Middle School Misfortunes Then and Now, One Teacher’s Take

Wait ’til 8th

Middle school 2008 vs 2018.jpg

By: Benjamin Conlon

Let’s imagine a seventh grader. He’s a quiet kid, polite, with a few friends. Just your ordinary, run-of-the-mill twelve-year-old. We’ll call him Brian. Brian’s halfway through seventh grade and for the first time, he’s starting to wonder where he falls in the social hierarchy at school. He’s thinking about his clothes a little bit, his shoes too. He’s conscious of how others perceive him, but he’s not that conscious of it.

He goes home each day and from the hours of 3 p.m. to 7 a.m., he has a break from the social pressures of middle school. Most evenings, he doesn’t have a care in the world. The year is 2008.

Brian has a cell phone, but it’s off most of the time. After all, it doesn’t do much. If friends want to get in touch, they call the house. The only time large groups of seventh graders come together is at school dances. If Brian feels uncomfortable with that, he can skip the dance. He can talk to teachers about day-to-day problems. Teachers have pretty good control over what happens at school.

Now, let’s imagine Brian on a typical weekday. He goes downstairs and has breakfast with his family. His mom is already at work, but his dad and sisters are there. They talk to each other over bowls of cereal. The kids head off to school soon after. Brian has a fine morning in his seventh grade classroom and walks down to the lunchroom at precisely 12 p.m.

There’s a slick of water on the tiled floor near the fountain at the back of the cafeteria. A few eighth graders know about it, and they’re laughing as yet another student slips and tumbles to the ground.

Brian buys a grilled cheese sandwich. It comes with tomato soup that no one ever eats. He polishes off the sandwich and heads to the nearest trashcan to dump the soup. When his sneakers hit the water slick, he slips just like the others. The tomato soup goes up in the air and comes down on his lap.

Nearby, at the table of eighth graders, a boy named Mark laughs. He laughs at Brian the same way the boys around him laugh at Brian. They laugh because they’re older, and they know something the younger kids don’t. They laugh at the slapstick nature of the fall. The spilled tomato soup is a bonus. The fall is a misfortune for Brian. That’s all. It’s not an asset for Mark. A few kids hear the laughter and look over, but Brian gets up quickly and rushes off to the bathroom to change into his gym shorts.

Mark tries to retell the story to a friend later. The friend doesn’t really get it because he wasn’t there. He can’t picture it. In fact, Mark seems a little mean for laughing at all.

After lunch, Brian returns to homeroom in his gym shorts. No one seems to notice the change. He breathes a sigh of relief. The cafeteria fall is behind him. He meets his sisters at the end of the day and they ask why he’s wearing gym shorts. He tells them he spilled some tomato sauce on his pants. They head home and spend the afternoon and evening together, safe and sound, home life completely separate from school life. Brian doesn’t think about the incident again. Only a few people saw it. It’s over.

Now, let’s imagine Brian again. Same kid. Same family. Same school. He’s still in seventh grade, but this time it’s 2018.

When Brian sits down for breakfast, his dad is answering an email at the table. His older sister is texting, and his younger sister is playing a video game. Brian has an iPhone too. He takes it out and opens the Instagram app. The Brian from 2008 was wondering about his position in the social hierarchy. The Brian from 2018 knows. He can see it right there on the screen. He has fewer ‘followers’ than the other kids in his grade. That’s a problem. He wants to ask his father what to do, but there’s that email to be written. Instead, Brian thinks about it all morning at school. While his teacher talks, he slips his phone out and checks to see how many ‘followers’ the other kids in class have. The answer doesn’t help his confidence. At precisely 12 p.m., he heads to the cafeteria. He buys a grilled cheese. It comes with tomato soup that no one ever eats.

At the back of the lunchroom, Mark sits with the other eighth graders. He holds a shiny new iPhone in one hand. Mark has had an iPhone for five years. He’s got all the apps. Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. He’s got lots of followers too. He doesn’t know all of them, but that’s okay.

A few years ago, Mark made his first Instagram post. It was a picture of his remote control car. Mark used to really enjoy remote control cars. Mark checked Instagram an hour after putting up that first picture. A bright red dot showed at the bottom of the page. He clicked it. Someone had ‘liked’ the picture of the car. Mark felt validated. It was good that he posted the picture. A little bit of dopamine was released into Mark’s brain. He checked the picture an hour later. Sure enough, another ‘like’. More dopamine. He felt even better.

For a while, pictures of the remote control car were sufficient. They generated enough ‘likes’ to keep Mark happy. He no longer got much joy from actually driving the remote control car, but he got plenty from seeing those ‘likes’ pile up.

Then something started to happen. The ‘likes’ stopped coming in. People didn’t seem interested in the pictures of the car anymore. This made Mark unhappy. He missed the ‘likes’ and the dopamine that came with them. He needed them back. He needed more exciting pictures, because exciting pictures would bring more views and more ‘likes’. So, he decided to drive his car right out into the middle of the road. He had his little brother film the whole thing. He filmed the remote control car as it got flattened by a passing truck. Mark didn’t bother to collect it. He just grabbed his phone and posted the video. It was only a few minutes before the ‘likes’ started coming in. He felt better.

