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Misinformation – How Facts and Fiction Intermingle on Social Media

Now that nearly two-thirds of Americans get at least some of their news from social media, we all need to stop and think about how our biases and our exposure to misinformation affects the way we perceive the news and even how we fight against false claims. The New York Times recently featured an article entitled How Fiction Becomes Fact on Social Media that focuses on just those concerns.

The article reminds us that it is our, often subconscious, psychological biases that make so many of us vulnerable to misinformation. Skepticism about what we read as “news” online is a good start. However, our own innate biases will let certain things pass as “likely,” researchers have found. We all need to remember that Facebook, Google, and Twitter have their own skin in the game and that they are serving up “juicy” news and information that keeps us coming back for more. It’s so easy to pass along stories before you have a chance to really think about them or look at the source. Repetition can also make a story seems credible if you read the same news headline over and over again. As one expert put it, “We overweight information from people we know.” This Sounds like the way news was passed around back in high school, doesn’t it?


Use Your Hands!

Instruction using gestures, whether performed by a live teacher or digital avatar, may improve student learning, according to research by Susan Wagner, Cook at the University of Iowa. For example, a teacher explaining a math equation while gesturing to both sides of the equal sign, helps students make the connection much more quicker than a teacher who drones on with arms down in front of a class.

Cook is among a cadre of researchers who study learning in the context of “embodied cognition”, which is the theory that our thoughts are shaped by the physical experiences of our body. According to this view, even when we think about abstract ideas, our brains link them to concrete, physical things that we experience through our hands, our senses and other body parts. This is even if the experience is virtual rather than physical.


tbh – Can an App Make a Generation Happy?

Tbh, which is a teen speak acronym for “to be honest,” bills itself as the only anonymous app with positive vibes for teens. The app isn't a standard messaging app like Sarahah that has become almost synonymous with cyberbullying. Instead, users are presented with a series of pre-programmed prompts about their friends like, "Should DJ every party" or "Hotter than the sun", and four options for friends (that come out of their Contacts list) that best fit that description. The name of the app follows a similar trend among teens who use the phrase "tbh" on Instagram to say something nice about their friends. There is no typing by the user required or allowed which keeps the attributes offered up about friends positive.

So what do you as a parent need to know about the app? Try reading 5 Things to Know About 'tbh,' a New Anonymity App Popular Among Teens to get updated and stay tuned in. Someone always seems to be able to turn even the most positive apps into cyberbullying tools.


Study Focuses On Socioeconomic Links To Kids' Screen Time

Children in lower-income families spend more time watching TV and using electronic devices than kids in more affluent homes, according to a report released recently from Common Sense Media. The nonprofit group followed the viewing habits of more than 1,400 children nationwide. Ages 8 and under found that less-affluent youngsters spend nearly three-and-a-half hours daily watching TV and using varied devices including smartphones, tablets, laptops and video game players. By comparison, kids in higher-income homes spend just under two hours on such activities. The offspring of better-educated parents also spend less time with media (1 hour, 37 minutes) compared with children of those with less education (2 hours, 50 minutes).


Would One Minute Tech Breaks Help Digital Natives Focus?

Should teachers give “tech breaks” to students in class? That’s an interesting new idea proposed by Larry D. Rosen, emeritus professor of psychology at California State University-Dominguez Hill. He proposes that digital natives (those born between 1995 and 2010 who have been given that moniker because of their comfort with digital devices) should be offered a one-minute tech break in the classroom to check and send messages on their phones. More specifically, "Instructors should initially schedule the breaks every 15 minutes, [Rosen] says, but then gradually increase the time between breaks to teach students to focus."

Outrageous? Rosen points out that students have a very short attention span and that they do typically check their phones every 15 minutes anyway. So, should teachers give in to that? Or should they have higher expectations as Barbara King, a professor emeritus at William and Mary, writes on the National Public Radio site in an article entitled Should College Professors Give 'Tech Breaks' In Class?


Crossing the Street? Put Away Your Phone in Honolulu

If you happen to be going to Honolulu anytime soon, you should remember to keep your phone in your pocket when you are crossing the street.  This is because a law allowing authorities to fine a pedestrian who views their phone during the stroll recently went into effect. While many states have laws against distracted driving or using a mobile phone while behind the wheel, some are just starting to enact similar legislation for distracted walking. New Jersey is weighing a similar measure to fine smartphone users on their devices while walking. Officials are also projecting a rise in the number of pedestrians killed on the roadways in the coming year, citing the rise in smartphone use as a probable cause. Of course this is just one of the many things to talk to your kids about when it comes to the use of their phones.


Strategies To Prevent Bullying - Advice From a Charter School

Positive school culture and strong relationships are important foundations for academic achievement, and are crucial in creating a bulwark against bullying to create safe spaces for students, writes Erin Hearn, Director of Social Emotional Learning for Uplift Education, a charter school network in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. One interesting tool the network uses is the Panorama Student Survey, which is completed biannually to gauge the quality of students’ relationships with their peers and teachers, among other social and emotional components. It also helps teachers and administrators pinpoint issues and concerns students are facing.

