Media Guidelines for Kids of All Ages

Child Mind Institute

Rachel EhmkeTips for making sure your children’s screen time is healthy

Parents used to just worry about kids watching too much TV, or playing too many video games. We still worry about those things, but now the screen time list has gotten much longer. Phones, tablets, apps, social media, texting — they all can captivate kids (and adults) starting at a very young age. What’s a parent to do? Going back to bed isn’t an option, but taking a deep breath and encouraging rational moderation is. Here are some tips, broken down by age group, to get you started.

Very young children (0-4)

– Limit exposure. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding television and other entertainment media for children under 18 months. After 18 months parents can begin introducing “high quality” programming, but the AAP cautions that parents should watch with their children to answer any questions they might have. For children two to five, the AAP recommends limiting media consumption to an hour of high quality programming, again with the caveat that parents should be watching alongside.

– Start leading by example early. Even before your child has a phone or tablet of her own, show her how they should be used. Don’t check your messages at the dinner table. Look at people when they’re talking to you — not at your phone. Remember that your children are always watching you and young children notice everything — that’s how they learn.

– Don’t underestimate the value of traditional toys and open spaces. It’s important for kids to experience unstructured “free play,” which means that they decide what to do, and how to do it, and are playing simply for play’s sake—not to get to the next level in a game, or learn some specific skill. Children should experience the fun of making up their own rules — and breaking them — as they go along. This kind of play lets kids:

  • Move at their own pace, instead of being driven (or hurried) along by fast-moving media
  • Develop creativity
  • Get experience making decisions
  • Practice sharing and working with others
  • Learn to be a leader and self-advocate

Apps — however educational they claim to be — are no substitute for the kind of learning that comes to kids naturally if we let it.

– Do leave the tablet at home. While they are helpful during a long car or plane ride, tablets and other devices are out of place in the stroller or car on the way to preschool. It’s important for kids to have the opportunity to look around them and find entertainment (not to speak of learning) in the real world, too. And they should not be part of play dates!

Grade school age kids (5-11)

– Watch things together. If you’re worried that your kids are getting bad messages from the media, the best way to counteract them is to watch alongside your kids and point out when something isn’t right. Call out a female character if she only seems to care about boys, or how she looks. Provide context if you are seeing unhealthy relationships (including friendships) or unrealistic beauty standards. Besides reinforcing your values, this will teach your kids to watch television and movies actively, not passively, which is good for their self-esteem. Do this during commercials, too!

– Screen time shouldn’t be all the time. The AAP recommends that parents set sensible boundaries on how much screen time is appropriate for their child. Just as important: designating media-free spaces, like bedrooms and the dinner table. Establishing (and enforcing) these limits from a young age teaches kids to be healthy media consumers.

– Be discerning. Determining what is quality screen time and what isn’t might not be obvious, but look out for things that:

  • Are age-appropriate
  • Engage your child’s imagination
  • Have the right values

Common Sense Media has more pointers here. Conversely, if you don’t want your child playing a particular game or watching a particular show, explain your reasons why and be specific — don’t just say it’s “bad.”

– Don’t make screens the reward (or consequence). Technology is enormously appealing to kids as it is, but when we make screen time the go-to thing kids get for good behavior — or get taken away for bad behavior — we are making it even more desirable, thereby increasing the chances that a child will overvalue it.

– Encourage other activities. There are many ways to have fun. Running around outside, playing a sport, reading books, doing crafts — variety is important for a balanced life. Encourage your kids to develop a wide range of interests. Model yourself doing this, too. Let your kids see you reading a book and making things and having a hobby. Finally, present these things as just as rewarding as screen time — not alternatives to it. Equal billing is important.

– Be prepared for them to discover porn. Even if they’re not exactly looking for it, kids today can stumble onto pornography very easily. Curiosity is often a big motivator, so don’t be shy about having some frank, developmentally appropriate conversations about sex. If they hear it from you then they’ll be less likely to turn to the Internet for answers, and they’ll be more likely to ask you to explain what they see online or hear from friends. And if they do see porn, let them know what they saw was no more realistic than any other movie.

Link between social media and depression stronger in teen girls than boys, study says

CNN

7 ways parents can teach girls to build one another up, instead of tearing one another down


(Kara Somberg/for The Washington Post)

October 30, 2018

When Ashley Eckstein, an actress and entrepreneur, started performing professionally in fifth grade, the other girls in her class taunted her relentlessly. Now 37, Eckstein recently brought her 13-year-old niece to a girls leadership summit to show her a different dynamic — hundreds of girls celebrating one another’s accomplishments in fields including writing and social activism.

“The cheers, hugs and high-fives literally gave me goose bumps,” said Eckstein, author of “It’s Your Universe: You Have the Power to Make it Happen.” “Something very right was happening in that room full of confident girls all doing their own thing.”

The girls may not have realized it, but they were pushing back against a powerful tendency for girls and women to view one another as threats, rather than allies or part of a support system.

“Scarcity theory might lead young girls to believe that there are limits around how many good things can happen to any one person, which could also lead them to believe that their own success will be limited,” said Caroline Adams Miller, a positive psychology expert and the author of “Getting Grit.”