Now it’s eighth grade and Mark has become addicted to social media.  Sure, he needs a lot more ‘likes’ to get the same feeling, but that’s okay. That just means he needs more content. Good content. Content no one else has. That’s the kind that gets a lot of ‘likes’, really, really fast. Mark has learned the best content comes from filming and posting the embarrassing experiences of classmates.

When he notices that water slick at the back of the cafeteria, he’s ready.  Each time someone walks by and falls, their misfortune becomes an asset for Mark. A part of Mark wants them to fall. He hopes they fall.

Brian walks across the cafeteria with his soup, minding his own business. Suddenly, his feet slide out from under him. The tomato soup goes up in the air and comes down on his lap. He’s so embarrassed, that when he stands up and rushes off to the bathroom, he doesn’t notice Mark filming.

Mark’s fingers race over his iPhone screen before Brian is out of sight. That was a great video he just took, and he wants to get it online. Fast. He knows he’s not supposed to have his cell phone out in school, but the teachers really only enforce that rule during class. They all use Twitter and Instagram too. They understand.

Mark doesn’t know who he just filmed, and he doesn’t care. It’s not his fault the kid fell on the floor. He’s just the messenger. The video is a kind of public service announcement. He’s just warning everyone else about the water spot in the cafeteria. That’s what Mark tells himself.

He gets the video uploaded to Snapchat first. No time for a caption. It speaks for itself. He has it up on Instagram seconds later. By then, the ‘likes’ are already coming in. Dopamine floods into Mark’s brain. There’s a comment on Instagram already! “What a loser!” it says. Mark gives the comment a ‘like’. Best to keep the audience happy.

This has been a rewarding lunch. The bell’s going to ring in a few minutes. Mark sits back and refreshes his screen again and again and again until it does.

Meanwhile, Brian heads back from the bathroom, having changed into his gym shorts. He’s still embarrassed about the fall. It happened near the back of the cafeteria, though. He doesn’t think many people saw. He hopes they didn’t. But when he walks into the classroom, a lot of people look at him. One girl holds her phone up at an odd angle. Is she…taking a picture? The phone comes down quickly and she starts typing, so he can’t be sure.

Class begins. Brian is confused because people keep slipping their phones out and glancing back at him. He asks to go to the bathroom. Inside a stall, he opens Instagram. There he is on the screen, covered in tomato sauce. How could this be? Who filmed this? Below the video, a new picture has just appeared. It’s him in his gym shorts. The caption reads, “Outfit change!”

Brian scrolls frantically through the feed trying to find the source of the video. He can’t. It’s been shared and reshared too many times. He notices his follower count has dropped. He doesn’t want to go to class. He just wants it to stop.

He meets his sisters outside at the end of the day. Several students snap pictures as he walks by. Neither sister says a word. Brian knows why.

Home was a safe place for Brian in 2008. Whatever happened in school, stayed in school. Not now. Brian arrives at his house, heart thundering, and heads straight to his bedroom. He’s supposed to be doing homework, but he can’t concentrate. Alone in the dark, he refreshes his iPhone again and again and again and again.

Brian’s family is having his favorite dish for dinner, but he doesn’t care. He wants it to be over so he can get back to his phone. Twice, he goes to the bathroom to check Instagram. His parents don’t mind, they’re checking their own phones.

Brian discovers that two new versions of the video have been released. One is set to music and the other has a nasty narration. Both have lots of comments. He doesn’t know how to fight back, so he just watches as the view counts rise higher and higher. His own follower count, his friend count, keeps going in the opposite direction. Brian doesn’t want to be part of this. He doesn’t like this kind of thing. He can’t skip it though. It’s not like the dance. And he can’t tell a teacher. This isn’t happening at school.

He stays up all night refreshing the feed, hoping the rising view count will start to slow. Mark is doing the same thing at the other side of town. He has lots of new followers. This is his best video ever.

At 3 a.m., they both turn off their lights and stare up at their respective ceilings. Mark smiles. He hopes tomorrow something even more embarrassing happens to a different kid. Then he can film that and get even more ‘likes’. Across town, Brian isn’t smiling, but sadly, he’s hoping for exactly the same thing.

From the Author

I started teaching in 2009. At that time, public school was very much the way I remembered it. That’s not the case anymore. Smartphones and social media have transformed students into creatures craving one thing: content. It’s a sad state of affairs.

But there’s hope.

Over the last few years, my students have become increasingly interested in stories from the days before smartphones and social media. In the same way many adults look back fondly on simpler times, kids look back to second and third grade, when no one had a phone. I think a lot of them already miss those days.

