Help Tweens Use Their Phones Less With These Tools

From screen limits to break reminders to Do Not Disturb, OS and app settings may help us break unhealthy digital habits and tune into what’s really important.
By Caroline Knorr 
Use Your Phone Less (with Tools from Apple, Google, Snapchat and More)

The internet invasion started slowly. But then it came all at once. Suddenly, we’re checking email at 3 a.m., fighting with our kids to make them shut down their devices, and staring at screens instead of making eye contact. No one asked for this life, but here we are: wasting time online, getting distracted (even when our phones are off!), and playing catch-up on all the latest stuff our kids are doing on SnapchatInstagramYouTube, and who knows what else.

It doesn’t have to be this way. A new wave of so-called “digital wellness” features designed to prevent screen overload is taking hold in some of the most popular tech tools. From operating systems including Apple’s iOS 12 and Google’s upcoming Android Pie update to social media like Snapchat and Instagram, you can see exactly how much time you’re spending online, set limits for yourself and your kids, and reduce distractions and interruptions from notifications.

You have the right to remain skeptical. The idea of tech companies trying to help us stay off their products — after using every trick in the book to keep us hooked — is pretty ironic. And there’s no proof that digital wellness features work — much less help mental health issues associated with technology use, such as anxiety, depression, and addiction. But if you’re concerned about your tech use, as well as about your kid’s, they’re certainly worth trying. Whether they help depends a lot on your family’s needs, your kids’ willingness to be on board, and the kinds of conversations you have around self-regulation. Take a look at some of the most popular platforms’ efforts to protect your digital well-being.

iOS 12

Screenshot of iOS screentimeScreen TimeYou can enable Screen Time on your kid’s phone and password-protect the settings so they can’t change them. Or, you can also manage the settings remotely by setting up Family Sharing. We recommend using the features together with your kid. Work on using screens intentionally and mindfully, and help your kid learn to regulate their own use when you’re not around to do it for them. Key features:

  • Usage report. A daily and weekly readout of the time you’re spending on your device. You can see exactly how much attention you and your kids pay to app categories such as social networking versus, say, reading and reference.
  • Downtime. Turns the phone off during a specific period of time — for example, 9 p.m. to 8 a.m.
  • App Limits. Sets daily time limits for app categories such as games and entertainment as well as for individual apps.
  • Always Allowed. Lets you choose which apps (for example, music apps) that never turn off — even during downtime.
  • Content & Privacy Restrictions. Controls what your kids can see (such as mature content) and do (such as download and delete apps). Also puts limits on how much information third parties can access about your kid.

Android Pie (available now on Pixel devices; rolling out to other users)

Screenshot of Android's Digital Wellbeing toolsDigital WellbeingUnlike the Screen Time features in iOS 12, you can’t enable Digital Wellbeing settings on your kid’s phone and password-protect them. Instead, Digital Wellbeing is designed for individual users to customize their devices to their own needs. If you’re an Android family, you can discuss and try various features to make the phone work for you — instead of the other way around. (If you want to have more control over your kid’s Android phone, check out Google’s Family Link parental-control app, which allows remote monitoring.) Key features:

  • Dashboard. Graphs the time you’ve spent in individual apps and lets you set daily time limits for apps that keep you hooked longer than you’d like (for example, 15 minutes tops on Snapchat).
  • Do Not Disturb. Silences your device entirely or allows you to specify which alerts you want to see (or not).
  • Notifications. Personalizes your alerts, so you can snooze them and schedule them at a convenient time.
  • Wind Down. Automatically turns your phone grayscale and enables Do Not Disturb at a time you specify.

YouTube

Screenshot of YouTube's Time Watched featureAccount Settings. One of the most popular platforms for kids and adults, YouTube is easy to get lost in — or it used to be, anyway. Now you can see a full rundown of how much time you and your kids spend scrolling through videos, and if you think you’re overdoing it, you can enable settings to curb your use. You can’t password-protect the settings, though, so they’re mostly helpful for you if you let your kids use your phone or if you help your kid set them so they can regulate their own use. Key features:

  • Time Watched. Available only on the app, these stats show how much time you’ve spent watching videos for the present day, the day before, and the past week. Within this feature, you can also set a reminder to take a break after a certain amount of time and disable autoplay so you won’t get sucked in to watching endless videos.
  • Scheduled digest. Instead of random notifications about the latest video that distracts you at all hours, you can get all your alerts bundled together at one time.
  • Disable sounds & vibrations. If you can’t see or hear your alerts, you’ll stay blissfully engaged in important stuff (such as talking with your kids) until you check your phone.
  • Restricted Mode. Though it’s been around for a while, Restricted Mode can be a helpful additional setting to give you some peace of mind. It limits mature content from showing up in your kid’s feed (it’s not perfect, though).

