FYI

A 6-Word Phrase That Can Change Your Family’s Faith

Aug 06, 2014 Kara Powell

Photo by Gustavo Andrade.

In celebration of the release of The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, stickyfaith.org is hosting a “Blog Tour” to share some of the book’s research highlights and practical ideas. This story from my family kicks off chapter three: “Handling Mistakes: Showing Sticky Forgiveness”.


Perhaps your children have the same continuum of crying as ours.

On one end of the continuum is fake tears.

Next comes “I’m tired” crying.

Followed by “I think you won’t punish me if I cry” tears.

Then “I’m mad or sad or scared and need you” tears.

And finally “the world is ending and I can’t stop crying” waterworks.

One Tuesday morning, Krista’s tears pegged the last. Our then eight-year-old walked into our bedroom in full-blown, wet-faced panic.

Krista has always loved to read. Her nightstand is invariably covered with books. She also loves to have a glass of water at night. That morning, Krista learned the hard way that books and water don’t mix well.

“Mom, water was spilled on a book.” (I’m regularly struck by how our kids use the passive voice when they make mistakes. It wasn’t that Krista spilled the water; it was that the cup somehow mischievously decided to tip itself over and spill its contents.)

She managed to catch her breath in the midst of her tears. “It’s a library book. I don’t want to tell the school librarian what happened.”

I hugged my weeping daughter. Together we walked to our laundry room, spread the sopping book on towels, and aimed a hair dryer toward its soggy pages. I wasn’t sure that our paper patient would fully recover, but spreading the book over towels seemed to calm my daughter. By the time we jumped in our van and headed to school, Krista was back to her normal self.

Until we pulled into the school’s car line. As Nathan and Jessica grabbed their backpacks and slid out of our van, Krista panicked. “Mom, my stomach hurts. I can’t go to school.” More tears, this time of the “I’m scared and need you” variety.

Allowing Krista to stay in the car, I drove across the street and into the school’s parking lot. Unbuckling my seatbelt and turning to face her in the back seat, I wondered aloud, “Krista, since you didn’t mention your upset stomach until we got to school, perhaps what’s happening is you’re scared about the library book.”

I don’t have a medical degree, but I do know our daughter.

I continued, “Sometimes when I’m nervous about something, my stomach gets upset. Do you think that’s what’s happening?”

Nods from the back seat.

I make so many errors as a parent. I regularly say the wrong thing, or say the right things in the wrong tone of voice. But this was one of those times when the Holy Spirit helped me. I knew exactly what I needed to say to Krista.

It was six words. Six words that I now share with every young person I can. Six words that I hope become a mantra in your family, as they have in ours.

The six words I told Krista are, “Jesus is bigger than any mistake.”

I added, “Krista, if Jesus can’t handle a wet library book, we need a new Jesus. But Jesus can handle that. He can handle everything you feel, and all your mistakes and flaws.”

The same is true in your family.

If Jesus can’t handle your kid’s partying, we need a new Jesus.

If Jesus can’t handle your kid’s rebellion, we need a new Jesus.

But Jesus can handle it. He is our Savior because he can handle our sins and struggles, and so much more.

Mom, Dad, Stepmom, Stepdad, Grandma, or Grandpa, please know this: Jesus is bigger than your mistakes too. On those days when you’ve failed to be the parent or grandparent you want to be, may this truth about Jesus help you learn from the past but not be imprisoned by it.

How do you try to show children and teenagers that Jesus is bigger than any mistake?

#stickyfaithfamily
Spread the Word.


 

The Sticky Faith Guide For Your Family is here!

Aug 04, 2014 Fuller Youth Institute

We are thrilled to announce our latest family resource!

 

 

Parenting is like riding a bike down a water slide.

Exciting in theory, difficult in reality.

We’re constantly improvising. Guessing. Hoping what we’re doing is best.

That’s why we are so excited to announce our newest resource: The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family.

Building on years of research about nurturing long-term faith in kids, it’s a resource you can use right now in your family. In every chapter of this book, you’ll get a front-row seat to research-derived findings that can help you develop lasting faith as a family.

 

Need something you can use today?

Get a FREE chapter of the book

when you sign up for our free monthly Family Update below!

 

 

And here’s something else you can use…

 

If you order a copy of the Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family by August 15, you will be entered into a drawing for a $100 Amazon gift card. Who couldn’t use a little extra back-to-school cash to make it through the shopping rush? Just forward your confirmation of purchase email or scan and email a printed receipt to stickyfaithfamily@fuller.edu by August 15.

All winners will be notified by email after the drawing.

So in the midst of buying new backpacks and notebooks, we hope and pray that this guide will be something you can use to point you and your family toward Christ this fall and in the years to come.

Your biggest fans,

and the FYI team

#stickyfaithfamily Spread the Word.

Contest rules:

  • No purchase necessary.
  • Anyone currently a permanent resident of the United States of America is eligible to participate in the contest.
  • Contest opens 12:00am PDT August 5, 2014 and closes 12:00am PDT August 16, 2014.
  • Contest sponsored by the Fuller Youth Institute.
  • Prizes are $100 Amazon gift cards redeemable at Amazon.com.
  • Prizes will be awarded by random selection by a Fuller Youth Institute staff member.
  • Contest winner will be notified on August 16 and will be notified via email.

You Belong Here: Two new insights from education research

Jul 29, 2014 Brad M. Griffin

Photo by Marvett Smith.

The good news about education research these days is that there are new voices exploring not only how kids learn, but why they do or don’t succeed, and what other outcomes are connected with education. I think Paul Tough is doing some of the most fascinating work in this area as a research journalist beating down the doors of education innovators and researchers around the country (check out How Children Succeed for a surprising read on what matters and what doesn’t).

My team member Irene Cho, who coordinates our Urban Youth Ministry Certificate program, recently sent me this lengthy Paul Tough article entitled “Who Gets to Graduate?” In it he explores not only the college dropout crisis, but also a couple of insights that I think matter for our ministry with teenagers beyond education.