Smartphones and social media aren’t going anywhere. Both are powerful tools, with many benefits. But they have fundamentally altered how children interact with the world and not in a good way. We can change that. In addition to the “Wait Until 8th” pledge, consider taking the following steps to help your children reclaim childhood.

  1. Propose that administrators and teachers stop using social media for school related purposes. In many districts teachers are encouraged to employ Twitter and Instagram for classroom updates. This is a bad thing. It normalizes the process of posting content without consent and teaches children that everything exciting is best viewed through a recording iPhone. It also reinforces the notion that ‘likes’ determine value. Rather than reading tweets from your child’s teacher, talk to your children each day. Ask what’s going on in school. They’ll appreciate it.
  2. Insist that technology education include a unit on phone etiquette, the dark sides of social media and the long-term ramifications of posting online. Make sure students hear from individuals who have unwittingly and unwillingly been turned into viral videos.
  3. Tell your children stories from your own childhood. Point out how few of them could have happened if smartphones had been around. Remind your children that they will some day grow up and want stories of their own. An afternoon spent online doesn’t make for very good one.
  4. Teach your children that boredom is important. They should be bored. Leonardo Da Vinci was bored. So was Einstein. Boredom breeds creativity and new ideas and experiences. Cherish boredom.
  5. Remind them that, as the saying goes, adventures don’t come calling like unexpected cousins. They have to be found. Tell them to go outside and explore the real world. Childhood is fleeting. It shouldn’t be spent staring at a screen.

 


Benjamin Conlon is a public school teacher and author of The Slingshot’s Secreta middle school mystery for anyone trying to find old-fashioned adventure in the digital age. Benjamin grew up in New England and spent much of his childhood exploring the woods surrounding his hometown. After college, he began teaching elementary school. He wrote The Slingshot’s Secret as a reminder that even in a world filled with technology, adventure abounds.

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Link between social media and depression stronger in teen girls than boys, study says

CNN

How Teens Are Using Tech to Solve Some of the World’s Biggest Problems

IN 2016, WHEN GITANJALI RAO FIRST HEARD ABOUT the water crisis in Flint, Mich., she was shocked that something so essential to a community could be compromised. “It was scary to think about these kids drinking water that was harmful for their bodies,” says Gitanjali, 13. “I felt like clean water was a right. It was definitely something I took for granted.”

Gitanjali saw a problem that was hurting others, and she wanted to fix it.

In just three and a half months, she came up with a solution: a portable device that could detect the levels of lead in water faster and at a lower cost than what is currently available. Gitanjali called it Tethys, after the Greek goddess of fresh water. Her device uses disposable cartridges that, once dipped in water, provide accurate and immediate readings of lead levels. “It’s based on something called carbon nanotube sensor technology,” she says. “And with a Bluetooth extension, it gives you results on your mobile phone.”

With Google at everyone’s fingertips, coding tutorials readily available and open-source systems unlocking ever-expanding possibilities, young people like Gitanjali are increasingly using technology to solve weighty problems. And with a refreshingly non-jaded “what if” mindset, these teens might just figure out a way to create a better future for us all.

A Platform That Can Prevent Wildfires

CONCERNED BY AN INCREASE IN CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES, high school classmates Aditya Shah and Sanjana Shah (not related) joined forces in 2016. “Because of climate change, extreme weather events, like flooding, wildfires and droughts, are on the rise,” says Aditya, who is now 17. “We feel this urgency to protect the environment for later generations.”

The teenagers, who live in Cupertino, Calif., were already working in the field of environment protection and water conservation, and wanted to use their science and tech knowledge to create long-lasting solutions. “Sanjana and I have been coding for a long time,” Aditya says. “Programming is essentially our second language. We have a good sense of solving problems by integrating hardware and software. We live in a world of technology, with cloud computing and machine learning, so we thought, ‘Why don’t we develop a device that is able to take into account factors like wind speed, temperature and humidity, and also use image recognition to identify the types of fuel in the area that contribute to a wildfire happening?’”

And they did.

 

“Prior generations did not have these resources, but now, anyone can easily learn programming. If you can dream it, you can do it.”
— SANJANA SHAH, 17

Aditya and Sanjana created the Smart Wildfire Sensor, an outdoor hardware setup that predicts the likelihood of fires before they start, with the potential to protect homes and lives and reduce firefighting costs. The sensor can be mounted to a tree and has two parts: a device that records and transmits weather data, and an embedded high-resolution camera that captures images of the biomass, the organic matter that acts as the fire’s fuel.

“Using TensorFlow, Google’s open-source machine-learning platform, we analyze images of biomass and estimate their moisture content to find out the amount of dead fuel,” Sanjana says. “We’re getting about 89 percent accuracy.” The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection took an interest, and the two teens are now working with the department to further develop, test and implement this technology to mitigate wildfire risks, which have increased exponentially in recent years.

“If you’re dreaming about some potential solution, you have all of the resources you need online,” says Sanjana, who also developed the Smart Flood Sensor. “Prior generations did not have these resources, but now, anyone can easily learn programming. If you can dream it, you can do it.”

