On the Road Again!

I am heading out on the road this week (first stop: Mill Valley, CA to talk about the culture of perfectionism), and thought it would be a good time to share some of my recent work, especially as we’ve moved past the flurry of the first few weeks of the year and now are trying to be focused amid lots of weather delays and rapid speed news cycles.

As I was preparing for the book release of Social Media Wellness, I interviewed lots of teenagers – because who better to talk about social media than teens? Some were featured in this fun video, and I used the advice of other teens to write Washington Post piece, “What Kids Really Want their Parents to Know About Social Media.”

These days, many parents wonder if their kids are addicted to their phones, so I wrote about a piece entitled “Is Your Kid a Phone Addict?” for the NYTimes.

Finally, as we head into the second semester, many of you might be wondering how to curb digital distractions.  I shared five strategies along with some tips with NBC’s Education Nation. Essentially: make it all about them, create plan, recognize the importance of YOUR attitude and approach, be consistent, and gamify it (managing distractions can be fun!). Personally the best thing I’ve done for myself is put my inbox on pause – I only check emails three times a day, and have managed to get back to people much more quickly and get more rest (hint: if using gmail, download Boomerang).

I am headed to Atlanta, Philadelphia, NYC, Memphis, Dallas, and Raleigh-Durham – and also have a number of events in the Bay Area. I would love for you to tell your friends or those who might be interested. Some of the events are closed to the public, but all of the information can be found in the events section. 

Finally, my fall 2018 speaking schedule is starting to fill – if you know of any organizations who might be interested in hosting, please feel free to have them get in touch.

Hope to see you on the road!

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The SOCIAL MEDIA WELLNESS Book Tour FAQs (and my answers)

Ever since my new book SOCIAL MEDIA WELLNESS came out August 29, I have been on book tour visiting schools in cities around the country and talking to parents, students, and faculty members about understanding our current social media landscape, managing digital distractions, and promoting wellness in an always on-digital world. The tour has been energizing, in large part because social media is a topic that everyone wants to talk about, and nearly everyone has opinions. Parents and students really want strategies that work. They’re in luck, because I spent nearly four years writing and re-writing a book full of effective and practical approaches to encouraging better habits online and in-real-life (IRL).

I talk a great deal about the spectrum of parenting around social media which ranges from the overly permissive “everything is allowed” all the way to what I’ve dubbed fear-based abstinence, where nothing seems to be allowed ever – except that kids readily admit to creating accounts their parents don’t know about, so that approach tends to be ineffective – not to mention potentially dangerous.

People often ask me what questions I hear the most from parents. Here are the top two – and my thoughts:

Q: At what age should my child get a mobile phone (or a smartphone)?

This question comes up whenever I have an audience of elementary or middle school parents. In reality, the question of when a child should get a cell phone or smartphone are actually two different questions. In a world where there aren’t payphones on every corner and we are unfortunately experiencing a number of man-made and natural disasters, I do think safety and convenience warrants some kids to get a mobile phone earlier than in previous years. If a child lives in two-households, has late-night extracurricular activities or sports practices, it can make sense from a convenience standpoint to have a mobile phone.

However, getting a mobile phone doesn’t necessarily mean getting a smartphone, which typically has a built-in camera and video. Camera, video, and video live feed create a whole new ballgame, especially in a world where many middle school and high school students struggle with impulse control and admittedly take things to social media when they are angry or passionate about something.

This past summer, I asked a group of high school seniors in my office at what age they thought kids should get a smartphone, and they were resoundingly adamant that kids should wait until the 8th grade to get a smartphone. They had no idea their recommendations were in line with a campaign called Wait Until 8th, which was started by a group of parents who wanted to have parents and students sign a pledge waiting until 8th grade to get a smartphone.

The high school students I interviewed had really thoughtful reasons why they thought kids should wait until eighth grade to get a smartphone – the potential for distractions, the challenge it can be for middle school students to self-regulate, and the underlying social and emotional manipulations that can be overwhelming. I so think it all depends on the child (which is tough!), but I do agree that many children get smartphones before they are ready for full access. In my mind, finding ways to provide tiered access to phone use is generally the most effective, but what that means for one family – or even one child within the family – can be different than for another. Even when kids do get a smartphone, parents should have access to know what apps are being downloaded, and use that to start conversations and awareness around use.

Finally, even when children do get a smartphone, they need guidance around creating structure and limits. It is easier to have conversations and create collaborative agreements (that can always be revisited and revised) before kids have a phone. Once the phone is in their hands, they naturally become a little more distracted – quite like adults!

Q: How can I monitor/spy on/know what my child is doing online? Some version of this sometimes includes: shouldn’t my kid have privacy to make mistakes?

The whole monitoring/spying/privacy debate is often a funny one for me, because there are often multiple vantage points and cultural values coming into play. My parents are immigrants to the United States, and like many children of immigrant parents, I sometimes laugh at the American ideal of teenage privacy. Immigrant parents are usually like, “Privacy, what? Do I not pay for this phone? Do I not pay for the food and roof above your head? I get full access.” (If you need any further understanding of the immigrant parent mentality around issues like this one, I encourage you to watch Hasan Minhaj’s “Homecoming King” comedy special on Netflix).

All kidding aside, many school deans and principals will tell me that law enforcement officials will be in the school office meeting with parents and a student who has done something inappropriate (and potentially illegal) and the parents will say, “I didn’t know I should have been looking at my child’s phone.” To which the law enforcement officer is usually dumbfounded.

I encourage parents of middle schoolers to explain that they have full access to their child’s phone at any time, and to have a rule that phones are charged downstairs at night. For the parents of high school students, I encourage them to figure out what their access is based on their unique situation, but regardless, they should have all passwords in sealed envelope – at the very least – in case something ever goes awry.