As it turns out, college students who think they’re going to fail or drop out have a higher rate of doing so. That sounds pretty basic, but think about the things that happen to students that strip away their confidence: They show up on campus and don’t know a soul, immediately feeling lonely and left out. They struggle in a regular math class and get put in the remedial section. They fail one course and are told they might not be cut out for college. It’s no wonder over half of students who enter colleges in the U.S. fail to graduate within six years. And for minorities and first-generation college students, the statistics are much worse.

But here’s some news. Success at the high school and the college level—measured on a number of indicators from GPA to physical and emotional health—can be boosted by changing young people’s mindsets around two areas:

1. Belonging

2. Ability

First, reducing students’ anxieties about belonging can improve the transition to high school or college. Learning from older students that everyone feels alone at first, but over time most people find others with whom they fit in, changes outcomes in dramatic ways from students who don’t hear this message. And it does so for students who are at particularly high risk of failing or dropping out—those who come from low-income and/or minority families or are first-generation college students.

Second, students need to believe that growth and change are possible, both socially and in terms of intelligence or ability. Hearing a message that when someone is hard on you or excludes you, that’s probably a short-lived thing rather than a permanent trait in that person or in you, had a stabilizing effect on depression rates in high school freshmen (a time when depression typically soars). In another study, simply reading an article that practicing new ways of doing math can grow students’ brains in new ways even if they haven’t done well on math in the past cut the math drop-out rate in half for nearly 300 community college students.

What’s fascinating in this cluster of studies is that the interventions are always incredibly brief—from 25 to 45 minutes of reading an article or essay and sometimes watching a video from an older student—and yet yield surprisingly strong results. Researcher David Yeager suggests that what’s going on here isn’t actually changing students’ minds in 25 minutes. Rather, the interventions “are simply keeping them from overinterpreting discouraging events that might happen in the future. ‘We don’t prevent you from experiencing those bad things,’ Yeager explains. ‘Instead, we try to change the meaning of them, so that they don’t mean to you that things are never going to get better.’”

What does that mean for youth ministry?

There’s something powerful about this insight for those of us in ministry. We interact with students who face failures of all kinds—academically, socially, morally, relationally, spiritually—during their season in our care. I wonder what difference it might make in how they interpret those events if we set them up ahead of time to know that 1) change is always possible, and 2) you belong here. No matter what, no failure is too big for our community to handle. And most importantly, no failure is too big for God to handle. I suspect too few young people hear this message soon enough.

  • When you look around your ministry and think about who is transitioning in—this year’s freshmen or sixth graders, or new kids to town—who among them might be particularly at risk for feeling like they don’t belong?
  • When you look at your recent graduates who are heading off to college, who might experience those same fears, or fears that they don’t have what it takes to succeed?
  • The researchers emphasize that these studies on belonging and ability need to be contextualized to the specific audience for each intervention. In other words, there’s not a one-size-fits-all confidence-boosting message. So what are some ways you can communicate belonging and ability to your unique students, even in snapshot interactions?

You might find that you end up unleashing a young person’s potential through a simple message that they belong, no matter what.

VIA MEDIA Shoot to Kill: The Real Impact of Violent Video Games

Jul 28, 2014 Art Bamford

Photo by pawpaw67.

This is part of an FYI series on navigating digital technology and social media with young people.
Read Part 1 here: VIA MEDIA A New Look @ Navigating Digital Technology with Young People

This is the second of two posts in which we’re tackling a pair of questions that often arise in families when it comes to video games:

  1. How can parents get their kids to stop playing games so much and do something more “social?”
     
  2. Are violent video games as bad as they seem in the media?

Throughout this series so far, we have sought to offer a more balanced approach than so much of what circulates in the media about digital technology and young people. In that same vein, we began researching violent video games thinking they were pretty harmless, eager to find proof that would help alleviate a lot of parental anxiety. However, the more we dug into the research, the more we became convinced that the genre of games known as “first-person shooters” are indeed capable of producing negative effects on young people.[[“First-person shooters” are games in which the player views the action through the eyes of a protagonist whose primary task is to shoot various other characters while moving through the levels of the game.]]

In the previous post on video games we looked at the amount of time young people spend playing games, and the question of playing with family and friends as part of hanging out, versus playing recreationally. Where, how, and for how long a young person plays games are ultimately the most important considerations for parents and leaders. Gamers who play in public parts of the house with subtle but consistent parental supervision, for limited amounts of time, typically rate substantially lower on all the various negative effects researchers have investigated, regardless of the game content.

So how bad are violent games?

There is still a lot of disagreement among scholars as to just how much of an effect violent games have on players, partly because faster processors have made these games much more realistic in recent years. While ongoing research needs to be conducted, there is now enough evidence to comfortably say that playing first-person shooters can be a hindrance to the formation and wellbeing of today’s young people.

Researchers Lavinia McLean and Mark Griffiths published an article in 2013 titled “The psychological effects of videogames on young people: A review” in which the authors catalog and review all the existing data on the subject up to that point. Here is how they conclude their analysis:

“[One] cannot ignore the comprehensive reviews that indicate violent game play has a significant effect on aggressive behavior, affect, cognition and empathy across work conducted with over 130,000 participants…the effects have consistently been reported as significant findings with various age groups and in a number of different cultural settings.”[[McLean, L., & Griffiths, M. D. (2013). The Psychological Effects of Video Games on Young People. Aloma: Revista de Psicologia, Ciències de l'Educació i de l'Esport31(1).]]

In just one of the studies McLean and Griffiths reviewed, there is a pretty clear example of the desensitizing nature of these games. A 2009 study was conducted in which undergraduate students were asked to play violent or non-violent games for several hours. While they were playing, the researchers simulated a Good Samaritan scenario: there was a fight just a few feet from where the game players were seated in which one person assaulted the other then ran away, leaving the victim in need of assistance. The students who were playing violent games took 450% longer to respond to the person in need than those playing the non-violent games.

