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Communication—What Are My Values? Book Excerpt #4

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

Here is excerpt #4 from the new book we are working on, Who’s Raising Our Kids? Nurturing Human Values in a Digital World (©2017). See our post from October 1 for excerpt #1.

Excerpt #4:

Presenting in California about the effect of media technology on relationships, I led a workshop with the high school seniors. The school had just instituted a media policy that prohibited students from having cell phones during class or at lunch. The younger students seemed to be taking this in stride but the seniors, who were used to using their cell phones whenever they wanted, were outraged. As one 17-year-old put it, “What do they expect us to do? Just sit there and eat our lunch, staring at each other? What are we supposed to say, ‘Oh, hi, how are you?’!”

Yes, that would be good. The school understood that it was part of their job to prevent media technology (MT) from continuously buffering their students from face-to-face experiences. They understood that face-to-face communication fosters not only social skills and self-awareness, but it is instrumental in teaching children how to become compassionate participants in the world.

Later in this book, we create a family plan that promotes face-to-face communication. For now, let’s remind ourselves that social media and texting are here to stay and, when used ethically, can be powerful forces for good. We wouldn’t want to reject the cyber world even if we could. We want our children to enter this world with a strong sense of identity that is grounded in human values.

Laura is telling me about a Snapchat she sent the night before to a guy, a friend-of-a-friend. “I was laying in bed, I don’t know, I was half asleep or something, and we were just fooling around, kind of teasing each other. So I took this photo of me laying in bed in just my bra. I really wasn’t going to send it because I know how stupid that is, but then it just got sent. It’s crazy. Like I wasn’t even really thinking of sending it. So now I’m freaking that he could have taken a screen shot. I don’t think he would, but I bet he’ll tell my friend.”

Laura is not stupid; she is a teenager and very aware of the power she yields in attracting guys. She should be feeling this power and figuring out how she wants to use it, but not at night, and not on Snapchat.

Parenting Tip:

Under no circumstances should children have a smartphone in their bedroom at night.  They won’t get enough sleep. There is no teen or pre-teen that has the capacity to disconnect from their peers, who are all awake with smartphones. I know they use it for an alarm clock—really lame excuse. I know they will say they use it to wind down.  That’s not true. Being a teenager is being hardwired to connect with your peers. They cannot resist. And we are naïve to think that they can.

Today, understanding the importance of thinking before you speak and pausing before you click has to be built into our parenting or we risk our children harming themselves or others before they even get out of middle school. We will talk more about helping children develop the muscle of self-discipline in Chapter Six. But, independent of the personal damage a snarky comment or thoughtless photo can have, it’s important that our children know that each of us has the power, through the words and images that we choose, to alter and shape our environment. Each of us has the power to bring toxicity to an environment or to create a space that reflects honesty and acceptance. Now more than ever, children need to learn that their words never disappear but contribute to a larger social contract that either supports the values we believe in or creates a jungle of predatory egos. Words matter, as do images, whether at the dinner table, between siblings, when you’re texting, or when you are hiding behind a tweet.

Throughout the book we will continue to look at the many ways MT affects how children learn to communicate. For now, it’s enough to begin thinking about how MT has changed the ways your family communicates for the better and for the worse. Ask yourself, “What do I want my child to understand about communication that will apply no matter what form of communication he is using? What are my values?”

As parents and educators, we always have had the responsibility of holding children accountable for how and what they communicate. Good manners, being polite, and civil discourse are essential to being part of the human family. In the internet age where anything you say can go viral, learning these qualities of ethical communication is essential. So think about it. Do you believe that what you say reflects the character of who you are?  Even if it disappears in three seconds? Even if you are “just joking”? Even if “everyone talks like that”? Even if it’s only 140 characters? It’s important to discuss these questions with your children and to be clear that your values hold true, no matter the medium.

What do you want your child to understand about communication that will apply no matter what form of communication s/he is using? What are your values?