When Miller speaks to groups of female professionals, she often asks: Does anyone feel like one of the biggest challenges isn’t just how men have treated other women, but also women shooting one another from inside the tent?

“It’s not half the room raising their hands — it’s 100 percent of the women,” she said.

“Unfortunately, it’s been communicated to us over the years that there are fewer spots for women — a limited inventory,” added Donna Orender, the author of “Wowsdom! The Girls Guide to the Positive and the Possible.” And teens have their own concerns. A recent survey by Plan International USA, an organization fighting child poverty, and PerryUndem, a public opinion research firm, found that 30 percent of girls ages 10 to 19 see fewer opportunities at school for them than for boys, particularly in sports.

Girls who perceive that it’s a zero-sum game are less likely to support one another, but experts say that if girls band together, they can expand their options. Here are seven ways parents can raise empowered girls who support and encourage each other.

Urge them to use social media for good

Expectations and options for girls are rapidly expanding, but the PerryUndem survey found that girls still believe society most values their physical appearance. Girls also reported feeling tremendous pressure to avoid bragging or seeming overly confident.

Miller started an initiative, “#Share222,” to change that, by encouraging women to share one another’s substantive achievements on at least two social media outlets. This is something teen girls can do, too, replacing selfies and party pictures with shout-outs for friends who have reached personal goals. This kicks off a positive cycle. Girls want to reciprocate kind gestures, and they learn that true friendship and tenacity matter more than popularity or appearance.

Help them use expansive body language

When girls feel strong, they see one another as allies rather than predators, said Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and the author of “Presence.” Even simple changes in posture can build their sense of empowerment. Cuddy notes that when girls are young, they stand with their feet apart and their chests out, but by the time they hit middle school, they start to display shrinking behavior.

Cuddy recommends that parents tell their daughters that they deserve to take up space, and that poor posture will affect their mood and sense of self-efficacy. Ask, “How do you feel when you’re ­sitting like that?”

“Feeling powerful activates what we call the behavioral approach system and makes us more optimistic, generally happier, and more confident and willing to take risks,” she said. On the flip side, “Powerlessness can be really dangerous and make it hard to know who to trust.”

Parents also can show girls images such as the Fearless Girl sculpture, which depicts a girl facing down the Wall Street Bull. “I get pictures from parents of girls all the time who want to be photographed with their chins up and chests out just like the fearless girl,” Cuddy said. “When I went to see it, there were probably 60 girls there. That’s what they want to see, and what we need to be showing them.”

Normalize giving and seeking help

Teach your daughter the importance of identifying sources of support. Orender regularly organizes formal mentor walks to pair tween and teen girls with women working in their fields of interest.

One time, Orender paired all the girls with women who were 65 and older. After the walk, the older women read letters to their younger selves, and the girls read letters to their older selves. “It was such a powerful way to show the girls that they’re not alone, and that intergenerational connection is a two-way street,” she said. At the end of every walk, Orender urges the girls to continue reaching out to their mentors for help and advice, stressing that girls can continue to build one another up throughout their lives.

Emphasize mastery instead of performance

Instead of focusing on whether your daughter ran more laps than everyone else, ask her to articulate a specific goal. The question can then be, “Did you run more laps today than yesterday?”

The organization Girls on the Run helps girls focus on doing their best rather than beating someone else, said Allie Riley, the organization’s senior vice president of programming and evaluation.

“You can be competitive without thriving on doing better than someone else,” she added. “Otherwise, it’s, ‘I can do well or you can do well, but we both can’t do well.’ ” At 5Ks, the members of the team pace themselves to run in with a girl who is struggling, or two girls will try to cross the finish line together. Girls can transfer these lessons about empathy and mutual support to other areas of their lives.

Identify fierce but kind female characters

Girls often struggle with healthy aggression, but competition helps people accomplish goals they otherwise wouldn’t complete. Being competitive and supporting others aren’t mutually exclusive ideas. “We’ve been so militant about getting girls to be nice, they don’t even know there’s such a thing as healthy competition,” says psychologist Lisa Damour, the author of “Untangled.”

When Marina Passalaris, the founder of Beautiful Minds in Australia, conducts confidence-building workshops for girls, she emphasizes that you can be a good person with goals without harming anyone. “Socially, we have this weird idea that a nice girl is quiet and submissive and doesn’t chase her dreams,” she said. You can bring fierceness to competitive situations, then return to being a good sport and friend. Damour points to Mulan as a good example. Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka Tano in animated Star Wars shows, refers to Hera and Sabine, powerful female characters in that universe.

“They’re part of a crew who work together to overcome the empire,” Eckstein said. “They’re girls working together, overcoming, doing great things.”

Urge them to be loyal

Girls can commit to having one another’s backs even if they drift apart or develop different interests. As Cuddy pointed out, “We make romantic commitments, so why not make friendship commitments?”

That said, parents should help their daughters choose friends with care. “Focus on the people in your corner, and only bring new people into your life who cheer you on,” says psychologist Lea Waters, author of “The Strength Switch.” “It’s okay to befriend someone who’s willing to fight it out with you in the arena, but avoid the ones in the stands throwing things at you.”

