On Christmas morning, we gave our 13-year-old son an iPhone. He dug through the refrigerator-size box to find it buried, wrapped and hidden under endless paper to keep him fooled. When he saw it, he looked at me suspiciously and asked "Is this real?" He smiled wide, his genuine boyhood smile, and we all celebrated with hugs. Before the sun came up, he'd gathered a list of numbers and contacts for everyone he knew. He took a picture of himself on his scooter standing beside the Christmas tree, wearing his new headphones and slippers with a message that read "I got an iPhone! This is my number!" And then he was gone. Lost in hundreds of group texts, endless access to music from our family iCloud, an Instagram account and YouTube videos galore. Late that night, we talked about some boundaries around the new phone once life returned to normal after the holiday.
The next morning, I showed him a contract I had written. It was a collection of my thoughts on technology -- on life, really -- that I had been assembling without intention for years. What is normal? What do we do with all of this access? Where is the balance? I combed for answers in casual conversations and with intelligent experts and decided I needed to find my own truth. Some points were firm rules, some listed my expectations for respect and responsibility, some were reminders to live fully. All of it was created in love. He looked it over, smiled and said "Hey Mom, you're really good at this. I don't think you left anything out." We laughed, he made a small change -- requesting permission to bring it to school for field trips or scheduled after school activities -- and I agreed. He signed. The printed copy sat on my kitchen island for two days before I decided to share it publicly. The response was electric.
We were up to our eyeballs in global interviews, media requests, emails and discussions. We had a blast together, spending all this time and energy showing the world a slice of our full life. His buddies rooted for him, his teachers praised him, his basketball team called him "Hollywood." Weeks into the chaos, he turned to me and said, "I still don't know what the big deal is. Is anyone going to ask us something new? I think I'm all done with this." And like that, we split ways. I carried the broader discussion on parenting, technology and respect into larger platforms. He returned the contract to its original purpose in our home.
His violations have been minor. He begs for a few more minutes to finish a text conversation or FaceTime chat before it gets turned off for the night. His password is ever-changing to prevent his sisters from invading and I'm not always promptly cc'd on the update. He has found his way into age-appropriate he said/she said conversations. I'd worry if I was never met with resistance or a misstep. There is great value and growth there. And we have continued to learn too. I never imagined he'd get 672 texts in one night or that he'd wear headphones so often that I was certain he was ignoring me on purpose or that he'd give his younger brother unlimited access to his phone without question. But overall, as I expected, this boy is thriving with the trust and limits we gave. In fact, more than once, he has reminded me to keep my eyes up, teasing and joking, "Mom's got FOMO," or "Mom, you need a contract?" Our children are always our teachers, keeping us in line too.
A crucial benefit of the contract has been the development of his critical perspective. Often, he shows me in trust a photo that came through his feed or shares a story about a peer who has made a choice or been put in a situation around technology that is risky, unintended or foolish. He sees it clearly -- the consequences, the power, the permanence of our virtual decisions. The dialogue in our home has been busted wide open. He sees that we know the technology, he knows our expectations. And we all agree that the smart phone, the video game, the social networking site can easily become central. This is a living, breathing discussion in our home, far beyond a piece of paper or authoritarian power play.
When I made the contract, I did not anticipate defending it or having it held up as genius. Like my boy said in an interview, "This contract is so my Mom." I was bombarded with criticism -- "Controlling! Bossy! Outdated!" I was overwhelmed with praise -- "Beautiful! Funny! Modern!" And more than ever, I had to be so certain of myself, so confident in my own truth that I stood by it without dependence on acceptance or contempt. I'm tougher than I was three months ago. My head is clearer. My voice, more certain. I was unexpectedly asked to stand up for my family, to model a belief system of integrity and authenticity to a global audience.
Late at night when the contract first exploded, I'd lay wide awake, buzzing with media overload. Why did this matter so much? What was this intense build of energy underneath the contract? As days turned to weeks and weeks to months, I saw it. Active parenting is vital, being engaged with our families, crucial. Teaching self-respect, consideration to one another and nurturing real human connection in our homes and communities is paramount. Then deeper still, trusting ourselves to know what is best for our own families -- even if it doesn't look the same -- is empowering.