Instagram (available soon)

Screenshot of Instagram's Digital Wellbeing toolsDigital WellbeingRunning neck and neck with Snapchat as the most popular social media app among teens, Instagram is a key social lifeline. Its parent company (Facebook) has made an effort to help users manage their time and reduce exposure to cyberbullying by adding settings such as Comment Controls, which allow you to micromanage your friends’ replies, and All Caught Up, which lets you know you’ve seen every post since the last time you scrolled through your feed. Digital Wellbeing, which will roll out soon, will add even more functionality. You can check back for updates after the new version is released. Key features:

  • Activity Dashboard. Displays a daily average of the time you’ve spent on the app for the week.
  • Daily Reminder. Allows you to set a time limit and receive a notification when you’ve hit your limit.
  • Mute Push Notifications. Silences push notifications (you can also turn them off entirely in the app’s settings or on your phone’s settings).

Snapchat

Screenshot of Snapchat's Do Not Disturb featureDo Not DisturbThe pioneer of the disappearing message, Snapchat is now a full-fledged portal to friends, videos from around the world, current events, and much more. Needless to say, it can take up a lot of time. But you can cut down on the noise — a little bit. Key features:

  • Do Not Disturb. Instead of disabling the phone or the app altogether, Snapchat lets you mute notifications from individual people. If you have a chronic oversharer on your friends list, you don’t have to block or remove them. Just “shush” them for a while and you won’t be alerted to their posts.
  • Mute story. Muting a story pushes the friend down your contacts list, effectively making their posts the last in line.

TikTok – Real Short Videos

Screenshot of TikTok's Digital Wellbeing featureDigital WellbeingTikTok serves up endlessly scrollable 15-second videos from people all over the world. Averaging 13 million video uploads per day, the app could certainly eat up a lot of your kid’s time. You can password-protect the Digital Wellbeing features on your kid’s phone so they can’t change them. Key features:

  • Screen Time Management. Sets a two-hour daily viewing time limit. (The time limit isn’t customizable.)
  • Restricted Mode. Filters out videos that may not be age-appropriate.

Facebook (currently in development)

Screenshot of Your Time on Facebook featureYour Time on Facebook. Though research shows teens prefer Snapchat and Instagram to Facebook, you’re probably on it more than you would like. The company is rumored to be creating some options to help you keep track of the time you spend on the platform, which in theory should help you cut down. You can check back for updates after the new version is released. Key features:

  • Time on Facebook. Displays a daily average of the time you’ve spent on the app for the week.
  • Manage Your Time. Allows you to set a time limit and receive a notification when you’ve hit your limit.
  • Mute Push Notifications. Silences push notifications (you can also turn them off entirely in the app’s settings or on your phone’s settings) or choose which alerts you want to get.

Parents’ Ultimate Guide to Fortnite

Are your kids caught up in the Fortnite frenzy? Here’s everything you need to know about this popular video game. By Frannie Ucciferri 
The Fortnite frenzy seemed to come out of nowhere — almost as if it dropped from a party bus in the sky. And now many parents are taking notice of this rollicking game where players fight to the death. With Fortnite‘s millions of players and sudden success, you might be wondering: What’s it all about — and is it OK for my kids?

This survival-action game is a bit like what you’d get if you combined a sandbox-building game like Minecraft with an action shooter like Call of Duty. On one hand, it’s getting major points with kids and parents alike for building teamwork and thoughtful collaboration. On the other hand, it’s a combat-based game with tons of guns and violence.

Read Common Sense Media’s full review of Fortnite, and learn more about how it works. Then find answers below to parents’ most frequently asked questions about the game and how to use it safely.

What is Fortnite?
What is Fortnite: Battle Royale?
Do you play by yourself or with a team in Fortnite: Battle Royale?
What if I’m not ready for the action of Battle Royale?
What is Save the World?
Why is my kid so interested in playing Fortnite?
Is Fortnite appropriate for kids?
What age should kids be to play Fortnite?
How much does Fortnite cost?
Are there microtransactions in Fortnite?
What are Fortnite Seasons?

