A quick observation:
Invariably, one of the concerns that educators raise when going down the social technology conversation any length is the “balance” issue, as in we need to maintain a balance between our online and offline lives. The concern is usually raised in the context of too many kids are out of balance, spending too much time on the computer and not enough time engaged in skinning their knees or having face to face interactions with real live humans that will let them practice the important social skills that they are in the process of losing. As a parent, I hear that. Many are usually shocked to find out that I limit the amount of time my kids can just surf around on the Web and play games or update their Facebook pages or watch silly YouTube videos. They’re 10 and 12, and at that age, and especially now that the weather is warming up, I want them out and about, shooting hoops, jumping on the trampoline, riding their bikes, building forts, helping to mulch the garden (fat chance) and having “fun”. That’s our parenting choice, and I’m in no way saying it’s the only choice or the right choice for every kid or whatever. It’s just the way we’ve decided to approach it. They get their share of time online, and they can negotiate for more if they are doing something creative or productive. But by and large that’s what “balance” is for them.
And let me just say that I struggle with the balance thing in my own life as well. I go through phases where I definitely spend too much time on the computer. (Just ask my wife.) I’m currently in one of my stepping back modes, not playing as much on Twitter, trying to spend more time reading and writing deeply instead of in 140 characters (as evidenced by the recent spurt of posts here.) Plus I’ve got basketball practices and games to drive kids to, grass to cut, etc. Sometimes, balance is forced upon you.
But here is the thing: the reality is that most of those folks who are concerned about kids needing balance are out of balance themselves, just in the opposite way. They’re not online enough, not reading, writing, participating, connecting and creating in these spaces as much as they need to be to fully understand the implications of these technologies for their own learning and for the kids in their classrooms. Lately, when I’ve been responding to people about the “balance” question, I go with “well, actually, you’re out of balance too, you know.” I get this kind of stunned silence. What a concept.
I’m all for balance, but if we’re going to make that a “concern” around technology use, let’s be willing to admit that it goes both ways.
Shelly Blake-Plock says
Participating. Connecting. Creating. Learning.
That’s it, man.
Michelle Baldwin says
I’m thinking that, with the focus on childhood obesity in our country, many are siding with those who mostly stay unplugged- even if that’s only an excuse for not truly understanding the benefits of online activities. A large majority of educators and parents are willing to risk being ‘unbalanced’ on the side of unplugging.
From my own experience, I feel completely out of touch when I don’t plug in enough. I miss education news, collaboration with others in my field, and the sense of community that plugging in provides me. You’re spot on… this side of the balancing equation is definitely the most misunderstood.
Thanks for this post. I plan to use it as a discussion point at an education conference I’m attending next week.
M. Walker says
Will, My wife and I also limit our kids screen time (and she rightly tries to limit mine!), but have allowed them to have Webkinz, use Scratch and now start blogging. A few months ago, one of my 11 year old’s friends “friended” me on Facebook. Since Facebook’s TOS,/a> says users need to be 13, I told him that I’d be happy to friend him then. I’ve heard you reference your children’s use of Facebook before, and have always wondered your reasons for moving them into Facebook at an age younger than recommended?
I guess from my perspective, they grow up fast as it is.
Will Richardson says
It’s a great question. First, let me say that while my son has an account, he’s not using it at all. He doesn’t care yet. My daughter uses hers in spurts. Actually, we re just notified by her school that there was a bullying incident on FB of late that was concerning. Our decision to put them on early had more to do with our desire to teach them from the beginning what FB is all about rather than having them learn the basics from their peers who may or may not have been taught anything about it. I think it made it less interesting to them as we were able to set some context, so it wasn’t like they were doing it behind our backs. Make sense?
Shane Kennedy says
In my Grade 6 class, 90% are on FB. None of them are over 13. Although I can see the logic in introducing it early in a supervised manner, it is still breaking the TOS.
What if we changed Grade 6 to Year 9 and the 90% using FB to 90% drinking, smoking or driving cars. Would we be more concerned?
It is hard enough for an adult to decide which rules to follow and which to break? How do we teach that to a 10 year old?