Additionally, the school network employs a Safe Space program, encouraging faculty whom are willing to intervene in a bullying situation to wear a pin that signifies their readiness to help (this is very interesting as this “readiness” is something not all teachers embrace, as other critics have recently noted). Staff training on diversity, equity and inclusion is also a component of their anti-bullying strategy. Moreover, the school is one of the pioneer districts using Rosalind Wiseman’s Owning Up curriculum. Owning Up teaches young people to understand their individual development in relation to group behavior, the influence of social media on their conflicts, and the dynamics that lead to bullying, discrimination, and bigotry.


“What is Your Favorite Web Site?” - New Favorite Interview Question

Once, it was all about your digital presence online. Your posts, your tweets, and the media you share, was what employers and colleges checked out before offering you a place. Now, to learn more about candidates, job interviewers often ask candidates about the websites they visit regularly, says career strategist Mary Grace Gardner. They ask this question to get an idea of how you use your down time: are you networking, staying on top of the news or catching up on gossip? So whether it is a college or job interview, you might want to be prepared to answer “What is your favorite website?” and most importantly, why?


Yondr Cell Phone Pouches Growing in Popularity at Schools and Concert Venues

Have you been to a concert venue where you are given a special locking pouch that keeps phones locked within a designated no-phone zone, outside of which the phone can be unlocked for your use? Most likely those pouches are from a company called Yondr. They are gaining popularity with performers such as The Lumineers, Louis C.K., Alicia Keys, Dave Chappelle to cut down distracting cell phone sounds and texting and talking during their performances.  Dave Chappelle is also using the system to cut down on people video recording his show and sharing the material online, possible driving away others from coming to a performance because they think they have already seen all his new material. Now schools are beginning to use the system as well.


Turning Your Kids Into Web Detectives

While kids are great at signing up for and using social media, chances are they are not very good at evaluating and vetting the news and other information that appears in their online feed. So what are some fact-checking resources your kids (and you!) can use to verify or debunk the information they find online? Some of you may have heard of sites like,, and The first two are mostly interested in truth in politics. Snopes is famous as a site to check out internet rumors. One you may not be familiar with is, a nonpartisan organization that tracks the influence of money in U.S. politics and is probably aimed more at older students and adults. The last isn’t a site that performs the fact checking, but instead is a tool that lets you fact-check things you find online. The internet “Archive Way back Machine” lets you see how a website looked and what it said, at different points in the past. That can be very valuable to see how, for example, the US government treated different topics under different administrations or at different times under the same administration. Want to see The New York Times’ home page, on just about any day since 1996? It’s there as well as Google’s homepage from 1998. The site can be a little distracting though, so make sure kids know what they are looking for specifically before they dive in.


Social Media Scams Sharply on the Rise

Researchers estimate that social media scams have climbed to 437,165, which is almost double the number from 2016. Attackers in these campaigns employ various techniques, but all are designed to steal financial information, sensitive data, distribute malware and take over accounts. Most use a very personal approach where scammers research the personal information of victims using public information, membership lists or groups, "liked" content on social media, timeline information, and demographics before making their approach.


Does Digital Literacy Require Open Social Media?

Teachers and principals are increasingly advocating that schools unblock social media sites in the interest of teaching digital literacy. Derek McCoy, a North Carolina middle-school principal, says restrictions should be lifted despite risks because people learn from mistakes and "cannot be governed by fear." Many educators feel that learning how to behave online responsibly and safely, a concept known as digital citizenship, requires access to social media tools in schools.

If you are wondering how pervasive the blocking of social media is in schools, you should know that currently in New York City, if an educator wants to use YouTube or other blocked sites in the classroom, they have to fill out a form, get approval from the principal, and send the request to the city’s Department of Education. The process may seem arduous but actually is rather lax when compared to other districts, where the entire district must agree to block or unblock a website across all its schools.

Do you know how social sites are handled at your school? If sites are unblocked there is a danger of more cyberbullying and other bad actions by students. However, many educators would like to be more in control of when social media can used. As many teachers point out, students use these sites freely at home and in other settings, and the only way they are going to learn to use them responsibly is to use them.


Parents Need to Talk about Kids and Smartphones

Each generation of parents has worried about the new technologies that have impacted their children’s lives from radio up to today’s mobile devices. Today’s devices are inescapable, and coupled with the allure of social networking,  are having a profound impact on the way adolescents communicate with one another and spend their free time. While some experts say it is too soon to sound the alarm on smartphones, a recent article in Time magazine entitled,” We Need to Talk About Kids and Smartphones” points out that the latest statistics on the incidence of teen suicide and depression are rising sharply and may be connected to the proliferation of smartphones. These statistics alone make this an issue that parents should be talking to each other about and to their teens as well.