Orange Peels That Help Drought-Stricken Crops

HAVING GROWN UP IN JOHANNESBURG, KIARA NIRGHIN was dismayed three years ago when she saw that the normally full reservoirs in her city were nearly empty because of a severe drought. So she came up with an eco-friendly way to help farmers grow food even when rainfall is scarce. Nirghin won the 2016 Google Science Fair at age 15, with a creation she made from orange and avocado peels that increases the chance for plants to sustain growth during a drought by 84 percent.

“It’s a lot cheaper than the synthetic material farmers currently use,” Nirghin says. “Plus it’s more effective and better for the environment.” Known as a super absorbent polymer, the powder can be sprinkled on top of soil, mixed into it, or added in tablet form to retain water hundreds of times its mass, creating mini-reservoirs and allowing crops to thrive in drought-stricken areas.

 

“I think young people bring something so unique to the table, in terms of their imagination and what they can create.”
– KIARA NIRGHIN, 18

“Even though a lot of people think that teenagers don’t have the resources to come up with solutions, and say, ‘You should wait until you’re a scientist,’ I completely disagree,” Nirghin says. “Teenagers can be very good at understanding problems.”

Nirghin is now a student at Stanford and has partnered with an international agricultural company to develop her product. “I think young people bring something so unique to the table, in terms of their imagination and what they can create,” she says. “Our communities should take advantage of that.”

Affordable Water-Quality Tests and More

WHEN YOUNG PEOPLE USE TECHNOLOGY TO SOLVE PROBLEMS, they can sharpen their critical thinking skills and become more confident, says Eli Kariv, the chief executive of a computer-science-based after-school program called the Coding Space. “There are so many times I see students of all ages think of new ways of approaching issues,” he says. “Students can figure out things that adults may not know or that someone did not teach them. At that point, you can create anything.”

Josh Sheldon agrees. “Kids are fearless,” says Sheldon, an associate director of the MIT App Inventor, where Gitanjali learned to build apps. “Adults learning to code are tentative and afraid to move a mouse to click something, because they think they might break the computer or crash the program. Kids are just, ‘We’ll try it. We’ll see what it does.’”

Gitanjali says she failed time and time again while developing Tethys. Until she didn’t. “My mantra in the beginning was, ‘Just have fun with it,’ because I didn’t know what was going on: ‘Carbon nanotubes, what?’” she says. “And by the end of this, I figured it out, because I was experimenting and trying new things. I wasn’t afraid to fail.”

Now in eighth grade at Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) School Highlands Ranch near Denver, Gitanjali is enhancing the Tethys unit to be “a lot more accurate, compact, affordable and easy to use,” she says, so people worldwide will be able to easily test their drinking water. She also plans to use the Firebase app development platform to allow Tethys users to upload the results of their water test. “With that data, I’ll create a global water-quality heat map using Google Maps Heatmap function,” she says.

“We are growing up in this reality where you’re seeing global problems that never existed before. We want to make the world better for everyone.”
— GITANJALI RAO, 13

Gitanjali now codes just about every day and regularly creates new apps. “Because Android has an open architecture, I am able to use third-party tools to develop apps quickly and test them,” she says. “Also, Android is the most common operating system in the world. I like that anybody in developing countries who cannot afford an expensive iPhone can use the app.”

Gitanjali’s inspiring journey with Tethys was recently featured in the Google Search On short documentary series. And her newest endeavor? “I want to learn gene editing,” she says.

Somehow, this 13-year-old also finds the time to mentor younger children, offering her own style of anti-bullying seminars, which includes a little science. “I start with the message of kindness and then end the sessions with one STEM topic, such as 3-D printing or simple programming, or ways to observe problems around us,” Gitanjali says. “It’s amazing to see that kindergartners and first-graders can understand problems easily and jump to solutions without barriers.”

Armed with technology and determination, today’s young people offer hope that humanity will get back on the right path. “We are growing up in this reality where you’re seeing global problems that never existed before,” Rao says. “That’s where this creative mindset comes from: We want to make the world better for everyone.”

Ready to make your mark? Google offers free resources to help both students and teachers learn computer science. If you’re between the ages of 13 and 18, you can submit your idea to the Google Science Fair to solve a problem using science and technology.

Have an idea for how you could use AI to build a better world? Check out the Google AI Impact Challenge, an open call for nonprofits, academics and social enterprises around the world to share proposals for how they could use AI to help address social and environmental challenges.
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Illustrations by Tom McCarten

5 things I’m telling my kids to prepare them for the future

Fast Company

As young people start to enter the workforce, things are going to be very different than they are now. Here’s how to prepare them.

October 8, 2018

I have four kids, ages 5 to 14, and I and know they’re very unlikely to follow the same educational path I did. I’m certain they’ll be preparing themselves for a very different job market. As my youngest is in kindergarten and my oldest just started high school, here are my thoughts for them.