What platforms can you play Fortnite on?
How is Fortnite related to Twitch?
Can players chat with each other in Fortnite: Battle Royale?
How do you turn off voice chat in Fortnite: Battle Royale?

How long is a match of Fortnite: Battle Royale?
How do I manage screen time for my kids when they’re playing Fortnite?


What is Fortnite?
Fortnite is a video game for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, Mac, and mobile that takes elements from sandbox-building games and adds the fast-paced action of a third-person shooter. There are two modes to the game: a solo version called Save the World and the hugely popular multiplayer version called Battle Royale.

What is Fortnite: Battle Royale
If your kids say they’re playing Fortnite, they’re probably talking about Battle Royalethe free-to-play multiplayer offshoot of Fortnite. In this version, up to 100 people participate in a match together. Players are dropped onto the game map and must compete to be the last one standing by killing every other player in the game. During the game, players collect weapons, build safe structures, and try to avoid the Storm that damages all players outside of a safe zone. Unlike the Save the World version, there aren’t any zombies to kill, which makes it a less scary version to play. However, players can buy items to make themselves look like a zombie or another creepy character.

Do you play by yourself or with a team in Fortnite: Battle Royale?
There are three modes of play in Battle Royale: Solo, Duo, and Squad. In Solo mode, you’re dropped into the game alone. In Duo, you’re dropped in with a partner. In Squad mode, you play on a team of four. Duos and Squads can either be friends choosing to play together or randomly matched players. All players in a match are playing in the same mode.

What if I’m not ready for the action of Battle Royale? 
Don’t worry if you’ve never played Fortnite or a Battle Royale game before. Playground mode lets players get used to the mechanics of the game without the pressure of fighting other gamers. So, if you’re rusty with a particular gun, need to practice building structures, or even want to try out the vehicles like golf carts or shopping carts without being shot, this is the mode for you. Playground sessions are limited to a maximum of four players, and you can even put everyone on the same team to eliminate the possibility of friendly fire.

What is Save the World?
Save the World is the traditional solo campaign in the game Fortnite. Unlike in Battle Royale, where players compete against each other, players in the Save the World mode are survivors of an apocalyptic storm where the few remaining humans must band together to defeat creepy zombie-like creatures called husks.

Why is my kid so interested in playing Fortnite?
There are many reasons why Fortnite has taken off with kids. One is that it combines two other genres that are big winners with young gamers. Another is that it has a more cartoonish look than some other more gory video games, so younger gamers are drawn to it. Kids can play with friends in Duos and Squads, creating a more social element. And popular YouTube and Twitch gamers like DanTDM have also taken to playing the game on streaming sites. Plus, in the case of Battle Royale, it’s free (although it does have in-app purchases — more on that below).

Is Fortnite appropriate for kids?
For some parents, the cartoonish, bloodless style of the action in Fortnite makes the violence less problematic than the aggressive gore in other popular shooter games. But the game’s online chat feature — especially in Battle Royale — could expose younger players to offensive language or mature content from random strangers. Common Sense doesn’t recommend games with open chat for kids under 13, but with the right controls and parental guidance, this can be a tween-friendly alternative to violent first-person shooters.

What age should kids be to play Fortnite?
Common Sense recommends Fortnite for teens 13 and up, primarily because of the open chat and action violence.

How much does Fortnite cost?
Players can currently download Fortnite: Battle Royale for free. The current cost of the full Fortnite is $39.99, although the developer, Epic Games, has suggested it will make that version of the game free-to-play sometime in 2018 as well.

Are there microtransactions in Fortnite?
There are frequent opportunities for players to spend real money on items in the game. Fortnite encourages purchases such as upgrades to editions such as Deluxe and Super Deluxe, as well as in-game currency to buy bonus items. There’s also the Premium Battle Pass, a $10 subscription that lets players compete on more levels and win exclusive game skins/costumes.

What are Fortnite Seasons?
Unlike other multiplayer games, Battle Royale has a storyline, which results in frequent additions of new content to the game. Many of these new elements, such as skins and costumes for characters, simply serve to keep the game fresh and exciting. But others introduce completely game-changing features. You might see a brand-new game map (without major features you’re used to playing with), new teleportation rifts (to let you travel to new places), and new ways you can appear to other players (such as the ability to become invisible). Seasons seems to update approximately every 10 weeks and you’ll begin to see clues to the updates during the current season.

