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.

10 Must-Listen Podcasts for Tweens and Teens

These fantastic screen-free series are age-appropriate (and cool enough) for older kids. By Frannie Ucciferri 
10 Must-Listen Podcasts for Tweens and Teens

Move over, YouTube, there’s a new game in town, and guess what? It’s totally screen-free. That’s right: Podcasts are growing in popularity with families — and for good reason. They give you an engaging way to connect with kids, no screen required. But once kids have outgrown gentle story-time podcasts, it’s not easy to sift through all the mature, adult-oriented series to find a good one that’s appropriate for tweens and teens.

So we did the work for you. While some of our finds are made just for kids, many are suitable for wider audiences (and can turn otherwise silent car rides into entertaining audio experiences). Where else can they get advice from The Fault in Our Stars author John Green and his YouTuber brother Hank? Or test their knowledge on NPR’s Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me! or game show-inspired series like Pants on Fire? Plus, in addition to being screen-free, podcasts give tweens and teens a way of listening — and learning — that they can’t get on other platforms.

If you’re a podcast newbie, check out 20 Podcasts for Kids, which offers tips for how to listen, plus more recommendations for all ages. Otherwise open up your favorite audio app and dive into these age-appropriate picks for tweens and teens.

Dear Hank & John podcast logoDear Hank and John
Real brothers and vloggers John Green (a young adult novelist) and Hank Green (a YouTuber) co-host a lighthearted advice podcast where they answer questions on everything from random thoughts to deep, emotional topics. The advice they give out is mostly good and always entertaining. Their easy camaraderie and self-deprecating charm make you feel like you’re in on their inside jokes (of which there are many).
Best for: Teens

Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast logoHarry Potter and the Sacred Text
What if the Harry Potter series was considered a holy book? While this can feel true to many Potter fans, this thoughtful, spiritual podcast actually puts it into practice. Each episode takes a chapter of a Harry Potter book and looks at it through the lens of a universal theme like love, hope, or destiny. You don’t need to be religious to enjoy this delightful series, but it’s not always spoiler-free, so make sure you’ve read the books ahead of time.
Best for: Tweens and teens

Pants on Fire podcast logoPants on Fire
Pants on Fire is a silly game show where a tween gets to interview two grown-ups, one who’s an expert on a topic and one’s who’s lying. Hosts Debra and L.I.S.A. (a sound effects “robot”) guide the kid contestant through the interviews with some goofy jokes and question suggestions, but it’s the kids that make this show worth checking out.
Best for: Younger tweens

Radiolab podcast logoRadiolab
This Peabody award-winning radio series/podcast delivers scientific ideas in a creative, innovative way. The episodes are a joy to listen to, with a great deal of emphasis put on sound design in addition to the hosts’ clever banter. Some episodes feature strong language, but overall this is a great choice for mature listeners.
Best for: Tweens and teens

Science Friday podcast logoScience Friday
Regularly one of the most popular science podcasts out there, “SciFri” (as it’s known to its fans) has been informing and entertaining listeners for more than 20 years. For curious science lovers who want to learn about the latest discoveries, Ira Flatow’s weekly discussions with experts and listeners are a must-listen.
Best for: Tweens and teens

Six Minutes podcast logoSix Minutes
Six Minutes is another enthralling, suspenseful audio drama from the creators of the award-winning podcast The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel. Featuring a voice cast of real kids, each six-minute episode continues the story of an 11-year-old girl named Holiday who finds herself in the middle of a mystery adventure with no memory of where she came from. New updates are released twice a week, and you’ll be counting down the minutes to see what happens next.
Best for: Tweens

Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast logoStuff You Missed in History Class
Little-known history comes alive three times a week in this fascinating, comprehensive podcast from the people at HowStuffWorks. You don’t need to be a history buff to get hooked, but if you’re not, you might become one after a few episodes. With a focus on weird events, overlooked stories, and underrepresented groups, this popular series is educational, too.
Best for: Tweens and teens

Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me podcast logoWait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!
Brainy teens will love this NPR quiz show for its wacky blend of news and comedy. Longtime host Peter Sagal and a panel of comedians/journalists run through a series of recurring segments about the latest news, and listeners can call in to compete. There’s even a weekly celebrity guest. Although it’s appropriate for radio broadcast, occasionally the jokes get a bit off-color, so make sure teens are mature enough to handle it.
Best for: Teens