Encourage them to join a team

When girls play sports, they learn to set their egos aside and invest in one another’s success. Sports also may buffer them against that deflating posture. “When you’re on a team and social status is based on your strength, power and ability to do well for the team, that becomes what’s valued,” Cuddy said.

Girls who aren’t interested in sports can join another group with a shared vision. Consultant Jon Gordon, author of “The Power of a Positive Team,” recommends activities such as drama club or marching band.

“In theater, you have to make it about what’s best for the performance, and in a marching band, you have to trust that the person next to you won’t hit or step on you,” he said. “It’s all about being better for each other — no one achieves greatness in isolation.”

Phyllis L. Fagell is the counselor at Sheridan School in the District and a therapist at the Chrysalis Group in Bethesda. She tweets @Pfagell and blogs at phyllisfagell.com.

Is Banning Smartphones The Answer?

Schools are banning smartphones. Here’s an argument for why they shouldn’t — and what they should do instead.


Jack Doyle, 13, Ryan Ward, 14, Aiden Franz, 13, and Gray Rager, 14, use their cellphones during lunch at Westland Middle School in Bethesda, Md., in 2017. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)
September 21

This fall, when French students returned to school for the 2018-2019 academic year, many could not take their smartphones to class. The French Parliament over the summer passed legislation that banned students up to age 15 from taking the devices to school — or, at the very least, requiring that they be turned off in class. The goal, according to the Agence France-Presse, was to try to break phone addiction and ensure that students were focusing on their schoolwork in class.

Such bans are increasingly being reported in schools around the world. In this post, a world-renowned educator takes a counterintuitive looks at these actions and offers a different approach. He is Pasi Sahlberg, former director general at the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, and now a professor of education policy at the Gonski Institute for Education at Australia’s University of New South Wales in Sydney.

Sahlberg has lived and worked in the United States, including several years teaching at Harvard University and leading education work at the World Bank. A former math and science teacher in junior high and high school, he is the author of the best-selling books, “Finnish Lessons 2.0: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland” and this year’s “FinnishED Leadership: Four big, inexpensive ideas to transform education.

By Pasi Sahlberg

“The time has come to ban cellphones in the classroom.”

A blanket ban on cellphones in class would not be smart.”

These were the headlines of two op-eds published in Canadian daily newspapers in early September. This debate has already reached an international scale: Since 2012, most teenagers in rich countries have had access to smartphones.

In Kerry, Ireland, one school has restricted children’s use of smartphones and social media, not only in school but also outside school hours, with the full support of parents. In Scotland, the Parliament has considered putting limits on student’s cellphone use in schools. In July 2018, the French government banned all students under the age of 15 from using smartphones during school hours. The New South Wales Department of Education in Australia is carrying out a review into noneducational use of mobile devices in schools to see if they should follow France’s lead.

Why is this issue being raised now? One reason is this: Smartphones are everywhere. According to the Pew Research Center, 95 percent of teens in the United States have access to smartphones, and half of them say they are online practically all the time, including at nights. The Center for Media and Child Health at Harvard Medical School estimates that teens spend more than nine hours every day consuming media through their mobile devices. Half of American teenagers say they are “addicted” to their smartphones.

Second, many teachers and parents believe that smartphones disturb children and harm their learning in school. In the Canadian province of Alberta, for example, 3 in 4 teachers believe that students’ ability to focus on educational tasks has decreased in the past five years. Finland’s slippage in international student assessments has happened at the same time as teenagers’ increased screen time. Similar trends of stagnated or declining student achievement have been noted in many developed nations recently.

Third, children’s rapidly declining mental health has led many parents and teachers to wonder what is going on in their lives. If you have any doubts that these concerns couldn’t be real, consider these alarming findings:

  • San Diego State University professor Jean Twenge found that the number of American teenagers who feel joyless or useless jumped 33 percent between 2010 and 2015. In that same period, there was also a 50 percent increase in depressive symptoms among teens.
  • Australian psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg stated that in Australia, 1 in 7 primary school and 1 in 4 secondary school children suffer mental-health issues.
  • The National Institute for Health and Welfare in Finland estimates that 20 to 25 percent of youths suffered mental health problems in 2017, an all-time high.
  • An Alberta Teachers Association’s survey showed that 85 to 90 percent of teachers think that the number of children with emotional, social and behavioral problems in their schools has increased in the past five years.
  • Evidence from around the world suggests that children do not sleep enough, do not eat enough healthful food and do not engage in enough daily outdoor physical activity.

Though it isn’t clear that smartphones are the cause, it isn’t clear they aren’t. So out of an abundance of caution, should they be altogether banned in schools?

Not so fast, some would say. Although many researchers believe that children’s rapidly growing use of smartphones may contribute to declining mental health and inability to learn well in school, it is difficult to prove that screen time alone is the main cause.

Blanket bans are rarely the most effective ways to fix human behavioral problems. Today’s children were born in a world where technology and digital gadgets were already a normal part of life. From an educational perspective, banning smartphones in schools would be an easy solution but not necessarily the smartest one.

