All students will achieve their maximum potential by becoming responsible, productive citizens and life-long learners.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Online, In the Air, and Underground: Connect to Disconnect

The thinking for this post was generated by a recent conference I attended that was jointly hosted between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Canton Police Department.  While the topic was broad in scope (Strategies to Counter Violent Extremism at the High School Level) I found that when coupled with some recent literature, there was a very actionable message.  Responsible use of social media is a huge topic with multiple online resources, so please understand that I aim to only address a sliver here.

The Premise
Our students have almost unlimited access to the internet.  This isn’t 50 years ago when parents could shield their kids from certain sights, behaviors, or activities.  Even more recent it was a matter of kids being able to find (and do) anything they wanted if they had the desire.  Almost a “where there’s a will” type of thing.  Present day is even trickier.  Students will be exposed or introduced to many more things than we think appropriate or thought possible; whether they want to be or not. That is not a comforting thought even though there is a very effective method for combatting this issue.  We have just drifted from it.  I placed it into the title.  There is nothing wrong with connecting to the world of social media; as long as we never disconnect from our friends and family. Our kids cannot be shielded from the experiences the world will give them.  Therefore, it is our responsibility to teach them how to make proper decisions based on good character, integrity, and the ability to recognize both good and bad consequences.

So What?
There are three major pieces adults must keep in mind when attempting to control a student’s online activity.  They are all based around the idea that struggling for control is like squeezing a piece of ice; the harder you grip, the less likely you are to hold on.  In the end, keeping students safe depends on trust that is only built through fluid and ongoing communication and expectations.

o   The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study in September that highlighted a direct link between families eating dinner together and a decrease in a multitude of negative behaviors in children such as depression, drug use, cyberbullying, and fighting just to name a few.  You may have seen some of the advertising campaign on television.  It is due to the uninterrupted conversation that goes on during dinner.
o   Be patient, positive, and supportive.  We all remember when we thought every viewpoint and decision of an adult was completely ridiculous and stifling of our important social life.  Take the time to listen and fully explore, model, and explain the pros and cons of various issues that students will encounter.  Your student’s perspective may shock or surprise you.  It is important to not overreact, but seek to understand where their belief comes from and then be firm in your response.

o   Create a contract with clear boundaries and consequences for violating those rules.  Students like structure no matter how much they tend to complain about it.  There is a feeling of safety in knowing what is “ok” or not “ok” when it comes to behavior.  A clear set of guidelines helps make difficult decisions easier for individuals not prepared to handle certain situations. 
o   Remember that we are not our students’ friends.  We are the adults and while students need to be given plenty of room for mistakes if they are to grow, they also need to be kept “in bounds” so that they do not get into serious trouble while experiencing life.  In short, it’s not that we know better, but we do.

o   You will never be effective in protecting your student if there is not a strong sense of trust between you.  This does not mean blindly believing everything your student reports (or doesn’t) to you.  It is akin to Ronald Reagan’s statement; “Trust, but verify.” 
o   If your student begins to trust you with the small things, they will eventually trust you with everything.  Make sure you give them that opportunity by believing in them and their inherent ability to fall down, be scared, and worry about not living up to your expectations.  Personally, I tell my kids two things.  Only act in a way that they wouldn’t care if I heard about and that I will always love them unconditionally; no matter what they do.  So far, they feel safe enough to tell me everything.  I haven’t had to deal with the lying even though I have handed out plenty of consequences.  They know they can tell me anything because while I may not like the act; I will always be there for them.

Now What?
o   Schedule dinners or long car rides with your kids.
o   Always, without fail, listen to them because it’s important.
o   Continuously tell kids three things: I love you, I’m proud of you, and I trust you.
o   Communicate openly and honestly with integrity and hold an expectation of the same in return.

Ultimately it’s about helping your student create a mindset that allows them to make responsible decisions.  This doesn’t come from fear or you being the boss, rather from time taken to build a better relationship based on communication, trust, and understanding.  Remember that we can pretty much handle any problem we know about.  It’s the ones we don’t (or ignore) that are responsible for long term, often times irreversible damage to ourselves and others.

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