To be very clear, research does not condemn all action-adventure games. Many games carry a “Mature” rating, intended to be played by adults over 18 years old (who may be less affected by them). But in the case of first-person shooter games, particularly those with lifelike, photo-realistic graphics,[[Photorealistic graphics and a more realistic in-game environment have been shown to cause players to identify more strongly with their avatars, which heightens the effects described above.]] we need to be aware of their potential harm on children and teenagers. Young people might enjoy these games, but there are other equally enjoyable games on the market that are less likely to increase aggression or diminish empathy towards others.

Finally, it is important to address the claim we hear in the media that video games are a major cause or inspiration for many of the teen perpetrators of mass shootings. That claim has found very little support from social-scientific and psychological research, even among scholars who argue that games do produce negative effects.[[Strasburger, V. C., & Donnerstein, E. (2014). The New Media of Violent Video Games Yet Same Old Media Problems?. Clinical pediatrics53(8), 721-725.]] The perpetrators involved in those shootings exhibited substantial unrelated psychological pathologies and were entangled in other circumstantial factors that contributed to the tragedy. The appeal of violent games is that they give a sense of power and control to individuals who feel they lack those things in their real lives. The affinity for violent video games that school shooters have shared in common seems to have been a symptom, not a cause. 

What can we do about violent video games?

First, parents and leaders should learn and follow the ratings provided by videogame manufacturers, similar to the MPAA film rating system. The ratings are outlined in the image below, or you can click here for more in-depth descriptions.

Take note of the list of “Descriptors” as well—each game specifies why it falls under the given rating category. The first-person shooters described above will likely contain the descriptors “violence” or “intense violence” (as opposed to “fantasy violence” or “violent references”) in their rating. The phrase “first person shooter” will likely also be included somewhere on the package since this has become a popular genre. Retail stores are required by law to ask for ID from anyone attempting to purchase a rated ‘M’ game, and larger rental subscription services, like GameFly, allow parents to determine the rating-levels that their kids may rent.

On the positive side, access is a huge factor in curbing the potential negative effects of games. Research indicates that teens are not going to any great lengths to play games behind their parents’ backs—they are just playing the games they have available. A number of teens interviewed by researchers said they had received games intended for a mature audience from older family members as gifts on birthdays and holidays. Parents can help teens steer clear of potentially problematic games by purchasing others instead, and by encouraging friends and relatives who give games as gifts to do the same.

Concluding Thoughts from the Author

As I said at the beginning of this post, I was surprised by what I found on this topic. First, as someone who has studied and conducted research on media effects I was impressed by how consistently studies found substantial effects—such effects are not typically found with other media, especially screen media like televisions or computers. Second, I was shocked because, like a lot of adults who grew up playing Mario Kart and Street Fighter, I assumed that games were nothing but harmless fun. While reviewing this research, I cringed knowing that I have bought games for my own nephews without consulting the rating, even though I would never in a million years take them to a PG-13 or R rated film underage.

To be clear, the effects described above won’t appear all at once if your kids play for an hour at a friend’s house. But I do want to urge Christian parents and leaders to stop and think about whether you want to allow first-person shooter games into your home or church. Many Christians may be weary of hearing condemnations of media like this, especially after having heard similar warnings about everything from comic books to MTV to Harry Potter over the years. But research on violent games makes a compelling case that they produce pronounced negative effects on young people—and that case should be considered.

VIA MEDIA Part 1: A New Look @ Navigating Digital Technology with Young People
VIA MEDIA Part 2: How Young is Too Young for Digital Technology and Social Media?

VIA MEDIA Part 3: Sticks and Phones: Preventing Digital Bullying
VIA MEDIA Part 4: My [Own] Space: Supervision vs. Surveillance
VIA MEDIA Part 5: Cheat Codes: A Quick Guide to Teens and Video Games


 

VIA MEDIA Cheat Codes: A Quick Guide to Teens and Video Games

Jul 24, 2014 Art Bamford

This is part of an FYI series on navigating digital technology and social media with young people.
Read Part 1 here: VIA MEDIA A New Look @ Navigating Digital Technology with Young People


"Don’t you have anything better to do?"

If you’ve ever muttered that out loud or in your head toward a teenager slothing the day away on a gaming device, the next two posts in our VIA MEDIA series are for you. We will tackle a pair of questions that often arise in families when it comes to video games:

  1. How can parents get their kids to stop playing games so much and do something more “social?”  
     
  2. Are violent video games as bad as they seem in the media?

Given how many different varieties of gaming exist, it’s helpful to narrow the scope of what we’re trying to understand. Researchers Mizuko Ito and Matteo Bittanti have helpfully categorized types of digital gaming into three distinct modes: killing time, hanging out, and recreational.[[Ito, M., Baumer, S., Bittanti, M., Cody, R., Herr-Stephenson, B., Horst, H. A., ... & Tripp, L. (2010). Hanging out, messing around, and geeking out. Digital media.]]

Killing time

“Killing time” refers to those quick games of Angry Birds or Candy Crush that people play when they have a few minutes to spare between activities. Using a small personal game or puzzle to fill moments like this is certainly nothing new. App games have replaced distractions like crossword puzzles, Rubik’s cubes, the Chia pets of yesterday. We might prefer that young people used these moments to have a conversation or collect their thoughts, but we have to humbly admit that adults are as bad, or worse, than young people when it comes to “checking their phones” in these moments.

Hanging out

Ito and Bittanti’s next category is probably what many of us envision as the “typical” teen mode of gaming—hanging out. Playing games with friends and family, online or offline, as a way to relax and escape the stresses of everyday life. Here too we see that video games are not an entirely new phenomenon, but have quickly eclipsed a number of other similar activities in popularity.

In this type of gaming, parents and youth leaders start to get concerned. There is a perception that games, even when teens are in the room together, are not social because players do not have meaningful conversations or make eye contact. There is some truth to this perception, but researchers also point to the value of gaming as a relaxing social outlet for teenagers. It does require more cognitive function and interaction than if that time was spent watching TV.