Instead, we should teach children to live safe, responsible and healthful lives with and without their smartphones and other mobile devices. Education can be a powerful tool to teach children to exercise self-control and to live better lives. But schools can’t do this alone. “It takes a village to raise a child,” as the old African adage goes.

Here is how to get started:

1. Sleep more

More children than ever suffer from insufficient daily sleep. According to most pediatricians, school-age children (6 to 13 years old) need nine to 11 hours of sleep every night, and teenagers should sleep eight to 10 hours every night to function best. However, most teens do not get that much sleep. An American study recently found that in 2015, one-fourth of American adolescents slept less than seven hours a night. The National Sleep Foundation says that only 15 percent of teens sleep at least 8.5 hours a night during school week. It is common for teens to sleep with their smartphone and check what has happened during the night before saying “Good morning” to their parents.

Solution: Teach children the importance of sleep. Work with parents to agree on the rules that shut mobile devices down two hours before bedtime and keep them away from bedrooms. Assign children an hour’s extra sleep as homework. Keep a log about how children sleep, and monitor the effects of sleep on their well-being.

2. Play more outside

Children play less than ever. The American Academy of Pediatricsconcluded that because parents spend less time with their children outdoors, children are more engaged with technology, and because schools expects students to do more and faster, children’s opportunities to play have decreased. In many schools, children don’t play anymore. In 2016, just 13 U.S. states had legislation mandating recess for all children during school days. Research that author William Doyle and I used in writing “Let the Children Play” led us to conclude that play is a dying human activity in many education systems around the world.

Solution: Make 15-minute hourly recess a basic right for all children in school. Use schoolyard and nature for recess, play and physical activity as often as possible. Teach parents about the power of free outdoor play and encourage them to spend more time with their children outdoors. Assign homework that includes playing with one another or with parents. Keep a record of how more play and physical activity affects children’s learning and well-being.

3. Spend less time with digital media

Children spend much more time daily with digital devices than before. Many of them sleep less than they watch digital screens. Children often learn these habits from their parents. A recent British study found that about 51 percent of infants 6 to 11 months old use a touch screen daily. According to the Common Sense Media 2015 survey, U.S. teenagers’ average daily media use excluding time spent for school or for homework in 2015 was nearly nine hours.

Solution: Teach children responsible and safe use of technology. Talk about technology with children and help them to find the best ways to limit smartphone use in school and at home. As a parent or teacher, be a role model of regular media diets to children and keep smartphones away when they are not needed. Make technology a tool, not a treat for children in school and at home.

4. Read more books

Children read less than before, and so do adults. Half of children in the United States today love or like reading books for fun, compared with 60 percent in 2010. International reading literacy survey PIRLS 2016indicated a decline in recreational reading among Finnish children: 35 percent of fourth-graders read for pleasure. Boys read so little in Finland that 1 in 8 are functionally illiterate.

Solution: Make reading a habit. Advise parents to buy books and read them with their children. Read regularly and discuss what you read in school and at home. Let children choose what they want to read. Visit libraries and bookstores and meet with book authors. Read books you hold in your hands more than those you read on a screen.

5. Write letters to ones you love

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows that 3 in 4 of 12th- and 8th-graders lack proficiency in writing. Snapchat cyber slang uses shortcuts, alternative words and symbols to convey thoughts in an electronic communication and writing. Ask any high school teacher or college professor for more evidence for the state of teenagers’ writing skills.

Solution: Make writing a habit in school. Coach students in good writing and give them regular feedback. Use pen and paper alongside electronic tools. Write a letter by hand to your grandmother or someone you love once a week.

The key to success in life is self-control. Longitudinal research studies, like the Dunedin Study in New Zealand, have shown that learned self-control in childhood is the best predictor of success in adulthood. The main purpose of the five steps above is to help children to regulate their own behaviors. Thoughtful reading and productive writing require the ability to focus, concentrate and pay attention to these activities long enough.

Sufficient daily sleep and more outdoor play help children to do better. They could therefore be more important keys to improving student learning and well-being in school than haphazard education policies and innovation that have been common mandates in schools around the world.

Kids’ Brainpower Tied to Exercise, Sleep and Limited Screen Time

The New York Times

At least 60 minutes of physical activity a day, nine to 11 hours of sleep a night, and no more than two hours a day of recreational screen time were tied to higher mental test scores.

Researchers tied three behaviors to higher scores on tests of mental ability in children: at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day, nine to 11 hours of sleep a night, and no more than two hours a day of recreational screen time.

The new study, in Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, included 4,524 children ages 8 to 11 who were assessed with six standard tests that measure language skills, memory, planning ability, and speed at completing mental tasks.

Compared with those who met none of the three behavioral criteria, those who met all of them scored about 4 percent higher on the combined tests. Meeting the requirements for both screen time and sleep was associated with a 5.1 percent increase in scores compared with those who met neither. Only 5 percent of the children met all three criteria, and nearly 30 percent met none.

“It may be that screen time is affecting sleep,” said the lead author, Jeremy J. Walsh, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia. “Sleep is a critical behavior for shaping our brains. Kids need to be sleeping nine to 11 hours a night for their cognitive development to be optimal.”

