In my household, we are now onto week 4 of online-only learning. It has been a huge learning curve for our family, highlighting our complete reliance on our devices as learning tools (and entertainment powerhouses!), but also the value of spending time together – both on and offline.
I hope that Media Mentor Month 2020 provides an opportunity to engage in experiences that celebrate positive uses of technology, explore some creative pursuits, and encourage you to take time for important conversations about how we best use our devices. Let us be the media mentors our children need us to be.
My colleague Daniel Johnston and I spoke to parents last week on the subject of Parenting in the Digital Age – a topic close to both of our hearts. We reminded those in attendance that we are personally invested in this topic and learning alongside them, as we are parents, as well as teachers.
For this presentation, we based a lot of our information on content available from the following sources: Amy Blankson– an author and speaker, focusing on “Leveraging technology to help us be more productive, keep our sanity, and boost our happiness.” Dave & Blake – presenters and speakers for My Life Online which aims to “teach kids to be safe, smart & kind online.”
We encourage you to explore these sources, as they are full of great ideas to support students and parents.
Below is our presentation to parents. Please click on the cog below the presentation to access the speaker notes.
We also collated some resources on a Padlet, which you can see below, or access via tinyurl.com/gwas2019. We hope you find them useful!
Dave and Blake are two presenters of My Life Online a series of workshops for schools around keeping kids safe and positive in their online interactions. The pair have recently released a 3-part video series aimed at parents, incorporating strategies that aim to improve conversations with kids and present information in a calm, non-sensational manner.
First up, is a video entitled “The 3 Habits Every Kid Needs to be Safe & Responsible Online.” In this video, they focus on helping kids make safe and good choices, on increasing empathy and on considering their online legacy. You will appreciate the easy to remember strategies to pass on to your children, and the fact that it is realistic advice, not the “Guess the right answer” type of advice that has kids cringing on the inside.
Kids are losing their ability to socialise in person, and
Kids need online monitoring
Again, what I appreciate about their approach, is they are not demonising social media (which is not helpful in our digital world), but instead are giving parents approaches to improve communication and foster positive relationships with their child(ren).
One of the most practical tips they share in this video, is considering online posts on the following continuum: Helpful to Hurtful; Self to Others. This can be a great way of encouraging kids to see the impact of their posts may have.
Each video is about 15 minutes long, and well worth the time. I hope you find them useful!
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!
One of the biggest challenges parents face is how to approach potentially sensitive topics with their children. What age should they be? What should I say? How much detail do I go into?
As we know with parenting, there are so many different approaches to choose from. But before you go down that track, it might be best to examine your own experiences, beliefs and values, so you know where you’re starting, at least.
Here are some results of questions we asked parents at our recent workshop:
Here are some questions for you to ponder: How did you learn about sex?
Where did you get your information from? Did you feel well-prepared? What do you wish you had known?
Furthermore: Did your sex education focus on mechanics and how to avoid pregnancy? Did it include aspects such as touching, pleasure, consent, emotions and feelings?
Did your sex education include sexuality education?
Did it include information about gender identity, sexual orientation and relationships?
Director of Wellbeing Daniel Johnston and I have teamed up again to put together some resources for parents about How to Talk to Your Kids about Sex and Pornography.
Our presentation to parents is below. Please view our slide notes (via the settings cog directly under the presentation) to see the points we try to raise throughout.
We also collated a fairly comprehensive set of resources for parents about common discussion points, which we encourage you to explore.
Regardless of the content, we encourage you to keep lines of communication open and make the most of those teachable moments that crop up, e.g. when watching TV. If your children don’t feel comfortable coming to you, then they will seek answers to their questions from elsewhere.
Have lots of small conversations, rather than one big “sex talk”. Let’s also make sure we have appropriate, reliable resources for them (books, websites, videos) so they have access to quality information if and when they choose to explore further.
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.
Take a look at the photo below. What does it tell you? What do you notice?
