I just wanted to let everyone know that I will no longer be submitting posts to this blog. I have, instead, started a new blog that covers the topic of my new book, Reboot. Instead of looking at how technology impacts teens, I have begun looking at how technology impacts us. With a more general topic, I will be able to cover lots more issues related to technology so please stop by my new blog at: peggykendall.com
Parents & Technology Blog
Check out this study that was recently conducted on the impact of technology on teen writing. The Stanford researcher who conducted the study says that our kids are not only not getting worse, she posits that we are actually entering into a literacy revolution. Our kids write more today than they ever have in history. One important skill they seem to be excelling at is the ability to match their writing with appropriate needs and interests of their audiences. That means that every time our kids post something on their Facebook page, write a blog, or send a text, they may actually be increasing their communication skills.
Many times parents ask me what I see as some of the changes coming over the horizon. From my perspective, the clearest trend has to do with mobility. It won't be long before the idea of going to a desk to work on a computer will seem completely confining and out of date. I don't think that day is far away. (I type this as I am sprawled out on my couch, with my laptop perched on my lap. )
For the last few years, kids who use technology to talk with their friends have often used a computer-based Instant Messenger program. For many teens, that means sitting in front of the family computer and pulling up to the keyboard. That also means that we, as parents, had a certain degree of control over how and when the computer was used. That, however, is quickly changing. According to most of the young people I've talked with over the past few months, IM is for the little middle schoolers who don't have phones yet. IM is being quickly replaced with text messaging. As texting plans get cheaper and phones get easier to use, more and more young people use their thumbs to do the talking.
The implications of this move from the family computer to the anywhere, anytime cell phone is unclear. The research that has been done suggests that IM messages tend to be longer. Because it is still tricky to type a big long paragraph into a cell phone, IM may be preferred for the deep, intimate conversations. However, as technology makes typing easier, it won't be long before the extended conversations will be much easier and more convenient using the cell phone. According to my students, cell phones also make things seem more personal, more intimate. Instead of sitting at the desk typing, young people can text in their beds or in their private places. Because the phone is almost an appendage, texting becomes even more personal.
This instant mobility also makes parental supervision a bit more tricky. One mom says she requires her kids park their cell phones on the kitchen counter before they go to bed at night. That eliminates the late night text parties. Another mom says she goes through her daughter's bill, with her daughter at her side, and looks for the times of texts. She said while this seemed to help her daughter place limits on texts, it also cost extra for all the piles of paper that came as part of her fully detailed billed.
So, if you are a parent who is so proud that you have finally mastered the IM program on your computer, I hate to say it, but you better figure out how to use the text function on the phone instead. As technology speeds along and as students become more proficient in texting (over half of the last group of high school students I talked with said they could text an entire message behind their back without looking) life will become more mobile, harder to supervise, and even harder to disconnect. But don't worry, by the time you get really fast at texting, our kids will have found a whole new way to hang out with their friends.
My kids are always bugging me. They can never reach me on my cell phone because it is either uncharged, misplaced, muted, or otherwise misappropriated. Don't get me wrong--I like having the phone for "just in case". You know, just in case I get a flat tire, just in case I get lost, or just in case I forget to cook dinner. One thing I have realized in the past few months, however, is that my approach to the cell phone is stone ageish. The technology might be the same, but the uses have changed--changed as quickly as a 17-year old can text a dear john letter --and believe me--that's fast!
The change highlights an interesting characteristic of technology. As users get used to the technology and integrate it into their lives, they begin to use it to meet different needs. As that happens, the technology moves from becoming a cool little thing to becoming something that is essential to modern life. I learned this one the hard way. I made the mistake the other day in class of asking students to give up their cells for one week. I was 2 steps from running out of the room being chased by an uncontrollable mob. NO WAY could they give up their phones!
The reason I share this observation is to encourage parents (like me) to re-think the new "place" of the cell phone--both the good and the bad--as we try to help our kids use the technology wisely. The first thing to remember is that it's not just for emergencies or calling home when a pick up from school is needed. It is a social appendage. It keeps the connections jumping and the identity sharp. The second thing to keep in mind is that kids use the phone to fill in the silence. When is the last time you saw an older teen just hanging around, walking, or sitting, without a phone to their ear? They feel uncomfortable with down time--with alone time. Thinking and contemplation may be becoming de-valued. Silence becomes an awkward obstacle instead of an opportunity to take in the people and surroundings of a specific time and place.
I'm not sure what the implications are for parents. Does this mean we should give our kids the phones they so desperately say they need? Who knows. What I do think, however, is that we should engage our kids in conversations about how and why they use their phones--what are they giving up when they flip open that phone? what are they really missing by being disconnected from their friends for a while? what could they gain by spending time alone, just watching things in their environment? What real-life things have passed them by as they connect to someone in a different place? Why is silence so scary?
Maybe those are questions that are too big for teenagers to contemplate--especially when the cell phone is so much brighter. But maybe we need to ask ourselves the same questions. Mobile technology is truly changing how we do things. The further we go with these devices, the more of a necessity they will become. At some point, however, it is important to step out of the stream and think about what we gain and what we lose every time we dial up.
Last night after I finished speaking with a group of parents, a mom came up and began talking with me about issues related to Myspace. She had a great idea I wanted to share with you. One of my greatest concerns with the way kids use technology like IM & Myspace is that they self-disclose way too much. Because the computer gives them a feeling of intimacy and control, it is very easy for them to share very deep parts of themselves--often with people who just don't care or who may turn around and misuse that trust. It is becoming difficult for kids to work through the "stuff" that comes along with growing up. Too often that process is done in a very public forum. I'm not sure kids really think through who might actually see it or read it. Often, when kids share their heart with someone else online, it seems to be more about just getting it out than to actually communicate something with another person. Unfortunately, there are lots of ways they can get hurt when they so easily share themselves online.
That's where this great idea comes in. If you find you have a very thoughtful young person who is most likely sharing deep parts of themself online, challenge him or her to write those thoughts down in a diary instead. You know the kind of diary I'm talking about--the real-life kind that you can touch and feel and maintain control over. With this kind of diary they can still work through things, but maintain more control and healthier boundaries. Then, if they really want some feedback from their friend, ask them to wait a day or two, then share some of the main thoughts. By then they may have worked through some of the very personal parts and can be a little more objective about what is good to share.
Growing up in this wireless world is tricky--especially when it comes to processing confusing thoughts and emotions. Maybe one way we can keep our kids healthy and wise is to remind them of some of the old-fashioned, real-life things that seemed to work pretty well for us.