In terms of monitoring, I encourage parents to be open and honest that they have full access to the phone if they are concerned about anything, and if you are using a monitoring app, let your kids know. Apple’s Family Share Plan and Google Play Family have helpful features. Phones have parental controls – parents just have to use them.

Parents often ask me about the different monitoring apps available, and I offer suggestions with a caveat: like everything, it is all about attitude and approach. When one dad at a high school told me he saw something inappropriate on his daughter’s phone and now wanted to know the best app to monitor her, I asked him if he had talked to his daughter about what he had seen – he hadn’t.

Monitoring apps like OurPact and Bark work best when they are used in conjunction with frequent open-ended conversations around appropriate use. They are not a substitute for important (and sometimes uncomfortable) conversations.

Much of what I talk about in SOCIAL MEDIA WELLNESS is around how we are often having the wrong conversations with kids around social media. Instead of coming from a place of fear, anger and frustration, we need to have more compassion, empathy and understanding. Teens and tweens are trying to navigate a whole new world and language of socialization, and they need our help – but many of us are still learning the ropes ourselves.

It really does take a village.

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Happy Sweet Sixteen to Green Ivy Educational Consulting!

A few weeks ago, we celebrated our 16th anniversary at Green Ivy Educational Consulting. Truth be told, this has been an incredibly busy fall. It wasn’t until a Facebook memory popped up in my feed reminding me of a past year anniversary that I stopped and took note. #thanksfacebook

We’ve had a lot of wonderful things happen over the last sixteen years, and being located in the heart of the Silicon Valley has certainly made things uniquely interesting. In my latest book, SOCIAL MEDIA WELLNESS, I talk about how when I started this work helping teens with organization and time-management there was no Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Musical.ly, or tbh. Google was still in relative infancy, and most of us still had AOL and Hotmail email accounts.

I was in NYC last month and did the photoshoot and interview for this profile with MM.Lafleur. In the profile, I discuss how my work began, and it was a good reminder of how much has changed, and how far we’ve come, and how it all began (by accident, really). When I visit schools today, I often mention how when I was in college, I knew I wanted to do work that allowed me to write, to help people, and to travel – and that today my work allows me to do all three.

Time Travel Trick

Sometimes, it can be hard to remember how far things have come over time, and we rarely step back and recognize what we’ve accomplished – big or small. I came across this Quartz article on organizational psychologist and UPenn professor Adam Grant’s (Originals, Give and Take) simple trick for enjoying success. I laughed because I have been doing something similar for years, and have found it works for me as well.

His method involves turning back the dial five years, and doing mental time-travel to view present day achievements using past expectations as context. Like, five years ago I would have been thrilled to be on a 20 city book tour for my third book, have several pieces in national outlets like the NYTimes and Washington Post. But settled into today’s reality, I can be hard on myself for not writing enough, for getting enough done, or something not being enough. The trick works, in part, because it focuses on the Carol Dweck’s growth mindset, and what we can do to recognize that everything is an opportunity for growth and development.

Looking back, I always think about some – not all! – of the highlights that for me are key markers in my work (even if I didn’t realize it at the time):

2001 – Starting to work with middle school and high school students

2004 – First office in downtown Los Altos, which meant I thought I was going to do this for longer than a minute

September 2007 – Start doing organizational workshops

October 2007 – Move into our current main office in downtown Los Altos

January 2008 – NYTimes article on “Giving Disorganized Boys the Tools for Success” comes out, ends up being one of the top five most emailed articles, receive hundreds of emails, and write a book proposal

September 2008- Book deal with for THAT CRUMPLED PAPER WAS DUE LAST WEEK

November 2009 – Create first book trailer for THAT CRUMPLED PAPER WAS DUE LAST WEEK

January 2010 – THAT CRUMPLED PAPER WAS DUE LAST WEEK is released

January 2010 – First book event at Egan Junior High in Los Altos, CA

February 2010 – First school talk

October 2011 – First international school visit

November 2012 – Book trailer for THE MYTH OF THE PERFECT GIRL

December 2012 – THE MYTH OF THE PERFECT GIRL comes out

September 2013 – Sign contract for what ultimately becomes SOCIAL MEDIA WELLNESS, spent far too many hours writing, researching and re-writing that book

June/August 2017 – Articles on “The Secret Social Media Lives of Teenagers” and “How to Help Kids Disrupt Bro Culture” come out in the NYTimes, Washington Post advanced coverage

February/June 2017 – Create book trailer for SOCIAL MEDIA WELLNESS

August 2017 – SOCIAL MEDIA WELLNESS is (finally…) released, begin a 20 city book tour

Looking Ahead

Clearly, there have been no overnight successes. I keep returning to that, especially because it can be easy for me to notice – and feel annoyed and somewhat guilty about – the nearly five years that seemed like an eternity between my second and third book. There were so many times when I felt that book was never going to be done. I am so proud of how SOCIAL MEDIA WELLNESS provides a solid framework for teachers and parents that I couldn’t have developed several years ago, so in reality, the timing was perfect. Today, I realize (and accept!) that the book in its current iteration could have never been written two, three or four years ago.

For me, December has always been a time to reflect on all that has happened (the amazing, the awesome, the not-as-awesome, and the downright stressful). 2017 has been intense for many of us for so many different reasons, but this little trip down memory lane reminds me of how many wonderful things have happened over the years. I hope in looking back you are able to use the trick of time-travel to help you realize the amazingness of incremental progress.

And, to all who have walked through the Green Ivy offices, supported our work through the years, came to a book talk, and offered encouragement and kind words – thank you.

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