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Communication—Snapchat Streaks and Emojis: Book Excerpt #3

Thursday, October 26th, 2017

We began October by posting excerpts from a new book we are working on, Who’s Raising Our Kids? Nurturing Human Values in a Digital World (©2017).  Excerpt #2 ended with us breaking down media technology (MT) into three categories: communication, entertainment, and information. These three categories help us take a deeper look at how we are engaging with MT and how MT is shaping how our kid understand themselves and the world they live in. In this next excerpt, we take a closer look at our first category: communication.

Excerpt #3:

Let’s start with communication.

What follows are two scenarios from my private practice. As you read, think about what is missing from the relationships described. What do children need from us to understand the importance of communication and its impact on friendship, intimacy, sexuality, and a strong sense of self?

Elsa, 13, is in my office, crying.  Her boyfriend of six months has broken up with her.  “How did it happen?” I ask. “He broke our streak!” she tells me. Now, because I see a great many teens, I know that a streak is the number of consecutive days that you have Snapchatted with someone. The length of your streak is ranked by the emojis next to your friend’s and your names and, for many 13-year-olds, emojis define the relationship. Today the streak had been broken.

“What did he say?” I ask.

“I haven’t talked to him,” she replies.

“Not at all?” I ask.

“He broke our streak!  We’ve slipped to a yellow heart!”

“But you don’t really know what happened. Why don’t you call him?” I ask, risking her disdain that I could even imagine any other reason for his non-response.

“That would be too weird,” she replies. “He doesn’t like to talk on the phone.”

How is Elsa’s understanding of relationship being defined by the Snapchat platform? What is Elsa learning? What is she not learning?

On the same day, Amelia, 14, is in my office. She starts the session telling me that she is no longer interested in Byron.

“Why?” I ask.

“Well, he sent me something really disgusting on Snapchat,” she says.

“Oh,” I reply. “That sounds disappointing; I know you liked him. How did you respond?”

“I didn’t do anything,” she replies.

“Did you let him know you thought what he did was disgusting?”

“Oh no,” she says, sheepishly. “I didn’t want to break our streak.”

We can dismiss these scenarios as the insignificant drama of young teens. But it pays to look a little deeper. Adolescence is a time when learning how to negotiate the subtleties of social situations and handle emotions that come with one’s budding sexuality is far more important than learning how to take standardized tests. Yet, not only do we not teach children how to negotiate these challenges in an ethical way, we leave them to the structures of social media platforms to guide and make sense of these formative explorations. Snapchat seems to be designed with the young adolescent in mind. They can flirt, tease, and push the boundaries of intimacy, without risking the awkward pauses that come when trying to figure out if someone likes you or struggling to find the words to express complex feelings. The effort of getting to know someone is reduced to remembering to send a picture before 24 hours has passed. Who thinks to tell our children that sending naked pictures of themselves not only puts them at risk socially, but also betrays a sense of privacy that gives intimate relationships meaning and value? We don’t tell them because we do not live in a world where bits of ourselves can be sent instantaneously to anyone and, just as quickly, disappear. It was just a moment’s titillation, nothing more. How important can it be?

Have you ever watched a group of teens hanging out together? They do absolutely nothing. They just hang, often they mumble at each other, make a joke, tease, flirt, absorb each other’s company. Nothing is happening, yet from the perspective of adolescent development, everything is happening. They are exploring their sexual attraction, testing their capacity to express feelings, learning how others connect or detach, and coping with rejection. They are becoming part of a tribe, the tribe of their generation. Have you watched a group of teens hang together lately? They are all on their phones, perhaps texting or snapchatting the person right next to them, safe from the anxiety of having to engage with complex sentences, the intensity of eye contact, or the subtle nuances of body language. In this MT world, you can’t see the immediate consequences of saying something inappropriate, and will not learn to find the acceptable line between flirtation and aggression. All of these experiences have been flattened and can be negotiated with emojis. The brilliance of social media is that it buffers the teen from the pain and anxiety of face-to-face social engagement, while at the same time offering continuous social connection.