Recreational gaming

The key difference between hangout gaming and the third category, recreational gaming, has to do with the reason the game is being played. If a person (teenager or adult) specifically wants to play the game—with or without others—it is recreational. The game is no longer just filling the void of “nothing better to do.”

That can be a helpful distinction: if a person or group of people is looking for something to do and chooses to play video games, it is hanging out. If they specifically want to make time for playing video games, it is recreational.

That does not make recreational gaming inherently bad, it just means this type of play indicates that it has become a more intentional hobby. And hobbies become an important part of a young person’s identity.

In research interviews, a number of teen recreational gamers spoke about gaming as an alternative to other available extracurricular options, namely sports. The good news is that gaming is now pervasive enough that it brings some measure of the same social benefits young people find from other hobbies: practicing to master certain skills, feelings of achievement outside of the classroom, and respect from peers. Gamers are no longer seen as “freaks and geeks.”

Setting boundaries

What becomes important for recreational gamers is setting boundaries. With more structured hobbies like sports or music, adults typically don’t worry as much about limiting the amount of time spent practicing and playing. In contrast, it is important for parents to set limits on how long gamers will play, and to create opportunities and spaces for groups to play together.

Some amount of playing alone is also not inherently bad within limits. [Click here for a post about young people’s need for privacy, and here for info on what a healthy amount of entertainment screen time is]. But unlike activities with built-in limits (like game time or fatigue), gamers can play continuously for extended periods of time uninterrupted—and many do. Research has found that many young male gamers regularly play for exorbitant amounts of time. One study found that the average amount of time teens in the U.S. spent playing games was one hour and thirteen minutes per day, with thirteen percent of those who participated in the study reporting that they played for three or more hours per day.[[Rideout, V. J., Foehr, U. G., & Roberts, D. F. (2013). Generation M2. Media in the Lives of 8-to 18-Year-Olds. A Kaiser Family Foundation Study. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2010.]]

The type of gaming that happens with digital technology is continually evolving. What is becoming more apparent to those studying the phenomenon is that gaming can potentially be a healthy, positive recreational activity or hobby for young people who might not excel at the extracurricular activities their classmates prefer. Researchers have found that games can improve perceptual skills, visual attention, visuospatial cognition, and spatial skills, and can be “potentially powerful learn­ing tools because they support multi-sensory, active, and experiential and problem-based learning.[[McLean, L., & Griffiths, M. D. (2013). See also: De Lisi, R., & Wolford, J. L., (2002). Improving children’s mental rotation accuracy with computer game playing. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 163, 272- 282.; Feng, J., Spence, L. & Pratt, J. (2007). Playing an action video game reduces gender differences in spatial cognition. Psychological Science, 18, 850-855.; Green, C.S. & Bavelier, D. (2003). Action video games modify visual selective attention. Nature, 423, 534- 537.; Green, C.S. & Bavelier, D. (2006).Eunumeration versus multiple object tracking: The case of action video game players. Cognition, 101, 217-245.]]

The most current research suggests that parents just need to be sure boundaries are set in place to prevent potential problems like social isolation, lack of exercise, a loss of sleep, and so on. Thankfully, some game developers are already taking this into account and have started creating games where players do more than sit on the couch with a controller in hand, but must physically move in order to play the game.

Assess your Teens’ Gaming Habits

You might be wondering how your teenager’s habits compare with the norm, or what steps might help in setting boundaries. Here are a few points and ideas:

1. The most recent data suggests that teens in the U.S. spend an average of 1 hour and 13 minutes playing video games, three to four days per week (13.2 hours total per week).

2. The amount of time spent gaming peaks between the ages of 8 and 13, then tapers off for most young people.

3. Researchers exploring the phenomenon of gaming addiction have primarily been concerned with gaming when it becomes disruptive to other responsibilities such as homework and chores. If a young person begins skipping these other duties, it could be a sign that their gaming is becoming unhealthy.

4. Taking breaks while playing can be extremely helpful. Researchers have pointed out that gamers can fall into a “flow” state comparable to gambling when they play for long periods of time. Some games have been designed to break this flow with things like timed levels and narrative sequences; others cater to it with endlessly continuous action. Extended gaming sessions of an hour or more should only be allowed if short breaks are taken frequently throughout.

5. Game selection is crucial. For reasons like the one stated above and the issue of violence (addressed in our next post), which games young people have access to is important. Parents should keep track of the games their kids are playing the way they would films, books, and music.

6. The system can help. Most video game consoles and devices have built-in features that allow parents to limit how long their children can play, restrict accessing the internet using the system, and in some cases can even block games above a certain content rating (e.g. “T for Teen” or “M for Mature”). Click here for instructions on how to use these settings with some of the most popular systems.

Make Gaming a Family Activity

Gaming isn’t likely to go away in most families, so why not look for ways to healthily engage it together? Here are some ideas:

1. Talk with your kids about which games they like and why. Don’t be afraid to tell them which games you prefer and why as well.

2. Have them teach you how to play so you can enjoy gaming together.

3. Try to find games that align with young people’s other interests: comic books, sports, music, science, etc. This makes gaming seem like a secondary hobby rather than a primary one.

4. Look for games that promote cooperation, healthy competition, creative problem solving, and constructive themes.

5. Ask kids what they are thinking and feeling while you play together. Similarly, ask them about which characters they prefer to be in different games and why?

6. If you’re interested in using games as a resource for talking and thinking about theology and spirituality with your kids, check out Kevin Schut’s 2013 book Of Games and God: A Christian Exploration of Video Games.

What games do you enjoy playing most with your kids? Share your recommendations with other parents and gamers in the comments below.

VIA MEDIA Part 1: A New Look @ Navigating Digital Technology with Young People
VIA MEDIA Part 2: How Young is Too Young for Digital Technology and Social Media?

