Inside SFS

Headspace: Tweens and Technology

Important take-aways from Common Sense Media’s recent panel, Notes to My Middle School Self, including insights from some of our own Eighth Graders!

February 2018

Headspace heads up: This edition of Headspace is technically geared toward our 5th-8th Grade families. However, it is never too early to get one’s mind wrapped around your child’s use of social media/devices, and your role as a parent/guardian!

Pop quiz…can you tell me what the following terms mean?

If not, and you are a parent/guardian of a 5th-8th Grader: stop reading this article, click the links above, and come back to this piece when you are done. You…yes,you…need to know these things – according to the teens I just met with.

I recently had the great privilege of attending Common Sense Media (CSM)’s Notes to My Middle School Self, a panel of twenty 8th Graders representing ten different SF independent schools. SFS was proud to be represented by Helena Hess and Jayvyn Morthel. This was an opportunity, to put it simply, for adults to sit in (it almost felt like eavesdropping) on teenagers talking “openly” about their use of social media and devices (i.e phones, video games), parental relationships with regard to kids’ use of devices, and student views on the pros/cons of being a 21st century digital citizen. As a Head of School, and the parent of two tweens who fall right into the demographic of the students speaking on the panel, I was humbled by how much I still have to learn, and inspired by the media know-how of the teens and how savvy they are. As I sat in the audience, reflecting on all of this, I managed to jot down some useful information that I’d like to share with you. Below are some of my take aways.

What platforms are our kids using these days, and why?

It depends on the age of the child. Most panelists reported that they got their first phone between their 5th and 6th Grade years in school. In those early years, most of their online activity was downloading game apps (think Candy Crush), and lightly exploring various social media platforms. Inevitably, students started to text with others who had a phone in their grade, and then those groups got smaller as social dynamics unfold. As they got older (end of 7th /8th Grade), they tended to move away from games, and mostly move towards social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. When asked why they made this change, they generally responded that as they got older, they also got more freedom to go outside of the house on their own (to the movies, the park, the mall), and no longer wanted to sit around the house and play games all day. 

What can/should we as parents/guardians be doing about all of this?

According to the 8th Graders, communication and trust are key to a healthy relationship between kids and their parents regarding social media and device usage. The students pleaded with the audience to understand that parents should be honest about their concerns about social media and device usage, and strive to reach common agreements with their child. Each and every kid there agreed that parents should not ban social media or device usage from their kids. They claimed that this will absolutely have social consequences, and that those students who do grow up with limited usage tend to be the the ones who end up being the most “addicted” once they actually get a device in their hands.

Bottom line - What do our kids absolutely want us to know?

  • If you, as a parent, have “friend requested” or actually have friended your kid’s friends on any sort of social media platform, stop doing that, and immediately unfriend them! It’s embarrassing, not cool, and 9 times out of 10, creeps their friend(s) out.
  • Once and for all, know that kids do not really use Facebook. They are mostly using Snapchat, Instagram, and some are exploring Tumblr.
  • The majority of them do not text any of their friends via the normal texting route (i.e. like you and I do). Instead, they mostly text or Direct Message (DM) through Snapchat or other social media platforms – hint hint…those texts usually “disappear” immediately.
  • As we as parents question our childrens’ device usage, we should take a close look at our own device habits. Check out this hilarious and unfortunately true commercial that Common Sense Media will debut during the Olympics.

I walked away from the event grateful and intimidated at the same time. We are raising digital natives, and it is our job as parents to stop simply saying “no” all of the time, and instead, really engage with our children about technology. Help them understand what our fears are with regard to their usage, and at the same time, listen to why these devices and social media are so important to them. A trusting and open relationship is the best way forward. 

Posted February 06, 2018