What is it? Media Mentor Month is an initiative to help parents develop a positive relationship with their children around digital technologies. Just as we want to be mentors for our children in reading or having a healthy lifestyle, we also want to mentor them in their digital world too (see more details about being a Media Mentor here). The trouble is, sometimes we don’t know exactly how to go about that. Media Mentor Month provides parents with some ideas and strategies to help foster and develop that relationship.
Who is it for? Anyone, really, but probably best suited to parents who are looking for direction to connect with their children around technology. Especially the ones who feel they only ever battle with their kids about being on screens too much (see more about that here).
When is it happening? Ideally, March, so we’re all on the same page. Realistically? Any time that fits in to your family schedule.
What do I need to do?
You can participate as much or as little as you like. Personally, I would love to see you share some photos of your family engaging in the challenges. Make sure to add the hashtag #MediaMentorMonth so we can follow your progress!
It is a tricky thing to look at one’s own biases: it can make us feel somewhat vulnerable. In the case of screen time however, it is essential that we do so.
Professor Andy Przybylski (University of Oxford) opened the one-day event on Screen Time I had the good fortune to attend, by commenting on the very existence of the phrase “screen time”. Is there similar examination of “book time” or “food time” for example? There is an unfair rhetoric of analogue time being wholesome, good and entirely helpful, whereas screen time is seen as inherently bad, distracting, unhealthy and leading to nothing of value.
This ‘displacement hypothesis’ is such that every digital minute is seen as taking away from an analogue minute, with the insinuation that digital minutes are taking you further away from you being your best, most successful self.
Professor Przybylski argued that the evidence simply doesn’t back up this theory. Any correlational findings (remember, correlation does not equal causation) are so statistically insignificant they don’t justify focusing on – less than 1% variability in terms of correlational findings around sleep, health, functioning and behaviour.
So what does this mean for parents?
Simply put, there is an over-emphasis on limits and not enough focus on thinking critically about how we use screens, particularly how we use screens with our children.
Alexandra Samuel, using data from surveys of 10,000+ North American Parents*, found three main parenting approaches to technology: Limiters, Enablers and Mentors.
Limiters focus on minimizing access to technology.
Enablers put few restrictions on access to technology.
Mentors actively guide their children in the use of technology.
What is especially interesting about these approaches, is that for school-aged students, the children of Limiters were twice as likely to access porn, or post rude/hostile comments online. They were also three times as likely to impersonate a classmate, peer or adult (see Samuel’s article in the Atlantic for more information).
Likening the Limiter approach to abstinence-only sex education, Samuel argues, “Shielding kids from the Internet may work for a time, but once they do get online, limiters’ kids often lack the skills and habits that make for consistent, safe, and successful online interactions.”
Mentors typically make up a third of parents overall, but Mentors are equally represented in each age range, suggesting that this might be an approach that works effectively throughout your child’s life.
What we like best about these findings is that they reinforce the idea that establishing and maintaining positive relationships with your children around technology is beneficial to everyone. We want our child(ren) to come to us if they encounter problems, knowing we won’t freak out or overreact. For this to happen, we have to show that we care about and value their digital world in the same way we show that we value their other activities, e.g. reading and sports.
Devorah Heitner, author of Screenwise, suggests, “Take an interest in what your kids do in their digital lives. Learn together with your kids. Play Minecraft with them or share photos on Instagram with them. Show them what you are doing online and ask them for advice about your Facebook posts or LinkedIn Profile. Your goal is not to become an expert in technology but to get a window into how your kids think about, and interact with, technology.“
With an awareness and understanding that no parent is all-Mentor all of the time, how can we engage in more Mentor-like behaviour with our children? How can we move from being Media Police, to being Media Mentors?
We know as busy parents, it is unlikely you will get to all of these ideas (especially not only in March!), but we hope this provides a resource for you to explore and find ideas of activities to help you develop a positive digital relationship with your family.
Please feel free to share your ideas with us in the comments below, or add the hashtag #mediamentormonth on social media posts.
* “About the data: All the charts in this article are drawn from a series of surveys conducted on Springboard America and the Angus Reid Forum between March 2014 and February 2016. More than 11,000 surveys were completed by parents of children under 18; each individual survey sampled between 500 and 1000 North American parents.” Please note this data has not been made publicly available and is not peer reviewed.
Students listen and respond to a range of “This I believe” examples – both from the original podcast and samples from previous students – and then undertake the process of creating their own.
Attending a workshop with the pair last year, I couldn’t help but feed off their passion and excitement for the project. Listening to some of the finished student samples gave me chills. What phenomenal work students produce when given a platform to (literally!) share their own voice with the world.
