Repost--Mindfulness with Technology in our World-April 15, 2014
Dear Sexton Mt. Families:
This morning on the news, there was a segment about an accidental Tweet that had been sent by a business to thousands of people. It was one more reminder about how technology is changing our world and was a great opportunity for me to discuss with my son what to do the second one realizes a message is inappropriate. Over my past ten years as a school administrator discipline issues have been pretty similar until the past year or so. Changes in technology have opened a new world to kids and I wanted to alert all families to some of the things I’m seeing so that you can have a proactive role at home in these changing times.
As a parent, I realize that my own experience as a child have shaped the things I think about. When I was a child, if I wanted to talk to my friends privately on the phone, I had to stretch the phone cord to the laundry area, sit on the washing machine and close myself into a tiny closet. There were three television channels to pick from and if it was windy, fewer because our large antennae would be blown around and not pick up the signal. If I wanted to look up the spelling or definition of a word, I would use a dictionary. If I needed to do research, I’d pull out an encyclopedia. To access books, I’d go to the library. To find a location, I’d look on a map. The Sears catalog provided an opportunity to shop without going to a store. When I was a child, issues with friends were face to face. Drama between friends happened in person. Graphic images were not an option because they were sold behind the counter at a store or in theaters that didn’t allow children. Life is different for our kids.
For our students today, the world is in their pocket. With a smart phone or tablet, students can access information, entertainment and other people. With such easy access a wide range of possibilities is now available to our children. There are many positive things about having the world at our fingertips but also dangers as well. While there is a lot of information available for parents on Internet safety, I wanted to share a few things that I’ve noticed over the past year and some thinking around it. Many families may already be aware of these things but most families I’ve shared info with, after something has been brought to my attention at school, have been genuinely surprised that kids might be having experiences at such young ages. Please note that these are my personal observations and I offer no solutions BUT I think it’s important that families are aware and I’ve given some things to think about. Know that students as young as 5 have been referred to the office for almost every area noted.
§ Passwords-Students share many things but passwords should not be something they share. You may want to talk about this with your child and share strategies you use for keeping important passwords secure.
§ Devices-Some kids have phones or tablets and some don’t. For the most part, phones have been stolen more than any other item this school year. When phones are brought to school, they need to be off and away. When kids brag about phones, show them to others or if they ring during class, this alerts others to the device’s presence. You may want to teach our children to be mindful of their own property. For the many students who do not yet have phones, families should let them know why your family has made that decision. I predict that in the near future, kids will be invited to bring their own device to school for projects. You may want to think about how you keep your devices secure as you are out and about and share these strategies with your child. When kids share their devices with others they need to be mindful of how it is being used. I have had conversations with students when their phone sent bad words to others’ phones when it was not in their possession. You may want to think about how you will teach your child to prevent things like that from happening.
§ Texting -Kids love to text. They love to take selfies and send them to others. Teach children that any message they send can be forwarded to others. Unlike the paper notes of my day that could be passed around to a few, texts can be sent to thousands in a short period of time. Teach children to be mindful of their words and the images they send. Remind children that any body part covered by a swimsuit should not be photographed. Think about how you will teach your child to set limits. Texts don’t just distract drivers but they can distract during homework, learning, family time, playing and more. You may want to think about how will you teach your child about what is urgent or important? Think about what you would like your child to do if they receive an inappropriate text.
§ Social Media-If you have a social media account you likely know that some users are positive, some are negative and some are downright mean. Again, most anything posted can be shared so teach children to be mindful about what they post. Too many times to count, kids have been shocked when I pull up a message they have sent. They are amazed that the principal can see their words and they clearly have not thought about who might see it. You may want to think about how you will share this message with your child. Some families say, if you wouldn’t write it to Grandma you shouldn’t write it to a friend. A middle school colleague sent me a picture with guidelines for users.
§ Visual Images-The first time one of my elementary students told me he and a group of friends had viewed pornography, I was almost physically ill. A group of kids had been at home looking something up and somehow stumbled across it but it pulled them in and they watched it several times. It was brought to my attention because they were talking to one another about it at school. All of the families involved had the same response, “I never thought I’d have to worry about this in elementary school!”
§ Advertising-There is so much advertising on different sites. Teach kids to be mindful.
§ Relationships-Online “friends” through gaming sites, social media sites or elsewhere seem to be popping up more and more. For some, the whole idea of what it means to have or be friend has changed over the years. Is your child starting with human-to-human contact first then adding the online component? Have you talked to your child about the friend of a friend and how to know if that person is safe? Do their friends know? Do kids know what to do if something unkind is posted or if exchanged words make them feel uncomfortable?
§ Words-Kids are intrigued by unknown words. Off limit words (i.e. swear words) are very tempting to look up. Definitions in paper dictionaries are often confusing for younger readers so they don’t really understand the meaning of a word if they look it up. Online dictionaries, on the other hand, sometimes add graphic images to show meaning so students have a much better understanding of what the word means. I tell students that if it seems like a questionable word, talking to a trusted adult is always the best route.
§ Access-Parents will often have strict guidelines and safeguards in their own home and assume that others do too. Access to dangerous things, whether virtual or real, may be a reality when your child goes next door.
There are many web-based resources for parents regarding safety. Though much has changed since I was a child, I know that it was easy to talk with my mom about a wide range of things because we talked often. Establishing open communication with your child now will certainly make it easier as they grow older and the topics become more complex.
Dr. Teresa Clemens-Brower
a.k.a. Mrs. C.-B.