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Friday
Dec282007

Godtube: A New Way to Spend a Saturday Night

Looking for a little entertainment?

You might want to spend a little time on Godtube (Godtube.com).  It is similar to Youtube, but a lot more wholesome. You can find everything from a daily devotional, a motivational speaker, a Christian music video, an evangelistic tool, or a just plain fun or moving video.  I first visited because my son had mentioned it to me, but I find myself going back to see what is new.  If you find something particularly fun, why not send the link to your child?

Godtube is a clean version of Youtube.  If you haven't visited Youtube, you may want to try it out (chances are your kids access it a lot).  I know my students often spend downtime hanging out, seeing what is new, catching up on their favorite t.v. show, watching music videos, and searching for something funny to laugh about.  There are lots of really interesting and funny things to be entertained with on Youtube, but you need to be aware, there is also lots of pornography that is easily accessable.  It might be worth a conversation with your child--what makes a good youtube video?  How do they avoid the many bad videos? what's the best video they've seen?  These kinds of discussions are just what kids need to begin thinking about how they are using multimedia and how they can become thoughtful and wise consumers.

 Whatever the case, don't miss out on these videosharing sites.  Your kids use them and you may also find a new way to be entertained. I have to be honest, one of the most fun I've had with my college-aged son is when we sit down and share our favorite Youtube and Godtube videos with each other.  They spark good conversations and provide a space where we can relax and have a few good yuks.  Before we know it, our traditional idea of sitting down on a Saturday night to watch a video may look a whole lot different.

Tuesday
Nov202007

IM and Homework: Does multitasking help or hurt?

I don't know what it's like in your house, but here it is clear. The holidays are over and school is back and my daughter has once again situated herself in front of the computer.  Most of the time she is doing homework--I think.  She does her homework at the same time she chats back and forth with her friends on IM. She swears she can do both and do them well.  I'm not so sure.

In a small study we did with middle school students, we found that students tended to take longer to complete Math and English problems when they were IM'ing.  The accuracy was about the same.  The really interesting thing is that there were some kids, just a few, that actually did more while IM'ing and with greater accuracy.  When we asked them why that was, they said they just had more fun when they could chat every now and then.  I had to agree.  The IMing group was much more animated and energized than the group who was given a bunch of English and Math problems to complete. So IM'ing can make the homework more fun.  The real question, however, is the increasing value our kids are putting on multi-tasking misplaced? Is IM/homework multi-tasking a good thing?

An article on CBS news looked more in depth at the question of multi-tasking.   According to David Meyer, a psychologist who directs the Brain, Cognition, and Action Laboratory at the University of Michigan, kids are actually losing valuable time and energy every time they start multitasking. It is the transitions that require extra cognitive energy and space. Each time kids switch to another task, they need to re-orient themselves. That takes time.  And when they are jumping between math and six different IM conversations, not to mention the music blaring and the little brother running around, the transitions can take lots of time. That extra cognitive load also results in an inability to go in-depth in any one task. That doesn't sound good. The ultimate question then is: should IM and homework go together?

Here is what I've come up with. For some kinds of homework, it seems like IM is not only o.k. but it might actually be a good thing.  IMing can add energy and interest to otherwise unengaging material.  It might take all evening instead of twenty minutes to finish up daily math problems, but kids are probably doing just fine on the problems and are also having fun with their friends.  I also know that when everyone is doing the same homework at the same time (much like the studying together we did in college) they actually talk about the problems every now and then and help each other out. So that's a good thing. There is some homework, however, that is not a good fit with IM.  For instance, my daughter's latest project is a 13 page research paper.  That takes concentration.  She is also looking at an impending deadline.  That takes focus.  They key is to train my daughter to figure out when IM'ing is a good thing and when she needs to sign off.

The bottom line is that IM and homework can go together, but we need to help our kids become wise as to how the two can work with each other and when they work against each other.  It is just one more skill our kids will need as they venture forth into this new technological era.  And besides, once my daughter figures it out, maybe she can help me figure out how to talk on my cell phone without tripping down the stairs.
Friday
Nov162007

Creating a Netiquette List

One great way to begin establishing guidelines with your kids about how to best use their technology is to sit down and come up with your own "netiquette" list.  Ask your child about the "do's" and the "dont's" of e-mailing, IMing and Facebooking. Use their list as a set of guidelines for technology use in your household.  Here is a copy of the list my family has come up with:

Kendall Family Netiquette List
•Don’t forward someone’s e-mail or IM without their permission
•Don’t respond to messages from a “cyberbully”
•Don’t share your password with anyone
•Don’t send messages when you are angry
•Don’t talk to strangers
•Don’t provide personal information
•Do think about what it would feel like to be the receiver of your messages
•Do use only language you would use in person (and only language you would use in front of your parents)
•Do take a break after 20-30 minutes of computer-time
•Do remember things are not private on the computer

 

Sunday
Nov112007

Sitting around killing your friends: Just another day on Playstation

It's not exactly the way Beaver Cleaver would spend time with his friends--you know, killing, stealing, punching, slashing, crashing--all those everyday Playstation past times.  But Beaver had his problems too. There was more than one occasion I recall Beaver having to confess bad behavior to his father.

