Our children won’t ever know a world without video games, apps and texting. However, we can encourage other forms of play than staring at a screen 24/7. There are many other skills we should be focused on beside how to beat the latest game or to only communicate via a phone text.
There is hardly a parent who hasn’t heard the plaintiff cry, at some point in their child’s school career, “Why do I have to learn algebra?” If it isn’t algebra, then something else like history. “I’m never going to use this stuff!”
This is usually the moment when most parents tend to flounder on how to respond. The answers can range from the somewhat reasonable, “Maybe you’ll end up an engineer or architect!” to the frustrated last resort, “Because being a student is your job and this is part of the job!”
(It’s entertaining to muse the reaction of those students who really did become an engineer or architect. “Oh, that’s a great idea. Let me get back to my math homework! Thanks, Mom!” Has that ever happened?)
WHAT IS THE ALGEBRA ANSWER?
So, what is the right answer? How do we explain something that we probably asked our parents years ago and probably received a version closer to “I don’t want to hear it. Go do your homework before I smack you!”
I don’t think there is a single answer that will work for everyone, but I will offer some options.
Calmly discuss the roots of our education system. Our curriculum was developed in the late 1800’s by Victorians. Their motive was two-fold; to standardize an unruly, inconsistent system and mold young people to fit into society’s needs, such as factory workers.
The basic design of the system hasn’t changed in the last 130 plus years. The class curriculum is part of the grand design and shouldn’t be questioned.
Expect a lot of eye-rolling with this approach.
There really are students who do go on to become architects and engineers or historians or whatever the career path that matches the class complaint.
Taking the class exposes the student to the possibilities that may actually interest them.
When, inevitably, the child claims to have zero interest in blah, blah, blah, the response should be that they can’t really make that decision until they have completed the class.
At this point, a small foot is usually stamped and the child sulkily returns to work, which is all you really wanted in the first place.
LEARN HOW TO LEARN APPROACH
My personal approach to this question is the “learn how to learn”.
In other words, don’t think, Johnny, that this is all about algebra. It isn’t. This is teaching you how to learn. How to absorb, understand and apply knowledge that may seem confusing and frustrating. This process teaches you how to approach challenges in life.
I promise you, Johnny, that future challenges will make Algebra seem like a piece of cake. Beating Algebra will help prepare you for the rest. Now, get back in there and learn something, Mister!
And isn’t that actually true? Doesn’t every challenge we face get just a little easier because we are slowly building our tools and coping mechanisms on how to handle them? If it isn’t algebra, then it’s the new boss or a new project dumped on our desk.
We may not appreciate everything we have to learn in school or think we will ever use, but we will. One way or the other.
HOW MUCH SCREEN TIME IS ACCEPTABLE FOR CHILDREN?
This same question has been asked of every new innovation going as far back as the introduction of the radio and probably before that. It seems as if parents have always been struggling to find the right balance between healthy outdoor activity and passive ones. Today, the struggle is even more confusing due to the proliferation of devices, games, social media, computer-based content creation and communication.
Not to betray my age or anything, but I remember, clearly, when Pong came to our television at home. In that moment, to me, the world shifted just slightly. I can actually control something on the TV? It was mind-boggling.
Children are spending more and more screen time than ever before. Although it is tempting to simply set a time limit like television watching, it doesn’t seem that it is as easily accomplished. Technology in all its sorted forms have pervaded so many aspects of our lives, beginning at younger and younger ages, that it’s almost a full-time job to monitor its usage by our children.
SCREEN TIME VARIES
Designating the use of today’s technology simply as “screen time” can overlook some important variations. The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens identifies four main categories of screen time:
- Passive consumption: watching TV, reading, and listening to music
- Interactive consumption: playing games and browsing the Internet
- Communication: video-chatting and using social media
- Content creation: using devices to make digital art or music
While communication may be a frequent usage type (texting, phone, video-chatting) throughout the day, content creation could be school related. Passive and Interactive consumption may be in lieu of more active pursuits. How do you monitor and what do you restrict?