Technology’s impacts are varied and yet to be determined. We like technology when it makes our daily lives easier and often more fun. But on the flip side, we worry. It’s natural to look toward the future and wonder what change will bring. Earlier this year, for example, Gallup found that nearly eight in 10 Americans believe artificial intelligence (AI) will destroy more jobs than it creates over the next decade. I believe the impact of AI will be much less significant than most predictions, but at the same time want to help people look ahead, eyes wide open.

Drawing on my time as co-chair of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Future Council on Education, Gender and Work, I’ve tried to distill some of the Council’s most important research into advice for my children as they gradually age their way into the workforce.

Here’s what I’m telling them and why:

[Image: Andrey_A/iStock]

ROBOTS (PROBABLY) AREN’T TAKING OVER

When I attended Davos in 2017, the metaphor most commonly used for AI was the Terminator: a scary all-powerful robot capable of doing your job, who then starts a robot revolution.

But the following year, as I’ve written before, the Iron Man metaphor replaced Terminator. The change reflected the shifting attitudes about tech: from completely replacing humans to complementing, or augmenting, their abilities and pushing innovation.

Personally, I think Iron Man is a better metaphor than Terminator for two reasons.

First, past technological revolutions, from the automobile to the ATM, have ended up creating more jobs than they destroyed. And second, contrary to popular imagination, technology still has a long way to go before it reaches the kind of capabilities that alarmists like Elon Musk have warned about.

Instead, I think Yann LeCun, who heads AI research at Facebook, has it right. “In particular areas, machines have superhuman performance,” LeCun says. “But in terms of general intelligence we’re not even close to a rat.”

Self-driving cars, for example, are still far from meeting minimal safety standards, and AI is still just fairly simple neural nets, not mythical omniscient machines. More importantly, while it’s great to be aware of the increasing powers of technology, the truth is that the prospect of automation creating serious joblessness is only one of what are really multiple plausible scenarios.

[Image: Andrey_A/iStock]

YOU’LL BE IN SCHOOL THE REST OF YOUR LIVES

Why? Because skills are changing faster than traditional education is keeping up. There are a few reasons for this. After all,  per Moore’s law, technological progress grows exponentially, creating smarter and smarter machines, which require newer and newer skills. Plus, in an era of fast-paced technological and scientific breakthroughs, the more we discover, the more we have to learn new skills.

And while some leading universities now offer courses on the gig economy or new technologies like the blockchain, it’s far from being the norm. The vast majority of high schools and colleges aren’t adapting quickly enough to the change, leaving their students increasingly unprepared for the jobs market.

“Some studies suggest,” according to the WEF, “that 65 percent of children entering primary school today will have jobs that do not yet exist and for which their education will fail to prepare them.” And the WEF report “Realizing Human Potential in the Fourth Industrial Revolution” predicts that approximately 35% of the skills demanded for jobs across industries will change by 2020.

In practical terms, constant technological change requires that my children’s generation needs to begin thinking of education as a lifelong pursuit. That means they might have to attend community college in order to get a certification, or get a Masters from a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) or a nanodegree from an online learning platform like Udemy–or all three at different points throughout their careers to remain relevant as the job market transforms.

[Image: Andrey_A/iStock]

YOU CAN BE YOUR OWN BOSS

A little over half of the working-age population worldwide are traditional employees. But that’s changing, because working for yourself has never been easier, thanks to technology that enables greater collaboration.

As work becomes more digitized, it’s also becoming less tied to geography. UX designers, or copywriters, or Android developers don’t need to be in an expensive downtown office building to find meaningful work and earn top dollar. They can do their jobs anywhere.

And as work becomes less tied to geography, digital platforms, like Etsy and Upwork–which connect people to work together regardless of location–increasingly offer people a chance to be their own bosses.

[Image: Andrey_A/iStock]

FOCUS ON SOCIAL SKILLS

As automation advances, the most prized skills are those that can’t be performed by a robot.

Sure, hard skills like programming, data analysis, engineering, and math are important; however, the WEF’s “Future of Jobs” report finds that technical know-how won’t be enough in the future.

“Overall, social skills—such as persuasion, emotional intelligence and teaching others—will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills,” says the WEF. “In essence, technical skills will need to be supplemented with strong social and collaboration skills.”

[Image: Andrey_A/iStock]

THE FUTURE IS UP TO YOU

Despite a lot of the fear-mongering about the future, no one really knows how technology will progress.

A WEF study from earlier this year, “Eight Futures of Work: Scenarios and their Implications,” highlighted that uncertainty, pointing to other factors that will also change the way we live and work–like our education systems and immigration policies, which are both within our control.

After all, we make the machines. We create schools and write curricula, and it’s up to us how talent and work move across borders.

The future isn’t written in stone. It’s not inevitable. It’s yours to shape–and that gives me reason to be hopeful.

