Thursday, March 2nd 2017
Last night I had the privilege of attending a talk given by Joani Geltman, MSW; “Child Development and Parenting Expert.“ The focus of the talk was managing use of social networking devices (phones, tablets, computers, etc.). Although my own kids are nowhere near getting their own phone, our son is already a regular user of a computer (primarily for Minecraft), and the longer we can delay him from accidentally tripping upon porn -ETC.- the better. And this takes vigilance and technical know-how on the order that a generation of parents has heretofore NEVER KNOWN.
Here are some bullet points from the talk:
Parenting Your Child’s Journey into Social Networking
o The most important thing is to start your management of children’s devices EARLY. Once they have a device already, it’s hard to work backwards in terms of limiting and monitoring their exposures.
0 Think of it like your kid starting to drive. You don’t just throw them the keys and send them out on the highway. You have a great number of safety lessons, driving practices, learning about legal responsibilities etc., with many baby steps over many months, ultimately leading to solo excursions. (Full disclosure my heart is palpitating just writing this.)
Child Brain vs. Adult Brain
o These devices are like crack to kids. (And people too, I’d argue.) We literally get dopamine hits from regular use of the devices. By limiting use you reduce the risk and effects of addiction.
o Hello! SEX TALK in middle school is like POOPY TALK in elementary school. It’s funny and awkward and weird; mysterious, intriguing, gross and INEVITABLE.
o Kids also don’t realize how their texts SOUND, much less the greater implications or potential consequences of things they write.
o To hauntingly illustrate the above point, watch the documentary “Being 13” by CNN.
o Here is a 2min preview:
o My opinion: In the above clip, by “less likely to get upset with social media” I presume the reporter means “less likely to endanger themselves, incur social humiliation or commit suicide.”
o Kids aren’t actually able to think their actions through to their logical or possible conclusion. That is Adult Thinking, with the pre-frontal cortex. They are operating from the Emotional Brain, the amigdyla.
Make No Mistake
o Establish from the beginning that you will be going through their phones on a regular basis, WITH them, for the sake of checking patterns and habits, screening for health and educating…etc. (See below: “EDUCATE: SOCIAL NETWORKING SAFETY”)
o FIRST THING thing when you buy your kid a phone:
- Go to Settings, => General, => Restrictions… then you put in a very private password (that only the parents know and you will never share with your kid.)
- Then you can disable anything you want, e.g.: INTERNET (“Safari”), restrict download apps, etc.
- Use an app to set TIME RESTRICTIONS of when the phone is ON or OFF.
o Why no internet access on phone? => Prevent downloads of apps without permission.
o How many apps should we start with? => How about ONE?
o How many games? => Rule of thumb: Add one, delete one.
o The more access they have, the more obsessive they become!
o Phone should be OFF at night. Otherwise kids stay up all night texting and develop literal sleep disorders because they become addicted to social networking as a metric for their own self-esteem. (YIKES.)
o Phone should be OFF at school. The temptation to use it on the sly (under desk, in the bathroom, etc.) is an unhealthy distraction; they don’t have the impulse control! They shouldn’t have access to YOU during the day to help solve their problems; school is a place for them to develop independence and problem solving skills for themselves. You shouldn’t have access to THEM for the same reasons. (Emergencies can obviously be handled through regular school phone channels.)
o Have your kids’ password… absolutely. It’s a SAFETY ISSUE. Period.
o Here are some (currently) recommended Parental Control tools:
o Beware of VAULTS!
o WTF are “VAULTS!”?
o VAULTS are DECOY programs whose icons LOOK like regular apps -and BEHAVE like regular apps- but in fact are a place for kids to HIDE CONTENT from their parents!
o For example:
o As the parent, it’s essential that you set expectations from the start that, together with your child, you will read through social threads together, regularly. (Less and less over time as they gradually develop independence.)
o In this way you are their SOCIAL TECHNOLOGY TEACHER, wherein you evaluate your kids and their friends’ content.
o Start by sitting down with the first phone bill and looking at the # of texts and hours of use.
o Fun Fact: Teens are reputed to send upwards of 80 texts/day, 3000/month and are on devices up to 7 or more hours/day.
o Use these 4 litmus questions as guidelines:
o In fact, post these four rules in the house somewhere, so the expectations are clear.
o Your kid(s) will argue they need their device for homework. Doing online group homework need not be the NORM. Students still need to be able to THINK INDEPENDENTLY. (Also, by over reliance on group home working they risk losing confidence in their own abilities.)
How to Talk to Your Kids about This Stuff
o After something outrageously inappropriate happens in your child’s social networking life and you blow your top yelling at them, that is to be expected. But AFTER that, you need to go back for PART TWO of that conversation.
o Raising your voice with your kid(s) in Elementary School may work. Developmentally they are able to accept direction and follow rules.
o Raising your voice with your kid(s) in Middle & High School is a non-starter. It will just turn off their brains. They will not listen to you.
o PART TWO of the conversation goes like this; “I get how this could happen.” (Discuss.)
o The way to talk to your kids is not to say “I need to talk to you,” but to share relevant STORIES, on an ongoing basis.
o “You better not do that” is not a strategy.
o “I understand you will be in situations that you don’t know what to do.”
o You want your kid to want to come to you.
o Then you say, “We know how important this is to you. However this is the amount of time we’ve decided is appropriate for you at this time.” Then you do this; [look them in the eyes empathetically and SHRUG].
o That shoulder shrug is a very important way to put a period on the end of your sentence. Otherwise the dispute can go on and on and their listening brain shuts off anyway and it’s not productive for anyone.
Word to the Wise
o Kids whose parents impose restrictions are happier. (See video clip above.)
o A lot of parents don’t realize the discretion that is theirs to exercise of their child’s use of devices. (This part steams me every time. Every day you see parents catering to their little dictators’ every whim. I always wonder what exactly they think is their fucking END GAME!?!)
o You don’t have to give them the WORLD just because they want it!
o In summary:
o And DON’T let (use of devices during) summers get away from you!
About the Expert
o Please note, Joani’s talk was CHOCK FULL of anecdotal stories underscoring the perils of everything alluded to above.
o Here is her book! (Also written in short bullet point/ anecdote form.)
o You can also check out or follow her BLOG, Joani’s Parenting Tip of the Day, on which she posts helpful tips for parents twice weekly!
o Thanks to the Friends of Tobin School, Friends of Vassal Lane Upper School, Friends of Haggerty School and Friends of Graham and Parks School for bringing Joani to speak at the inaugural event of our Cambridge Public School triad!
So… now we know what to do before our little lamb rips off the 7th seal to the apocalypse.