Social Media, Social Life: Teens Reveal Their Experiences (2018)

Common Sense Media

VR 101

Social media platforms are central to every aspect of teens’ lives, from how they stay in touch with friends to how they engage with politics. And constantly refreshing their social feeds can feel simultaneously positive and negative: Teens say social media strengthens their relationships but also distracts them from in-person connection.

Social Media, Social Life: Teens Reveal Their Experiences sheds light on teens’ changing social media habits and why some kids are more deeply affected by — and connected to — their digital worlds. The report is a nationally representative survey of more than 1,000 kids age 13 to 17. And because it tracks changes from 2012 to today, we can see how teens’ social media use continues to evolve. Read the full report

Apps Stirring Up Trouble in Schools

This year’s hottest social media can fill the school day with drama and distraction. 
By Caroline Knorr 
Apps Stirring Up Trouble in Schools

Ask any middle or high school teacher what their biggest classroom challenge is, and it’s pretty much guaranteed they’ll say “cellphones.” Makes sense. Today, 95 percent of teens have access to a cellphone, and nearly half say they’re on them “constantly.” Putting aside for a moment the need to find solutions to this problem, inquiring minds want to know: What the heck is on kids’ phones that they can’t go an entire class without them?

Two words: killer apps. Specifically, the ones that play into the tween and teen brain’s need for stimulation and peer approval and its weakness for thinking through consequences — in other words, stuff that lets them gossip, socialize, play games, and — if they’re so inclined — not work too hard. These apps are designed to capture kids’ attention and hold it for as long as possible. (Learn about the tricks social media designers use to keep kids hooked.) And once an app gains critical mass (like, when every kid in school is on it), your social life takes a major hit if you don’t, for example, play Fortnite, keep up a Snapstreak, or stalk your crush on Find My Friends. And, honestly, it takes a pretty steadfast kid to resist tapping into the internet hive mind for answers to tough homework questions (especially when everyone else seems to be doing it).

No wonder teachers have such an uphill battle keeping tweens and teens focused in class. But you can help your student by discussing this issue at home. In fact, by simply being aware of some of the key apps that tend to stir up trouble in schools, whether due to social drama, distraction, or something worse — like cheating — you can start a conversation with your kid that could save them and the teacher a lot of headaches. And while you don’t have to know every single detail of all the popular apps, it helps to have an awareness of when, why, and how they’re being used and to help your kid manage their own use and that of their friends. Most teachers would probably agree that the internet has been a mostly positive aspect of the middle and high school years. But students, with the support of parents, need to use it responsibly. (Learn more ways to help kids manage their app use and stay focused in school.)

Check out some of the apps that can potentially stir up drama in schools this year:

Snapchat. The original disappearing-message app has metamorphosed into a megaportal for chatting, finding your friends on a map, sharing images, reading the news, watching videos, and much, much more. As one of the most important apps for teens, it takes up a significant portion of their day. One of those time-consuming activities that occupy students during the school day is Snapstreaks, which require users to trade snaps within a 24-hour period. The longest streaks number in the thousands of days — and some kids maintain streaks with multiple people.

Tik Tok – including musical.ly. What started as a lip-synching app is now a hugely popular, full-fledged video-sharing service. The ability to “go live” at any time — meaning to stream yourself live (yes, on the internet) — has added a whole ‘nother level to the time tweens and teens can spend dancing, singing, pranking, and performing skits to music or other recorded sounds. While much of the content is fine, a lot of it is extremely iffy for kids, and when you watch it, you can see plenty recorded during the school day.

Games such as Fortnite and HQ Live Trivia Game Show (HQ for short). Fortnite has all the hallmarks of being a teacher’s worst nightmare: It’s easy to play, highly social, and super compelling. The hugely popular survival game is played in short bursts (until you die — which is often), so it’s tailor-made for students trying to get a bit of fun in between lunch and algebra class. Some schools are banning the game, leading to knockoff versions that get around the school network’s blacklist. HQis the smash-hit trivia game that’s played for real prize money. Each 12-minute game is hosted live as hundreds of thousands of players log in to answer 12 multiple-choice questions on a wide variety of trivia topics. Games usually take place twice on weekdays and once on weekends (the company experiments with different airtimes to keep players on their toes). Sponsors including Nike and Warner Bros., and big jackpots timed with massive events such as the NBA finals, show that HQ is actively cultivating a young audience.

Homework helpers such as PhotomathSlader, and, of course, Google. What do you do if you’ve been goofing off all day, or just feverishly multitasking, and can’t finish your geometry problems? Look ’em up. Apps that supply all the answers are only a few taps away. And don’t even get us started on home assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Home, all of which can be programmed to provide tutor-like assistance.

People finders such as Find My Friends and Mappen. Kids love being in touch with their friends 24/7/365, and location apps make it easy to arrange get-togethers and make plans with your posse. But these apps have a dark side, too. Kids feel pressured to be “on” all the time, partly because of friends’ expectations that one should always be available. Stalking — either of your kid or by your kid — can be a major issue. And, riskiest of all, some location-aware apps encourage face-to-face meet-ups with strangers.