What platforms can you play Fortnite on?
Fortnite is available on Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, and Mac. Users need an internet connection to play. A mobile version is also available for iOS and Android. Players can play “cross-platform,” which means a Windows player can be on a team with a console player, for example. Gamers can also create an account on any device and carry over their progress in a game to another system. For example, you could start on a cell phone, then pick up a game on a computer or console later in the day and continue where you left off.

How is Fortnite connected to Twitch?
Some kids aren’t only playing Fortnite — they’re watching other people, including celebrities like Drake, play it on Twitch. Twitch is a social media platform for gamers where they can livestream themselves playing popular video games, including FortniteLivestreaming can be unpredictable, so make sure to check out which gamers kids are watching, and if kids say they want to livestream themselves, carefully consider the risks.

Can players chat with each other in Fortnite: Battle Royale?
There is live, unmoderated chat possible between users in the console and PC versions of Fortnite: Battle Royale. Both voice chat and on-screen text chat are options. This exposes players to random strangers and the likelihood of profanity. Chat is currently unavailable in the mobile version of the game.

How do you turn off voice chat in Fortnite: Battle Royale?
Open the Settings menu in the top right of the main Fortnite page by selecting the three bars, then the cog icon. Choose the Audio tab at the top of the screen. From there, you can adjust several audio features, including voice chat. Turn the setting from on to off by tapping the arrows.

How long is a match of Fortnite: Battle Royale?
Each match in Battle Royale lasts about 20 minutes, although players who are killed early play for less time.

How do I manage screen time for my kids when they’re playing Fortnite?
When each match only takes 20 minutes, it’s easy to fall into the trap of “just one more” — sort of how you end up binge-watching an entire season of Stranger Things. But you can take advantage of the quick matches by using them as a natural stopping point in gameplay. Some kids benefit from using a timer, limiting themselves to a certain number of matches per day, or using one of these tips for finding a balance between gaming and other activities.

Jeff Haynes, Senior Editor, Web and Video Games, contributed to this story.

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.

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

How to Have Honest Conversations About Social Media with Students

Common Sense Media

When young people feel seen, heard, and respected, they will want to engage.

January 11, 2018

Rosalind Wiseman

Founder, Cultures of Dignity

Who hasn’t sent a text or email to the wrong person? Who hasn’t posted something online they later regretted or seen something in their feed that made them uncomfortable? These are difficult moments for people, no matter their age, and it’s natural to be unsure what to do. But the most common advice young people get about social media is usually limited to “Think before you send” and “Once you post something, it’s always there.” These clichés may be true, but they don’t help young people address the situation they’re in.

If you work with young people in any capacity, you are also teaching social media norms and expectations. But what do norms mean in the context of social media? Norms are a standard or pattern of social behavior that is typical or expected of a group. Our social media use is still so new that we are all trying to figure out what our social media norms are and should be. From when we use it to how and where, we are all trying to figure it out as we go.

We start by looking in the mirror. We must reflect on how we use social media ourselves. What is true for our students is also true for us.

When it comes to issues that impact their lives, young people are equal to us in subject-matter expertise, if not more so. But this is easy to forget. When we do, we miss the larger context and therefore the opportunity to actually accomplish our goals: teaching them how to apply critical thinking to the information they receive, recognizing when it is being used to manipulate their opinions and perceptions, defining what responsible social interactions online look like, and developing awareness about how its use can impact their sense of self and understanding of the world.

So how do we do this? We start by looking in the mirror. We must reflect on how we use social media ourselves. What is true for our students is also true for us. Social media is a constant social exchange (for better and worse), a way to maintain important connections and relationships, a place to find support and share interests with like-minded people (especially when you can’t find it in real life), and a source of information that profoundly impacts the way you see yourself and the world around you.

Reflecting on Your Own Experiences

At Cultures of Dignity, we believe that successfully teaching any kind of social and emotional learning requires teachers to ask themselves the same questions they ask their students. Before initiating a discussion with your students on topics of responsible social media use, take some time to reflect on your own experiences with this exercise:

Part One:
Put a check next to the question if you can answer “yes.” Have you …

  • Posted something, then checked repeatedly to see how many people liked it or made a comment?
  • Accidentally sent an email or text to the wrong person?
  • Been in school when someone showed you a post about you, a colleague, a parent, or a child that made you feel sad or anxious and didn’t know what to do next?
  • Had a friend or someone in your family post something that made you really upset and affected your relationship with that person?
  • Now write down a few sentences that describe your experiences and feelings to any of these questions.