What do children need from us to understand the importance of communication and its impact on friendship, intimacy, sexuality, and a strong sense of self?

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Welcome to the New World, Leave Your Values at Home: Book Excerpt #2

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

Here is excerpt #2 from the new book we are working on, Who’s Raising Our Kids? Nurturing Human Values in a Digital World (©2017). See our post from October 1 for excerpt #1.

Excerpt #2:

My first clinical job as a therapist was working with immigrant families. These families had given everything they had for the chance to raise their kids in America; their hard work and sacrifice were inspiring. But these families were in trouble: both the structure and hierarchy of the family were being turned upside down. The teens in the family had equal if not greater power and status than their parents and grandparents. These teens had embraced the American culture that their parents had fought so hard to give them. They knew the language and understood the cultural norms of America better than their parents, elevating their status in the family and giving their opinions greater weight. This made it harder for parents to influence their behavior. These teens did not feel the need to listen and learn from the experience and wisdom of previous generations. But they were teens.

They needed a framework to help them understand, prioritize, and give meaning to all the new, fast, and exciting experiences they were having. They needed context that could root them in a value system and support them in assimilating the new, while sustaining a core identity grounded by a strong family. They needed parents who were not intimidated by this new culture, but secure in their values and aware that only with a strong sense of identity would their children fully benefit from the abundance of America.

Too often I saw parents helplessly watch as their values and traditions were diminished and their opinions dismissed. The American culture that that they sacrificed so much to provide was pushing their children farther and farther from the influence of their perspective and values.

Not all families underwent this disintegration. In the families that survived and thrived, parents held their place in the family hierarchy and maintained the power to say “no.” They structured their children’s engagement with American culture and insisted on time together as a family: when family values could be taught and sustained; when information and experiences could be brought into a meaningful context. Values, goals, and actions considered worthy of effort were both articulated and implicitly understood because parents modeled this behavior and structured how the family spent its time. Basic traditions and rituals—such as cooking and eating together, communicating respectfully to elders, and nurturing relationships with extended family—were honored. Maintaining these traditions reinforced the values that the parents held dear: loyalty, respect, integrity, gratitude, and generosity. The older generations took every opportunity to tell family stories that reinforced these values. These immigrant parents were proud that their children were becoming Americanized and, at the same time, were creating a bridge from the old to the new. With the advent of the internet, smartphones, and social media, we are all immigrant parents struggling to assimilate and thrive in a new world. Our children know more about this world than we do and they always will. The online world is changing so rapidly that we are facing a reality in which each generation of parents will have immigrant status in relation to their children. When the virtual reality revolution hits full swing, the contrast between generations will be even greater. Faced with this relentless acceleration, it has never been more important to think through our values and determine what we want our children to take with them as they navigate this new world.

Like immigrant parents, we want our children to experience the resources that the cyber world offers. We know they will need to master this environment in order to survive and thrive. We’ve worked hard to give them these opportunities. But now we need to examine our own values, evaluate how they are supported or diminished by this new world, and create structures for our children that nurture and support their well-being.

Where do we begin?

Media technology is so big and so embedded in our lives that it helps to break it down into specific, understandable parts. In my work with children and families, I have observed three distinct ways in which children engage the cyber world that have profound effects on how they think about themselves and the world they live in:

  • Communication – texting and social media, including Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter
  • Entertainment – video games, porn, Netflix, vlogs, and gaming apps
  • Information – Google™, Wikipedia®, Huffington Post, and Drudge

As parents and educators, we must look at how each of these three ways affects our children’s attitudes and behavior. Then we should ask ourselves:

  • What do we want our children to understand about using the internet in each of these ways?
  • What are our values when it comes to communication, entertainment, and information?
  • What kind of practical conversations and ethical guidelines will bridge the gap between our values and those of the cyber world?

If we take the time to do this work and model this behavior, we can support our children’s assimilation into this new world while retaining firmly rooted values that will keep them healthy, happy, and strong.

What are the values you want your children and/or students to bring with them into this new world?