It tells me that with close to 60 tabs open, this student was so distracted by the extension that he/she wasted a significant amount of time being off task. The worrying thing is that if this student continues these patterns of behaviour, he/she will find it increasingly hard to focus on learning. Let’s face it – learning is our business!
But how much direct teaching goes into helping students learn how to focus? I’m willing to wager not enough. We need to be fair to our students: we can’t expect them to pick it up through osmosis. As teachers, part of our role is to teach into how to focus, not merely that one should focus.
Telling students to delete distracting elements such as non-educational chrome extensions is not enough; students need to understand the reasons behind the request – why is it unsuitable for learning?
After all, they’re not doing this maliciously – they have a genuine curiosity and love making their devices feel like their own. The trouble is, many of their choices have a negative impact on their ability to stay on track and focused.
Helping students to identify what helps their learning and what hinders their learning is a great place to start.
Recently, we had a number of students install a Chrome Extension called Tabby Cat. It’s a cute, harmless-looking extension that shows a different cat every time you open a new tab. You can interact with it, and sometimes you will get little gifts to play with. Sounds ok, right?
I asked the class to tell me what they liked about this Tabby Cat. Predictably, the responses were as follows:
“It’s fun because you get toys to play with if you keep opening new tabs.”
“Every new tab is different.”
“I want to see what is going to happen next and if I will get any gifts”
Helping students understand that each new picture of a cat is essentially rewarding distracting behaviour, can help them make better choices.One recommendation is to replace Tabby Cat with the Chrome Extension Momentum, which gives one new picture a day, together with the question: What is your main focus for today? This personal reminder prompts students that they have a task to complete, with a beautiful photo that doesn’t change every tab.
Vision and Movement
“Vision trumps all other senses,” according to John Medina, author of Brain Rules. Approximately half of the brain’s resources are dedicated to processing visuals. Our brains are attuned to noticing colour and movement, so moving backgrounds, animated gifs and scrolling advertisements draw our attention.
In a G3 class recently, we did an audit of our visual noise. Common things we saw were:
Animated snow falling on Gmail backgrounds (or similar)
Desktop backgrounds where the picture changes every 5 seconds
Highly pixelated images used as desktop backgrounds
In pairs, students helped each other make good decisions to remove distracting movement – that was the easy part. The hard part was making good decisions about their desktop backgrounds. Saying goodbye to their favourite sports star or cartoon character was more of a challenge for some.
We discussed quality resolution of images being more pleasing to the eye. We also introduced the idea of colour association. Green is a calming colour (think, Green Rooms backstage in theatres) and blue can help with productivity. Encouraging students to choose a green/blue-based image that is high quality helped them see they still had some choice and the option of personalisation, but not at the expense of their focus.
Number of Desktops
Students using school laptops that don’t go home, really have no need for multiple desktops. Deleting extra desktops will help to remove the temptation to swipe between apps.
Reader View (Safari) or Readability (Chrome Extension) When looking at websites, particularly those which have articles, using Reader View in Safari or the Chrome Extension Readability can help strip away those annoying advertisements and other extraneous and distracting material, allowing us to focus primarily on the text and images in the article. Check out the tutorial below:
When in a rush, it’s easy to leave your desktop background as a cluttered disaster, always thinking, “I’ll clean it up later.” Many of our student’s desktops look like this (not unlike my teenage bedroom):
A secondary-click (right-click, or 2-finger tap) > Clean up by > Kind, helps organise files into groups of the same type. See below:
Once organised by kind, it’s easy to trash all the screenshots and/or arrange files into folders.
We recommend moving files/folders to Google Drive or Documents on a Mac (depending on file type) rather than keep things on the desktop, so as to make startup as smooth as possible. Aesthetically, it’s also more pleasing!
These suggestions are aimed at helping empower our younger students to make better choices by being well informed about distracting elements on their laptop. If you are interested in specific apps and Chrome Extensions to take managing distractions one step further (blocking specific sites etc), you may wish to check out my recent post on Parenting in the Digital Age.
Do you have any other great tips for managing distractions in primary? We welcome your ideas!