What's Good Games podcast logoWhat’s Good Games
What’s Good Games is an informative, funny weekly podcast all about video games. The three hosts (who happen to be female) have great chemistry and demonstrate clear expertise on the biggest games on the market. The (very long) episodes cover news, listener questions, and personal experiences playing games. But keep in mind: While the podcast itself is OK for teens, some of the games they discuss are very mature.
Best for: Teens

#WhoWouldWin podcast logo#WhoWouldWin
Have you ever wanted to know who would win a fight: Luke Skywalker or Spider-Man? Finally, someone is taking this question and others like it seriously in a geeky podcast about beloved comic, sci-fi, and fantasy characters. And while the audio quality isn’t a match for some of the more established podcasts on this list, the lively, well-researched, well-argued debates between the hosts more than make up for it.
Best for: Teens

What Parents Need to Know About Social Media and Anxiety

Learn to recognize the warning signs of anxiety disorder and help your kid keep social media use healthy and productive. By Caroline Knorr 
What Parents Need to Know About Social Media and Anxiety

From cyberbullying to FOMO to cruel comments, social media can be a land mine for kids. Issues we parents never had to worry about, such as an intimate photo texted to the entire school or Instagram videos of a birthday party we weren’t invited to, are now a risk for many tweens and teens. With kids’ digital well-being a concern, researchers are exploring potential links between social media and the rise in teen suicide ratestech addiction, and loss of real-life social skills. And many parents are wondering: Is social media causing my kid to have anxiety?

It’s an important question — and one that makes for compelling headlines for worried parents. While it’s too early to say with certainty (this is, after all, the first generation of “digital natives”), the reality is somewhat nuanced. Some research has observed a relationship between social media use and anxiety in kids, but it’s difficult to know if and when social media is causing anxiety or whether kids who are anxious are turning to social media as a way to soothe themselves or seek support. How kids use social media matters, too: Social comparison and feedback-seeking behaviors have been associated with depressive symptoms, which often co-occur with anxiety.

Of course, it’s common for kids to feel anxious sometimes. But there’s a big difference between occasional anxiety and an anxiety disorder that requires professional care. If your kid is overly self-conscious, has uncontrollable and unrealistic anxiety, is unable to make it go away, and avoids things, you may want to seek help. (Learn more about anxiety in kids at the Child Mind Institute.) For these kids, social media may act as a trigger for — though not the root cause of — their anxious feelings. There are also kids, who, for a variety of reasons, may be more sensitive to the anxiety-producing effects of social media. For example, kids with social anxiety disorder may prefer online interactions over face-to-face interactions. Bottom line: You may not know the impact of social media on your kid until issues surface.

Unfortunately, simply cutting off social media isn’t necessarily the answer. It’s such a huge part of many kids’ lives that not having access to social media could take a toll. In fact, being connected to friends through social media may counterbalance some of its negative effects.

Without conclusive research to back up claims that social media causes anxiety — and some evidence to show it’s beneficial — it’s up to you to keep tabs on how your kid’s doing. Though it adds an extra layer to your parenting duties, it’s a good idea to get a good sense of your kid’s online life. Ask kids to give you a tour of their social media world. As they’re showing you around, you might hear some of the positive stuff you weren’t expecting, as well as some of the problem areas your kid could use help with. Also, add social media to the “wellness checks” that you already do. For example, when you ask how they slept and what they ate, ask how they’re feeling about social media. Is it mostly positive, helpful, and supportive, or do they want to step back but aren’t sure how? Here are some more tips for keeping social media a positive for kids:

Encourage self-care. Seeing photos of a trip to the beach your friends didn’t invite you to can really sting. If your kid is super bummed or tired of digital drama, suggest they take a break from social media for a while. In fact, if they post a status update that they’re taking a break, their friends might be very accepting because they’ve had similar feelings.

Help kids put social media in perspective. People post stuff that makes their lives look perfect — not the homework struggles, or the fight they had with their dad, or the hours it took to look as good as possible for the camera. Remind kids that social media leaves the messy stuff out — and that everyone has ups and downs.

Encourage offline activities. In a world where kids could spend their days lying around looking at Instagram, it’s doubly important for them to feel as though they’re cultivating their inner lives. Prompt them to balance social media with soul-nourishing activities such as hobbies, exercise, reading, and helping others. Otherwise, what are they going to brag about on social media?

Talk about their feelings. Ask them what it feels like to look at other kids’ feeds. Is there a tipping point from when they feel OK to when they start to feel bad about their own lives? Encourage them to stop before that feeling sets in and do something good for themselves instead.