For me, the contract craze became a rally call for all parents to believe in themselves, to seek answers, to crawl out from under the pressure of perfection, to embody their humanness, to risk being a fool by taking action, to fully participate in the name of raising whole people. It became a message and a movement in my heart. Born from love for our children, we find the courage to hold each other up as we navigate what is new, what is unknown, what is real. It is our obligation as parents to rise to the challenge as we blaze this new trail of technology with our families.
Recently, I left a note on my boy's bed praising his responsibility and character. And just as I exhaled, proud and exhausted in the way only parenting can make you feel, I got a text message. It read "Hey Mom, so can I get Twitter now?"
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Teens and Technology" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pew Research Center Gist: "Fully 95% of teens are online, a percentage that has been consistent since 2006. Yet, the nature of teens’ internet use has transformed dramatically during that time ... Teens are just as likely to have a cell phone as they are to have a desktop or laptop computer. And increasingly these phones are affording teens always-on, mobile access to the internet — in some cases, serving as their primary point of access."
Preschoolers Can Learn Great Things From TV" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Huffington Post (to read the actual study, visit Pediatrics -- subscription required) Gist: "New research out today by Dr Christakis finds that putting our time and energy into working to improve what our children watch, not just how much they watch, can have a positive impact on their behavior -- even for children as young as 3 years of age."
Media and Violence: An Analysis of Current Research " width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Common Sense Media Gist: "While longitudinal research does allow us to speak in terms of a 'causal' relationship, it is probably more accurate and useful to think about media violence as a 'risk factor' rather than a 'cause' of violence — one variable among many that increases the risk of violent behavior among some children."
Source: Reuters (to read the actual study, visit JAMA Pediatrics -- log-in required) Gist: "[R]esearchers said the new study backs up earlier findings showing too much screen time and not enough exercise may be separate issues that parents and schools need to address independently."
How Families Interact on Facebook " width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Facebook Gist: "We investigated anonymized and automatically processed posts and comments by people self-identified as parents and children to understand how conversation patterns with each other might be a bit different from those with their other friends."
Parents, Teens, and Online Privacy " width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pew Research Center Gist: "Most parents of teenagers are concerned about what their teenage children do online and how their behavior could be monitored by others. Some parents are taking steps to observe, discuss, and check up on their children’s digital footprints."
Public Supports Expanded Internet Safety Requirements to Protect Kids" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health Gist: "In this Poll, nearly two out of three adults expressed strong support for proposed COPPA updates, including requiring apps designed for kids to confirm that users are at least 13 and prohibiting apps from collecting personal information from users under age 13."
The Online Generation Gap" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Family Online Safety Institute Gist: "These surveys indicate that teens’ concerns about their online safety parallel parents’ concerns more closely than parents realize and that many teens are taking steps to protect their privacy and personal information. Nonetheless, teens suggest that parents are not as informed about what their teens do online as parents think they are, and some teens are taking risks by providing personal information to strangers online."
Children, Teens, and Entertainment Media: The View From The Classroom" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Common Sense Media Gist: "America’s teachers -- whether they are long-time classroom veterans or young, tech-savvy ones, at wealthy schools or low-income schools, public or private, elementary or high school -- surface relatively consistent concerns: Students are having issues with their attention span, writing, and face-to-face communication, and, in the experience of teachers, children’s media use is contributing to the problem. On the plus side, teachers find that young people’s facility with media is helping them find information quickly and multitask more effectively."
How Teens Do Research in the Digital World" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pew Research Center Gist: "Three-quarters of AP [Advanced Placement] and NWP [National Writing Project] teachers say that the internet and digital search tools have had a 'mostly positive' impact on their students’ research habits, but 87% say these technologies are creating an 'easily distracted generation with short attention spans' and 64% say today’s digital technologies 'do more to distract students than to help them academically.'"
