5 Back-to-School Rules for Cell Phone-Carrying Kids (and 1 for Mom and Dad)

Caroline Knorr Parenting Editor | Mom of one 

Parenting Editor | Mom of one

Whether your kid is heading to school toting a brand-new device or is already a cell-phone pro, it’s important to make sure everyone is on the same page about what “responsible use” means. You can keep an eye on kids at home (kind of), but at school, they’re on their own. As with any kind of boundary setting, these conversations can be tense. Fortunately, there are only five rules for them to remember — and one for you, to show that you’re all in this together. (Tweens and teens can also play our animated, interactive Digital Compass game to pick up digital-citizen skills.)

Here are our key guidelines for cell-phone carrying kids:

1. Respect the school’s rules. Some schools permit students to use their phones at certain times: between classes, at lunch, on the playground, even occasionally in class. Abusing this privilege could jeopardize your classmates’ freedom. They’ll be mad at you, and your parents could rightly suspend your phone use.

2. Pick up when it’s Mom or Dad. Ugh, it’s the parents calling again. Well, guess who’s paying for your phone? When your mom, dad, or caregiver call, it’s probably very important, so don’t send it to voicemail.

3. Ask permission before downloading anything. Even if you have your own app store account,get sign off on any apps you download. If something has in-app purchases, those costs could wind up on your parents’ bill — so they need to know what extra charges a download may incur. They also need to make sure it’s age appropriate and reasonably good for you.

4. Don’t flaunt it. Owning a cell phone is a privilege that not every kid has access to. It’s OK to be proud of your phone — it’s an expensive piece of equipment for which you’ve been given responsibility — but showing off could make other people feel bad. Also, it could get stolen.

5. Use your phone for good, not evil. You’ll see all kinds of misbehavior and mischief regarding phones in school. Set an example for others by being respectful and responsible with yours. Ask permission before taking someone’s picture. Take a moment to consider whether a text or video could hurt, annoy, or embarrass someone else. Turn off the phone when you’re supposed to. Don’t let the phone be more important than someone standing right in front of you.

And here’s our essential rule for parents:

Don’t text your kid during the school day. Unless it’s a real emergency — like, you’re going to the hospital — resist the urge to text your kid during the school day. Kids have survived for many, many years without talking to their parents while they’re at school — and they need to be allowed independence. And if your kid texts you, make sure he’s not breaking any rules to do so.

3 Kinds of Apps That Stir Up Drama in Schools

As kids head back to school this fall, beware of social networking apps that appeal to negative impulses.

Caroline Knorr Parenting Editor | Mom of one 

If your kid is among the 73% of teens who have access to a smartphone, you’re well aware of the app obsession that can take over a brain and body in seconds. Multiply that by the average student population at your middle or high school, and you see the problem many schools are facing this back-to-school season. For teens, smartphones + apps = social networking. And where there’s social networking, there’s sure to be drama.

While a lot of social networking is harmless — and even beneficial — some apps are specifically designed to appeal to users’ darker impulses. Confessionals, anonymous comments, incriminating photos, rumor-mongering — that sort of thing. Worse, some apps apply location services to this already combustible mix, connecting everyone in a school and magnifying problems like cyberbullying, gossip, and physical threats.

Keep these apps on your radar, and talk to your kids about responsible social networking:

  • Yik Yak. This “location aware” social networking app lets users post “anything and everything” anonymously. The brief, Twitter-like comments and photos are distributed to any 500 people using Yik Yak closest to you geographically. Anonymous threats against schools and individual students have prompted many schools to ban the app, using the company’s“geo fencing” guidelines to restrict communications in a certain area. Also watch out for:Streetchat – Image Board for Schools and Colleges, Burnbook, and After School – Funny Anonymous School News for Confessions & Compliments.
  • Ask.FM. This question-and-answer app lets kids pose queries and answer questions from other users. With questions like “am I pretty or ugly?,” the confessional nature makes kids vulnerable to negative feedback. Bullying is a major concern, and Ask.FM has been cited as a factor in stories of teen suicide. In response to these problems, the company changed management and launched a robust safety center. Still, you have to wonder about an app that has a whole section just for law enforcement investigating criminal activity. Also watch out for: Whisper.
  • Snapchat. For seemingly consequence-free communication, you can’t do better than the self-destructing messaging app Snapchat. The app has gained a reputation as a “sexting” app because outgoing (and incoming) pictures, videos, and texts aren’t permanently stored on devices. Still, many third-party developers have created apps that let recipients save snaps from unsuspecting senders. One of the biggest problems with Snapchat is its popularity: Oneteacher complained of massive class disruption when the app released an upgrade during the school day. Also watch out for: BurnNote, Slingshot.