Part Two:
Look back on your social media posts of the last six months and ask yourself the following questions:

  • If a stranger saw the posts you just looked at, what would they think about you?
  • What do you want people to think about you and your life?
  • How accurately do your online posts and interactions reflect what’s going on in your life?
  • Do you take steps to protect your online privacy? How important is privacy to you?
  • Is the way you handle conflict online similar to the way you handle conflict in real life? Are you proud of how you conduct yourself in either or both contexts?

Bringing Your Reflection into the Classroom

Now take a step back and remember that the majority of young people are extremely skeptical about anything we tell them regarding how to use social media. We have to show them that we are doing the work we are asking them to do. We have to show them that we acknowledge we are affected by social media too. So no matter what you teach — math, social studies, Spanish, language arts, or computer coding — sit down with your students and say something along the lines of:

I know I’m your math teacher, so technically my responsibility is to teach you math, but I also want the time we spend together to be good. And I know that I can be the best math teacher in the world, but if something comes through your phone that upsets you, you’re going to have a really hard time focusing on what I’m teaching you. I’ve been thinking about the technology rules we have in the school and in the class. I want to take a few minutes of our class time to dig a little deeper because I think it’s more than me nagging you to put away your phones and not being mean to someone. So we’re going to take 15 minutes to answer a few questions and then have a discussion. This doesn’t have to be the only time we talk about this. If what we do seems like a good use of time, let me know.

You can do the same exercises above and then have a discussion. Share some of your own insights — which shows them that you don’t think you’re above these issues because you’re an adult. Your goal is to approach the topic from a place of curiosity instead of blame and judgment. From there, you can fine-tune your class agreements about how social media is used in and outside of class.

Remember what you know: When young people feel seen, heard, and respected, they will want to engage. When they see that you hold each of them to high standards and you implement those standards fairly, they engage. When we admit adults’ hypocrisy, they engage. And when they are given a voice to express their own experiences and opinions, they will hold themselves to higher standards then we can ever impose.

Talking to Kids About Sexual Harassment … Before They Even Know About Sex

Five tips for discussing mature current events with little kids.
By Caroline Knorr
Talking to Kids About Sexual Harassment ... Before They Even Know About Sex

“Mommy, what’s sexual harassment?” You were hoping that the daily news reports of famous and powerful men being accused of sexual misconduct would fly right past your kid’s radar. But like other unfortunate events you’ve had to explain far before your kid was ready, the news — especially bad news — has a way of seeping into their world. And now you’re stuck: How do you talk about sexual harassment if you haven’t even talked about sex?

Take one topic at a time. Try tackling the news and the sex angles separately. Young children have a hard time understanding abstract concepts. But you can begin to teach them about the news, and that what they see and hear on the radio, TV, and other devices is information about what happened in the world. Learn more about how to teach media-literacy skills to preschoolers.

There’s no reason to talk specifically about sexual harassment with very young kids unless they ask about it. If they bring it up, be prepared. These tips can help you talk about sexual harassment with kids from preschool into early elementary:

Ask open-ended, nonjudgmental questions. This buys some time and lets you know what information you need to correct, what you can skip, and what you need to focus on. Ask questions such as: “Where did you learn that phrase?,” “What else did you hear?,” “What do you think it is?,” “Why do you think that?,” and “How did it make you feel to hear that?”

Remain neutral and reassuring. When young kids sense that the important adults in their lives are angry or upset, they can sometimes feel like it’s their fault. It may seem obvious to you, but it’s worth telling your kids that you’re not mad at them. Say things like: “It’s always OK to tell me something even if you think it’s something bad.” “This is a tough topic, but I’m glad you asked me about it.”

Be truthful but don’t over-explain. You don’t have to offer kids anything more than what they need to know to satisfy their curiosity. Use terms they’ll understand — for example, “bully,” “private,” “private parts,” and even “making babies” if your family uses that phrase. Say:“Harassment means bullying. Sexual harassment is when someone talks about their own or someone else’s body or private parts — but not when it’s appropriate, like at the doctor. Sometimes a sexual harasser will touch or hug the other person without asking permission.”