The Hard Truth About School Bullying – Perception is Everything

Whether you have had a child who has experienced bullying online or at school and have approached your school about it, or you just want to be prepared in case it happens, you may want to read “A hard truth about school bullying “.  The point of view of the author, Jim Dillon, who has been an educator for over 40 years, is that there are two very different perceptions of bullying in our schools: the version of bullying that many school staff members believe and the version that students experience daily. As evidence for these two contrasting views he offers the fact that in anonymous surveys of teens, approximately 20% of secondary school students report being bullied approximately two to three times per month. Over 75% of the schools in many states report zero incidents per year. 

What accounts for these two contrasting views? Dillion says that if school staff members are being candid, they do not thinking bullying is a serious problem in schools. As for students, most students don't bully others and aren't bullied, so all the anti-bullying rules and pledges they are required to follow reflect just another set of adult rules. In reality, the student version of bullying is intertwined and concealed in the social world of how people treat or mistreat each other. The result of these two versions (and the article spells out both versions more fully) is that many school environments inadvertently not only ignore the bullying that students experience, but also contribute to its existence and persistence. All students learn the wrong lesson when they see peers endure mistreatment and witness educators who appear unconcerned and/or unable to stop it.  This article is worth a read and may explain why your school treated a bullying issue, that you may have reported, the way they did.


A Disconnect on Home- School Communication

Among several digital communication options, most parents say they prefer to receive text messages from their child's school regarding the types of technology they should have at home [data from Project Tomorrow's Speak Up program]. Only 16% of parents said Facebook was an effective communication tool. Although, 78% of district communications officials favored it as a way to convey information. Parents said they prefer texting because it is convenient, timely and recognizes that they may be too busy to sign into Facebook on a regular basis.


Some of the Pros of Social Media

Social media has received a lot of bad press regarding its negative effects (cyberbullying, depression, etc.) on young people. However, some academics and health professionals say there are benefits too. Social media can help boost self-esteem and give people an outlet for finding emotional support. Matthew Oransky, a therapist and assistant professor of adolescent psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, says, "I've seen some of the really big positives, which is that kids who are isolated or marginalized can find a community." Another researcher, John Naslund, at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice suggests that marginalized kids who are looking for that larger community should start cautiously and use pseudonyms when reaching out for advice from strangers.


So Where Did Your Time Go?

Numerous surveys have shown that kids think it is adults who are more addicted to their phones and other digital technology and they may be right. American adults will invest an average of 12 hours and 1 minute every day consuming major media this year. According to eMarketer reports, almost half of that daily consumption will be with digital media, nearly four hours with television and nearly an hour and a half with radio, while mobile multitasking is the primary driver of increased media consumption.


Podcasts – The Guilt-Free Alternative to Screen time

More kids are pressing play on podcasts as “a guilt-free alternative to screen time”, according to a recent New York Times article entitled The New Bedtime Story is a Podcast. Kids’ podcasts started to boom recently, especially after National Public Radio’s release of Wow in the World, a series that chronicles cool new stories about science and technology. Now there are entire production companies for kids’ content and podcast subscription apps that sell “a lifestyle shift.” Panoply’s children’s subscription app, Pinna, brands itself as “Screen free. Ad free. Guilt free.” Their biggest issue? They still have to pull a profit, and it can be “a sticky issue” advertising to kids. Some are solving this by targeting parents instead, and pitching ad-free services for a monthly fee.


Kids and Social Media Contracts

The Children’s Commissioner for England and an English law firm have teamed together to release guides, sorted by age group, for the lengthy and jargon-filled terms and conditions of social media sites. The Commissioner has criticized Instagram for its 17-page, 5,000-word terms and conditions. While some critics have replied that there are reasons that the term sheets are quite long, as very difficult concepts have to be explained, most people would still like to have those terms explained in everyday language rather than legalese especially when trying to explain these terms to their children. While the terms of use on many social media sites are different in England than the US, parents may find these guides useful for their overall discussion about the need to read and understand these terms when signing up for a new service and knowing what a person’s rights – young or old -are under these contracts.


New Study Released on the Effect of Digital Media on Teen-Parent Relationships

Many teens and their parents agree that digital devices are a source of concern, anxiety and conflict, according to a new study from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. The study, “The New Normal: Parents, Teens and Digital Devices,” is based on a on a comprehensive survey of 1,200 teens and parents. Conducted in April, it is the first such study of teens and families in Japan, where 90 percent of parents and teens own a smartphone, and the first to compare those insights to existing U.S. data from Common Sense Media on digital media use among families in North America. The study found that most parents of children ages 13-18 felt their teens were addicted to mobile devices, and many parents felt addicted themselves. In both countries, one in three teens thought their parents were addicted to their mobile devices.

In addition, American teens and parents feel that digital devices a greater source of conflict among teens and parents than do those in Japan; in fact, one in three U.S. families reported having an argument every day. More teens in the U.S. also felt that mobile device use has hurt their relationship with their parents, while in Japan, more parents felt their family relationships have been hurt by mobile device use.