It’s Not Cyberbullying, But …

Though someone’s mean online behavior might not fit the definition, it can still hurt. By Christine Elgersma 
It's Not Cyberbullying, But ...

 

A student sees a group of girls coming toward her in the hallway. One has been her best friend since second grade, but she doesn’t know the others very well. She says hi to them as they pass. They all ignore her or roll their eyes, including her friend. A few lockers down, they whisper to each other while they stare at her and laugh behind their hands.

While we can all agree the girls in this situation are being mean, can we call this bullying?

These “IRL” (in real life) scenarios happen all the time, and they often carry over into the online world. And though insults, exclusion, and even all-out aggression don’t always meet the technical definition of cyberbullying — ongoing, targeted harassment via digital communication tools over a period of time — they still hurt.

The best remedy for all these issues is prevention and education: Teaching kids what it means to be kind and respectful and a responsible digital citizen can nip lots of trouble in the bud. But when and if problems start, it’s good for parents to understand what’s happening — and how to help.

So, other than straight-up cyberbullying, what are some other reasons our kids might be bummed by others’ online behavior?

Ghosting. When friends cut off online contact and stop responding, they’re ghosting. Refusing to answer someone’s texts or Snaps is actually a way of communicating during a shift or upheaval among a group of friends. Often, instead of ever addressing the issue head-on, kids will just ignore the targeted person.

  • How to handle it. Being ignored is tough. Instead of relying on the old parent standby, “If they’re ignoring you, they’re obviously not your real friends,” try to empathize and validate your kid’s feelings. If they’re willing, encourage them to try a face-to-face conversation with the ghosters. If that feels too hard, suggest your kid stop trying to get replies; the ghosters may come around, but if not, your kid is free to move on.

Subtweeting. When you tweet or post something about a specific person but don’t mention them by name or tag them, you’re subtweeting. Usually, subtweets are critical or downright mean. Since the target isn’t tagged or even named in most cases, they might not know it’s happening until someone clues them in.

  • How to handle it. If your kid finds out someone is subtweeting them, they have a few options depending on the perpetrator. If it’s a friend who’s suddenly turned on them, it’s a good time to address it face-to-face. If it’s someone they don’t know well or have a conflict with, it’s best to ignore it. Engaging in a Twitter war (or conflict on any other platform) usually escalates the problem.

Fake accounts. Sometimes kids will create fake accounts in someone else’s name and use that account to stir up trouble or hurt that person. In most cases, there’s no way to trace who created the account, and even if it’s shut down, the person can just create another one.

  • How to handle it. Dealing with fake accounts can feel like a game of whack-a-mole. But a kid who’s targeted should actively defend themselves by blocking and reporting it. Kids should also let friends know what’s happening to set the record straight — and take some of the fun out of it for the person creating the accounts.

Sharing embarrassing posts and pics. Taking selfies and group pics are a normal part of tween and teen life. But sometimes kids take pictures of each other that, while fun in the moment, are potentially embarrassing if widely shared or cruelly captioned. Often this is done by someone who thinks they’re being funny or assumes everyone will get the joke. But pictures or compromising posts can make the rounds in a hot minute, so no matter the intentions, the shame can stick.

  • How to handle it. It’s best if kids get in the habit of asking each other for permission to share photos. But that won’t always happen. Remind kids to think about the impact the photo will have on others before they post it. Kids can also ask their friends to take down embarrassing pictures as soon as they know they’re public. If the image has already made the rounds, they may not be able to chase down every copy. But you can reassure kids that everyone will likely move on to the next piece of news and forget about it soon.

Rumors. Social media is a perfect venue for the rumor mill, so lies can go far and wide before the target even knows what’s happening. And once the fake news is out there, it’s pretty impossible to reel it back in.

  • How to handle it. Your kid’s response depends on the type of rumor. If it’s something that involves other people — like a rumor that your kid stole someone’s significant other and that has led to threats — you may need to get the school involved. If the rumor is embarrassing or hurtful but isn’t likely to cause a fight, it’s fine for your kid to post a response. Coach them to respond just once and ignore the comments. Otherwise, they can refute the rumor in person when it comes up and wait for everyone to move on.

Exclusion. A kid may be scrolling through their feed and stop cold at a picture of all their friends together — without them. Usually, these kinds of photos aren’t intentional slights. But sometimes they are. And if the person who posted the picture knows your kid follows them, there’s — at the very least — a lapse in judgment.

  • How to handle it. Responding online probably won’t get the best results. Encourage your kid to approach the original poster face-to-face and explain that the photos hurt their feelings. It’s best if your kid can use “I” statements, like “I felt really hurt when I saw that picture … ” (not “I think you’re a jerk”). If your kid can express their emotions honestly, they’ll probably discover it was just a careless oversight. If it was a deliberate jab, then your kid should probably unfriend the OP (original poster).