Vanessa Olson says
Great post! Not only did it remind me that it’s OK for me to pull back and spend less time on the computer, but it also helped me to formulate a better argument to use with those who aren’t “reading, writing, participating, connecting and creating in these spaces as much as they need to be to fully understand the implications of these technologies for their own learning and for the kids in their classrooms.” If we are to teach students to become self-directed learners and effective users of Web 2.0 technologies, we must be those things ourselves.
Keith Ferrell says
Fantastic observation – one that never really gets noticed or brought to the surface.
Kate W says
Gee, I’m definitely unbalanced on the side of on-the-computer-too-much, and I still worry about balance for others as well as myself, but it never occured to me to worry specifically about students. Argh! Another worry!
Brian Kuhn says
My kids are 22, 21, and 17 now but when they were growing up, we definitely helped them manage device time. Now back when they were 11 and 12, the Internet was a much simpler (boring) place but computer games, TV time, same problems. Balance is key for sure.
Personally, I unplug regularly. I don’t have twitter or any real useful Internet access on my smartphone, don’t use Facebook unless someone messages me or friends me, etc. It’s super important to me not to be overly connected. I like to read books and magazines (the old school physical types). I actually think it might be unhealthy to be too connected… my two cents worth 🙂
Hugo Lopez says
I am forever ebbing and flowing in and out of balance – work vs personal; online vs off and everything in between. However, I recently came across this quote that helps keep me in the moment wherever that might be.
“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things. ~ Robert Brault
Cat White says
We just had a discussion at a committee meeting Tuesday night about this topic (there was a lot of concern about “addiction” issues). Thanks for a timely post I can pass on!
I appreciated your 05:53:51 response about Facebook and your kids. I think there is something to the demystification of things that makes the fruit less forbidden. When I was a kid, I remember the time my aunts served wine with the spaghetti. I was shocked but drank it and thought it tasted awful. My parents used to leave my sister and I a tiny amount of wine in a glass for New Years Eve–it tasted SO BAD we used to pour it out. I didn’t drink AT ALL until college (even though, back in the dark ages of 3.2 beer, it was legal when I was a Senior).
Michael Kuhne says
I like your comment to the “out-of-balance” question/challenge. Raising children has really forced me to think not only theoretically but also practically. I have a daughter who was bullied on Facebook for about six months before I knew; I have a son who loves baseball, but what happens when he wants to “play” online more than he wants to play in the dirt and grass? What about my own uses? What does it tell me when, at the end of a long day in front of the computer, my eyes are dry and strained and my neck hurts? It’s not a panacea, but I often think just continuing to raise the question of balance is probably the healthiest approach.
Damianne President says
I was thinking earlier today that being balanced means different things to different people. My question to myself was why is balance so important? It’s axiomatic it seems but I wanted to break it down. I think it comes down to being healthy – physically, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually etc. Do you need to be online to be completely healthy? For myself, the answer is clearly yes. Is that so for all educators? I can probably make a case yes. For all people? Need to think of a proof …
Really thought provoking post. Totally turned my thinking around. I think it’s very difficult for some (me) educators to relinquish how we learned and to challenge ourselves to think outside the box. I understand the need for change and am a little afraid of the steep learning curve that I am on. I also fear that not all parents are like you…they are not supervising or fully understanding the expansive world their children are facing online. You still need to parent and model responsiblity, kindness, and compassion. I worry that not all children are guided like yours to still see the human face behind the computer. It’s so easy to be cruel and impatient with other people on a computer. Do you think we face a world where we totally loose touch with human contact?
Anita Strang says
Thanks Will, I will definitely be quoting you â€œwell, actually, youâ€™re out of balance too, you know.â€ So perfect!!
I have been encouraging my kids (currently 12 and 14)to have an online presence for a few years now. I want them to be actively involved so they understand that the internet is not just a tool for information consumption but also creation. I want them involved in facebook and to have their own blog. I want them involved now because at their current ages I still have a great deal of influence. They are still listening. I can monitor and coach them in safe and appropriate use. Yesterday I had a great conversation with my son about how to decide if he should accept a friend invitation. We worked together to set up the permissions on his account. As parents, we only have a window of time within which we have this level of influence – soon they will know more than us ;). It is now when I can help them learn to have a productive and positive online presence.
My biggest challenge with helping my kids maintain balance is not the amount of screen time they have but the amount of time they are involved in homework but that is an entirely different story…
Grace Brown says
my kids just love to jump around on trampolines and they are sort of addicted to it.::”