Sunday, December 11, 2016

How Do Parents Honor the Benefits of Digital Devices While Limiting Kids’ Use?

We live in a world of screens. And in this digital age — with so many devices and distraction — it’s one of the things parents worry about most: How much time should their kids spend staring at their phones and computers? What’s the right balance between privacy and self-discovery?

Research continues to provide some answers on how parents are navigating this world. Just today, for example, there’s a new study outthat looks at nearly 2,000 parents — who have kids ages 8 to 18. Among the most surprising findings: People with children spend, on average, 9 hours and 22 minutes per day in front of a screen: texting, tweeting, Googling, checking the weather.

And despite spending a big chunk of their day with a device, most parents — 78 percent — told the researchers that they are modeling good media habits for their kids.

The report’s biggest takeaway? Screen time isn’t going anywhere. So let’s talk about it.

“Media and technology are essential to family life and to childhood and adolescence, and therefore we have to get more on top of it, ” says Jim Steyer. He’s the president and CEO of Common Sense Media, an organization that focuses on kids, media and technology, and the group behind the new research.

In this blog’s 2 1/2 years running, some of our most popular posts have touched on parenting questions.

Recently, we gathered a group of about 20 parents to talk about some of these questions. With help from Generation Listen, the group at NPR that connects with listeners in person to talk about stories and ideas, we settled in on the couches at the Manhattan headquarters of the nonprofit think tank Data & Society.

We started the night with some observations from NPR Ed: We don’t think there’s ever been a generation of parents that’s been so thoughtful about what they’re doing, but also sometimes nervous and whipsawed by confusion and by different sources.

Some parents offered advice and experience, others just came with questions. And the conversation quickly zeroed in on issues related to screens: both kids with their screens, and parents’ own use of online and digital media.

Here are some of the highlights:

What to do at home about screen time

Jessica Millstone has an 11-year-old and a 5-year-old and works for an ed-tech company called

“One thing that we kind of started talking a little bit about is that, when you are using your screens, what are you not doing? … You just don’t spend as much time talking to another person. How do we really encourage face-to-face stuff in the adolescent and older teen years as this technology really permeates every aspect of life?”

(New recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest creating a “family media plan” that emphasizes balancing tech with other activities.)

Jim Steyer, from Common Sense Media, suggests setting aside certain times where everyone can put down the devices: like at the dinner table, or in bed.

“As a parent, you are your child’s most important role model,” says Steyer. “How you use media, how you use technology and how much you use it, is critically important.”

Amanda Lenhart has four daughters ages 4 to 21, and researches kids and technology. She gave an example of when her daughter had to turn in her phone before a camping trip, and how much she wound up enjoying the time unplugged. “I think some teens and young adults and kids may be longing for time away from the technology as much they long for time on it.”

(Here’s a research study that suggests even a short break from technology can improve teenagers’ ability to read others’ emotions.)

Many parents shared that they are seeing their kids being very creative with technology, and they want to encourage that, but they still have mixed feelings.

Elle Cole, a blogger and the mother of 7-year-old twins, said that recently, one of her daughters came to her and told her she wanted to start her own YouTube channel, making videos about building with Legos. “But I’m very protective of her because I also know the dangers. … When she said that, I was like, ‘Oh, no,’ because to me, that’s a world that’s not always real.”

What about privacy and safety online?

Amanda Lenhart (speaking from both her personal experience and her research): “I think that a lot of adolescents are really quite thoughtful about the kinds of information and things that they’re sharing online. They’re thinking a lot about it, they’re curating what they place up in digital space. And a lot of that is partly because they want their peers to see a particular version of themselves, but also that we as parents and teachers and administrators and adults tell them that we’re watching.”

(Student privacy concerns continue to grow. Software installed on school-owned computers is often designed to track kids even when they’re at home, which leads to privacy concerns, our reporting found.)

Adanna Dill is a blogger and shares a lot of information about her young children, ages 6 and 3, online.

“I felt like there was a need for diversity in the mom-blogging sphere. So I wanted to share content with people who looked like me and understood what I was going through, but I felt like I had to share a little bit more about myself and my family for them to connect with me. So I started, slowly but surely, sharing my kids, sharing a bit more about my family. And it’s good, because now parents email me and they say, ‘Oh, my daughter has hair like yours, and I’m learning how to do her hair because of you sharing different things.’ But at the same time, sometimes I don’t feel very comfortable, because I don’t know who these people are. … I want to grow my community, but at the same time I want to protect my family, and I just really don’t know who’s out there, so there are periods where I stop posting about my kids for a while.”