Let them know you’re there for them. You may not understand everything about your kid’s online social life. But recognizing it’s important to them makes your kid feel valued — and more likely to come to you when they encounter problems.

Get help. If you see any cause for concern, including mood swings that seem to result from social media, not taking pleasure in activities he or she used to enjoy, and having accompanying symptoms such as headaches and stomachaches, visit your kid’s pediatrician for a professional opinion.

The Child Mind Institute contributed to this article. Learn more at childmind.org.

How Too Much Screen Time Affects Kids’ Bodies And Brains

Forbes

Shutterstock

It’s no longer controversial to suggest that humans and their smartphones aren’t always a healthy combination. Strong research has been coming in over the last several years, suggesting that looking at screens for hours a day can have some serious health and mental health consequences. Even some of the developers of these products have admitted guilt about their creations, and confessed that they don’t even let their kids use them. A couple of recent studies highlight the connection, and an infographic below expands on it.

One new study finds that time spent on screens is linked to not-so-great shifts in brain connectivity, while reading is linked to more beneficial changes. The researchers, from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, had families rate how much time their kids spent on screens (smartphones, tablets, computers, and TV) and how much time they spent reading actual books. The children’s brains were scanned, to assess how regions involved in language were connected, and it turned out that screen time was linked to poorer connectivity in areas that govern language and cognitive control. Reading, on the other hand, was linked to better connectivity in these regions.

Another recent study found that the brain chemistry of kids who fell into the category of smartphone or Internet addiction was different from that of non-addicted kids. In particular, changes were seen in the reward circuits of the brain, in the ratio of the neurotransmitter GABA to other neurotransmitters. (Interestingly, these changes generally reversed when the teens went through cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) for their addiction.) And other research has reported that cells in one of the reward areas of the brain, the nucleus accumbens, are activated when participants view Instagram pictures with more “likes,” which again suggests that social media use can tap into addiction pathways.

But what may be even more important than looking at the brain is looking at the behavior and the psychology of kids who use screens. Researcher Jean Twenge’s famous work has shown strong links between time spent on screens and depression and suicidality in teens. A recent study of hers reported that teens who spent more time on screens in the form of social media, internet, texting, and gaming thought about suicide a lot more than kids who didn’t: about 48% of those who spent five or more hours a day on their phones had thought about suicide or made plans for it, while 28% of the teens who spent only one hour per day on their phones. In fact, teens who spent more time doing sports, homework, socializing with friends in real life, and going to church had a lower risk for both depression and suicide.

“These increases in mental health issues among teens are very alarming,” said Twenge, who’s also the author of iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us, in a statement. “Teens are telling us they are struggling, and we need to take that very seriously.”

It can be tricky to tease apart the effects of screens on mental and physical health, but researchers are doing remarkably well. Below are some more of the effects that too much screen time seems to have on the developing body and brain.

WhatIsDryEye.com

Screen time’s concerning effects on kids’ brains. Courtesy WhatIsDryEye.com

 

What Parents Need to Know About Virtual Reality

As VR becomes reality for families, discover the potential and pitfalls of this impressive technology. By Caroline Knorr 
What Parents Need to Know About Virtual Reality

Everyone who’s tried it agrees: Virtual reality is mind-blowing. Once you strap on that headset, you truly believe you’re strolling on a Parisian street, careening on a roller coaster, or immersed in the human body exploring the inner workings of the esophagus. But for all its coolness — and its potential uses, from education to medicine — not a lot is known about how VR affects kids. Common Sense Media’s new report, Virtual Reality 101: What You Need to Know About Kids and VR, co-authored by the founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, offers a first-of-its-kind overview of the expanding uses for the technology and its potential effects on kids. Now that VR devices from inexpensive viewers to game consoles to full-scale gaming arcades are finally here — with lots more coming soon —  it’s a good idea to start thinking about how to manage VR when it comes knocking at your door.

Virtual reality can make you think and feel things you know aren’t real. Other media can give you the sense of “being there” — what’s called psychological presence — but not to the extent that VR can. This unique ability is what makes it so important to understand more about the short- and long-term effects of the technology on kids. Here are some of the key findings from the report:

  • Everything in VR is more intense. Because the brain processes virtual reality experiences similar to how it processes actual experiences, it can provoke feelings of fear, anxiety, disorientation — as well as joy and excitement. Also, VR characters may be more influential than characters kids see on TV — which can have positive or negative effects, depending on the message.
  • It has major potential — and serious downsides. VR at its best reveals new worlds and new perspectives that kids wouldn’t be able to experience in real life. At its worst, it exposes kids to intense and possibly inappropriate content that feels too “real.”
  • The long-term effects of VR on developing brains are unknown, which concerns both parents and the pros. Sixty percent of parents say they are at least “somewhat concerned” that their children will experience negative health effects while using VR. Experts advocate moderation and supervision.
  • As a teaching tool, the jury is still out on VR. Students are more enthusiastic about learning with VR than without it, but they aren’t necessarily learning more effectively.

