It’s Not Just About Strangers Anymore: Media, Kids and Safety

I was doing some research for my upcoming book Social Media Wellness when I came across this 2002 article entitled “A Stranger in Your House” in the Palo Alto Weekly, a local paper near my office. The article discusses how media influences the lives of kids, and what we as parents and educators should do about it. The organization highlighted in the piece, FIRM (Families Interested in Responsible Media) has since grown to become the well-respected and influential Common Sense Media.

Reading the article caused me to reflect on how far we’ve come over the past fifteen years. In 2002, Facebook (and Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat) didn’t exist, my iPhone with all its apps was likely a figment of someone’s imagination, and getting a cab on a rainy Friday night in San Francisco was a non-existent proposition. And the issues highlighted by the article – for instance, television commercials with scantily clad women or age-inappropriate topics – seem downright quaint in comparison to the things we see and deal with today. Many parents and educators don’t fully realize the powerful impact of bringing computers and tablets into the classroom, and Common Sense’s Common Sense Census reports that today’s teens now spend nearly nine hours on some form of media per day – and that doesn’t even count the time spent completing homework. (To note: Common Sense Media has done some amazing research, and provides many wonderful tools for parents and educators on their site.)

Even as so much as changed, some things remain the same.  The article recommends keeping computers and televisions out of the bedroom; today things are a bit more complicated as lightweight portable devices can easily get snuck in, and the smartphone serves as a television, movie screen, camera and video recorder that fits into the palm of a hand. Even so, l still recommend parents encourage students to do their homework outside of their bedrooms, because separating work and rest can be an effective way to promote wellness. Most kids who try to complete homework while sitting on their bed find that they end up feeling drowsy or falling asleep, and for good reason: their brain associates their bed with rest and sleep. And, getting devices out of the bedroom promotes a more restful sleep – especially for teenagers. Even if we want teens to learn how to self-regulate and make good decisions, they often still need parental structure, and these tips can help with turning off messaging at night so there is less temptation.

At the same time, the notion of media being the “stranger in your house” reflects the fear factor approach used over the past fifteen years as the way to talk about how media is impacting kids. In a conversation with IB Times UK, Tink Palmer, head of the Marie Collins Foundation, an online child abuse charity, focuses on the importance of “teaching children about the dangers of communicating online.” That’s likely not the most effective approach when we know teens and tweens are spending fifty plus hours a week online – they’re far past the “stranger danger” conversation.

While there are certainly dangers online, I would argue there are dangers everywhere, and we have to shift the conversations we’re having with our kids to be less-fear focused and more wellness-centered. Many teens and tweens use messaging and social media apps to communicate with friends and friends of friends as another level of socialization – so while some are certainly communicating with people they’ve never met, many are simply spending time in a new (online) venue with people they already know.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned over nearly two decades working with kids is that fear only gets us so far – and helping students find intrinsic motivation to make healthier choices that promote their well-being is far more effective in the long-term. Social media isn’t good or bad, it is simply a tool that has created new languages for parents and educators to make a better effort to learn and understand, in order to promote healthy socialization, effective self-regulation, and overall safety (the three S’s in my book).

One of the biggest compliments I received about my upcoming book was from Andrew Davis, who is the Head of School at Mt. Tam School in Marin. He wrote me after reading an advanced copy of the book and said, “You nailed it. I love how you don’t go down the fear path and that you give parents very real, actionable advice.”

He didn’t realize that was my goal – to move past fear and focus on giving practical, actionable strategies that work. It’s the evolution of a very important conversation.

Pre-order Social Media Wellness: Helping Tweens and Teens Thrive in an Unbalanced World, here. And when you do, send us the receipt at socialmediawellnessbook at gmail dot com, and we’ll send you a free reading guide. Please specify if you’d like the parent, educator, or student version.

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Social Media Wellness: An Authentic Hangout with High School Students

My third book, Social Media Wellness: Helping Tweens and Teens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World, is slated to be released in August 2017 (Pre-order Here!). SO EXCITED. I am really proud of how this book turned out – and because of the awesome feedback of my teen and young adult readers, I feel as though the book provides some needed insight on how to navigate the multitude of online and IRL pressures students, parents, and educators now face every single day.

In preparation for the book’s release, I asked some awesome high school students to come into my office and talk a little about their social media world. With the help of a terrific San Francisco-based filmmaker, Jeff Springer, we captured their authentic, uncomfortable and sometimes downright funny stories of Silicon Valley teens on social media. Mid-way through our interviews, Jeff turned to me and told me how wonderful all the kids had been – they were far more open, honest, and revealing than he imagined they would be. Nearly every girl told us about private Instagram accounts (only for their “hundred closest friends”) and one high school sophomore girl admitted to having 50 on-going Snapchat streaks (which took her hours each day to maintain).