What are schools doing with all this digital media? Are schools helping get kids engaged in digital creating?

Jessica Millstone told us that, based on her work in schools, “I’ve seen a huge shift in teachers. Younger teachers have a more fluent use of technology, but it still really lags from where the kids are.

“I do see that in a lot of the schools that I visit and I work in, where it’s really difficult to get something innovative or experimental or just plain fun into the classroom, and teachers need that. They seek that. They need ways to engage kids that are digital natives and who really expect a kind of digital experience.

“There is this atmosphere of kind of lockdown against electronics that comes into play, where there’s just a real bias against it from the beginning. I think it’s going to have to come from parent demand in some way — like, I need this to be part of what they do, so appropriate use is scaffolded and modeled, so they can build and use all of these tools for their learning, as well as their entertainment and fun.

“At the same time, I think that the motivation for a lot of schools to keep technology out is to provide a space in a world of ubiquitous technology, where for a few hours you are only speaking to people face-to-face and you are interacting in a more non-technologically based, mediated way. And I fully respect that too. I do wish more schools had sort of an intentional balance [around digital media].”

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Why Mindfulness is so useful for Middle School Students

“Release” is the 2nd in our series of Mindful Shorts, and it focuses on stress and anxiety as experienced by middle school kids. 70% of middle school students today report feeling “stressed out” — an alarming figure, and a sign that something must be done to help kids manage the sense of overwhelm and frustration they experience so that they can blossom into young adults who are equipped to navigate their way through life's challenges in a positive, productive way. We hope this film in some small way helps not just kids, but everyone who suffers from the toxic effects of stress and anxiety.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Warning Sounded on Tech Disrupting Student Sleep

In this 2013 photo, Lewisville Texas High School student Holly Weston studies at home with her digital devices at hand. Officials at schools with programs that encourage students to use devices are now thinking about how to create the right screen-time balance for students.
In this 2013 photo, Lewisville Texas High School student Holly Weston studies at home with her digital devices at hand. Officials at schools with programs that encourage students to use devices are now thinking about how to create the right screen-time balance for students.
—Mark Graham for Education Week-File
Educators who promote the use of education technology are working harder to caution students and parents about the impact of digital devicesand the "blue light" they emit, which can disrupt student sleep patterns.
A recent meta-analysis by British researchers has brought renewed attention to the issue, calling increased use of mobile devices at bedtime a "major public-health concern" for children and teenagers.
As many schools and districts shift to 1-to-1 device programs, often allowing students to take those devices home each night, education leaders are looking for ways to incorporate warnings about the detrimental effects of mobile devices on sleep.
"When we hand out iPads, we suggest they aren't stored in the bedroom," said Lawrence J. Mussoline, the superintendent of the 13,000-student Downingtown, Pa., district, which features a 1-to-1 iPad program for 6th graders, who take the devices home at night. "We don't want them trying to get in the mindset to go to sleep at night and then popping open this screen which emits blue light."
Children who used a portable media device at bedtime were more than 40% more likely to report poor sleep quality.
Nearly three-fourths of children and 89 percent of adolescents have at least one device in their sleep environment, with most of them used near bedtime, according to the new research paper, "Association Between Portable Screen-Based Media Device Access or Use and Sleep Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis." The study was published Oct. 31 online by the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
The review of 20 recent studies covering four continents and more than 125,000 children found a "strong and consistent association between bedtime media-device use and inadequate sleep quantity, poor sleep quality, and excessive daytime sleepiness." Similar negative effects were found for children who had access to such devices, even if they did not use them before bedtime.