What if you set parameters based on total usage time regardless of the purpose? 4 hours a day of screen time. That might mean on Day One, 3 hours are spent on computer homework and 1 hour games and Day two, 4 hours of games since no homework was required. Would that be acceptable?
Ultimately, your goal should be a balanced experience for your child between the healthy use of technology regardless of its usage and non-screen time activities.
The number of hours split between these will differ between families and, possibly, even seasons.
Screen time should not replace family time. Every opportunity for family interaction, communication and simply playing should be grabbed for the precious time it truly is. We’ve all heard the old adage,”They grow up so quickly.” Well, it’s true! Take it from one with a 28-year-old who was 2 years old a heartbeat ago.
Watch behavior. If, after screen time, your child is positive, up beat, still developing off-line social skills, then that’s the attitude you want to maintain.
Monitor time usage just as you are monitoring, hopefully, your child’s intake of junk food, for example. Be flexible (i.e. rainy day may need a serious source of entertainment) but be consistent. Be firm. Remember, children are natural negotiators.
Monitor type of usage. Confirm that the material being viewed and interacted with is age-appropriate. Set down some rules.
Participate. This doesn’t mean you need to be a helicopter parent, but technology is a big part of our children’s lives so be willing to learn and be part of the experience.
For example, my nephew loves building things in Minecraft. So, I drew my “dream home” for him to re-create inside the game. He wants me to “grade” him; not something that ever occurred to me, but okay. Once he has completed my dream home, I plan to do more and more complicated drawings for him to recreate, challenging him. Even though he lives in AZ and I am in CA, we are interacting.
Finally, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) — one of the only established organizations to make recommendations on screen time — offers guidelines that put limits on media exposure. Studies have shown a link between heavy media use and issues such as obesity, lack of sleep, academic challenges, aggression, and other behavior difficulties.
AAP will be issuing new recommendations in 2016 emphasizing that not all screen time is equal and that take into account the many different kinds of activities that occur on screens (for example, watching TV is not the same as video-chatting with Grandma).
Remember, screen time is not a right; it’s a privilege.
Imagine a workplace where the Boss makes a statement like this: “If you don’t finish that report by end of today, you will be fired!’ And then, when the employee doesn’t finish the report, nothing happens. No one is fired. The boss meekly thanks him for the report when he handed it in the following week. No firing, not even a warning.
What will happen the next time the boss makes a similar demand? Hasn’t the employee already learned that the threats are just…well, threats? The employee’s behavior will not change – why would it?
What does the future look like for that company?
The boss gets increasingly frustrated, the employee performance suffers since there are no repercussions and the reports are handed in late on a consistent basis. That department soon falls into chaos impacting the entire company.
NO DIFFERENCE AT HOME
Why should we expect anything different from our children when we make idle threats that we don’t keep?
We have all seen it a thousand times. Parents use the exact same formula: demand, threat, inaction.
“If you don’t stop what you are doing right now, we are leaving this party and going home!” Child continues the behavior and the parent does nothing about it.
“If you don’t stop teasing your little brother, you are going to your room!” Parent throws hands in the air in frustration.
“If you don’t stay in your chair, we will never take you out to eat again!” Of course, there will be future trips to restaurants.
The problem is not just promising a punishment that is never delivered. It begins before that. The problem is making a threat that you either don’t intend to or unable to enforce. The root problem is promising something before thinking it through and determining if you will take the action you stated.
By promising a punishment you really never intend to act upon, you are placing yourself in a no-win corner. The child learns that the threats aren’t real and, therefore, doesn’t change behavior. You have made a promise you can’t or won’t deliver so you have given up your power and your authority. You have also begun a cycle that will only escalate, probably beyond the merits of the original mis-behavior.
So, the first step is to never promise anything, punishment or reward, that you aren’t willing and able to act upon exactly as promised.
Don’t simply throw out the first thing that comes to mind. Pause a moment to reflect. Sometimes, in order to change behavior, the punishment doesn’t have to be immediate, as long as it is carried out.