Explain why it’s on the news. Even with small children who don’t have a grasp on the concept of the 24-hour news cycle, it helps to put matters in context. Otherwise, the constant news coverage can make them feel overwhelmed and confused. If you can, keep the news turned off when young kids are listening or watching. Seek out age-appropriate news sources instead. Say: “Sexual harassment is against the law — just like taking something that doesn’t belong to you. The people in the news may have broken the law.”

Help them protect themselves and others. Take the opportunity to reinforce lessons around bullies and boundaries. Remind them their bodies are their own and no one has the right to talk about them or touch them in any way that makes them uncomfortable. If your child’s preschool or elementary school has a policy about students not touching other students, you can talk about why that’s important and what happens to other students who can’t follow this rule. Explain that they also must respect other people’s right to keep their bodies private. Say: “If someone says something about your body or touches you or if you see someone bullying someone else, you should tell them to stop and tell the adult in charge.” If necessary, explain that your kid wouldn’t get in trouble for telling, even though bullies say they shouldn’t tell.

Will Technology Make My Kid Fat, Dumb, and Mean?

Debunking the most common media myths and truths with real research and practical advice. By Sierra Filucci
Will Technology Make My Kid Fat, Dumb, and Mean?

Parents have a lot of responsibility. Mainly, keep the kid alive. Next, try to raise a decent human being. And the messages about media and tech start almost from the moment they’re born: TV will rot your kid’s brain! Video games are evil! Kids don’t know how to have conversations anymore! It all boils down to the idea that too much media and tech will ruin your kid — or make them fat, dumb, and mean. But obviously that’s an oversimplification. The truth is more complicated — and a lot less scary.

Here we break down the scariest media and tech rumors and give you some solid research and simple, no-stress advice.

Rumor: TV rots kids’ brains.
Research says
: No credible research exists that says screens cause any sort of damage to the brain. It’s pretty clear, though, that having a TV on in the background isn’t good for little kids. It’s been shown to reduce the amount of time kids play and the quality of that play. It also seems to be related to less parent-child talk and interaction, which can have a negative impact on kids’ language development. Television in the bedroom is also a no-no; research shows it affects the quality and amount of sleep kids get, which can affect learning, among other things.

Advice: Turn off the TV unless you’re actively watching it. And keep it out of sleeping areas. Play music — perhaps wordless — if you want some background noise. And set aside time each day, if possible, to actively play with little kids.

Rumor: Watching TV or playing video games makes kids fat.
Research says
: Some research suggests a connection between watching TV and an increased body mass index. But the numbers seem to point to this being a result of kids being exposed to food advertising, not necessarily being couch potatoes.

Advice: Avoid commercials by using a DVR or choosing videos without ads. Also, teach kids to recognize advertisers’ tricks and marketing techniques, so when they see ads, they can evaluate them critically. Make sure kids get exercise every day, either at school or home. If kids can’t spend time outdoors, find ways to be physically active indoors (create obstacle courses; do kid “boot camps”) and choose active video games or find fun exercise apps or TV shows to enjoy together or for kids to enjoy on their own.

Rumor: Cell phone radiation causes cancer.
Research says
: Lots of studies have been done, and the results are inconclusive. The research community is still investigating, but there is still no indication that cell phones cause cancer in humans.

Advice: Kids don’t talk on their phones very much — they’re more likely to text or use apps — so even if there were a credible connection between the radio waves emitted from phones and damage to the brain, most kids would be at little risk. If you want to be extra cautious, make sure they aren’t sleeping with their phones under their pillows (not a good idea anyway!).

Rumor: Kids use the internet/their phones too much — they’re addicted!
Research says
: While plenty of research has been done to try to figure this out, the results are still pretty inconclusive, especially for kids. Certainly, studies show that kids feel addicted, but whether many are experiencing the symptoms of true addiction — interference with daily life, needing more to achieve the same feeling — is still up for debate. Also, no one has defined what “too much” time is.

Advice: Build as much balance into kids’ days and weeks as possible. That means aiming for a mix of screen and non-screen time that includes time with family and friends, reading, exercising, chores, outdoor play, and creative time. If kids seem to be suffering in some area — at school, with friends, with behavior at home — take a look at her daily and weekly activities and adjust accordingly.