Are Students Overworked? Research Offers Insights

Independent School Management

Vol. 14 No. 5 8/6/15

PSN eletter Vol14 No5 childstress

With extracurricular-driven“superkids” and homework horror stories driving media headlines, it begs the question: Are today’s students truly overworked to the point of mental and physical health risks? Research suggests that the rigors through which we push many students are not enough to warrant panic, though that may not be true across the board.

In 2006, three researchers—Joseph Mahoney, Angel Harris, and Jacquelynne Eccles—evaluated whether students truly were overscheduled. They hypothesized that the pressures from families and schools to succeed academically and professionally would push the average student to overextending his or her commitments, leading to health and social adjustment problems. Their study encompassed some 5,000 families nationwide with students ages 5 through 18 from a broad socioeconomic range.

The study found that there was, in fact, “very limited empirical support for the overscheduling hypothesis.” Only 3-6% of students spent 20 or more hours a week participating in extracurricular, organized activities. The average American student, in comparison, spends about 5 hours weekly enjoying organized activities, and 40% of studied students spend no time in extracurriculars at all.

The researchers also found that those students who spend 20 or more hours in an organized activity tended to be at least as well adjusted socially as “youth who did not participate” in extracurriculars. This finding runs counter to the image of highly motivated students as isolated hermits, scribbling on papers from dawn until dusk after five hours of soccer practice.

The study went on to verify the commonly held belief that participation in extracurriculars is good for a developing child’s well-being, including “academic achievement, school completion, post-secondary educational attainment, psychological adjustment, and lowered rates of smoking and drug use, to the quantity and quality of interactions with their parents.” Plus, the more a student participated in organized activities, the researchers found that the benefits of those activities either accrued or plateaued—not decreased.

The research team revisited their conclusions in 2012. They found that not only did their original conclusions continue to hold true, but also continued into early adulthood. Heavily involved students from the first study exhibited “lower psychological distress, and higher educational attainment and civic engagement” later in life.

Of course, not all studies concur with the conclusions drawn by Mahoney and his compatriots. In 2006, Dr. Shawn Latendresse, professor at Baylor University’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, ran a similar study specifically examining the relationship between affluence and parenting styles and its subsequent influence on students’ social maturity.

His conclusions indicate that, on average, students from affluent families gradually became less socially well-adjusted over their academic career, with some cases showing greater maladjustment than adolescents in low-income, high-risk neighborhoods. Dr. Latendresse further demonstrates correlations between overbearing parenting styles—including overscheduling of extracurricular activities—and an increased risk of impeded social development.

So while overscheduling may not be a problem for the majority of students (even students coming from higher socioeconomic backgrounds), the possibility of overburdening students exists and should be considered when discussing the benefits of extracurricular activities and challenging courses with families.

Parents, stop hovering! It’s not your job to remove every obstacle from your kids’ paths

Salon

We’ve taught our kids to fear failure, and in doing so, we’ve blocked the surest and clearest path to their success

Parents, stop hovering! It's not your job to remove every obstacle from your kids' paths(Credit: auremar via Shutterstock)

I became a parent and a middle school teacher in the same year, and these twin roles have shaped the way I’ve raised my children and educated my students. Over the course of my first decade raising two boys and teaching hundreds of children, I began to feel a creeping sense of unease, a suspicion that something was rotten in the state of my parenting. But it was only when my elder child entered middle school that my worlds collided and the source of the problem became clear to me: today’s overprotective, failure-avoidant parenting style has undermined the competence, independence, and academic potential of an entire generation. From my vantage point at the front of a classroom, I’d long viewed myself as part of the solution, a champion of my students’ intellectual and emotional bravery. However, as the same caution and fear I witnessed in my students began to show up in my own children’s lives, I had to admit that I was part of the problem, too. We have taught our kids to fear failure, and in doing so, we have blocked the surest and clearest path to their success. That’s certainly not what we meant to do, and we did it for all the best and well-intentioned reasons, but it’s what we have wrought nevertheless. Out of love and desire to protect our children’s self-esteem, we have bulldozed every uncomfortable bump and obstacle out of their way, clearing the manicured path we hoped would lead to success and happiness. Unfortunately, in doing so we have deprived our children of the most important lessons of childhood. The setbacks, mistakes, miscalculations, and failures we have shoved out of our children’s way are the very experiences that teach them how to be resourceful, persistent, innovative, and resilient citizens of this world.

