Friday, May 29, 2015

Surveys, and finals and essays, oh my! - Part 2: The Paper

If you would like to read my thoughts and insights in the creative and research process for this essay you can read part 1 of this blog post by clicking here: Surveys, and finals and essays, oh my! - Part 1: The Research

The Uphill Battle
            I put my hand forward and demanded, “Put it in my hand.” The panicked look on my oldest son’s face gave me confidence in only one thing—I knew whatever I was going to find on the iPod Touch that he gripped tightly in his hand was not going to make me happy.  When he began to try to tap rapidly at the touchscreen in front of him, I looked to his father who told him sternly, “Give it to your mother, NOW!” My son dropped his head forward and finally handed the device over. With only a few taps and swipes across the screen, I discovered several sexually charged text conversations and a photograph of a young girl I did not recognize.  Looking no more than fifteen years old, she stood in what appeared to be her own bedroom, her back arched, her lips pursed together, lifting her shirt up; her bare breasts were completely exposed.  My seventeen-year-old son had met her through a “texting app” he had downloaded on his iPod. I had always tried to be diligent about monitoring my son’s cell phone and computer use, but the software application on this device, one I thought was restricted to playing music and games, was the loophole my son found to invite the outside world into our home.
            “Sexting,” is a word derived from the combination of the words “sex” and “texting;” it is used to describe the sending and receiving of sexually explicit photographs and/or text messages via the Internet or on cell phones. The majority of those “sexting” are teenagers (Goldstein  516). Truthfully, sexting is only one of several new challenges that has arisen for parents raising their children in this technologically advanced day and age. The days of simply locking the front door to keep our children safe from the harm of the outside world no longer exist. Today the “world” and most of the ills it has to offer are right at the one’s fingertips. Parents have to decide what boundaries they will create to keep that world in check and protect their children and teenagers, and then they will have to work diligently to keep those boundaries firm.
            American Academy of Pediatrics’ “tech expert” Dr. Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe and author of the book CyberSafe indicates that there is no “right age” to allow children to “dip a toe into the digital pond” (Tahnk 65). Herein lies the longtime, great challenge to parents: there are no simple answers in parenting; the added complication is of course that the cyber-factor has brought the level of challenge to an entirely new level – a level that is in constant flux with the continuous new development in technology. Toddlers with tablets; middle school students posting “selfies” to their Instagram; a group of teenagers “together” at Starbucks, noses “to the screen” of their smartphones– ten years ago these phrases would have sounded like a foreign language. Today they are commonplace activities, and moms and dads have to determine the rules and policies for handling them in their homes.
            The reality is that because the history of the cyber world is so brief, at this point in time there are more questions than answers about the risks and long term effects to “plugging in” and/or “signing on.” The gamut of cyber concerns runs from the benign to the dangerous. Whether or not a child is spending too little time using their imagination in traditional play seems trivial compared to whether or not an adolescent has put him or herself at risk of a predator on the internet. When I took my son’s iPod Touch in hand and looked more closely at the pornographic picture sent to him, it was with just a few careful observations of the photo’s background that I was able to determine a variety of personal information: the girl’s name, the name of the high school she attended, the extracurricular activity she participated in. With a quick Google search of the unusual school name, I was able to determine what town she lived in. One can only hope she did not knowingly put herself at such risk. In the 2010 book Inside the Minds of Sexual Predators, authors Katherine M. Ramsland and Patrick Norman McGrain warn “Children are especially vulnerable to a predator’s encroachment, because they spend hours in chat rooms talking with strangers, tend to miss the signals of deception, and may be seeking what they believe will be an innocent adventure. Often they’re unaware of the true danger” (136). The fact is that even in the five years since the Ramsland/McGrain book was written, the opportunity for danger has only increased.
