One of the central stereotypes of (or maybe urban legends about) us, our tech and our time is people filling every free or empty moment doing something on a screen – texting, playing a game, posting a photo, listening to a tune, checking email, reading a book, etc., etc. It makes us feel guilty or critical because it’s typically associated with lack of self-discipline or situational awareness. Remember the phrase “continuous partial attention” and how much, when first used in the last decade, it worried us? We certainly worry about “too much screen time” on our children’s part, because everybody from pundits to pediatricians almost always refers to it negatively. We sometimes characterize this monolithic thing called screen time as an “addiction,” or at least a waste of time.
So consider this: a University of Pennsylvania creative writing class entitled “Wasting Time on the Internet.” “Although we’ll all be in the same room, our communication will happen exclusively through chat rooms and listservs, or over social media,” writes its professor, Kenneth Goldsmith in The New Yorker. “Distraction and split attention will be mandatory. So will aimless drifting and intuitive surfing. The students will be encouraged to get lost on the Web, disappearing for three hours in a Situationist-inspired dérive, drowsily emerging from the digital haze only when class is over. We will enter a collective dreamspace [the Surrealists’ ideal state for making art, he writes earlier in the essay] an experience out of which the students will be expected to render works of literature. To bolster their practice, they’ll explore the long history of the recuperation of boredom and time-wasting, through critical texts by thinkers such as Guy Debord, Mary Kelly, Erving Goffman, Raymond Williams, and John Cage.” Read more
It isn’t the first time research has found that “parental control” is not the best way to keep children safe online and on phones. “Rather than restricting or monitoring internet use, parents should let their children discover the net, both good and bad, themselves,” the BBC cites a new survey as saying.
It’s encouraging to see news stories like this; they’ve been rare over the past decade+, so it feels like we may be reaching a tipping point where the public discourse about youth online safety is becoming balanced and research–based.
This survey, of more than 2,000 14-to-17-year-olds in the UK and published by the Oxford Internet Institute and The Parent Zone, reminds me of several earlier ones, especially…
- A 2010 report by Britain’s education watchdog Ofsted that looked at 37 schools, finding that highly controlled school environments did less to keep students safe in the long run than giving them opportunities to take responsibility for their own online safety
- EU Kids Online’s finding that risk-taking and resilience development go hand-in-hand (as do risk and opportunity) online – see this on the latter in their 2011 report and this on their groundbreaking January 2013 report on resilience.
- The US’s 2008 national task force at Harvard’s Berkman Center finding that a child’s psychosocial makeup and (home and school) environments are better predictors of online risk or safety than any technology the child uses.
Survey’s conclusions Read more
Don’t believe everything you read about “screentime.” It’s rarely helpful – especially if presented as an undifferentiated mass of digital activity that just needs to be limited. That blunt-instrument approach is not helpful to parents. This very visual commentary from graphic designer and blogger Heather Hopp-Bruce in the Boston Globe is a refreshing departure from most messages about children’s screentime. It includes this beautiful infographic (click on “Boston Globe” under my screenshot for the legible original) that illustrates three categories of screentime – passive, creative and interactive – with lots of examples of each.
All of these types of on-screen activity can be useful and good, often rich with learning. What determines value for our children, on-screen just as off-screen, is individual, situational (having to do with timing, from time of day to time of life) and contextual (home, school and digital environments).
The headline on Hopp-Bruce’s page is “How best to prepare kids for the digital world.” Certainly that doesn’t happen only on screens, I’m sure she’s saying too. But just as certainly some of it needs to now. Media Literacy 101 for us parents.
This era of big data and big exposure – of all aspects of life to peers, the public and even perpetrators – calls for big participation. Because every day people are exposing, sharing, uploading, creating and inputting things about themselves and others, whether in social situations or part of their jobs, as friends, relatives, students or professionals, everybody is a participant (and stakeholder) in protecting their own and one another’s privacy. Certainly that includes school, corporations and government entities too.
Just in the area of student privacy, we’ve certainly seen unprecedented participation on parents’ part, first with the demise last spring of InBloom, which was a nonprofit student data management organization aimed at improving public education (the Wall Street Journal reported on this). Concerns about our kids socializing in a fishbowl are justifiably spreading to fear that they’ll have to learn in one too. Commenting in the New York Times, Olga Garcia-Kaplan, a parent and student privacy advocate who blogs for FERPAsherpa.org, summed it up beautifully with: “Don’t our students have the right to learn imperfectly, and with the privacy for trial and error?”
Since the InBloom implosion, state legislatures have passed more than 20 student privacy laws so far and introduced 110 bills, EdSurge reported last month, and federal legislation that would update FERPA (the Federal Educational Rights & Privacy Act) was introduced in July, Education Week reported. And ed tech companies seem to be stepping up, signing a pledge to protect student privacy (see Education Week).
Now students are stepping up
Art. VI on “Information and Privacy” of this student-developed Student Bill of Rights describes “the right to control and access one’s information” this way: “All students are protected from arbitrary interference or constraint of their privacy, regardless of circumstance, whether in person, online or within school. A school may not share student records without the prior written consent of the student or their legal guardian. The handling of student information must be a transparent process and the responsible institution must be accessible.” [The Student Bill of Rights, a growing crowd-sourced work in progress, is a project of Student Voice (think of the potential for school climate improvement of schools officially recognizing a student-sourced bill of students’ rights).] Read more
One of the best things about participating in the Internet Governance Forum is seeing the growing youth participation in sessions about their online protection. And one of the best things I’ve heard so far, after just 1.5 days of the IGF here in Istanbul this week came from Danish 15-year-old Olivia in a session about “Child Online Protection” where there was much discussion about technical, legal and parental control of children’s Internet experiences:
IGF 2014 participants Olivia (left) and Silke taking a media break (their sponsoring organization is Save the Children Denmark)
“This is our world, the Internet we’re talking about here. You have to be with us in the world. You can’t keep us away from it. You have to talk with us about it…. You have to help your children instead of trying to control them [emphasis hers].”
Safety takes practice
This was in response to the moderator asking for a teen participant’s perspective on the discussion up to that point. Olivia later told us of a friend whose 3rd-grade teacher – someone who was “qualified,” i.e., literate in the technology and media popular with her students at that time – led a discussion with her students about how they felt people should treat each other online. Her friend told her “there haven’t been any [cyberbullying] problems since” that discussion. Her point was, young people need and want thoughtful, caring guidance from informed adults, and that, not restriction, is what keeps youth safe – that as well as their own growing resilience and literacy, of course (see below for more on the literacy part). There hasn’t been enough discussion, much less acknowledgment, in online-safety circles about young people’s own skills in keeping themselves and peers safe in connected media.
“Safe” is what’s felt in a community of guided practice, whether it’s a family or a school (if children aren’t fortunate enough to have this at home, it needs to happen at school and in digital environments). This is sound, child-centered safety education: when students receive respectful guidance through facilitated discussion and opportunities to practice what they learn (in digital environments, where digital safety’s concerned), knowing that caring adults are there when backup’s needed. We need more communities of guided practice online too – that’s what children’s virtual worlds and online games need to be. Read more