Even though we don’t yet have all the answers to how VR affects kids, we know enough to consider some pros and cons. And whether kids are using VR through a mobile device like Google Cardboard (check out our editor’s picks of VR apps), on a console like the PlayStation VR, on a fully tricked-out desktop rig like the Oculus Rift, or at a mall arcade, these guidelines can help you keep any VR experience your kids have safe and fun.

Pay attention to age ratings. Check the recommended age on the headset package and don’t let younger kids use products designed for older kids. The minimum age isn’t based on medical proof of adverse effects on the brain and vision, but it’s the manufacturer’s best guess as to who the product is safest for.

Choose games wisely. Because the VR game experience can be more intense than that of regular games, it’s even more important to check reviews to make sure the gameplay, the content, and the subject matter are appropriate for your kid.

Keep it safe. A few precautions: Once you have the goggles on, orient yourself to the room by touching the walls; stick to short sessions until you know how you’re affected by VR; stay seated if possible; move furniture out of the way; and have a second person as a spotter.

Pay attention to feelings — both physical and emotional. If you’re feeling sick to your stomach, dizzy, drained, or sad, angry, or anxious — give it a rest for a while.

Talk about experiences. Since VR feels so real, it’s an excellent time to talk through what your kid has experienced in a game. Ask what it felt like, what the differences are between VR and regular games, and how VR helps you connect to other people’s experiences by putting you in someone else’s shoes.

Find opportunities; avoid pitfalls. Don’t let your kids play VR games that mimic experiences you wouldn’t want them to have in real life, such as using violent weapons. On the other hand, take advantage of VR that exposes kids to things they wouldn’t normally get to see, feel, and learn, such as visiting a foreign country.

Keep privacy in mind. Devices that can track your movements — including eye movements — could store that data for purposes that haven’t yet been invented.

Ten Reasons Middle Schoolers Don’t Need Social Media

Community Today

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1. Social media was not designed for children.

A tween’s underdeveloped frontal cortex can’t manage the distraction nor the temptations that come with social media use.

2. You can not teach the maturity that social media requires.
I hear parents say that they want to teach their child to use social media appropriately, but their midbrains are not developed yet. Like trying to make clothes fit that are way too big, children will use social media inappropriately until they are older and it fits them better.

3. Social media is an entertainment technology.
It does not make your child smarter or more prepared for real life or a future job.

4. It is not necessary for healthy social development.
It is entertainment attached to a marketing platform extracting personal information and preferences from your child, not to mention hours of their time and attention.

5. A tween’s “more is better” mentality is a dangerous match for social media.
Social media encourages them to overdo their friend connections like they tend to overdo other things in their lives. Does anyone have thousands of friends?

6. Social media is an addictive form of screen entertainment.
Like video game addiction, early use can set up future addiction patterns and habits.

7. Social media replaces learning the hard social “work” necessary for success.
The use of social media greatly lessens opportunities requiring children to practice dealing face-to-face with their peers, a skill they need to master to be successful in real life.

8. Social media can cause teens to lose connection with family.
They view “friends” as their foundation and since the brain is still being formed, they need healthy family attachment more than with their peers. It is just as important now as when they were preschoolers.

9. Social media use represents lost potential for teens.
The teen’s brain development is operating at peak performance for learning new things. Studies show that it is nearly impossible for them to balance it all and teens waste too much time and too much of their brain in a digital world.

10. Do any of us wish we had started earlier?

With teen mental health deteriorating over five years, there’s a likely culprit

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Around 2012, something started going wrong in the lives of teens.

In just the five years between 2010 and 2015, the number of U.S. teens who felt useless and joyless – classic symptoms of depression – surged 33 percent in large national surveys. Teen suicide attempts increased 23 percent. Even more troubling, the number of 13- to 18-year-olds who committed suicide jumped 31 percent.