            Kik, Snapchat and are three of the most popular applications being used by teens and adolescents in 2015, and they aren’t their parents’ Facebook. Kik is a Wi-Fi based “texting app” that enables a young person to send private instant messages without being monitored by their cell service and keeping no record outside the app of messages being sent or received. This creates a challenge for parents who might think monitoring their child’s cell phone bill is sufficient to determine their texting use. Kik profiles can be made private; however, they can also be made public. The phrase “Kik me” has become a commonplace tagline in the profile descriptions of young people’s Instagram accounts, offering up their “address” to be reached for a private conversation.  Typically Instagram profile taglines can be seen even by an unfamiliar user who stumbles across a young person’s otherwise “private page.” Snapchat is also an SMS text message style application. With its added enticement—the promise of disappearing pictures and texts, it has gained the reputation as the “sexting app.” However with the ability of most smartphones to snap a “screenshot” (a picture of texts or pictures displayed on a receiving phone’s screen) nothing is guaranteed to truly disappear and an impulsive moment can last a lifetime. The application entices users to “ask anything” and to do so with total anonymity.  Ramsland and McGrain (specifically describing Facebook and MySpace in 2010) refer to kids seeking to “create a place of their own where they can exercise self-expression and a certain amount of independence” (136), but the opportunity has moved far beyond the open platforms like Facebook and MySpace and has moved into darker corners with newer and more private applications. It is the job of parents to oversee and monitor their children’s activities, they “are the most effective monitoring device” (Tahnk 65), but the job continues to become a steeper and steeper uphill battle.
            Recently this author created a survey titled “Technology and Social Media” on SurveyMonkey. In it, people of all ages and stages were asked about their own technology and social media usage as well as the usage of their children. If responders had no children they were invited to speculate what they thought their policies would be if they did. Among the 118 responses to the survey 63% of respondents indicated they would never allow their child to bring technology to the dinner table, but nearly 34% do/would allow their children to have their cell phones in their bedrooms at night after bedtime, and nearly 35% would allow their children to use social media and technology with which they themselves are not familiar. There appears to be a discrepancy here, whether it is a lack of understanding or a difference in priority will remain to be seen. Interestingly enough, when it came to questions about the ages children and adolescents ought to be allowed to use technology and social media, it was the people surveyed who had no children who had the strictest standards, many indicating that no use should be allowed until adulthood. As tempting as it might be to lock the proverbial “door” on the cyber world and shut it out completely, the logistics are not there. “The media spends a lot of ink… on the scary aspects…, but there are also a great deal of benefit that kids can reap” (Tahnk 65). The fact is, 2015 is a technology and social media based world, and children will not only “dip their toes” in, but at some point they will actually have to fully swim in the “pond” that is unavoidably in practically every American “backyard.”
It is the burden of parents to determine what their roles as “lifeguards” will entail in their own home and family. Kids are “generally more savvy about computers than their parents, they can also explore things and talk with strangers in ways their parents might try to block. (In fact, about 50 percent of parents fail to even monitor what their children do online, and most have no clue about encryption tricks kids devise and pass around to hide information)” (Ramsland 136), so the actuality of how that will look will surely be a process of trial and error.  Merrimack Valley Child and Adolescent Health’s pediatrician Carolyn Roy-Bornstein warns, “Technology is developing at a rate that may be faster than our ability to monitor it and ensure its safe use” (11); however, this does not relieve parents of their duty and obligation to do so.
There are more questions than answers about social media and technology and the long term effects on children and youth, but perhaps, “questions” are exactly where the process needs to start: What? Where? When? How? What are the goals and purposes for social media and technology use in one’s household? Where is social media and technology use appropriate? When is it appropriate to allow children to use technology and social media? How are safety and good communication going to be implemented? The conversations need to happen between parents and children in order to equip them to use technology and social media in a healthy and enriching environment. Why? This is the one question that can be answered here: technology and social media aren’t going anywhere, and for that matter, neither are the kids.  It’s the job of the parent to find the way to have both live together in a healthy harmony.

