It is obvious that the technological developments of our generation have tremendous impact on our lives, including school, work, child rearing, and families. There are tremendous opportunities as well as consequences we need to navigate. For every negative about social media and online access, there are many positives.

A few weeks ago I talked with our eighth grade students, during their PE class, about their personal technology use. Our students are wise about their lives and are very articulate when asked about their experiences. I always learn so much from students. I went to them with real curiosity about how technology is impacting their lives.

Our students are true pioneers with their access to unbridled social connectivity and the Internet at their fingertips. The world is changing so quickly.*

Follow that asterisk to the note below, as I just went on a tangent to make a point: Our students are living at a time when the media and ability to connect with others can dominate their good intentions, and their natural curiosities can send them into a vortex of interesting information. Distraction and multi-tasking, adds to an abundance of information to make focus and follow- through difficult. And, it takes the place of many other things we could be doing.

In preparation for this newsletter, I read quite a bit about the influence of technology on our lives, and especially on our young people. There is so much to read, so many podcasts to listen to and videos to watch. And then, there is so much already written about it that I wonder, do I need to say more? What can I contribute? With so much information available on every topic, our students may find research to be overwhelming as they go through school. Gone are the days of stretching out an encyclopedia article into a research paper, or even using a few books on a topic.

In the gym with Buck, I asked our students to cover their eyes and raise their hands if they have a cell phone. I saw that all but several of the students have phones. (I didn’t want them to know who didn’t have a phone, and I didn’t want those who didn’t have a phone to know that almost everyone else did. They probably know this anyways, but I didn’t want it to be because of me.)

I asked them how many of those who have phones sleep with their phones within reach. There were audible giggles, and some explained that they use their phones as an alarm. The students told of talking (texting) late into the night. Some watch movies on Netflix or browse YouTube. This was not a surprise.

What did surprise me was that the students expressed how they do not like when the Internet and social media takes over their time. They talked about how hours can go by when they are online and they hardly notice the time slipping away until it’s gone. They talked about how badly it feels when their friends, or family members, spend too much time online or look constantly at their phones when they are together. Many said they do it themselves and find it difficult to stop. They talked about the addictive quality of online access.

Most remarkable to me, as I hadn’t considered it so clearly, was that the students noted the duality of the impact of parents being able to stay connected to them. They told me they felt like they have more freedom because of cell phones – that parents let them go places independently more often because they can be reached through their phones. They then added, with wisdom, that this so-called freedom comes at a price. They expressed that there is a sense there’s no such thing as independence anymore – that parents know where they are all the time now and expect constant contact. Just wait until they realize how pervasive this sense of being watched is – how their Internet use is tracked by companies, how social media exposes them to others, how they lose control over their own information, how there are more and more cameras everywhere. Big Brother is ubiquitous. Let’s not forget how people are compelled to invade their own privacy. For young people, the decisions they make about how much to share can have dire consequences that they are not prepared for or expecting.

In relationships and families, we can set expectations on how to be together – when we should be offline. For ourselves, we can notice when use feels more like addicted behavior and make changes to prevent the slippery slope that leads us to overuse. I am always drawn to structural solutions and suggest developing mutual agreements at home. The longer you can wait to give children phones with Internet access, the more time they will have to be present in their own active lives, and the more opportunity you have to limit inappropriate content that can warp their healthy development. It is easier to set rules at the beginning and slowly ease away as children mature.

The decision about when to purchase a phone for a child is complicated. For many middle school and older children, direct access to their friends feels important for their social connections. Whether that is accurate is arguable. I’m glad I don’t have to make a decision like that as a parent now. The Internet didn’t start taking my daughter until high school with AOL instant messages popping up during homework. Is it any different that when I was in high school I just locked myself away in my room with my old record player? Phones with Internet access allow children to view any kind of content that is out there. They are walking around with the world, the good, bad, and ugly, or simply for mature audiences, at their fingertips.

Whenever a family member has a phone, rules and agreements are important. Agree to times when phones are turned off and put away. Agree to which sites children can access on the Internet and how much privacy your child is allowed. Do your own research to make decisions that are right for your family. Common Sense Media is a website that has great current information.

There are so many positive aspects to the Internet and the ability to connect throughout the world. In some ways we have more control of our media diet because of the choices and access we now have. It’s important to stay current and aware of new apps that young people are drawn to. If we can come up with agreements together in our families, and use technology in moderation, we can limit the negative influences. I recommend that we model self-control, model giving children and family members our full attention, and reclaim our real time experiences.

For a much more in-depth look at the impact of computers on children’s lives and thinking

abilities, please read this article: internet-kids/

*Wondering what inventions changed the world since the late 1800s to compare to the technological advances we are seeing now, I did a Google search expecting to see the automobile and the telephone… Well, the telephone was invented in 1876. Within three years, there were almost 49,000 telephones in use; and by 1900 the number increased to 600,000. It’s hard to imagine what that must have felt like for the people who previously had to rely on letters and travel to communicate with others. Mass production of the automobile likewise had a tremendous impact on the world in the early part of the 20th century. It’s mindboggling to imagine what that shift must have been like; and the people living through it had no idea how far-reaching the impact would be. My Google search brought up other inventions that I hadn’t thought of that have changed our working worlds and home life. For instance the vacuum cleaner was invented in 1901. The list is amazing. There are so many inventions in the last hundred years that have had tremendous impact on our lives.