In a new paper published in Clinical Psychological Science, my colleagues and I found that the increases in depression, suicide attempts and suicide appeared among teens from every background – more privileged and less privileged, across all races and ethnicities and in every region of the country. All told, our analysis found that the generation of teens I call “iGen” – those born after 1995 – is much more likely to experience mental health issues than their millennial predecessors.

What happened so that so many more teens, in such a short period of time, would feel depressed, attempt suicide and commit suicide? After scouring several large surveys of teens for clues, I found that all of the possibilities traced back to a major change in teens’ lives: the sudden ascendance of the smartphone.

All signs point to the screen

Because the years between 2010 to 2015 were a period of steady economic growth and falling unemployment, it’s unlikely that economic malaise was a factor. Income inequality was (and still is) an issue, but it didn’t suddenly appear in the early 2010s: This gap between the rich and poor had been widening for decades. We found that the time teens spent on homework barely budged between 2010 and 2015, effectively ruling out academic pressure as a cause.

However, according to the Pew Research Center, smartphone ownership crossed the 50 percent threshold in late 2012 – right when teen depression and suicide began to increase. By 2015, 73 percent of teens had access to a smartphone.

Not only did smartphone use and depression increase in tandem, but time spent online was linked to mental health issues across two different data sets. We found that teens who spent five or more hours a day online were 71 percent more likely than those who spent less than an hour a day to have at least one suicide risk factor (depression, thinking about suicide, making a suicide plan or attempting suicide). Overall, suicide risk factors rose significantly after two or more hours a day of time online.

Of course, it’s possible that instead of time online causing depression, depression causes more time online. But three other studies show that is unlikely (at least, when viewed through social media use).

Two followed people over time, with both studies finding that spending more time on social media led to unhappiness, while unhappiness did not lead to more social media use. A third randomly assigned participants to give up Facebook for a week versus continuing their usual use. Those who avoided Facebook reported feeling less depressed at the end of the week.

The argument that depression might cause people to spend more time online doesn’t also explain why depression increased so suddenly after 2012. Under that scenario, more teens became depressed for an unknown reason and then started buying smartphones, which doesn’t seem too logical.

What’s lost when we’re plugged in

Even if online time doesn’t directly harm mental health, it could still adversely affect it in indirect ways, especially if time online crowds out time for other activities.

For example, while conducting research for my book on iGen, I found that teens now spend much less time interacting with their friends in person. Interacting with people face to face is one of the deepest wellsprings of human happiness; without it, our moods start to suffer and depression often follows. Feeling socially isolated is also one of the major risk factors for suicide. We found that teens who spent more time than average online and less time than average with friends in person were the most likely to be depressed. Since 2012, that’s what has occurred en masse: Teens have spent less time on activities known to benefit mental health (in-person social interaction) and more time on activities that may harm it (time online).

Teens are also sleeping less, and teens who spend more time on their phones are more likely to not be getting enough sleep. Not sleeping enough is a major risk factor for depression, so if smartphones are causing less sleep, that alone could explain why depression and suicide increased so suddenly.

Depression and suicide have many causes: Genetic predisposition, family environments, bullying and trauma can all play a role. Some teens would experience mental health problems no matter what era they lived in.

But some vulnerable teens who would otherwise not have had mental health issues may have slipped into depression due to too much screen time, not enough face-to-face social interaction, inadequate sleep or a combination of all three.

It might be argued that it’s too soon to recommend less screen time, given that the research isn’t completely definitive. However, the downside to limiting screen time – say, to two hours a day or less – is minimal. In contrast, the downside to doing nothing – given the possible consequences of depression and suicide – seems, to me, quite high.

It’s not too early to think about limiting screen time; let’s hope it’s not too late.

A parents guide to Snapchat – what you need to know

Digital Parenting

Snapchat is a mobile app and is hugely popular with teens and young adults. Because it is a mobile app it only works on mobile and you download it from the App store (Apple phones) or the Google Play store (Android phones)

Snap Chat

When you download the app and you register an account it can then tell by looking at your phone’s contact list which of your friends are on snapchat. You can then request to connect with your friends and  you can send invites to anyone else in your address book to connect with you on snapchat.

In essence, the app allows you to

1. Take a photo (Or a 10 second vide0)  and then add text or drawings / doodles to the image. It’s a fun way of sending a message instead of a boring text message.

2. You can then send the snap to a friend or group of friends and it will self destruct within a set period of time (Between 1 – 10 seconds). The image then disappears forever (well, sort of).

3. Your friend can then reply with another image / message or they can simply instant message you back.

4. The other option is to post the photo to “Your story” where all your snapchat friends will be able to see the photo for 24 hours before it self destructs.