Finding the Right Balance

Patrick Larkin, the assistant superintendent of the 3,500-student Burlington, Mass., public schools, said his district is constantly thinking about how to create the right screen-time balance for students, both in and out of school. While the district is fully 1-to-1 with iPads, only students in grades 9-12 take the devices home.
"We are always clear that kids shouldn't be in front of a screen the majority of the day," he said. The new research, Larkin added, points to yet another reason why "kids shouldn't have the devices in their rooms."
Larkin recommends that parents set up a family charging station away from sleeping areas "to make sure kids are unplugged adequately before they go to bed," he said. "They shouldn't be in bed falling asleep while they're reading their Instagram."
However, that may be less of an issue for districts whose students take home laptops rather than tablets, Mussoline said. In his district, high school students are 1-to-1 with laptops—a bit more cumbersome to snuggle in bed with, he noted.
What the Research Says
A meta-analysis by British researchers that examined student sleep habits and mobile device use raised serious concerns about the impact of “blue light” on student sleep.
Among the researchers’ findings:
  • Children who used portable media devices at bedtime were about twice as likely to not sleep enough, compared with children who did not have access to a device.
  • Children who used a portable media device at bedtime were more than 40 percent more likely to report poor sleep quality than children who did not have access to a device.
  • There were also significantly increased odds of inadequate sleep quantity and poor sleep quality for children who had access to a media device near bedtime, even if they did not use it.
  • Children who had access to or used a portable media device at bedtime were more than twice as likely to demonstrate excessive daytime sleepiness than children without access to a device.
Mussoline also pointed out that many students aren't using their school-issued devices in bed, because nearly all have their own smartphones.
Districts, particularly those with 1-to-1 device programs, should incorporate some information about the impact on student sleep into digital-citizenship classes and training for parents, said Darri Stephens, the senior director of education content at Common Sense Education. The organization provides a digital-citizenship curriculumfor schools and districts as well as information for parents.
Within those programs, Stephens said, there are references to sleep and best-practices for how to balance device use.
"None of us adults grew up with these devices, so we're constantly urging parents to stay on top of the latest and greatest information," she said. "We want them to be cognizant about helping students find that healthy balance."

'Damaging Influence'

Schools and districts have already been focused on concerns about student sleep, but more so around school start times. Biological shifts during the teenage years drive the need for longer sleep periods and later wake times, research shows.
Students, parents, and some researchers also argue that teenage biology makes early-morning rising more difficult and many districts are seeing a push for later high school start times.
Sleep disturbances in childhood have been associated with other problems such as poor diet, sedentary behavior, obesity, reduced immunity, and substance abuse.
Previous studies have linked TVs, gaming consoles, and desktop computers to negative sleep outcomes. A major focus has been the effect of blue-light emissions, which can negatively affect humans' natural sleep patterns.
The new meta-analysis focuses on studies of "portable mobile and media devices" like smartphones. The researchers say they've found evidence that the devices present a new challenge to healthy sleep because they facilitate real-time, continuous psychological and physiological arousal and stimulation.
The study defines inadequate sleep quantity as less than 10 hours daily for children and less than nine hours daily for adolescents. Sleep quality is based on difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, as well as not being refreshed by sleep. Excessive daytime sleepiness is defined as "poor daytime functioning as a result of both sleep quantity and quality."
The researchers expressed particular concern about the effect on children's sleep because of schools' increasing shift to digital technology.

But adults need to take the same advice they're giving out to students, Mussoline of the Downingtown schools noted. Both he and Burlington's Larkin acknowledged that they keep their cellphones in their bedrooms at night. But both say their devices are powered down.
"Given the evolving technological landscape and the replacement of textbooks with media devices in schools, screen-based media-device access and use are likely to rise," the study says. "It is imperative that teachers, health-care professionals, parents, and children are educated about the damaging influence of device use on sleep."

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Eating Right Can Save the World

The endless cascade of nutritional information—about localism, vegetarianism, veganism, organic food, the environmental impact of eating meat, poultry, or fish, and more—makes the simple goal of a healthy, sustainable diet seem hopelessly complex. We talked to scientists, chefs, and farmers to get the ultimate rundown on how you should fuel up.

“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.” That’s what the French lawyer Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who happened to have a deep love of gastronomy, wrote in 1825. A century later, a diet-hawking American nutritionist named Victor Lindlahr rendered it as: “You are what you eat.” I propose revising it further: Tell me what you eat and I will tell you how you impact the planet.
Most of us are aware that our food choices have environmental consequences. (Who hasn’t heard about the methane back draft from cows?) But when it comes to the specifics of why our decisions matter, we’re at a loss, bombarded with confusing choices in the grocery-store aisles about what to buy if we care about planetary health. Are organic fruits and vegetables really worth the higher prices, and are they better for the environment? If I’m a meat eater, should I opt for free-range, grass-fed beef? Is it OK to buy a pineapple flown in from Costa Rica, or should I eat only locally grown apples?
The science of food’s ecological footprint can be overwhelming, yet it’s important to understand it. For starters, in wealthy societies food consumption is estimated to account for 20 to 30 percent of the total footprint of a household. Feeding ourselves dominates our landscapes, using about half the ice-free land on earth. It sends us into the oceans, where we have fished nearly 90 percent of species to the brink or beyond. It affects all the planet’s natural systems, producing more than 30 percent of global greenhouse gases. Farming uses about 70 percent of our water and pollutes rivers with fertilizer and waste that in turn create vast coastal dead zones. The food on your plate touches everything."