the first year in American history in which everybody has a mobile device. We are at the saturation point with smartphones, tablets, laptops, and TVs. They are in our pockets, purses, cars, backpacks, and bedrooms. We all have screens with us throughout our days, and some of us are never without a screen.

Now we are considering how to live well with the screens. Most of us are not yet comfortable with where and when and how to use our devices in a healthy way.

Digital family

Today, I received an email from AT&T about how to become better connected. This is their vision of the ideal family connection.

At first glance, it looks great. Happy parents. Kids sitting content nearby. Well dressed. Clean home. No worries.

But on further review, how ideal is this? Continue reading “The Connected Family”

High-Tech Tools in Schools

Too Much Tech at School?

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is a popular trend sweeping schools this year. Schools with BYOD policies will be asking students to bring an Internet-Connected Mobile Device (smartphones, tablets, laptops) to school each day. Many educators believe that in the very-near future most books for school (textbooks, novels, workbooks) will be stored on a digital device instead of stuffed in a locker or backpack. This new movement is being met with some excitement, some trepidation, and lots of questions.

As with all new high-tech devices, there is an awkward break-in period, in which developers rapidly create new applications and accessories, users experiment excitedly with various functions, and society struggles to manage the consequences. It takes at least a decade for the dust to settle. Just think of the cell phone. It’s been around for twenty years, and people are still struggling with how to use it in a productive but healthy way. We still lack a standard set of “rules of the road” for cell phones. Since BYOD is just beginning, I would like to offer my own set of questions and concerns.

I own a MacBook and an iPad, and they are tremendous tools for me as a teacher and a writer. I use them daily, and they serve me well. They are not evil inventions. Far from it. As with every bit of technology, they are not immoral. The devil is in the details of their usage.

Whether it’s an iPhone, iPod, or iPad, it is a multi-functional devices that is not a simple educational tool. It is a video camera, a Facebook device, a YouTube player, a video game console, an email station, a texting device, a music and video player, among countless other fun applications.

Michael Simon, in his new book titled The Approximate Parent, says “Digital media is ever-present and incredibly attractive to teen brains — especially teen brains that register novelty, risk-taking and the feeling of connection as highly pleasurable. The Internet, gaming, and use of social media are addicting.” We need to realize that these devices are not just another tool in a line of educational tools, the way the VHS followed the film strip projector.

There is an age-appropriate time and place for these digital devices, and I believe it is our task as parents and educators to make those decisions for the young people in our care. This is no small task. In fact, Continue reading “High-Tech Tools in Schools”

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”

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”

Life in the Shallows vs. Life at Sea

In the area of technology and society, nobody is an expert because we just don’t know what the long-term effects are.  In fact, nobody even knows what a digital life will look like five years from now.  Most of us don’t even understand what is going on right now.

This video displays many of the realities of the digital lives of teenagers and young adults in 2010.  I think you’ll find it enjoyable, informational, and thought-provoking.

Jordan is a complex picture of modern adolescence, so it’s not as if this portrait can be labeled as entirely good or bad.  However, there are two things that are striking about this video: 1. Jordan is alone and 2. his social connections and activities all exist to serve himself.  In a word, I’d describe his relationships as “immature.”  In many ways, it is a sad picture of someone whose primary motivation is to entertain himself.  Jordan is living for himself and having a pretty good time.

While Jordan is not an evil young man, he is clearly living a life in the shallow end of the pool.  He has not grown up yet.

Hopefully, we can raise a generation with a reality that is more rich in meaning than this. Here is an example of a man and his family who are living life well, in spite of daily trials and extreme tragedies.  Furthermore, they are passing good character on down to the next generation.  Prepare yourself for the remarkable story of Ed Thomas, his family, and his community.

And to accept the award…

Video Games

I grew up with the Atari 2600 video game system.  It was the cultural phenomenon of 1978, right along with Star Wars (I was a nut for both).  To go from the old Pong game system to Space Invaders, Pac Man, Pitfall, and Asteroids seemed like a giant leap for all mankind.  I had such fun playing those games, saving up my money to buy another cartridge, and swapping stories and games with my friends.  Perhaps I wasted some hours of life along the way, especially in the long days of summer, but all in all, it was good clean fun.

Flash forward 33 summers later.  My son just turned 12, and like all boys, loves to play video games on his X-Box.  As a matter of fact, right now he is playing a video hockey game with a friend.  They just finished playing soccer and wiffle ball outside, so it’s a great way to cool down indoors on this steamy July afternoon.

This is what I love about video games.  It can be a very social activity for boys and girls to play in between more active, creative activities. Sometimes, my son and I will play a game when we are wiped out from the other activities of the day, and we just want to chill out and have some fun.  We tease each other and laugh a lot, as we play a game that keeps us acting and reacting to each others’ onscreen moves.  Mostly, he wins, which makes him feel great, but most importantly, we enjoy the free-spirited competition —  the laughs, the taunts, the punches — much more than the game itself.

As with every good thing, there can be too much of it.  Here’s one of many articles about the negative effects of too much gaming. Certainly, moderation is paramount with video games. Continue reading “Video Games”

Texting vs. Talking

There is no doubt that text messaging can be, in the right situations, the most efficient, convenient form of communication ever invented.  It’s genius.

However, there is a tremendous amount of doubt about whether, on the whole, it actually improves human communication, especially among young people.  Many people feel that it is stunting the development of a variety of communication skills in teens.  And it’s not just the naysayers who don’t understand the technology who are skeptical about the long-term effects of heavy texting.  It’s the early adopters, the ones who have been text messaging a lot for a long time who are concerned.

NPR put together a nice report which succinctly describes the situation.  While it doesn’t offer solutions, it does provide a clear snapshot of where we are with this mostly youth-driven phenomenom.

Listen here to the 4 minute mp3 file NPR report on Texting Teens.

Here’s a few thoughts on texting etiquette for adults and teens (click here).

Other ideas (not all good for every situation):

  • Don’t give your preteen a texting cell phone.  Wait as long as possible.
  • Have a cell phone docking station (basket or box on a shelf) in the kitchen where kids dock their phones for meal time, family time, bed time, and any time that you want some text-free time.
  • Have an “electronic sabbath” as a family, in which everybody stays unplugged for a certain number of hours.  Try a whole day sometime.  Read more at the blog post “Do You Need a Digital Sabbath.”
  • Try to avoid multi-tasking so much.  Research is proving that it doesn’t work well, even though you think it does.  Encourage kids to mono-task: do one thing at a time well.
  • Have kids pay their own cell phone bill.  Or compromise: they pay for texts and data service.
  • Use texting as a tool of encouragement.  Make it a ministry of love — for birthdays especially.
  • Use texting to encourage others to vote on election day or to pray for  or do something for someone in great need.
  • Make a rule that you cannot text someone in the same room or house.
  • LEAVE A COMMENT IF YOU HAVE ANOTHER IDEA.

Urgent Information of the Age

I cannot emphasize this enough.  If you are a parent, a teacher, a coach, or have any connection with a young person, you must see Frontline’s “Digital Nation”!

You will not regret it.  I have seen it twice and will see it again.  You need this.  Your kids need this.  Put it on your “to do” list, and make it happen.  Click here for the full 90-minute version online.

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