At Nueva, we seek opportunities to teach the whole student and to connect learning to all aspects of students’ lives. Recently we have been reflecting on ways to develop habits that exploit the best qualities of our ubiquitous digital devices while maintaining life balance.
On March 3, Nueva’s Middle School participated in the National Day of Unplugging. Just a few days later, parents learned from experts at Common Ground’s event entitled Parenting in the Digital Age: A Facts Not Fear Approach. These two events rounded out our offerings, adding to the last month’s middle school SEL parent education night, “SEL and Technology: A Night of Parent Education.”
National Day of Unplugging
We asked ourselves, “Could we function without our phones and computers for a day?”
Supported by Division Head Liza Raynal, MS faculty and students had the green light to give the National Day of Unplugging a try. Abby Reider and Janelle Spanier, MS SEL Teachers, described the plans in an email to parents, including context-setting conversations that would be held with students during class meetings early in the week, various options for participation, and suggestions about how families might participate with their children.
As Abby and Janelle framed the intention, “Nueva aims to teach kids how to live a healthy life, find balance, and be well emotionally and physically. We acknowledge that we live in a community with high goals, one that both thrives on technology and can fall victim to negative consequences of overuse if we’re not conscientious and supporting each other. Our participation in this day follows our themes of digital citizenship, healthy technology use, and wellness, some of the hallmarks of our SEL and technology programs.”
Students made signs reflecting on guiding questions: “What do you think you might learn from unplugging?” and “If you unplug, what might you 'plug in' to?” These were fun and inspiring and included:
I unplug to be more connected to nature.
I unplug to talk to real people instead of a screen.
I unplug to focus on what’s in front of me.
Two students, Owen Z. and Yash N., were excited to share how it felt to be freed from phones and laptops. “It’s been fun!” they chimed. “We have to use our laptops most of the time for work and didn’t have to today. It was a little weird, but also nice and quiet,” said Owen. Others expressed how it felt on posters around campus: “Eek! This is challenging!” and “Nerve-wracking but GREAT!”
So, how did it go? Faculty reflections acknowledged how difficult it was: technology supports their daily mission to deliver the best educational experience to students, including developing and delivering curriculum, posting homework to blogs, and communicating with parents.
A darker side surfaced as well — the realization that at times we don’t design our technology usage and are instead pulled to it by habit. In reflection, everyone who participated gained powerful personal learning.
Abby said, “Reflecting on the day forced me to think about when technology is helping me and when it is controlling me. I sometimes spend more time than I want online, and I realize that it negatively affects me. I try hard to practice what I teach.”
Common Ground Speakers: Parenting in the Digital Age
The Common Ground Speaker Series wrapped up its 2016–2017 season with presentations by Dr. Laura Kastner and Dr. Yalda Uhls at Nueva’s Upper School on March 8. They shared a “Facts Not Fear” approach to technology, providing strategies to parents for raising healthy and safe children in a 24/7 connected world.
Dr. Kastner is a clinical psychologist, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington, and author of five books covering all stages of child development, including Getting to Calm: Cool-headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens and Teens. Dr. Uhls, a consultant to Common Sense Media and author of Media Moms and Digital Dads, combines her background as content developer and film executive and her PhD research on the impact of media on children to help parents navigate child-rearing in a networked world.
Dr. Kastner began the event by establishing a knowledge framework covering parenting styles and a “neuroscience primer” describing the operations of several key systems of our brains. She wove these two topics together with examples that illustrated the interconnectivity of behavior and biology.
With humor and compassion, Dr. Kastner shared the complexity that is parenting today in a way that made it feel hopeful. She gave real examples, such as how to manage an “amygdala hijack,” i.e., a moment when our fight or flight reflex kicks in when we are dealing with thorny issues with our children—also known as letting our emotions take over. While we want our children to think through consequences of their behavior, our own behavior can create roadblocks to communication if our responses cause us to lose our calm.
Dr. Kastner suggested parents help students stay in balance by finding time to slow down and incorporate relaxation into their often stressful lives. She encouraged parents to be models of “wise-mindedness,” a construct that incorporates a balance of empathy towards yourself and members of your family, as well as giving yourself permission to make technology decisions that feel right to you given your values, culture, and upbringing.
Dr. Uhls dove directly into recognizing the significance that devices, social media, and technology in general now have in our lives. She reassured parents, “It’s normal to feel fear. Today most children spend more time with digital media and devices than any other activity in their lives.”
Dr. Uhls described a parenting strategy called “active media mediation,” in which parents engage in frequent conversations with their children about media use. This active participation educates children on parental views while allowing children to feel comfortable sharing content. It enables parents to establish effective limits through open communication and to share their responses, both positive and negative, to technology and content based upon their values. While she made it sound easy, she acknowledged that it takes time, effort, and intention, and she offered parents the following practical tips:
- Always model the behavior you want to see in your kids. How much do you focus on your devices? Are your children feeling ignored?
- Pay attention to content choices and content quality. According to the American Association of Pediatrics, the quality of content is more important than time spent on devices.
- Learn what children are doing on their devices. What’s motivating them? Are they creating? Are they connecting with friends? Playing games?
- View content with children as often as possible.
- As early as possible through modeling and conversations, help children develop their own strategies for discerning the value of content and managing their digital time.
Dr. Uhls’ talk was filled with warmth and compassion, as well as real examples of the ways in which she uses these strategies in her own family. She recommended establishing media agreements as an important tool to think about the issues to discuss with children. She also recommended that parents firmly establish “device-free time” each day, even if it is 10 minutes, emphasizing that students need time away from screens to learn essential social and emotional skills and to become experienced at taking technology breaks.
One Nueva mom, Puja Kaul, summed up her observations. “This talk helped me feel more confident about digital media and parenting. Both speakers brought a real-life, no-fear approach to integrating technology into one's particular family life. As with most aspects of parenting, the speakers reminded us to be positive yet firm on restrictions to media and to get informed and involved in the content our kids are accessing.”
March 17, 2017