VIA MEDIA Part 3: Sticks and Phones: Preventing Digital Bullying
VIA MEDIA Part 4: My [Own] Space: Supervision vs. Surveillance

VIA MEDIA My [Own] Space: Supervision vs. Surveillance

Jul 22, 2014 Art Bamford

This is part of an FYI series on navigating digital technology and social media with young people.
Read Part 1 here: VIA MEDIA A New Look @ Navigating Digital Technology with Young People

In a scene from the film Jurassic Park, one of the scientists explains how the velociraptors have been systematically testing the electrified fence all the way around the perimeter of their captive environment. He points out that rather than running into the fence and shocking themselves repeatedly, the dinosaurs were clever enough to start tossing sticks at the high voltage fence instead.

This image of savvy velociraptors is not unlike one of the ways that young people use social media. Researchers have found that new technologies have become an important part of the process of identity formation that occurs during our adolescent years.[[Ito, M., Baumer, S., Bittanti, M., Cody, R., Herr-Stephenson, B., Horst, H. A., ... & Tripp, L. (2010). Hanging out, messing around, and geeking out. Digital media.]] Digital technology has become a space where young people can “throw sticks” at the boundaries of their identity to see what kind of reaction they will get before they decide to break out beyond those boundaries completely.

It is important to begin by reminding ourselves what the process of identity formation is about. Neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin explains this developmental stage as follows:

“During our teenage years, we begin to discover that there exists a world of different ideas, different cultures, different people. We experiment with the idea that we don’t have to limit our life’s course, our personalities, or our decisions to what we were taught by our parents, or to the way we were brought up…when we are young, and in search of our identity, we form bonds or social groups with people whom we want to be like, or whom we believe we have something in common with. As a way of externalizing the bond, we dress alike, share activities, and listen to the same music.”[[Levitin, D. J. (2011). This is your brain on music: Understanding a human obsession. Atlantic Books Ltd.]]

It used to be the case that you might start listening to heavy metal and try wearing all black to school, for example. If you received positive feedback from your peers, you would align yourself more with that identity; if you received negative feedback you would try something different. Goth? Zap. Try something else. Hippie? Zap. Try something else. Repeat as long as necessary. This experimentation was not all done in public, and there was not usually a permanent record of it (apart from an embarrassing photo or two).

Social media provide another space where identity experimentation can play out. However, researchers John Palfrey and Urs Glasser explain how this has changed in a distinct way thanks to digital technology: “One of the big differences between what Digital Natives are doing in creating and experimenting with their identities and in interacting with their peers online, and what their parents did as teens talking on the telephone, hanging out at the local mall, is that the information that today’s youth are placing into digital formats is easily accessed by anyone, including people whom they do not know.”[[Palfrey, J., & Gasser, U. (2013). Born digital: Understanding the first generation of digital natives. Basic Books. p. 30.]]

So why not just share it all?

Digital technology lets young people explore their options and receive feedback from their peers in a seemingly lower risk, less intimidating space. They can post a selfie wearing all black and gauge the response of friends and followers before actually choosing to spend an entire day at school dressed that way.

But this is where it becomes frustrating for parents and youth leaders. It can be terribly difficult to discern what is a stick being tossed at the high-voltage fence of identity boundaries as opposed to something intended as genuine.

A lot of conflict can come from adult supervision of teenage online sharing because young people feel like their privacy has been violated. This is because adolescents want, and need, some space to go about the “work” of their own identity formation among their peers without an adult hovering around over their shoulders. Both having privacy, and negotiating between how we present ourselves publicly and privately, are key parts of becoming an adult in our society.

What’s that you say?

Adding to this confusion, there is a process of encoding that young people have developed as a strategy for preserving their privacy in digital spaces, where it is never quite clear who is looking. Teens will use “inside joke” types of clues from face-to-face interactions in order to conceal messages within what they share digitally. That is why the things that young people share online often seem like nonsense, or another language to parents and leaders. Author and scholar dana boyd helpfully explains that: “Rather than finding privacy by controlling access to content, many teens are instead controlling access to meaning.”[[Boyd, D. (2014). It's Complicated: the social lives of networked teens. Yale University Press. p. 76]]

Young people very intuitively determine what, where, and how they share content and interact with peers digitally across various social media platforms. More often than not, they are intentionally being cryptic and speaking to a specific set of their friends. Researchers have generally found that teens do not expect their parents to understand what they are saying and sharing online—but also that young people often enjoy explaining it to adults! At their age, being consulted to explain something is a pretty rare occurrence.

It is really tough to respectfully and responsibly keep track of what young people are saying and sharing through social media. But remember that this is tough on them, too. They are trying to navigate through the difficult process of forming their own identities in uncharted waters, using the tools we have given them. It is important to allow some freedom for identity formation to be acted out through social media (after age 13), and recognize that it is often the laboratory where they explore different aspects of identity.

The best thing parents and youth leaders can do is to humbly ask for help translating the stuff we don’t understand. Young people may be willing and eager to teach us to speak—or at least to understand—their digital language better, and sometimes even to join in the conversation.

VIA MEDIA Part 1: A New Look @ Navigating Digital Technology with Young People
VIA MEDIA Part 2: How Young is Too Young for Digital Technology and Social Media?

VIA MEDIA Part 3: Sticks and Phones: Preventing Digital Bullying
VIA MEDIA Part 4: My [Own] Space: Supervision vs. Surveillance

 

VIA MEDIA Sticks and Phones: Preventing Digital Bullying

Jul 17, 2014 Art Bamford

Photo by SeamusZ.

This is part of an FYI series on navigating digital technology and social media with young people.
Read Part 1 here: VIA MEDIA A New Look @ Navigating Digital Technology with Young People

Bullying used to be something that required face-to-face interaction.