Rumor: Violent video games make kids violent.
Research says
: Heavy exposure to violent media can be a risk factor for violent behavior, according to some — but not all — studies. Children who are exposed to multiple risk factors — including substance abuse, aggression, and conflict at home — and who consume violent media are more likely to behave aggressively.

Advice: Avoid games that are age-inappropriate, especially ones that combine violence with sex. Make media choices that reflect your family’s values; that can mean choosing nonviolent games, limiting the amount of time kids can play certain games, or playing along with kids to help guide them through iffy stuff. Also, as much as possible, limit other risk factors of aggression in kids’ lives.

Rumor: Kids don’t know how to have face-to-face conversations anymore.
Research says
: Studies on this topic haven’t focused on kids yet, but that data is surely on the horizon. What we know says that many older adults think devices harm conversations, but younger adults aren’t as bothered. A couple studies have also found that the absence of devices (at summer camps or during one-on-one conversations) can inspire emotional awareness. What that means about the ability to have a conversation is unclear.

Advice: Make sure kids get experience having face-to-face conversations with family members, friends, and others, such as teachers, coaches, or clergy. Teach kids proper etiquette, including not staring at a phone while someone else is talking. Model the behavior you want to see. But also accept that digital communication is here to stay. Embrace it and use it with your kid. And don’t criticize kids for using it appropriately, even if it’s not your preferred method of communication.

About Sierra Filucci

Sierra has been writing and editing professionally for more than a decade, with a special interest in women’s and family subjects. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley…. Read mor

7 Media Resolutions Every Family Should Make in 2017

Start the New Year on the right foot with tips for being an awesome digital role model. By Caroline Knorr
7 Media Resolutions Every Family Should Make in 2017

Working out and eating right are at the top of most people’s New Year’s resolutions. But as tough as those are, nothing compares with the challenge of a healthy media diet. There are screen-time limits to manage, new apps to investigate, bizarre social media trends to make sense of (what’s with the mannequin challenge, anyway?), and, don’t forget, plenty more Pokémon to catch. It’s like a 24-hour all-you-can-eat buffet when all you really want is a carrot stick. But in a world where both parents and kids are racking up serious screen time, making a commitment to a healthy media environment is critical for family time, learning, relationships, and digital citizenship.

It won’t always be easy to make your media resolutions stick. Especially because we parents tend to gobble up as much screen time as our kids. Unlike those midnight-snack runs after the kids go to bed, however, your media habits are being recorded by tiny ears and eyes. But we’re all in this together: This fun, crazy, innovative, challenging media environment affects us all. So whether you’re turning over a new leaf or trying to stay the course, our 2017 media resolutions can help you be more mindful, focus on what’s most important, get the most out of media and technology, and raise good digital citizens.

Have a device-free dinner. Piles of research show the benefits of family dinner. But the simple act of leaving your devices off the table — just a few times a week — allows you to role-model good digital habits (and actually talk to your kids).

When it comes to media, think quality, not quantity. Instead of counting up every minute your kid spends watching YouTube, strive for a balance of online and offline activities throughout the week.

Use media for relationship strengthening. While there are concerns that media isolates us, it can absolutely bring us together — if you take advantage of how it connects you.

  • Try video-chatting, scrolling through digital photo albums, playing video games, and even sharing music playlists to bond with your kids.

Don’t ban; have a plan. Keep an open mind about your kids’ media and tech, and accept the important — and often beneficial — role they play in your kids’ lives.  When you have clear lines of communication, you can slip in your messages.

  • Create a family media plan to ensure that kids stick to limits. Encourage them to behave positively online and be upstanders. Talk to them about what they watch, play, create, and read.

Seek out diverse characters. Exposure to a variety of types of people increases tolerance and acceptance and dispels dangerous stereotypes. Being able to get along with all types of people is a skill that will help kids whether they’re interacting online or in the real world.

Raise media-savvy kids. If 2016 was the year fake news went viral, make 2017 the year your kids learn how to view all media (not just “news”) critically.

Tighten your privacy. Our increasingly connected world puts kids’ personal privacy and online data at risk. Just last year, several high-profile companies settled a suit alleging that they had violated the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) by allowing kids’ data to be tracked. The ability to share anything at any time can be especially dicey to tweens and teens who may not be able to think through all the ways their posts can be used by others.

  • Make sure kids use strict privacy settings on social media, apps, and other accounts, and make sure they know not to share any personal information (name, age, address, Social Security number) with people they meet online.