Griefing. Remember those kids on the playground who always whipped the ball at other kids and called them names? Those kids play multiplayer video games, too. But instead of whipping a ball, they kill your character on purpose, steal your game loot, and harass you in chat. Online, that behavior is called “griefing.” If your kid plays multiplayer games with chat, they’re bound to run into it at some point.

  • How to handle it. Before your kid starts playing a game with anonymous strangers, make sure they know how to report and block players who are being cruel on purpose. Tell your kid not to get into an argument over chat, since it probably won’t resolve anything and could escalate the aggression. Certain games tend to have more toxic behavior than others, so encourage your kid to try a different game where the community is known to be respectful and the moderators don’t tolerate trash-talking.

Hate speech. Teens encounter hate speech even more than cyberbullying. This kind of language is similar to cyberbullying, but it’s targeted to hurt someone based on personal traits such as race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or belief system. And unlike the persistent cruelty of cyberbullying, it can be a one-time thing. Even if your kid isn’t the object of the posts or comments, they may feel the impact if they’re a part of the targeted group.

  • How to handle it. If your kid encounters hate speech online, it’s OK for them to post a matter-of-fact, one-time response refuting it. But they shouldn’t get involved in a flame war. Check in with your kid about the kinds of attitudes they see expressed online. If they’re seeing a lot of hurtful language, encourage them to seek out alternative feeds — especially ones from supportive online communities. And if it’s something really painful or that makes your kid feel humiliated, offer strong counter-messages. If your kid knows the person who posted hate speech — such as another student at school — you can gauge whether to get others (administrators and other parents) involved. Hate speech can have very real consequences in the real world, depending on the context and whether threats are involved.

Schools are banning smartphones. Here’s an argument for why they shouldn’t — and what they should do instead.


Jack Doyle, 13, Ryan Ward, 14, Aiden Franz, 13, and Gray Rager, 14, use their cellphones during lunch at Westland Middle School in Bethesda, Md., in 2017. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)
September 21

This fall, when French students returned to school for the 2018-2019 academic year, many could not take their smartphones to class. The French Parliament over the summer passed legislation that banned students up to age 15 from taking the devices to school — or, at the very least, requiring that they be turned off in class. The goal, according to the Agence France-Presse, was to try to break phone addiction and ensure that students were focusing on their schoolwork in class.

Such bans are increasingly being reported in schools around the world. In this post, a world-renowned educator takes a counterintuitive looks at these actions and offers a different approach. He is Pasi Sahlberg, former director general at the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, and now a professor of education policy at the Gonski Institute for Education at Australia’s University of New South Wales in Sydney.

Sahlberg has lived and worked in the United States, including several years teaching at Harvard University and leading education work at the World Bank. A former math and science teacher in junior high and high school, he is the author of the best-selling books, “Finnish Lessons 2.0: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland” and this year’s “FinnishED Leadership: Four big, inexpensive ideas to transform education.

By Pasi Sahlberg

“The time has come to ban cellphones in the classroom.”

A blanket ban on cellphones in class would not be smart.”

These were the headlines of two op-eds published in Canadian daily newspapers in early September. This debate has already reached an international scale: Since 2012, most teenagers in rich countries have had access to smartphones.

In Kerry, Ireland, one school has restricted children’s use of smartphones and social media, not only in school but also outside school hours, with the full support of parents. In Scotland, the Parliament has considered putting limits on student’s cellphone use in schools. In July 2018, the French government banned all students under the age of 15 from using smartphones during school hours. The New South Wales Department of Education in Australia is carrying out a review into noneducational use of mobile devices in schools to see if they should follow France’s lead.

Why is this issue being raised now? One reason is this: Smartphones are everywhere. According to the Pew Research Center, 95 percent of teens in the United States have access to smartphones, and half of them say they are online practically all the time, including at nights. The Center for Media and Child Health at Harvard Medical School estimates that teens spend more than nine hours every day consuming media through their mobile devices. Half of American teenagers say they are “addicted” to their smartphones.

Second, many teachers and parents believe that smartphones disturb children and harm their learning in school. In the Canadian province of Alberta, for example, 3 in 4 teachers believe that students’ ability to focus on educational tasks has decreased in the past five years. Finland’s slippage in international student assessments has happened at the same time as teenagers’ increased screen time. Similar trends of stagnated or declining student achievement have been noted in many developed nations recently.

Third, children’s rapidly declining mental health has led many parents and teachers to wonder what is going on in their lives. If you have any doubts that these concerns couldn’t be real, consider these alarming findings:

  • San Diego State University professor Jean Twenge found that the number of American teenagers who feel joyless or useless jumped 33 percent between 2010 and 2015. In that same period, there was also a 50 percent increase in depressive symptoms among teens.
  • Australian psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg stated that in Australia, 1 in 7 primary school and 1 in 4 secondary school children suffer mental-health issues.
  • The National Institute for Health and Welfare in Finland estimates that 20 to 25 percent of youths suffered mental health problems in 2017, an all-time high.
  • An Alberta Teachers Association’s survey showed that 85 to 90 percent of teachers think that the number of children with emotional, social and behavioral problems in their schools has increased in the past five years.
  • Evidence from around the world suggests that children do not sleep enough, do not eat enough healthful food and do not engage in enough daily outdoor physical activity.