For example, if leaving a party immediately is just not possible or preferable, promise a result that will occur at a later time, such as no video games for a week. Follow this same process each time:
- Get your child’s full attention. Never make this type of promise to a running child or one still engaged in play. If you want the message to truly be received, you must have the full attention of the child.
- Explain the unacceptable behavior.
- Explain what will happen if nothing changes.
- Allow the child make up his or her own mind as to what action they will take.
Unless the behavior is life-threatening, you might allow the child to continue the behavior unabated.
Yet, imagine the reaction when, hours later, you calmly implement the punishment and, for example, removed the game device. The next time, if there is a next time, the child will take the promise much more seriously.
This is the most critical step; Never promise a result of continued unacceptable behavior without keeping your promise. You must show the child consistency and that your promises are not idle threats.
Never make a promise to a child, or anyone for that matter, that you aren’t going to keep.
Please understand that by “punishment” I don’t endorse or encourage corporeal punishment for a child. Punishment is simply meant to describe a result of unacceptable behavior. It is up to you, the parent or care-giver, what is fair and just for your child.
Even though I used the word, “child” throughout this blog, I suggest the same rules apply when dealing with teenagers and people at work you manage. As a parent and manager myself for over
35 years, I have lived by this concept and it has always worked well for me.
I was watching my nephew play Minecraft last weekend. In case you have been living in a cave, Minecraft is a blocky video game that is all the craze with young children.
He was interrupted by his mother to open a small gift. It was maze cube where the object is to tilt the cube back and forth to guide a metal ball through the maze to release a latch. Inside the cube is money.
He picked up the cube, tried the maze for all of 5 seconds, tossed it aside and went back to banging on the keyboard.
This demonstration of impatient behavior made me wonder. Is technology, in all it’s immediate gratification glory, training us and our children to no longer have patience with anything more than to blow up, get captured or win a level?
There are plenty of much more qualified experts than me to ponder and study this question. However, intuitively, I feel there is a shift happening.
We’ve all heard about Millennials needing immediate feedback, preferably pats on the back (equivalent to “likes”) from their bosses. (Is there a correlation here that in many games, the ultimate opponent on each level is called “The Boss”?) While they impatiently await promotions and other perks on the job, which is greatly in vogue following Google’s model, they lack the patience to even memorize a phone number.
When was the last time you actually memorized a phone number? I know it’s been many years for me. I don’t even know my own daughter’s.
I know you are thinking we don’t need to, anymore, but I shudder to consider losing my phone during an earthquake and having no way to contact her. Of course, that is until the stores re-open and I can download my contacts into my new phone from the mysterious cloud.
Are we hurtling towards a future video game-suckled generation that will treat their lives like a series of quick hurdles? Will they lack the ability to settle in for the long haul to tackle the big issues? You might want to read another blog of mine called “Why do I have to learn Algebra???” as you consider this issue.
Whether these questions concern you or not, it does serve as a reminder to introduce other activities other than technology-based into our children’s lives. Activities that may challenge them in the real-world without quick and easy solutions.
These may be different for different families ranging from reading to outdoor exercise. The key is balance.
Technology is not going away and, undeniably, has improved our lives. Yet the maxim applies here: be aware of too much of a good thing.
Who knew a simple marketing query e-mail to Susan Goulding, a Staff Reporter for the OC Register, would receive such a quick and excited response.
Sometimes, I think, we make things harder than they need to be. Susan immediately responded, expressing interest, and said she would be in touch. She was true to her word.
The next day I received a phone call, “Mark, will next Wednesday work for you? I will have a professional photographer with me.” Talk about exciting! My first article!
For 2-1/2 hours I answered all of Susan’s questions and posed for photos while Susan interviewed my neighbor and his 5-year old daughter, who had purchased The Storytelling Box.
Being 59, I asked the Photographer if he wanted to back up a little, maybe to Fullerton, but he insisted on a close-up. Where was my makeup person, my hair stylist and gauze to shoot through (shades of Doris Day)?
Creating a product, in retrospect, was simple, despite what I thought at the time, when compared to marketing it. This process is 10 times harder especially when wading into unknown waters such as social media.