Trend Lines: The Future of Social Media Education

NAIS

Summer 2018

By Laura Tierney

Teens build relationships with friends through FaceTime and group chats. They nurture friendships with compliments on Instagram and Snapchat. They stay in touch with friends and family overseas with messages on WhatsApp. Social media is just how they socialize these days.

Students are spending an average nine hours each day on their screens, according to Common Sense Media, and social media has become one of the greatest influences on our children’s happiness, health, safety, and future success, according to other reports. Many of the parents and school leaders I’ve talked with initially just wanted social media to go away, but now that it’s here to stay, some adults and students are beginning to see it as a powerful and positive tool.

According to The Social Institute’s 2017–2018 Social Media Survey with nearly 4,450 students from independent schools, more than 80 percent of fifth- through 12th-graders said they believed that social media can have a positive impact on their world, whether that means their school or local community, state, or country.

This is why many independent schools are adopting a proactive, growth-minded, and sustainable approach that empowers students, parents, and educators to positively navigate social media. They strengthen their reputations, protect their privacy, follow positive role models, and more. This new approach better aligns with a school’s mission and values, supporting students’ health and wellness. The future of social media is bright, and it’s one where we empower and equip, rather than scare and restrict.

The Current Landscape for Schools

Since social media really took off 10 years ago, few institutions or parents have found a relevant, effective solution to helping kids navigate the world of posts, texts, and selfies. Why? There are three current issues at play: what schools teach about social media, who teaches it, and how it’s taught.

Schools continue to approach social media education as a matter of digital citizenship. Common Sense Media defines digital citizenship as the ability to “think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly in our digital world.”

We all want students to have digital skills, but telling students to use “digital citizenship” when using technology is like telling them to use “proper navigation” when driving a car. In the world of social media, relevance is everything, and “digital citizenship” is simply not relevant.

Furthermore, most schools use a top-down approach in which adults teach students. Of course, this happens for nearly every school subject, why not social media? The problem again lies with relevance.

According to the 2017–2018 Social Media Survey, 100 percent of students said they believed they know more about social media than their parents or school faculty. How are schools and parents supposed to teach something teens believe they know better (and likely do)?

Lastly, digital citizenship is often taught by adults strictly through “don’ts.” Don’t post this, and don’t share that. Don’t join that app, and don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see. However, imagine if a coach only taught how not to throw a ball or how not to shoot it. Players wouldn’t know what to do. Students are not being taught what to do on social media.

This relevance-lacking, top-down, don’ts-driven approach is failing our students. Students are progressing through school unequipped to navigate life with a phone in their hand. They are overwhelmed by the pressures of cyberbullying. They are being rejected by colleges because of racist Facebook posts. Sleep deprivation among teens is rising because they can’t put their phones away at night. Nude photos of teens are shared around school. Tweens are committing suicide because they’re cyberbullied.

As long as students feel like they are being lectured, they will tune out. They will fall victim to the same landmines, and this negative cycle will continue, potentially tarnishing the reputation of both students
and schools.

The Future of Social Media Education

We must refine social media education with a positive and proactive approach. The Social Institute works with several independent schools to implement such an approach and empowers students, parents, and faculty. We are halfway through a three-year strategic partnership with Ravenscroft School (NC) and have learned four best practices.

Integrate the curriculum. Rather than putting “digital citizenship” in a corner, Ravenscroft integrates social media life skills into its school’s advisory program, which encourages character development, health, and wellness. The school weaves lessons throughout its advisory program, which promotes “leading self,”
“leading with others,” and “changing your world.”

Students learn to have their social media profiles represent their true self and character. They learn to use empathy when engaging with and posting about others. And because social media is a student’s microphone to the world, sixth- through 12th-grade students learn how to use platforms to spark positive change. The program resonates with students because it supports their belief that there is no distinction between your “real self”
and “digital self.” It’s simply “you” and your ability to have high integrity and character—with or without a device in your hand.

Use a bottom-up approach. Rather than using a top-down approach, in which students are lectured by adults, Ravenscroft students co-lead the program. Student focus groups help develop materials and lesson plans, ensuring they are most relevant to the apps and behaviors students witness online. It’s effective because younger students admire the older student-leaders, and student-leaders help set the standard around social media use at the school. With a train-the-trainer approach, Ravenscroft’s 11th- and 12th-grade student-leaders are now learning to teach sixth- through 10th-grade students, parents, and faculty about positive social media use. It’s a team approach.

Focus on the do’s. Rather than harping “don’t do this” and “don’t share that,” we have found that reinforcing the actions to take allows students to strengthen their reputations, better handle the challenges, and change their worlds for the better. In Ravenscroft’s #WinAtSocial program, students learn seven Social Standards—including “protect your privacy like you’re famous,” and “use your mic for good.” (See “Gold Standards,” below.)

Assemble a cross-departmental team. The power of social media impacts nearly every administrative department. Susan Perry, Ravenscroft’s assistant head of school for student affairs, says, “Our students and parents have longed for a sustained, systemic message about how to connect conversations and educate about technology and social media. Our work with our faculty, students, and parents allows us to have an ongoing, supportive, and educational dialogue about how to leverage social media for respectful outcomes. We feel our commitment to community health must include such a systemic educational approach to understanding the potential positive impact social media can bring.”