Sadly, communicating online or by text now allows us to hurt each other from a safe distance. The statistics are tricky to discern, since many young people feel uncomfortable reporting instances of bullying, but current data suggest that between 4.5% and 24% of teens today have been bullied “online.” This definition groups together chat, text, and social media posts.[[See: Ybarra, M. L., Boyd, D., Korchmaros, J. D., & Oppenheim, J. K. (2012). Defining and measuring cyberbullying within the larger context of bullying victimization. Journal of Adolescent Health, 51(1), 53-58.; Palfrey, J., Sacco, D., Boyd, D., DeBonis, L., & Tatlock, J. (2008). Enhancing child safety & online technologies.; Levy, N., Cortesi, S., Gasser, U., Crowley, E., Beaton, M., Casey, J., & Nolan, C. (2012). Bullying in a networked era: A literature review. Berkman Center Research Publication, (2012-17).; Dinakar, K., Reichart, R., & Lieberman, H. (2011, July). Modeling the detection of Textual Cyberbullying. In The Social Mobile Web. Additional resources are available in the links provided.]]

If you’re a parent or leader wondering whether your teenager might be among those percentages, in this post we will walk you through how to help prevent online bullying, how to spot it when it is happening, and how to respond if it does.

Preventing Online Bullying

  1. The most important thing parents and youth leaders can do is make sure that young people have relationships with a few adults where they feel absolutely safe and comfortable sharing their concerns and struggles. Bullying often compromises a teen’s sense of security, even if adults have done nothing that they think might cause a teen to second guess reaching out to them. A sense of safety is something that needs to be continually and proactively nurtured.
     
  2. It is also important that parents and youth leaders try to empower young people not only to report bullying, but also to hold each other accountable. Students who may not be bullied themselves can be great allies to those who are. Adults should encourage young people to affirm their peers who have been bullied, and to support them as they report it, which can sometimes be as difficult as enduring the actual bullying.
     
  3. Finally, the instant a young person receives something that makes them feel uncomfortable or hurt, they should capture it and be encouraged to send it to an adult friend or parents. Make sure teens know the following shortcuts for capturing screenshots:

Mac: ‘Command’ + ‘Shift’ + ‘3’ saves to your desktop

PC: The ‘PrtScn’ key saves to your desktop.

iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch): Press ‘Home’ + ‘Sleep/Wake’ at the same time, an image will save to the Photos app.

Android: Hold Volume Down + Power for 1-2 seconds, an image will save to the ‘screenshots’ folder in the Gallery or Photos app.

Recognizing Bullying When it Happens

Bullying takes a lot of shapes and forms, but some of the more common warning signs that a kid has been bullied include: a noticeable change in mood and demeanor, trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, reduced interest in hobbies, nightmares, and not wanting to go to school. The best thing parents and those who work with young people can do is trust their gut, and if something seems wrong, ask about it face-to-face.

We will talk more about monitoring online activity in a separate post, but as it relates here, research indicates that parents typically do not catch bullying simply by keeping an eye on their son or daughter’s online activity.

What’s Next? A 5-Step Response

  1. First and foremost, the victim of bullying needs to be assured that they are, and will be, safe. Affirm them by listening. Victims say that being heard is the most helpful response. It is also important not to restrict completely their access or prohibit them from using their phone or the Internet. That can feel like a punishment, or like they were somehow responsible—neither of which is the case. Work out a plan for how they will respond if more bullying occurs, and encourage them (don’t demand) to block or remove whoever has been involved from their phone or social media accounts.
     
  2. Next, adults need to respond thoughtfully, not quickly. Investigate thoroughly, and document the evidence. Take screenshots if they have not been taken already.
     
  3. Reach out to the teen’s school and ask to set up an appointment with a principal or counselor to discuss the matter privately and explore solutions. Often students who bully others are doing so as a response to their own problems at home. Teachers and school counselors may know both sides of the situation, and are typically the most well-equipped to determine an appropriate intervention.
     
  4. Contact the phone or Internet service or content providers if necessary. Explain the situation in a calm, respectful manner and provide them with whatever evidence you have. Due to some of the very tragic extreme cases that have occurred as a result of bullying, most sites and services have a zero tolerance policy for bullying and will take the matter very seriously.
     
  5. Finally, in situations where a serious threat of harm has been made, or any kind of sexually explicit material has been shared with a minor, the local authorities ought to be notified. Courts have determined that the medium of communication through which a threat is made has no bearing on whether or not it can be considered a “true threat.”

It’s worth noting that while digital technology has provided a new channel through which bullies can inflict harm on others, it has not created a completely new problem. There is, we are reminded, nothing new under the sun. Bullying has always been a challenge facing kids and parents. The good news, if there is any in all of this, is that these kinds of harmful and damaging comments can now be captured and recorded when they are made online. So while some bullies might feel emboldened from behind their screens, it is also easier to stop this type of behavior with evidence than when it is simply one student’s word against another’s.

Have you had experience helping a young person deal with cyber-bullying? Share what strategies helped resolve the situation in the comments section below.

Here are some additional tools and resources:

VIA MEDIA How Young is Too Young for Digital Technology and Social Media?

Jul 15, 2014 Art Bamford

Photo by Monica.

This is part of an FYI series on navigating digital technology and social media with young people.
Read Part 1 here: VIA MEDIA A New Look @ Navigating Digital Technology with Young People

This is part of an FYI summer series on navigating digital technology and social media with young people. The question guiding these conversations is: How can we both thoughtfully address the potentially negative aspects and capitalize on the positive?

Many of you know firsthand how difficult today’s question is: At what age should a person start using a certain device, app, or social media platform?

When we talk with parents about this, many express feeling like they’re holding the line in a battle for as long as possible. There is constant pressure, from multiple sides, for kids to start using more and more digital technology at earlier ages.

That cultural pressure makes this question particularly tough. We can tell you what doctors recommend, what the national averages are, or various other pros and cons; but when your kids’ school tells you they need an email account, or their coach tells you they will be coordinating practice times by text message, or your teen comes home and tells you the irrefutable sad refrain “all my friends have one!”—the data seems to go out the window.

What the Doctors Say

In case you’re wondering, here is what medical professionals say: The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends having “screen free zones” in the house, especially a young person’s bedroom, as well as “screen free times” like during meals. They also recommend just one to two hours of entertainment screen time per day, and zero screen time at all for children under two years old.