 

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Nurturing Human Values in a Digital World: Book Excerpt #1

Sunday, October 1st, 2017

Dear Readers,

Happy Fall! I hope you are all enjoying the excitement and energy of the new school year and are finding moments to refresh and renew. Chelsea and I have been traveling and presenting to schools across the country and continue to be moved by the continuous investment of time, care, and love that teachers and administrators pour into their work. We are inspired by the parents, who show up to our presentations, after a full day of work, hoping to find ways to better help their children become healthy, responsible human beings.

We live at a time when values, like saying what you mean and being accountable for your words, can seem arcane.  And we are all witnessing what happens when words no longer matter. But how do we convey our values to our children, who more and more live in a digital world? Wherever Chelsea and I go,  whether we are presenting on Sex and Sexuality or the Freedom of Self-Control, the questions return again and again to how we can teach values to children in an internet driven culture. Nothing seems more relevant.

Chelsea and I have spoken on this topic throughout the country.  We have so much information to share. Many of you have asked for the book. For the next few months we are going to be blogging excerpts from the book we’ve been working on: Who’s Raising Our Kids? Nurturing Human Values in a Digital World. We would love your feedback. This is a large and complex subject, so please bear with us, as we break it down and construct what we hope will be practical information that you can use with your child, today. Let us know how it goes!

Excerpt from Who’s Raising Our Kids? Nurturing Human Values in a Digital World (©2017):

“You have to understand that [my daughter] Laura is an ‘A’ student. I never dreamed that I should be looking at her texts or emails. Then, last night I get a call from the parents of one of her guy friends; I knew she had a crush on him. His parents found nude pictures of Laura on their son’s computer. Why would she do that? I can’t get her to talk to me, and now she won’t even go to school. Do I take away her phone? It doesn’t seem possible to keep her off of social media.”

Our children live in a different world than we do. For that matter, our younger children are growing up in a different world than their older siblings. High school students in my private practice are stunned by what their middle school brothers and sisters are doing online. Whether it’s shock over a daughter’s sense of privacy (or lack thereof), fear of a son’s rage when removed from his video games, or dismay over students’ inability to sustain focus, parents and educators are swimming as fast as they can to keep up.

We all work hard to provide our children with the amazing tools of technology; we understand that giving them access to technology is vital if they are going to succeed. But what we are not prepared for is how these tools have morphed into a cyber environment that is altering our children’s behavior and changing how they interpret reality. Media technology (MT) is shaping how our children know who they are and what the world is about, how they form and understand friendship, how they determine right from wrong, and how they define happiness and success.

It is easy to get caught up in all that MT offers and lose sight of what is missing. Who hasn’t been captured by the magic of a new app that can find a song, identify a bird, locate the best restaurant, or tell you which constellation you are looking at on a star-filled night? How can we not be in awe of the human potential that is unleashed when so much information can be shared in every corner of the globe?

As we embrace this new technology, it is important that we are not blind to the limits of the cyber world. MT cannot provide the human context that helps our children understand what has meaning and value. Families transmit this human context from generation to generation through traditions, stories, conversations, and family relationships. It is this web of experiences that acculturates each generation of children to what the family understands is good and true. From this foundation, the child develops his personal values and identity, and learns how to make sense of the world.

In the accelerated world of the internet, it has become harder for families to provide this human context. As media technology consumes more and more of our time, human values like integrity, generosity, and respect for privacy compete with the cyber world that values fast, new, stimulating, and busy. We see the shift in our children’s attitudes and behavior but we don’t know what to do. (To be continued…)

As parents and educators, how do you sustain this human context and support your children in bringing human values into the digital world?

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Let’s Talk about Love!

Monday, September 28th, 2015

Sharon: Love, love, love, love! Summer love, first love, true love, endless love. Love plays such an important part in how we think about romantic relationships and make decisions about intimacy, but we rarely, if ever, explore what that feeling really is or discuss how we know if it is real.