I wasn’t surprised to learn they generally watch lots of Netflix and YouTube, are stuck on Snapchat, and have multiple Instagram accounts. I was surprised to learn that most of the students did not even have a Facebook account (nearly all had Instagram accounts, and Instagram is owned by Facebook). The few that did have Facebook accounts rarely, if ever, logged in (“Facebook seems really hard to set up” or “it is not intuitive to use” or “It’s overrun by people my parents’ age). I thought Facebook Live would have encouraged some of them to be online, but nope – most claimed to not know how FB Live worked.

Some of my favorite highlights:

  • High school junior boy who told me he was really into this TV show he was watching on Netflix: “It’s a show called Friends.”
  • High school junior girl who, mid-interview, had a moment of self-awareness and reflection, and came to the realization – on camera – that she used her phone too much. I think it was when she was describing how she sleeps with her phone and checks it within seconds of waking up.
  • Students holding back laughter when I asked them if their parents know how to use Snapchat. The consensus was “No.”

In the end, I hope this book sparks a lot of conversation about what wellness means and looks like in an “always on” world – and to that end, I am pleased to report the young woman who slept with the phone in her bed decided to move it another room so she could get better sleep. #progress #baby steps

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Stories From Students Who Created Their Own Blueprints: Bo


Why did you originally come to Green Ivy?
 I wasn’t the most studious high school student, but I had ambitions to go to a great university and I wanted options. When I started at Green Ivy, my grades were poor and I was a horrible test taker, and while I realized grades aren’t everything, raising mine meant I would have a wider range of options for college.

How long did you work with us? Almost three years. 

Which skills or habits did you learn that were the most effective in helping you achieve your own goals? Test taking + organization! That was what helped me the most, that and how to study effectively and retain the most important information. I was used to just getting by, barely getting my homework done in time, and didn’t know how to use the knowledge I was learning. 

Did you continue to use these skills throughout high school and college? If yes, which ones specifically? Organization and preparation! I am now in the travel industry and am one of the biggest “planners” around, according to my peers. I like to have everything mapped out these days, and it all goes back to the skills I learned working with Ana!

Describe your work today. What is your favorite part of your job? I started a company, JusCollege, with a high school friend. We are a student travel company focused on providing high-end experiences for students at a fraction of the cost. We focus on Spring Break travel, senior trips to Vegas, ski trips, fraternity weekenders in cities like New Orleans, Chicago, Nashville and much more. We also are the official collegiate marketing arm and partner of music festivals around the country that provides discounts for 18-25 year olds. My favorite part of my job is doing what I love. I enjoy going to work every day, creating my own schedule (even though I work 60-100 hour weeks) and providing experiences my clients are going to remember for the rest of their lives.

What surprised you most about working with Green Ivy?  I enjoyed it (haha). Previously, I hated academic counseling and tutoring, but Ana made my experience amazing. Not only did I see results, but I enjoyed spending time in the office.

 Do you have any favorite moments or stories about your time at Green Ivy that you’d like to share? (Side note: Bo, my favorite was when you set three goals for yourself – GPA goal, starting on the varsity water polo team, and winning CCS – and all three came true!) I would say meeting my goals, as Ana said from my GPA, water polo achievements and college admissions. I got into 4 out of the 5 top schools I wanted to go to, and ended up at CU-Boulder. I set a goal before my junior year to start on the varsity water polo team as well as win CCS that year. Halfway through the year the head coach decided to bench three seniors and move younger guys (one of them being me) into the starting lineup. Once that happened, we didn’t lose a single game and upset Menlo in the championship against a goalie who was ranked as best in the world at that time. I ended up scoring the winning goal with a buzzer beater at the end of the 3rd quarter.

If you could go back and have a conversation with your younger self about school, what advice would you give? Listen to your elders and take their advice. They have been there before and have learned from many mistakes. 

What are your current professional and personal goals? To sell my company in the next 1-4 years, take a year off and travel the world (for enjoyment and not work) and then come back into a sales consulting role or VP of Sales for another startup. I want to enjoy what I’m doing and go into work every day with a smile on my face. I was lucky enough to take a risk and become an entrepreneur as soon as I graduated. Somehow I’ve been lucky enough to have my first endeavor actually work out but I believe that’s a testament to my hard work, dedication and refusal to give up. I plan to take this with me for the rest of my life on helping smaller companies grow themselves into what they envision. sell my company.

What do you love most about where you are now in life? For years after paying yourself next to nothing, to see things come to fruition and be financially taken care of is quite satisfying. More importantly, I’m closer with my friends and family than ever since I can finally be okay with taking some time off. I’m able to travel where I want to, do the things I want and don’t have a sense of guilt that I should be working. After grinding for 4-5 years, having that freedom I’d say is rather satisfying. It’s also rather gratifying at 29 years old, knowing you’ll be “okay” in life no matter what happens.  

And a few more just for fun. . . 

Best invention of all time: A plane 

Dream vacation: Traveling all over the world in a private jet for a month (snowboarding + beaches)

Favorite movie: Too difficult, too many

Breakfast staple(s): French Toast

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