As I stood there in my middle school classroom on the day of my personal epiphany, looking at the students before me and seeing my own parenting clearly for the first time, I resolved to do what I needed to do to guide both my children and my students back toward the path to competence and independence. The way isn’t smooth, and the going certainly isn’t easy, but that’s kind of the point. We parents are going to have to step back, leave those scary obstacles lying in the road, and allow our children to face them head-on. Given our support, love, and a lot of restraint, our kids can learn how to engineer their own solutions and pave their way toward success that is truly of their own making.

The discomfort I’d been feeling in my own parenting had been growing for a while, but I could not put my finger on where I’d gone wrong. I read all the parenting blogs, from the austere to the zealous, and read books by the experts on how to raise happy, healthy children. However, as I watched my boys approach their teenage years, something was amiss. They were good, well-adjusted kids, but I couldn’t shake the sense that when it came time for them to head out on their own and make their way in the world, they were ill-prepared. As long as they stayed inside the safe haven I’d created for them, they were confident and successful, but when forced to venture outside, would they know how to function? I’d so successfully researched, planned, and constructed their comfortable childhoods that I’d failed to teach them how to adapt to the world on its terms.

I never meant to teach my children to be helpless or fear failure, and a life of anxiety is certainly not what I envisioned for them. On the contrary, I thought my kids would grow up brave, in the sort of wild, free idyll I experienced as a child. I wanted them to explore the woods with a pocketknife and a couple of cookies shoved in their pockets, build tree forts, shoot handmade arrows at imaginary enemies, and swim in the local watering hole. I wanted them to have the time and the courage to try new things, explore their boundaries, and climb one branch beyond the edge of their comfort zones.

But somehow, somewhere, that idyllic version of childhood morphed into something very different, a high-stakes, cutthroat race to the top. Today, careless afternoons in the woods seem like a quaint throwback because the pressure to succeed from an early age has ramped up for both parents and kids. It never lets up, and there is no longer room in our children’s schedules for leisure time in the woods, let alone opportunities to problem-solve their way out of the muck and mire they encounter out there. In the new normal, every moment counts, and the more successful our kids are as students, athletes, and musicians, the more successful we judge ourselves as parents. The race to the top starts when children take their first steps and does not end until a six-figure income and socioeconomic upward mobility are secured. And, come on, what kind of negligent mother allows her kids to play alone in the woods during homework time, with pockets full of gluten and sugar, armed to the teeth with pocketknives and arrows?

Standing in my middle school classroom, frozen in that horrible realization of my own culpability in the epidemic of overparenting, I finally understood just how far off the path we parents have strayed.

We bring a beautiful, precious child into the world, and after those first moments of bliss wear off, we realize that our new purpose in life is to protect this fragile human being from harm. And if we are to believe the fear-mongering mass media, that harm is all around us. Baby snatchers disguised as maternity nurses, antibiotic-resistant germs, toxic chemicals, disease-carrying ticks, bullying kids, unfair teachers, murderous school shooters . . . no wonder we’ve gone nuts where our children are concerned.

However, this fear doesn’t just cause us to overparent; it makes us feel overwhelmed, myopic, and much too credulous of those who seek to stoke our parental fears. It’s easier to self-soothe by shielding our kids from all risk than to take a pause and figure out which risks are necessary to their development and emotional health. We protect our kids from all threats, whether real or imagined, and when we tuck our kids in bed at night, free of cuts, bruises, or emotional hurt, we have, for one more day, found tangible evidence of our parenting success.

We revel in their safety and reassure ourselves that there’s plenty of time to teach them how to deal with risk and failure. Maybe tomorrow I’ll let them walk to school, but today, they got to school safely. Maybe tomorrow they will do their own homework, but today, they are successful in math. Maybe tomorrow continues until it’s time for them to leave home, and by then, they have learned that we will always be there to save them from themselves.

I am as guilty as the next parent; I have inadvertently extended my children’s dependence in order to appropriate their successes as evidence and validation of my parenting. Every time I pack my child’s lunch for him or drive his forgotten homework to school, I am rewarded with tangible proof of my conscientious mothering. I love, therefore I provide. I provide, therefore I love. While I know, somewhere in the back of my mind, that my children really should be doing these kinds of tasks for themselves, it makes me feel good to give them these small displays of my deep, unconditional love. I reassure myself with what feels like a vast expanse of childhood, stretching out for years, its eventual end invisible over the horizon. My kids will have their entire lives to pack their lunches and remember their backpacks, but I only have a very brief window of time to be able to do these things for them.