Now don’t be too thrown off if those recommendations are not quite how it is in your house. Keep in mind that these are the same people who recommend brushing your teeth three times a day, sleeping eight hours a night, daily exercise, and a well-balanced diet—they set the bar at “best-case scenario.” But that best-case scenario is based on what’s good for our bodies, minds, and emotions. Aiming high never hurts.

That being said, there are several big takeaways that I want to share after having reviewed a number of relevant studies. First, a few key findings to consider, followed by some recommended tips and strategies for families and leaders.

Key Findings about Kids and Digital Technology

1. Online behavior tends to be very consistent with offline behavior.

Parents should discuss concerns about their teen offline: spending a lot of time with the opposite sex, easily distracted from homework, getting picked on by peers, and so on. It is easy to imagine any and every negative scenario that might happen, but you’re better off identifying and focusing on the more likely ones—which are the ones most similar to the concerns you already have about offline behavior.

2. Parents set the standards for the house.

You get what you give. Many parents and leaders might be best served by focusing on honoring their own screen-free zones and times, and limiting their number of hours per day on screens outside of work. I know that can be a hard pill to swallow, but seeing you struggle with it, and seeing how you work out accountability structures for yourself will have a big impact on your kids. In some cases they may even be your best allies—you hold them accountable for a lot of things; they’ll appreciate a chance to return the favor!

3. The primary reason young people actually use digital technology is to interact and communicate with friends, family, and peers.

(Here’s an earlier blog post with more details on that.) The second reason is to explore their hobbies and interests online—with gaming falling into this category since the interest itself (the games) are online. Any ways you can enhance their abilities to do these two things without technology may reduce their sense of needing or wanting the technology itself.

Tips and Strategies for Navigating the “When to Start” Question

  1. The magic number is 13. The minimum age required for Facebook, iTunes, G-Mail, Pinterest, SnapChat, and Instagram are all 13. Twitter no longer says so as required in their terms, but encourages parents to notify them of accounts for anyone under 13 (at: privacy@twitter.com) to be taken down. If you have a child under the age of 13 who is using these social media platforms, you can appeal to terms of use and the current law and draw a line. (Here is a helpful post from Adam McLane explaining the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) which made 13 the minimum age.) Service and user-agreements for various other devices, software, apps, and so on will often provide a mandatory minimum user age, typically to avoid legal liabilities. This should help parents make certain limits up to at least age 13.
  2. Talk with other parents, particularly at your church, and try to set community standards. A lot of parents read blogs like this one because they feel left on their own with these types of decisions. Coordinating with other parents provides some peace of mind, and can be helpful when teachers, coaches, scout leaders, and so on try to push towards using email/text/etc. by providing strength in numbers. “We signed a pledge with 10 other families at church that we aren’t going to let our kids have a smartphone until…” If you are a pastor or youth leader, think about facilitating something like this for parents. Your job will be easier too if most of the young people in your group are on the same page with this stuff![[Kevin Kelly, a Christian and the founding editor-in-chief of Wired magazine has a great chapter titled “Lessons of Amish Hackers” in his book What Technology Wants on the community discernment practices Mennonites use with regards to adopting new technology. Obviously you may not skew as lo-tech as the Pennsylvania Amish, but their process is great and could easily be adapted to fit your context.]]
  3. Remember when you are having these conversations that these devices are, to them, like the Air Jordans, Leather Jackets, Walkmans, belly-button rings—whatever it was that would set you apart as cool or uncool at their age. It is easy to get misdirected by questions of convenience, necessity, requirement for school, and so on. What is at stake for a lot of young people when they ask, then beg, for these things is a feeling of fitting in and self-worth. Take that into consideration, show them empathy, and don’t discredit how important something similar seemed to you at some point in your adolescent journey.
  4. Create a kind of “terms and conditions” plan with your teenager prior to giving them access to a device. Be generous in creating it and strict in enforcing it, rather than the other way around. Include timeframes for when the contract will be renegotiated/renewed based on certain expectations, like grades or help around the house. Contracts are helpful in setting boundaries, but also helpful with understanding the types of contractual relationships they will enter into as adults. In keeping with our first tip above, it might be helpful for parents to also have some responsibilities in this contract.

    Common Sense Media offers free sample agreements for grades K-5, 6-8, and 9-12. The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding (CPYU) also has a sample family covenant.

    We might also suggest adding a relevant Bible verse to your family’s covenant (e.g. Ephesians 4:29, “Let no evil words come from you, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who receive them.”) to remind your kids that being a Christian applies to communicating digitally as much as it does to communicating face-to-face. Online behavior tends to be very consistent with offline behavior—that can be a good thing, too!

Have you tried an agreement like the ones we have described? We would love for you to post your ideas in the comments section below to help other parents and leaders.

Similarly, if your church has tried to set community standards like what we’ve described, tell us how that went. What were the biggest challenges? What commitments emerged?

VIA MEDIA Part 1: A New Look @ Navigating Digital Technology with Young People
VIA MEDIA Part 2: How Young is Too Young for Digital Technology and Social Media?

VIA MEDIA Part 3: Sticks and Phones: Preventing Digital Bullying
VIA MEDIA Part 4: My [Own] Space: Supervision vs. Surveillance

 

VIA MEDIA: A New Look @ Navigating Digital Technology with Young People

Jul 10, 2014 Art Bamford

Photo by Benjamin Caldwell.

Would you believe that the percentages of young people who report sexting, feeling bullied or harassed on social media, and having seen explicit images online are all declining?

Or that a large percentage of young people have told researchers that some of their happiest memories of time spent with their families have centered around things like creating music playlists, online family Christmas cards, and digital scrapbooks?