 

In this parents guide to Snapchat we will explain why kids like using it, what dangers you need to be aware of and how to advise and protect your child.

What age is it suitable for

You need to be aged 13 to sign up for Snapchat. However, many tweens sign up for it giving a bogus date of birth.

Snapchat launched a version of the service for kids younger than 13 called “Snapkidz”. It basically allows them to take the photo, add the drawings and doodles but they cannot then send it to anyone.

Why Do Kids like using it?

Tweens and Teens  love using it because;

  • It is a fun way to send a message. Why just send a text message saying   “I’m bored” when you can send a selfie of yourself making a stupid face and a drawing / doodle saying “I’m bored” . It’s a fun and creative way to liven up a text message
  • They share photos of themselves pulling  funny faces, random  things that  they see, funny photos of their pets.
  • The fact that the photo disappears so quickly means they can share something stupid or something that makes them look stupid without them having to worry that they are going to be made fun of. It is a “no pressure” alternative to the permanence of Facebook and Twitter where whatever they post stays around forever.

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  • Some kids love it because it isn’t possible for parents to monitor their messages . All messages and images shared in the app disappear and cannot be viewed by a parent who picks up the phone. Also, if you have parental monitoring software on the phone it cannot monitor what is shared on Snapchat.
  • Parents can see images that the teen has been tagged on in Facebook and Instagram but Snapchat images that are sent directly to someone (not shared to all contact via the “Story”) are not visible to parents.

What dangers do parents need to be aware of?

1. Sexting

Even though Snapchat has been associated with “sexting” in the news, the vast majority of kids are not using Snapchat for that purpose.  If your child is using Snapchat it is wrong to assume that they are “sexting”. However, sexting does happen amongst teens and it is something that you should be aware of as a parent.

Many parents think that sexting involves 2 people sending either risqué or explicit text messages to each other. However, sexting more typically involves people taking;

  • Selfie photos / videos of themselves either in their underwear or in the nude. Lots of these images existing on the internet where teenagers take the shot facing the bathroom mirror and these are referred to as either nude selfies, mirror selfies or underwear shots.
  • Photos of their breasts or genitals

Sexting

These photos are then typically sent to the persons boyfriend or girlfriend and usually sent either by text message or via a messaging service such as Whats App, Kik messenger or Snapchat. Studies done in Ireland, the UK and the US indicate that a significant percentage (60%) of teenagers are being asked to take images of themselves with many going on to take images or videos of themselves (40%) and  then between 20% – 25% actually sending the images on.

See our Digital Parenting Guide to Sexting for more information.

Some teens do use Snapchat to send explicit selfies to a boyfriend / girlfriend because;

a) The images are not saved on the phones image folder  where they could be discovered by a parent.

b) The self destruct feature gives a sense that the image won’t be saved or shared. This is a false sense of security however because;

o   The person who receives the explicit image can take a screenshot and save it to their phone. (The sender will be notified if a screenshot has been taken.)

o   There are lots of apps available that integrate with Snapchat and allow the recipient to easily save the image before it self destructs. An example is an app called Snap Save.

2. Cyber Bullying

Social media is increasingly being used  by bullies to torment victims and the main social networks that are used, because of their sheer size, as Facebook and Twitter. View our digital parenting gude to cyber Bullying

However, Snapchat is also being used by cyberbullies in the following ways

1. Because the message disappears

Because the message and therefore the evidence, disappears within 10 seconds it is a perfect medium for bullies. For the victim is adds to the torment because they cannot show their parents the message and how they are being bullied.

2. Using images to bully

Bullies often send images of ugly animals with text comparing the victim to the animal or if they can take embarrassing photos of the victim they then send them to a large group on Snapchat – again, knowing that the image will disappear.

3.Feeling excluded

Many kids deliberately post photos to their “Story” of themselves doing activities or at a party  with their friends, in part to show who is there and who was not included. For the person who is being bullied / excluded from the group this compounds their feeling of exclusion.

 

About the author 

Evan is a digital marketing lecturer and trainer and also delivers digital parenting workshops throughout Ireland for schools and parent groups. He developed his digital media expertise in London where he was Head of European Marketing for Yahoo! Mobile, Head of Customer and New Media marketing at Orange and Head of Direct Marketing at BT. He has extensive experience of digital marketing across web and mobile covering the Irish, UK and European markets Evan is the founder of The Digital Parenting Academy and www.digitalparenting.ie