Bad behavior, however, has taken on an interesting virtual twist over the past few years. More and more guys spend their "bonding time", their "friendship-building" time, playing Playstation with their friends.  And, unlike years past, they don't have to be in the same room to enjoy each other's company.  That means friends from across the city and across the world can come together and spend some good "man time" engaging in war, assassinating each other, stealing and crashing cars together, subduing hot-looking women, scoring touchdowns, and playing the guitar.  The question is, how are these interactions impacting their relationships.

Clearly, some games are worse than others.  Most parents have probably already had to decide which video games are OK and which ones are not.  And, just one word--if you haven't sat down and watched your child play their newest video game--it might be worth the time.  Some games are actually interesting and help kids improve problem-solving skills or hand-eye coordination.  Some games, however, are full of sex and violence, and invite your child to engage in bad behavior--all in hi-res blood-spurting color, highlighted by digitally-mastered groans and screams.

My question is--how does the virtual communication and game play impact relationships?  Do normally kind children who spend their afternoons trying to kill each other somehow cultivate poor relational dynamics?  Many guys begin online gaming, including the chat functions, when they are in 5th or 6th grade. Is this somehow different than spending time trying to smash each other playing football on a real-life field?  I have not had the opportunity to watch kids use the chat functions on these games.  I wonder if they feel less inhibited than they would in real life to be tougher, raunchier or more aggressive. I have seen the names they use.  A sweet-looking tall, skinny 6th grader may become mrkillingmachine online--and be proud of it!  Kids seem more willing to swear and act in ways that would make their mothers gasp and fall over.  I have also seen how Playstation and X-box can help freshmen guys feel included and safe as they spend time getting to know other freshmen guys over an evening game of Halo 3. It bonds kids, giving some of the less confident guys a way to interact and build relationships.  That, in turn, gives them something to talk about next time they spend time face to face.

For better or worse, video games have become the new interpersonal playground.  It is where guys come together to hang out.  But...I can't help but wonder how Beaver Cleaver would have turned out if he had had the opportunity to beat up that rascally Eddie with the newest version of Assassin 2. Maybe he would have been a little more confident and successful, or maybe he would have just ended up with a minor role in tasteless repeats of Jail Break.

Tuesday
Oct162007

Stealthy Relationships: Using IM to build friendships with the opposite sex

"Are you kidding!?  Everyone would think we were in love or something!"

That's the response I got when I asked a group of middle school girls why they don't talk to guys in their class.  The interesting part was that they had each just confessed to IMing those same guys on a regular basis! There is something about Instant Messenger that allows students to build awkward relationships in ways that allow those relationships to grow, hidden away from the judging eyes of their peers and the information-seeking eyes of their well-meaning parents. Instant Messenger gives students that safe and private space they need to learn how to relate to people who are different than them.

I'll be honest. It is easy to focus on the negative aspect of our kids' technology.  Maybe that's because our natural tendency is to distrust things we don't fully understand.   However, one of the most promising things I found in the focus groups that were part of my initial research was that IM has ALOT of positive attributes, one of the most important being the way it lets kids talk with each other outside of their normal social constraints.  The most notable examples I found involved the way 6th and 7th graders used IM to learn how to communicate with friends of the opposite sex. 

Try this.  Put yourself back into your junior high shoes and try to imagine the most awkward situation you can think of.  It undoubtedly has something to do with a cute girl or cute guy you were trying hard to impress.  Something very strange happens in about 5th or 6th grade.  Boys and girls who have been friends for years suddenly don't know how to talk with each other.  It is no longer "cool" to hang out together.  Suddenly innocent looks or comments have huge social implications.

Then along comes Instant Messenger. The fun and easy technology helps students keep those cross-gender relationships going.  No one from their social group can see their conversations so they are able to relax and figure out how to relate to someone of the opposite sex.  Although I haven't seen many studies dealing with the topic, my guess is that kids talk ALOT with friends of the opposite sex.  Sure, some of it might be flirting and some of it might be romantic, but much of it is just plain, old relationship building.  IM really can help our kids develop relationship skills in ways that are not subjected to the very harsh and public rules you and I were subjected to when we were first trying to figure out how relate with someone of the opposite sex.

So, next time you catch your son or daughter IMing or e-mailing someone of the opposite sex, don't get too worried. They might just be building some stealthy, healthy relationships.