MARKETING IS A WHOLE NEW WORLD
A comparatively few years ago there was no such word as BLOG, much less entire websites devoted to them. Tweet was a sound made by a bird and a facebook would have described a photographers collection of portraits.
Today, they are the difference between success and failure in getting the word out on a product. It’s reached a point where companies will do almost anything to get eyeballs (a slang term today that would have referred to a gruesome hobby for a serial killer years ago).
I suppose if I make a YouTube video holding a gun to my head threatening to shoot if every parent in the country didn’t immediately purchase one of my boxes would increase sales dramatically. Not my style.
I’d rather run naked through a public park, screaming, “The Storytelling Box, The Storytelling Box”, but that’s just a personal preference. (Don’t worry to those who have seen me naked – I’m not going to do that either.)
Actually, I will be taking advantage of YouTube (with my clothes on) very soon. I will be creating a weekly Storytelling with Mark video where I create a original story on camera using The Storytelling Box. Gotta walk the talk, right?
I have to thank my social media guru, Oscar Gonzalez from NotaGrouch.com. He is my lifeline as I venture out into the deeper social media waters, teaching, encouraging and supporting me so I don’t drown.
Everyone needs a mentor as they attempt to learn a new path. Oscar is mine. I actually wrote about the value of mentors in another blog (See how easily “blog” just trips off my tongue?) I find myself taking my own advice.
You can read the wonderful article here: OC Register article. I hope this is just the beginning.
I know nothing about study groups. I have no idea how that happened.
4 years in college and I wasn’t part of a single study group. Certainly not in High School. Was it like everyone was having a party and I wasn’t invited? I regret missing out on this it to this day (and “this day” is [snort, snort] many moons later).
I think study groups would have enhanced my college experience, helped with my studies and improved my grades. Not to mention having a support group to help get through the tough classes.
So having confessed I know nothing about this topic, I’m going to write about it, anyway, because that’s what I do. I’m a Daddy Blogger and (a) I hadn’t realized that I was a Daddy Blogger until someone told me so and (b) is there such a thing? I’ve heard of Mommy Bloggers, but Daddy?)
STUDY GROUPS IN THE MOVIES
I’m going to make some assumptions based on movies I’ve seen. Even if I’m only partially correct in these assumptions, there will be a point to be made at the end, I promise.
So, in the movies, I only see study groups with college kids who are either studying law or medicine. You never see an engineering study group or a journalism study group.
My assumption based on hardly any evidence at all, is that study groups are mostly popular only with the severely high pressure areas of academia. And, if study groups were used by others, it might be only occasionally and just before a test.
DON’T MISS OUT
I suggest that most students are missing out, as did I. I don’t think study groups should replace individual studying; far from it. Students should prepare for a study group by learning the material beforehand.
The study group should be used for review and reinforcement of what has been learned. For sharing new ideas or approaches, which requires strong grounding in the subject matter first. Also, a study group can help when a member simply doesn’t understand something and needs help.
Mostly, though, a study group can be used to hold the student’s toes to the fire, as it were. Unless they want to be completely humiliated, any student will be very motivated to know the material before being tested by their peers. Nothing worse that looking stupid in front of fellow students.
I would suggest that this type of peer pressure is much more effective than any type of punishment, threats or even support parents can offer. And that’s only because they are “parents”. Let’s face it, when we really want our children to learn something key, isn’t it always more effective when it comes from a objective 3rd party, rather than a parent?
How many times have we seen that what we said went in one ear and out the other. Yet the moment our wonderful child hears the exact same thing from a friend, it suddenly makes sense. Ah, the joy of parenthood.
DON’T WAIT UNTIL COLLEGE
I also suggest that students create and join study groups in High School – don’t wait until college. Aside from pure academic help, a study group can also aid in social skills development, particularly with a shy child.
I’m sounding more and more like an expert, huh. I’m not going to go into how to create a study group – there are plenty of resources on-line. Here’s one I found that seems pretty good.
My point is that study groups appear to be a simple and possibly effective way to support students on their path to success and can be utilized in all areas of study.
Don’t let your student miss out…like I did.