Chelsea: It’s so easy to dismiss teen infatuation, but stop to think about your first real crush—your body and mind endlessly preoccupied in daydreams, the intoxicating rush every time you saw that person, the giddy excitement when you finally talked or just made eye contact, the relentless obsessing about whether or not they really liked you. Your body floods with chemicals. Songs become full of meaning and importance—Ahhh, this must be what all those movies and songs are talking about. How easy is it to think that these overwhelming feelings are proof that you are in love? And really, who’s to say this isn’t love? Where do we draw the line between love, crush, lust, and infatuation?

Sharon: We start by first acknowledging the power and beauty of these feelings. But then we have to go further. We need to have conversations about the qualities that make a healthy, loving relationship, and give kids the information they need to sort out their feelings. Most teens say that their decision to have sex for the first time was based on “being in love.”

Chelsea: In our Sexual Health and Responsibility Curriculum, we give a homework assignment for the students to ask their parents, “When do you think it is OK for a person to have sex?” They write up what each parent says and then add a paragraph explaining what they believe. 

Sharon: The most common response from parents is “when you’re in love.” That’s fine but it doesn’t go far enough.

Chelsea: From Cinderella to The Bachelor, from Twilight to One Direction, we are taught from a young age to base some of our most important life decisions on love—an all-encompassing, magical power that captivates our being, mind, body, and soul. But, who is exploring what love actually is? Who is helping teens navigate this new and exciting world of emotions?

Sharon: If we don’t do it, the media will, and does. In our absence, the media is defining love. And we see this influence in our discussions with students.

Chelsea: When students share this answer—when you’re in love—we always follow with: How do you know if you’re in love? How do you know if someone loves you? What does it mean to be in love?

Their answers tell us a lot about the culture we live in:

  • “When you give each other gifts.”
  • “When you are always thinking about the other person.”
  • “When you put the other person’s needs before your own.”

Sharon: It’s so important for students to see how their ideas about romantic love are being shaped by popular culture.

We have the students analyze different forms of popular media and look for messages about what constitutes “love” and a “good relationship.” I’m always excited by how much kids enjoy this part of the curriculum: teens are hungry to analyze and talk about the messages they are receiving every day.

Chelsea: These are some of our most dynamic conversations. Given the prevalence of relationship abuse among teens, it’s particularly important to help students see how our culture supports notions of love that can often lead to unhealthy and even abusive relationships.

Sharon: As parents and educators, we must add our voices to this conversation. We need to begin and sustain a dialogue about love and healthy relationships. “The Talk” is not nearly as simple as providing details on the biology of sexual intercourse. We must explore:

  • What is the relationship between love and sex?
  • How does the media shape our understanding of love?
  • What are the qualities of a healthy romantic relationship?
  • How do the Internet and smart phones complicate relationships and our understanding of intimacy?

Chelsea: And despite what children say, they are interested in hearing what you have to say on these topics. I remember rolling my eyes and telling my mom that I already knew everything she could possibly have to say, while secretly hoping this would not deter her efforts.

Sharon: That is such an important point. As a parent trying to survive the eye-rolling phase, you feel anxious, irritated, and ridiculous all at the same time. It’s exhausting to have to constantly remember that what you say matters, especially when you get absolutely no positive reinforcement.

Chelsea: And, of course, I’d report those totally embarrassing conversations to my friends, knowing that they were as eager to hear about these things as I was.

Sharon: We’re interested to hear what you think about this topic. Add your comments below and let us know what you think. Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What have you heard and observed from children/teens about their understanding of love?
  • What do you see as the biggest factors influencing that understanding?
  • Have you brought up the topic of love in the classroom or with your children at home? How did it go?

We look forward to hearing from you soon!

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The Power of Self-Reflection

Friday, May 29th, 2015

Welcome!

Sharon: Throughout my travels over the last few years, I’ve met so many outstanding educators and parents, beautiful human beings, passionate about offering children an environment where they can grow and learn. I have had so many inspiring conversations that ended way too soon.