Though it isn’t clear that smartphones are the cause, it isn’t clear they aren’t. So out of an abundance of caution, should they be altogether banned in schools?

Not so fast, some would say. Although many researchers believe that children’s rapidly growing use of smartphones may contribute to declining mental health and inability to learn well in school, it is difficult to prove that screen time alone is the main cause.

Blanket bans are rarely the most effective ways to fix human behavioral problems. Today’s children were born in a world where technology and digital gadgets were already a normal part of life. From an educational perspective, banning smartphones in schools would be an easy solution but not necessarily the smartest one.

Instead, we should teach children to live safe, responsible and healthful lives with and without their smartphones and other mobile devices. Education can be a powerful tool to teach children to exercise self-control and to live better lives. But schools can’t do this alone. “It takes a village to raise a child,” as the old African adage goes.

Here is how to get started:

1. Sleep more

More children than ever suffer from insufficient daily sleep. According to most pediatricians, school-age children (6 to 13 years old) need nine to 11 hours of sleep every night, and teenagers should sleep eight to 10 hours every night to function best. However, most teens do not get that much sleep. An American study recently found that in 2015, one-fourth of American adolescents slept less than seven hours a night. The National Sleep Foundation says that only 15 percent of teens sleep at least 8.5 hours a night during school week. It is common for teens to sleep with their smartphone and check what has happened during the night before saying “Good morning” to their parents.

Solution: Teach children the importance of sleep. Work with parents to agree on the rules that shut mobile devices down two hours before bedtime and keep them away from bedrooms. Assign children an hour’s extra sleep as homework. Keep a log about how children sleep, and monitor the effects of sleep on their well-being.

2. Play more outside

Children play less than ever. The American Academy of Pediatricsconcluded that because parents spend less time with their children outdoors, children are more engaged with technology, and because schools expects students to do more and faster, children’s opportunities to play have decreased. In many schools, children don’t play anymore. In 2016, just 13 U.S. states had legislation mandating recess for all children during school days. Research that author William Doyle and I used in writing “Let the Children Play” led us to conclude that play is a dying human activity in many education systems around the world.

Solution: Make 15-minute hourly recess a basic right for all children in school. Use schoolyard and nature for recess, play and physical activity as often as possible. Teach parents about the power of free outdoor play and encourage them to spend more time with their children outdoors. Assign homework that includes playing with one another or with parents. Keep a record of how more play and physical activity affects children’s learning and well-being.

3. Spend less time with digital media

Children spend much more time daily with digital devices than before. Many of them sleep less than they watch digital screens. Children often learn these habits from their parents. A recent British study found that about 51 percent of infants 6 to 11 months old use a touch screen daily. According to the Common Sense Media 2015 survey, U.S. teenagers’ average daily media use excluding time spent for school or for homework in 2015 was nearly nine hours.

Solution: Teach children responsible and safe use of technology. Talk about technology with children and help them to find the best ways to limit smartphone use in school and at home. As a parent or teacher, be a role model of regular media diets to children and keep smartphones away when they are not needed. Make technology a tool, not a treat for children in school and at home.

4. Read more books

Children read less than before, and so do adults. Half of children in the United States today love or like reading books for fun, compared with 60 percent in 2010. International reading literacy survey PIRLS 2016indicated a decline in recreational reading among Finnish children: 35 percent of fourth-graders read for pleasure. Boys read so little in Finland that 1 in 8 are functionally illiterate.

Solution: Make reading a habit. Advise parents to buy books and read them with their children. Read regularly and discuss what you read in school and at home. Let children choose what they want to read. Visit libraries and bookstores and meet with book authors. Read books you hold in your hands more than those you read on a screen.

5. Write letters to ones you love

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows that 3 in 4 of 12th- and 8th-graders lack proficiency in writing. Snapchat cyber slang uses shortcuts, alternative words and symbols to convey thoughts in an electronic communication and writing. Ask any high school teacher or college professor for more evidence for the state of teenagers’ writing skills.

Solution: Make writing a habit in school. Coach students in good writing and give them regular feedback. Use pen and paper alongside electronic tools. Write a letter by hand to your grandmother or someone you love once a week.

The key to success in life is self-control. Longitudinal research studies, like the Dunedin Study in New Zealand, have shown that learned self-control in childhood is the best predictor of success in adulthood. The main purpose of the five steps above is to help children to regulate their own behaviors. Thoughtful reading and productive writing require the ability to focus, concentrate and pay attention to these activities long enough.

Sufficient daily sleep and more outdoor play help children to do better. They could therefore be more important keys to improving student learning and well-being in school than haphazard education policies and innovation that have been common mandates in schools around the world.