Works Cited
DePriest, Diana. "Technology and Social Media." Survey. Survey Monkey. Palo Alto:             SurveyMonkey Inc, 1999-2015. Web. 07 May. 2015.
Goldstein, Dayna. "Sexting." St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. Ed. Thomas Riggs.
            2nd ed. Vol. 4. Detroit: St. James Press, 2013. 516-517. Gale Virtual Reference Library.
            Web. 1 May 2015.
Ramsland, Katherine M., and Patrick Norman McGrain. “Cyber Predators.” Inside the Minds of Sexual Predators. Santa Barbara, Ca: Praeger, 2010. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 5 May 2015.
Roy-Bornstein, Carolyn. "Pediatric Points: Texts, Sexts What’s Next?" Pediatrics for Parents 27.3/4 (2011): 11. Health Source - Consumer Edition. Web. 6 May 2015.
Tahnk, Jeana Lee, and Shawn Bean. "Digital Milestones: Raising a Tech Savvy Kid.” Parenting School Years 26.6 (2012): 64-67. Health Source – Consumer Edition. Web. 1 May 2015.

Surveys, and finals and essays, oh my! - Part 1: The Research

For my final major assignment in my College Writing class I had to write a "research paper" on one of four topics that were related to four TedTalks we watched together as a class (I highly recommend TedTalks, check them out online.)

The Monday evening we watched those TedTalks, as I was walking to class, I was really struck and bothered as I walked far across the parking lot and campus (gotta protect that new car) by the way that the other (much younger) students that I passed along the way refused to engage or even make eye contact. They either had their noses buried in phones, or they purposely diverted their eyes when I would try to connect or even smile.  It was really pulling at my heart, and it has been on my mind for several weeks as I had been noticing it all around me.  In the coffee shop I saw a mother hold her phone up to her 9 month old's face to quiet him while she had coffee with a friend rather than pick him up or engage with him.  A few nights before while at dinner with my husband I saw a family having dinner while mom and both kids were on their phones and dad just stared off eating as if alone at a full table. It bothered me.  

So when the first TedTalk we watched that night was about the disconnection caused by social media and technology, I was primed to react.  Shockingly I had kept relatively quiet for most of the semester, but at the end of the TedTalk I pulled my soapbox out and let the kids in the room have it.  I talked about the rudeness and ineptness of their generation to be respectful and engage.  I told them I understood (I too would rather text than call) but I warned them of the ills of little kids who had no social skills, like waiting, or behaving in public because moms and dads were always putting tablets and phones in front of them.  I got passionate, and truthfully, they were receptive - when I finally stepped off my soapbox there were lots of nods and even a little rustle of small applause.  I was sort of relieved they were not completely oblivious to the problem, and as I walked to the car that night one young mother even told me I had made her think and reconsider how she was doing "the tablet thing."  

When the next TedTalk talked about the need to "stop the war on drugs" and I listened to one of my classmates talk about "how sad" it was that so much art and literature were probably missing from the world because LSD was illegal I had to swallow the new rise of passion - I felt I had already used my one soapbox pass for the night.  So as I listened to the class support the legalization of all kinds of drugs, I just melted.  After that we watched a couple more videos on food deserts and prisoner rehabilitation that were far less inciting for me.  So at the end of the night I had to decide whether I would write a paper related to technology and social media or the war on drugs.  I couldn't even make a decision for two more days.  I was disturbed. 

In the end I chose social media and technology-- primarily because I felt like I could be more reasonable.  I looked around at this group or primarily 18-22-year-olds and who do not have the benefit of hindsight that being 45 presents.  I no longer think I am immortal and I have stood at the side of enough graves or heard enough news about the death of friends or their children or acquaintances who have had their death caused by drug use, or known enough people who addiction has devastated, that I won't even buy into drug use being a freedom or a good thing... enough said.  I chose passion, but I chose it safely.

The assignment was to "do a lot of research," and go into the project with questions, allow more questions to develop and "keep an open mind."  I have to say, one thing I learned in this first semester of school, I am pretty set about what I believe and why.  The instructor offered an assignment for enlightenment, and I feel like the light Light in my life is already on. So I did my best to keep an open mind, but I knew there would be no great revelation or change in what I believed.  So I started my research.

I looked through the required scholarly journals and books and I also did a survey online that 118 people responded to anonymously.  Contrary to popular belief (concern) I really wasn't able to figure out who was who much at all.  I had responses from all ages 12 to 82 but the bulk (42%) came in the 36-45 age group and the next largest response was in the 46-55 age group (19%.) The male/ female split was 24% to 76%. 66% of people were married. 71% had kids living at home. 88% were regular/ familiar Facebook users, 45% had no idea what Kik was and 50% had never heard of 97% have a smart phone, 77% use a tablet. 