There’s a term for this behavior in psychiatric circles. It’s called enmeshment, and it’s not healthy for kids or parents. It’s a maladaptive state of symbiosis that makes for unhappy, resentful parents and “failure to launch” children who move back in to their bedrooms after college graduation. In 2012, 36 percent of adults age 18–31 still lived in their parents’ home, and while some of that figure is due to declining employment and marriage statistics, these numbers are part of a trend that’s been rising for decades. In order to raise healthy, happy kids who can begin to build their own adulthood separate from us, we are going to have to extricate our egos from our children’s lives and allow them to feel the pride of their own accomplishments as well as the pain of their own failures.

We are also going to have to knock it off with the competitive parenting, because we have managed to whip ourselves up into a frenzy of anxiety and paranoia. Our Facebook posts and soccer tournament sideline chat is jam-packed with passive-aggressive tales of academic honors and athletic glory. As our kids get older, we spin tales of coast-to-coast college tours, SAT prep and AP tutoring, because didn’t you hear? According to the news, today’s college degree counts as much as our high school diplomas . . . and in order to get that college degree, our kids will have to jump through all sorts of hoops we never had to deal with because colleges have become more expensive and selective . . . and there is no such thing as a safety school anymore . . . and as the economy is in the toilet, once our kids graduate from whatever college will deign to take them, they may have to work as minimum-wage baristas in order to be able to afford to share an apartment with sixteen of their friends.

We need to stop and take a very deep breath. Research shows that this behavior, this “Pressured Parents Phenomenon,” is extremely contagious. Even when I’ve vaccinated myself against it ahead of time, I have fallen victim to it as well. Consequently, I am not the mother I hoped I would be. I hover over homework and obsess about grade point averages as the specter of college admission looms large on the horizon. It is as if the better angels of my nature have been cowed into silence, and I’ve bought into the hype: unless I push my kids to do more, be more, they will fail, and, by logical extension, I will have failed as a mother. In my darker moments, I’ve cast around for others to blame for my plight, and I’ve found plenty of scapegoats. Reaction against the hands-off parenting of the fifties and sixties, extension of the attachment parenting we employed when our children were in infancy, and guilt over our failed attempts to strike an impossible balance between work and family. There does not seem to be a middle ground anymore, a safe harbor between having it all and having nothing.

The Family Roots of Math Anxiety

EdWeek

By Sarah D. Sparks on August 10, 2015 

In general, parents’ help with homework can be a major support for students. But if parents shudder at the thought of algebra or arithmetic, they can pass that math dread on to their children.

So finds the latest in a series of studies by University of Chicago psychologists including Erin MaloneySian Beilock, and Susan Levine, who study the causes and effects of performance anxiety. The new research, in the journal Psychological Science, finds that parents with math anxiety can hinder their students’ progress in math.

The researchers tracked more than 400 1st and 2nd grade students whose parents provided different levels of help with their homework. They also assessed both parents’ and kids’ attitudes toward math at the beginning and end of the school year.

Students whose parents reported high math anxiety made significantly less progress in math over the course of a year, and they were more likely to become anxious themselves—but only if their anxious parents sweated through helping them with homework.

By contrast, students with math-anxious parents who helped with homework showed no similar problems when it came to reading. While there may also be some genetic influence on math anxiety, that did not seem to be a factor here. Students whose anxious parents did not help with math homework did not show similar difficulties or fear when it came to math.  

Parent Attitudes Shape Children

Even if a parent understands how to do a problem, his or her underlying dread of math could hinder students’ enjoyment of solving problems, particularly if it plays into broader stereotypes about who should like or be good at math.

“Our work suggests that if a parent is walking around saying ‘Oh, I don’t like math,’ or ‘This stuff makes me nervous,’ kids pick up on this messaging and it affects their success,” Beilock said in a statement.

That’s in line with prior research that found girls whose female elementary teachers were anxious about their own math competence showed bigger gender gaps in math performance by the end of the year, even if they had started on par with boys. Maloney told me that because nearly 9 out of 10 parents who responded in this study were women, they were unable to look at parent gender differences, but they found no differences in the effects of parent anxiety on boys versus girls. 

Overcoming Dread of Numbers

Even if parents try to control how they talk about math, fear may hinder how they help their children, the researchers found. Anxious parents may have trouble explaining math concepts, Levine noted in a statement. They may react badly when their children make mistakes while solving a problem. 

“We can’t just tell parents—especially those who are anxious about math—’Get involved,'” Maloney said in a statement on the study. “We need to develop better tools to teach parents how to most effectively help their children with math.”

We already see this for teachers. One school in New York, for example, offers weekly training to help math-anxious teachers brush up on skills and gain confidence with numbers. Another works with teachers to understand the theory of growth mindset—that math performance is not a fixed innate skill, but one that can be improved through effort.