Social Media, Social Life: How Teens View Their Digital Lives" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Common Sense Media Gist: "Three out of four teens have social networking sites, and half of all teens are on their sites on a daily basis. But despite our concerns about social media, in the vast majority of cases, these media do not appear to be causing great tumult in teenagers’ lives."
Teens, Smartphones and Texting: Texting Volume Is Up While Frequency of Voice Calling Is Down" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pew Research Center Gist: “The volume of texting among teens has risen from 50 texts a day in 2009 to 60 texts for the median teen text user. The frequency of teens' phone chatter with friends - on cell phones and landlines - has fallen. But the heaviest texters are also the heaviest talkers with their friends.”
Impact of an Active Video Game on Healthy Children’s Physical Activity" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pediatrics Gist: "There was no evidence that children receiving the active video games were more active in general, or at anytime, than children receiving the inactive video games."
Teens, Kindness And Cruelty on Social Network Sites: How American Teens Navigate the New World of “Digital Citizenship”" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pew Research Center Gist: “As social media use has become pervasive in the lives of American teens, a new study finds that 69% of the teenagers who use social networking sites say their peers are mostly kind to one another on such sites. Still, 88% of these teens say they have witnessed people being mean and cruel to another person on the sites, and 15% report that they have been the target of mean or cruel behavior on social network sites.”
Preschool-Aged Children’s Television Viewing in Child Care Settings " width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pediatrics Gist: “We found that children in as many as 70% of home-based child care settings and 36% of center-based child care settings watch television daily. More importantly, when television is viewed at all, infants and children spend 2 to 3 hours watching in home-based programs and ~1.5 hours watching in center-based programs.”
Media Use by Children Younger Than 2 Years" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pediatrics Gist: “This updated policy statement provides further evidence that media—both foreground and background—have potentially negative effects and no known positive effects for children younger than 2 years. Thus, the AAP reafﬁrms its recommendation to discourage media use in this age group. This statement also discourages the use of background television intended for adults when a young child is in the room.”
Zero to Eight: Children's Media Use in America" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Common Sense Media Gist: "Nine-month-olds spend nearly an hour a day watching television or DVDs, 5-year-olds are begging to play with their parents’ iPhones, and 7-year-olds are sitting down in front of a computer several times a week to play games, do homework, or check out how their avatars are doing in their favorite virtual worlds. Television is still as popular as ever, but reading may be beginning to trend downward. Having an accurate understanding of the role of media in children’s lives is essential for all of those concerned about promoting healthy child development: parents, educators, pediatricians, public health advocates, and policymakers, to name just a few."
Cell Phone Study ‘Misleading’: Children May Still Be At Increased Cancer Risk, Experts Say " width="52" height="52"/>
Source: The Huffington Post Gist: “[E]xperts have some serious concerns regarding the methods and conclusions of the first study evaluating the connection between cell phone radiation and brain cancer in children and teens. Not only was the study flawed, they note, but it was also financially supported by the cell phone industry.”
Children's Screen Viewing Is Related to Psychological Difficulties Irrespective of Physical Activity " width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pediatrics Gist: “This study found that greater television and computer use was related to greater psychological difﬁculties, independent of gender, age, level of deprivation, pubertal status, and objectively measured physical activity and sedentary time.”
Television and Video Game Exposure and the Development of Attention Problems" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pediatrics Gist: "Viewing television and playing video games each are associated with increased subsequent attention problems in childhood. It seems that a similar association among television, video games, and attention problems exists in late adolescence and early adulthood."
Teens, Cell Phones and Texting: Text Messaging Becomes Centerpiece Communication " width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Pew Research Center Gist: “Fully two-thirds of teen texters say they are more likely to use their cell phones to text their friends than talk to them to them by cell phone.”
Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds" width="52" height="52"/>
Source: Kaiser Family Foundation Gist: “Today, 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). And because they spend so much of that time ‘media multitasking’ (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into those 7½ hours.”
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