This is the first post in a series from FYI this summer called Via Media. In this series we’ll be taking an in-depth look at emerging research and strategies related to social media and digital technology. We chose our title, Via Media, for two reasons:

  1. Via Media is a Latin phrase that simply means “middle way.” So much of our talk about how digital technology is reshaping our world and impacting the lives of young people tends to skew towards the negative, and we we’ve all participated in some of those types of conversations. But if there is one thing that top researchers in this field seem to agree on, as we will see, it is that things are not nearly as bad as they are made to seem. That may not ring very true if one of your daughter’s close friends recently got caught sending provocative pictures of herself to a boy at school, or if your son hasn’t looked up from his smart phone for more than thirty seconds yet this summer. But on the whole, the research is finding that teenagers are not as out of control as we think. 

    That tendency of ours to focus on the concerns raised by digital technology also tends to make us oblivious to how these tools have potential to make life better, or can enrich our relationships with each other. There are great opportunities available to all of us, no matter what age, as a result of things like smart phones, tablets, and social media. The trick is figuring out that “middle way”—and that is what this series will be all about. How can we both thoughtfully address the potentially negative aspects and capitalize on the positive?
     
  2. Via Media also reminds us of something about the nature of technology in general. “Media” used to mean the middle, or something centered in between two sides. Today “media” often function as the center between people, connecting us with one another. Communication theorist and scholar Marshall McLuhan once famously described media as being “the extensions of [people]”—media amplifies our ability to do certain things, but what those things are and how we actually use technology remains up to us. For that reason one of McLuhan’s former colleagues, Neil Postman, told a group of researchers in 2000: “To be quite honest about it, I don’t see any point in studying media unless one does so within a moral or ethical context.” It is easy to forget that we still have control over how we choose to use the tools at our disposal. Our decision-making process, guided by our faith, is the heart of the matter, not the devices themselves or even expert-recommended “best practices.”

This series aims to adequately address the very genuine concerns so many parents, pastors, and youth leaders have with regard to digital technology and social media. Some of our anxieties are well founded. We’ll share tools and strategies for steering clear of the real threats and pitfalls. However, our hope is that you won’t just feel relieved but also encouraged! Things are not nearly as bad as they seem, and there are lots of exciting opportunities that tend to get overlooked amid the concerns.

So stay tuned and join us in trying to navigate this Via Media. Considering how fast things are changing, and new research findings continue to emerge, its tricky to stay ahead of the curve. If you have a burning question you hope we’ll answer, post it in the comments below. Let’s figure this out together.

VIA MEDIA Part 1: A New Look @ Navigating Digital Technology with Young People
VIA MEDIA Part 2: How Young is Too Young for Digital Technology and Social Media?

VIA MEDIA Part 3: Sticks and Phones: Preventing Digital Bullying
VIA MEDIA Part 4: My [Own] Space: Supervision vs. Surveillance

 

High School Service Trips, Part 3: Reflecting on the Experience

Jul 01, 2014 Matt Laidlaw

In Post 1 and Post 2 in this series, I shared about the history of our youth ministry’s service trips, our transition process, and the new opportunity we innovated for our students and volunteers. After a year of planning, last summer a group of students and adult volunteers participated in our new service trip to Detroit, Michigan. Our students demonstrated an extraordinary amount of respect, compassion, and love during this experience. They worked hard, didn’t complain, and reinforced our belief that high school students are capable of much more than most adults usually assume and expect.

At several points throughout each day, and during an extended time of debriefing each evening, students and volunteers reflected on what they were experiencing. They shared how they were being challenged to rethink some of their assumptions about life and faith. Several students shared the following reflections:

  • A storm destroyed Mississippi, but people destroyed Detroit.
  • We are the story of the “Good Samaritan,” but most of the time we’re the religious people who didn’t help the suffering person.
  • The love of Jesus is a beautiful, unique thing.
  • The historical connection and conflict between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam is anything but simple.
  • It’s not okay to take your experience with a small number of people and project that experience onto their entire religion or culture.
  • I didn’t feel “welcome” where we were working today, but then again, if a bunch of people who looked different than me showed up in my neighborhood uninvited, I might not want to welcome them either.
  • We didn’t accomplish much this week. The problems here are bigger than a few people giving money or time. The system is messed up. That’s what needs to be fixed.

In response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” students shared:

  • People we don’t understand
  • People with different beliefs
  • Immigrants
  • Enemies
  • Refugees
  • Those we would last want to accept as our neighbor
  • Anyone who needs me to be a neighbor
  • People being silently persecuted by their own religion
  • Everyone

We have continued to process this experience together as a team over the past year, and we suspect that further learning, discovery, and opportunities to serve will continue to flow from this trip in the lives of our students and volunteers.

Our year of planning, building consensus, and inviting collaboration and support from our community all contributed to the success of this trip. However, not everything went completely as planned. We learned plenty of lessons that we only could have learned by executing our first trip. There are certain aspects of the trip we could have better prepared our volunteers for as they led our students. Although well intentioned, several situations with our partners created awkward interactions for our students and the individuals we were attempting to learn from and serve.

And when construction begins on transportation routes you were planning on utilizing, or when restaurants you were planning on visiting close without warning, you realize that having a “Plan B” for every situation is necessary on a trip that you are designing from scratch.

We’re also working to assess what the future of an experience like this might be for our community. The consensus among the group involved in this trip was that the trip is definitely worth replicating. We want to strengthen and deepen the relationships we started. However, how often we should offer this trip and to how many students are questions we’re still exploring. We’re also working to discover ways to make the trip more cost effective, making adjustments to the trip itinerary, and exploring other potential partners to work with in the Detroit area.

Questions for your own context:

  • What stories or reflections have you gathered from your students during previous service or mission trips? What do they tell you about the trip experience? In what ways were they surprising?
  • What opportunities for storytelling or reflection do you offer your students and your community during or following your service experience?
  • How do you evaluate service and mission trips once you return home? What factors do you consider when attempting to look at the past and plan for the future?
  • Have you ever been on a trip with your students and had to improvise? What did you learn from the experience and how could you be better prepared with a “Plan B” on future trips?
  • What kind of formal preparation and post-trip processing do you plan for your students and volunteers who participate on the trip? How has this been helpful, and in what ways do you need improve?