I asked questions about texting and driving (27.5% do so Always, often or sometimes) and 66% responded that they do so at a red light (heads up, you can get a ticket for that too.) 67% use their phones and social media in social situations with friends and 50% often or sometimes (0% for always) bring their phones to the dinner table.  67% of you swear you never let your kids use social media you aren't familiar with, but then again half of you have never heard of one of the most popular teen social medias - so my conjecture is that a few things may be getting past you. 

When I asked about the scenes that I had seen that bothered me (the mom and the infant, the dad alone at the full table) most of you were bothered too.  I also brought up the kids on tablets in restaurants and there was a split there, a lot of folks saw it as the modern day papers and crayons and others agreed with my thoughts about kids needing to learn to interact and behave in public. I would just say this, it's a whole lot easier to "unplug" from the crayon and paper - are your kids unplugging from the tablet.  It bothers me when I drive behind a minivan and see the TV screens in the backs of you headrests and every child constantly plugged in and entertained (and truthfully, I could share text from my other class and the book Entertaining Ourselves to Death to back up those concerns, but this has already gotten really long.) 

What I found through my research was simple - we mostly justify our own actions.  Moms with toddlers who were letting their kids use tablets stated that they thought that was the right age to allow it.  Moms who let their preteens have smartphones thought that was the right age.  And interestingly enough it was the people who had no kids who thought no kids should be allowed to use social media and a lot of technology until adulthood.  My thought - well, I was the perfect parent before I had kids too.  So I get the unrealistic aspect of that. When my oldest was little I sometimes had to rewind Mickey Mouse in the VCR ten times in a single day just to get a few things done around the house. It's what worked for this mama, but I know now that didn't necessarily make it right.  And I do think there is a big leap from the VCR to the internet, but maybe I'm just justifying? 

I was surprised that 34 % of parents allow kids to have their phones in their bedrooms at night - but perhaps the benefit of being burned in that has made my hindsight sharp.  It seemed oddly compared to 64% of you never allowing them to have their phones at the dinner table - sort of points out that "supervision" is not the primary concern.  But it turns out that most people feel lost without their cellphones, so maybe that has something to do with it?  I don't know.  

Oddly enough since my research and this survey I finally succumbed to allowing both my 14-year-old (finishing up 8th grade) and 13-year-old (finishing up 7th) get smartphones in the last week - despite my passion.  My oldest was 19 before he moved into the smartphone world.  Of course I also armed their smartphones with a great software called Mobile Fence that limits what they can access, and reports to me throughout the day about where they are physically and what they are doing on their phones, everything from accessing the messages, to receiving a call (with number shown) visiting Instagram (the only social media I allow at this point.)  And the app has the ability for me to block anything and anyone remotely.  I can even shut it down completely if need be.  So although I seemingly relaxed my policy compared to their older brother, I actually managed to get a stronger leash - and I'm ok with that. 

I was going to share my essay here, but I will do it in a separate post since this one has already gotten so long.  But suffice it to say that the instructor offered up the possibility that we might not be able to answer whatever question we came to decide on as our thesis, and I ran with that opportunity.  My thesis became about the parental responsibility to monitor our kids in the cyber world.  I have been burned there too, so again it was not a new stance or understanding for me through my research but it did affirm what I already knew and experienced.

As I have stepped away from my former legalism over the last few years, I am completely capable of recognizing that at least as Christian parents, we are all called to parent our children individually, and what works in my home and family may not work in yours - and that's ok.  I need to trust the Holy Spirit in you, and likewise you need to trust it in me - BUT (big fat screaming BUT) we ALL need to carefully evaluate how much we are truly doing our job, truly monitoring, truly seeking the Holy Spirit even in our parenting and more specifically in our parenting in the cyber world.  

If I told you I drove my kids out into a gang infested ghetto and dropped them off for 8 hours to fend for themselves, I suspect most of you would be calling social services on me - but the truth is when we blindly let them interact on social networking and the world wide web, there are just as many dangers and dirtbags out there, but because our children seemingly sit across the room or in their bedroom, we allow ourselves to live satisfied under the illusion that all is right in their worlds, but predators, and cyberbullying and temptations abound.  I know, I have learned that the hard way - which is where the hook of my essay starts. 

If you would like to read the end result of my research paper, click here: The Uphill Battle (Surveys, and finals and essays, oh my! - Part 2: The Paper)