Now that Chelsea has become my associate, I finally have the time and technical know-how to create a space where we can continue the conversation, share ideas, and inspire each other. Each post will have a topic for discussion. What are your thoughts? How have you explored this topic with children, whether in the classroom or living room? How have they responded? Concrete examples and anecdotal stories give all of us ideas that we can work with.

The topic on the table for this post is self-reflection.

Many of you have heard me speak about the effect of an over stimulating, media-driven culture on the well being of our children. In my presentation iChild or I, child, I speak about how helping kids develop the practice of self-reflection provides an antidote to the barrage of stimulation and information they must navigate every day. By nurturing the capacity to self-reflect, we help the child develop a trusting relationship with their own self. Knowing oneself, trusting oneself, becomes the foundation for healthy, responsible decision-making.

In the last six months Chelsea and I have had the honor of engaging with hundreds of students on the concept of self-reflection, which is the core principle of our Sexual Health and Responsibility Curriculum.

Chelsea: We have been truly inspired by their insights. In the class, we speak about the importance of developing a relationship with yourself, especially as you are going through puberty—as everything else is changing, you can always depend on that relationship. As a homework assignment, we ask the students to engage daily in a self-reflection exercise for one week and to keep a journal of their experiences. We provide them with some exercises to choose from—art, meditation, walking in nature—and we also encourage them to come up with their own ways. At the end of the week they write a letter to themselves, which begins “Dear Best Friend.” Their responses have been so heartfelt and thoughtful. We have paraphrased some below:

  • It was nice to have time alone with myself to know how I feel about things.
  • When I was doing this, I experienced going into this sort of zone where I could go inside myself.
  • When I wrote the letter I could really see how I felt about things, I could see how many responsibilities I have, and it was really nice to get a lot of my feelings out.
  • Journaling was different than just thinking about how I felt. Writing it down gave me a chance to see what I was thinking and feeling, and it mattered.
  • When I meditated it was really nice because it was like this quiet space inside of myself.

Sharon: It’s important to note that the journal and their letters are just for them and we do not collect the assignment. That would have betrayed the point. However, many of the students were eager to share.

Chelsea: Exactly, by asking them to simply talk about what the experience was like, their effort was validated, and they could hear how their classmates had found their own unique ways to reflect. Some felt connected to themselves when they were swimming laps or dribbling a basketball, others stared at the ceiling as they lay in bed at night and reviewed their day.

Sharon: Two things stood out for me. One is the power of journaling—they really saw the value in writing down their experiences. The other is the number of kids that talked about how little time they actually have to themselves. They shared about how busy they were and how little time they had to just daydream or think their own thoughts. Some talked about only having time to think when they were in the car going to their next activity. So many after school activities and opportunities to learn! It’s clear that the parents are working very hard to give children every advantage. All of which is wonderful if it can be balanced with just a little time to reflect on what it all means, what you think and feel about things, how you are making sense of your life.

Chelsea: I’m reminded of a wonderful mother of a five-year-old I met with when I was in college. She wanted to discuss what she could do to best prepare her daughter to get into a good college. The mother wanted the best for her daughter and was hoping to offer her every possibility in a very competitive world—a world where children are often evaluated as a sum of extracurricular activities and grades. It seems ironic that we keep children so busy that they rarely have a quiet moment to sit and reflect on what they think or what interests them until they are asked to write their college application essay and then suddenly they need to find their voice. I shared with the mother how my experience of developing my voice and discovering my passions had always been a balance of stimulating engagement in the world and the space to engage with my own thoughts and opinions. Developing your voice isn’t something that just happens over night, it is a continuous process, a continuous inner dialogue, that can only begin when a child has silent time and space to reflect.

Sharon: I invite each of you to share how in the classroom and at home you support the child’s capacity to self-reflect. Do you meditate? Do you have quiet moments to journal? Is there space in the schedule for children to develop an inner dialogue, to nurture a relationship with themselves? I invite you to share your thoughts, ideas, and concrete ways that you nurture children’s capacity to self-reflect.

 

With great respect and admiration for all you do,

Sharon and Chelsea

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