How We Get There

As one of the most powerful influences on a child being happy, healthy, and successful, social media needs to be a priority. Schools have the opportunity to get ahead of the game. It starts with administration teams determining why it’s a priority and championing a holistic approach to educating students, parents, and faculty. The upfront work is hard, but the impact is remarkable—these are lifelong skills that students require.

Once schools make the commitment, there will be less helicoptering and more huddling. Less fear and more trust. Less bullying and more empathy. Fewer fire drills and more high-fives. Less negativity and more positivity. The future of social media education is bright, and it’s one where students are empowered and hold one another to high standards, whether online or off.  ▪

How does your school teach students, parents, and faculty about social media? Tell us on Twitter at @NAISnetwork.

AUTHOR

Laura Tierney is founder and president of The Social Institute, which empowers students, parents, and educators to use social media positively. She works with a number of independent schools as well as organizations like the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Help Tweens and Teens Clean Up Their Feeds

Eliminate the posts that lead to negative emotions, and load up on stuff that feeds your soul. By Caroline Knorr 
Help Tweens and Teens Clean Up Their Feeds

You know that girl from TV — the one whose Instagram always looks perfect even with #nofilter? Or what about that amazing singer on musical.lywhom you can’t believe is only 14? And then there’s that kid whose Snapchat stories of Coachella got 500 views. Your kids may be following people like this right now. Obsessing. Over. Every. Detail. And starting to feel kind of crappy about it.

Keeping tabs on the rich, famous, and just-plain-cool is nothing new, of course. But social media can take that fixation to a pretty dark place. The feeling is common enough that some doctors are calling it social media anxiety disorder (SMAD) — although what most kids have is more like FOMO… on steroids. While it’s tough to see your kid in despair, there’s a good solution that doesn’t require an all-out social media ban: Just help your kid clean up their feed.

Self-comparison is a natural part of the tween and teen years. And for most kids, so is social media. While there are plenty of good things kids get out of their online connections, sometimes the combo can lead to a negative feedback loop that gnaws away at them. Depending on whom they’re following and what’s going on in their lives, their overall self-assessment can cycle from wistful (“I wish I was like that”) to highly critical (“What’s wrong with me that I can’t be like that?”). Even for kids who know when to close their laptops and move on, their self-esteem may take a hit. And for the more self-critical, anxiety and depression are real risks.

If your kid mostly enjoys social media but suffers the occasional bout of self-doubt, help them find a healthier balance. Ask if — or what — they’re already doing to take care of themselves. They may already be tweaking their social media feeds to limit posts that make them feel bad. Or they may be intentionally trying to curb the endless scrolling through the cool kid’s Insta. Work together to prune out the parts of their social media feeds that trap them into judgy comparisons, and encourage the stuff that bolsters positive social connections, supportive relationships, and validation of their inner qualities.

Encouraging your kids to see and appreciate their individual strengths has always been a part of parenting. And learning to stop comparing yourself to others is a part of growing up. By helping kids clean up their feeds, you’re bringing together two critical aspects of raising kids in the digital age. Try these tips:

Identify the triggers. Maybe it’s a certain couple who always look happy and in love, when your kid really wants a romantic relationship. Maybe it’s ads from a dog-toy delivery service that makes your kid miss your old mutt. Explore what’s behind their emotions. Sharing your own FOMO-induced feelings will likely get your kid to open up. Once they recognize the cause of their emotions, they can take steps to manage triggers.

Fine-tune levels of engagement. All social media offers ways to see and hear less from your contacts — without totally unfriending them. Check out settings such as these from popular platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter: unfollow (you’re still friends, but their posts won’t show up in your feed); hide post (see fewer posts from someone); snooze (temporarily stop seeing posts); mute (turn them off for a while); and do not disturb (temporarily block the person).

Turn off notifications. Most social media apps send updates — and none of them are life-and-death. To prevent your kid from interruptions — especially ones that might trigger negative thoughts — you can encourage your kid to check their social media once or twice at a certain time of day — say, 4 p.m. That might be a stretch, but you can still encourage them to turn off notifications either in the app itself or on their phone.

Follow people who nourish your soul. Kim Kardashian may be all over social media, but there are lots of folks who post uplifting, life-affirming, thoughtful, inspiring things that get kids thinking — and maybe even behaving — in ways that make them feel good about themselves. Follow these kinds of people.

Suggest apps to help with focus. Just as you can use technology to excess, you can use it to rein yourself in. These productivity apps help keep kids on task, boost concentration, and remind you to stop doing stuff that’s not good for you.

Eighth Grade Is a Movie About Middle School That Will Leave Adults in Tears

Slate

Bo Burnham’s funny, original debut feature is astonishingly mature.