Ceci and Nathan have shared all of their resources (linked here with permission), so I encourage you to check out the vast array of material they have shared and get this project started in your school community.
In addition, why not incorporate podcasts into your regular literacy programme? Below are a few of my favourites, which I hope you will explore with your Middle Schoolers.
This I Believe
“This I Believe engaged listeners in a discussion of the core beliefs that guide their daily lives. We heard from people of all walks of life — the very young and the very old, the famous and the previously unknown.” When you get a collection of stories about powerful beliefs from a diverse group of people, you can’t help but create amazing content.
Youth Radio is a commentary on present-day issues, presented by student journalists. What I like about this podcast is you get view points from students, for students. The content varies broadly. Student journalists are never going to shy away from controversial topics – it’s part of what makes it real to it its listeners. Generally, episodes are short and cover a range of perspectives. There is bound to be one about a topical issue you are exploring in class.
If language is your area of expertise, look no further than The Allusionist. Featuring language experts, listener questions and words of the day, this podcast by Helen Zaltzman is a deep dive into the wonders and mysteries of language. This podcast would certainly enhance lessons on grammar.
In its own words: “99% Invisible is about all the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about — the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world.” Fascinating stuff, huh? Digging around in the archives will be sure to uncover an episode or two to engage every learner.
Billing itself as a podcast for eaters, not foodies, The Sporkful is chocka-block with fascinating gastronomic content. As my son is essentially a stomach on legs, I figure this will be a great podcast for him to check out…
The Guardian describes Reply All as, “A podcast about the internet’ that is actually an unfailingly original exploration of modern life and how to survive it.” The subject matter is near and dear to many teen hearts, and the quirky anecdotes about the vast reaches of the internet keep the audience wanting more.
Ok, this one is weird! Finally, a work of fiction for the teenage mind to uncover. Each episode of Welcome to Night Vale appears as a series of regular reports from a local community news broadcast. Sounds fairly benign, right? But there are some major clues that things are not exactly what you’d call “normal” in the town of Night Vale. Aliens, the attention given to helicopter paint and a floating cat is only the beginning…
As a very visual person, I arrived relatively late to the Podcast party. It wasn’t for lack of interest – I just didn’t know what to do with my EYES! Thankfully, the need to take my dog for a walk solved that problem for me.
I listened to several outstanding podcasts and found myself thoroughly engaged. It made me think that kids really need in on the podcast action too! If we want students to ‘Read the World’ – and we do! – we need to give them opportunities to read books, online texts, images, videos AND podcasts.
Obviously, I’m not the only one thinking of using podcasts in the classroom. English teacher Mike Godsey, writing for The Atlantic, shares his experience with The Value of Using Podcasts in Class. Unexpected benefits for his high school students included wanting to engage more with reading as a result of listening to podcasts. But would the same benefits apply to younger learners? G5 teacher @JKSuth thinks so, based on how her students responded to popular podcast The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel.
Fortunately, I have 2 guinea pigs children of my own with which to test out some podcasts. We listen to an episode or two in the car on the way to school (a welcome alternative to the monotony of Swiss radio). I can attest to their engagement in the podcasts, discussion after each episode (involving shared hypotheses as to what may happen next), and general enthusiasm for listening.
Below are some podcasts I recommend for the new generation of listeners out there.
Top of the list for 8-12 year olds is The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel. A clever mystery beginning in a school and continued in space. This award-winning podcast is extremely well put together, with great hooks to keep children engaged across episodes.
Hero reporter Eleanor Amplified outwits fiendish plots to prevent her broadcasting the truth to her listeners. This adventure series is recommended for children 8-12 years old. The short 15-ish minute podcasts would fit in well as part of a reading rotation in a well-balanced literacy programme.
This serialised sci-fi podcast features the adventures of Finn Caspian, his friends and pet robots as they explore the universe’s greatest mysteries aboard an Exploratory Space Station. Interaction is encouraged, so listeners can submit plot suggestions, questions or leave an audio message for the author.
From Animal Farts to Sunburn, Slime to Carnivorous plants, there is something in Brains On for every kid. The length of episodes varies greatly, so take note of how much time you have for these scientific gems. They are great augmentations to many science units at school.
Rounding out our science trilogy, NPR’s WOW in the World podcast encourages families to explore and appreciate the amazing wonders of the world around them. Why do onions make you cry? How do you catch a case of the giggles? Answers to these questions and more can be found in this 25-30 minute podcast series.
So what other podcasts can I add to our daily rotation? Which podcasts do your primary students enjoy most? I hope you join the conversation!