A teenage girl in a swimming pool.
Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade.
A24

“The topic of today’s video is being yourself,” stammers 13-year-old Kayla (Elsie Fisher) in one of the self-recorded advice videos she periodically posts to her YouTube channel. It’s hard to imagine any topic on which this insecure, awkward girl, with her apologetically slumped shoulders and digitally airbrushed-out acne, would make for a less convincing expert. As her generally unhappy middle school experience enters its final excruciating week, Kayla contends with some standardly bad teenage experiences: being awarded the superlative of “Most Quiet” at an end-of-year ceremony, being invisible to the “Best Eyes”–winning classmate she’s crushed out on (Luke Prael), and being pestered by her loving, hovering single dad (Josh Hamilton) to—get this—stop looking at Instagram over dinner and talk to him.

Kayla will later deal with scarier and dodgier situations than these run-of-the-mill indignities, even if Eighth Grade mercifully never goes as dark as first-time writer-director Bo Burnham sometimes seem to hint it will. The funny, heartfelt, and utterly original Eighth Grade is a movie about middle school starring real middle school–age kids, to which one might enjoyably take actual middle schoolers—so long as they and their parents are willing to tolerate a reasonably high degree of shared comic embarrassment. Whether or not you currently have a preteen child, every adult has been one, and it’s almost neurologically impossible not to avert your face in burning-cheeked sympathy when Kayla, face to face with the popular girls she both longs to impress and fears like the ego-destroying monsters they can be, can only summon the emptiest sycophantic banter. “By the way, I like your shirt a lot. It’s, like, so cool.” Long pause. “I have a … shirt … too.”

Eighth Grade alternates such moments of hyperreal cringe comedy with more stylized scenes filmed from Kayla’s point of view. A visit to her boorish beloved’s Instagram feed sends her down a social media spiral, captured in a montage of Snapchat selfies and BuzzFeed quizzes set to Enya’s hypnotic New Age classic “Orinoco Flow (Sail Away).” These dreamlike passages often end abruptly with the forced removal of headphones from Kayla’s ears, emphasizing the break between banal everyday reality and the curated fantasy space of social media. But Eighth Grade never strains for topicality or hand-wrings at the state of Today’s Youth: There’s a lightness and simplicity to this affectionate portrait of a girl dipping a first toe in the rushing waters of 21st-century teenagerdom.

Kayla’s omnipresent iPhone can be a vector of social anxiety and low self-esteem, but, like the YouTube videos she posts into the apparent void, it can also serve as a medium of connection. After she’s paired with a high school student (Emily Robinson) for a daylong tour of the school she’s about to move on to, the two become unexpectedly friendly, and a dazzled Kayla gets a glimpse of the only good thing about her current phase of life: Eventually, it ends. “Now I can’t wait to grow up,” she confides to her trusty webcam. But her newfound faith in the future is tested, heartstoppingly, by an encounter with an older boy (Daniel Zolghadri) who tries to pressure Kayla into a too-much-too-soon round of truth or dare.

The 27-year-old Burnham, making a graceful and assured debut as a writer-director, already has a devoted following as a stand-up comedian. In fact, his career began at age 16 in exactly the place we first see Kayla: YouTube. In his most recent Netflix special Make Happy, Burnham uses his considerable versatility—he can sing, dance, take to the keyboard to pound out his own satirical pop ballads, and generally shift genres and tones on a dime—to mount a protest against stand-up comedy as a form. By the end of the hour, he’s exposed both the raw desire for approval that drives him to perform in the first place and the need for mass catharsis via entertainment that fills seats at comedy shows. At first glance, this kind of confrontational virtuosity would seem at odds with the emotional directness of Eighth Grade, which, though it showcases many acts of intentional and unintentional cruelty, is a deeply kind movie, curious and nonjudgmental even about the characters who in most coming-of-age films would be hissable villains. But some of the same themes that animate Burnham’s stand-up—his willingness to look at aspects of the modern experience that tend to be omitted from the stories we tell, his glee at subverting audience expectations—are also at play in his first feature.

Impressive as Burnham’s achievement is, Eighth Grade could never hit the heights it does without the right actress in the demanding lead role. Elsie Fisher—who was only 14 when the movie premiered at Sundance, with experience as a child voice actor in the Despicable Me franchise—delivers her “like”-heavy dialogue with such naturalism you might think the lines are improvised. But Burnham has said in interviews that the film is more scripted than it appears, and the story beats that it hits in its brisk 90-minute runtime are too precisely timed to be the result of adolescent ad-libbing. Though they get less screen time than Fisher, the rest of the teen actors, especially Jake Ryan as an earnest, geeky boy who takes a shine to Kayla at a pool party, are uniformly wonderful. And as Kayla’s devoted but confounded father, who’s alternately commanded to talk more, smile less, “stop looking weird and sad,” and just shut up and drive her to the mall, Josh Hamilton gives an exemplary performance, funny and sensitive and quietly soul-baring. A late scene by a campfire, in which Kayla’s dad struggles to articulate what watching her grow from babyhood has meant to him, will do a thorough job of flushing out any eye irritants that might have been bothering you on the way into the theater.

Eighth Grade doesn’t overstay its welcome or beg for the viewer’s approval. As Kayla records her last advice video of the school year, mortifying catchphrase and all, you’re sad to see her go, glad for the gains in self-confidence she’s made, and curious to know what she’ll do next. The same is true of Bo Burnham, who, unlike his tentative protagonist, arrives on the big screen already fully grown.