Digital Smarts Blog

You are here


Girls’ Confidence Can Drop From Social Media Exposure

Technology and social media are contributing to self-doubt, isolation and vulnerability among female students, according to The Girls' Index, a survey of 10,000 5th- to 12th-grade girls conducted by the nonprofit Ruling Our Experiences. The report found 46% of girls entering high school say they don't believe they are smart enough for their dream careers, while students' confidence rate drops between fifth and ninth grades. Other takeaways from the survey include:

  • 30% of the respondents reported having been bullied or made fun of on social media. 19% said they have made fun of someone else on those forums.
  • Many of the girls who were the heaviest social media users struggle in making connections with peers, and they tend to have fewer outside interests
  • Girls who spent the most time using technology are 5 times more likely to say they are sad or depressed nearly every day. Girls who engaged with technology the most were also the least likely to be involved in activities such as clubs, sports, band, music, and theater.
  • Girls who spent the most time on technology are the least likely to say they have supportive friends and supportive adults to talk to about serious issues.
  • 75% of the 12th grade girls who took the survey said  “most students their age send sexually explicit photos.” And more than half of 8th grade girls surveyed had been asked to send a sexually explicit photo.

Parkland Survivors Navigate Twitter

Survivors of the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting are using their voices on Twitter to advocate for gun-control measures -- a move that has garnered some negative attention and criticism, including threats. In a recent interview in The Washington Post, the students share how they are coping with the spotlight and fighting back against "trolls." The interview is an interesting view into what your kids can come up against when online.


Hackers Set Their Sights On Smartphones

Cybersecurity researchers are finding that as people are using their phones for more and more things, hackers are increasingly targeting smartphones with malware and other cyberattacks. Because attacks on mobile devices are getting easier and payoffs are bigger, the trend is expected to grow. The best way to stay safe is to make sure your smartphone always has the latest updates from the manufacturer.


Windows 10 and Macintosh Operating System Tools for Keeping Track of Children Online

Did you know there are tools already part of your computer’s operating system for keeping track of how much time your children play games and do other things online? Detailed instructions on how to find those free tools and use them for both the Windows 10 and the Macintosh operating system are part of a recent Personal Tech blog post in The New York Times. You can keep track of what games, apps, and websites your children visit and how much time they spend on each, and even check out what keywords they are searching for in your browser. You can also set limits on your children’s screen time.


Subtweeting and Vaguebooking – New Terms for Subtle Cyberbullying

You probably think you know the different forms of cyberbullying that take place – including kids making comments on photos or tweets that shame and humiliate the poster, and even getting “friends” to gang up and do the same. But kids have gotten wise to the fact that these direct attacks are easy for parents, teachers and administrators to find and use as proof for disciplinary action. Now cyberbullies are getting more subtle.


Subtweeting (as it is called on Twitter) and vaguebooking (on Facebook) are the Internet equivalent of talking about people behind their backs in the digital world. In this new form of cyberbullying, teens reference a person or an issue without mentioning any names. Instead of being confrontational or direct with someone, subtweets and vaguebooking allow people to put nasty comments out there in a sneakier way. Their tweets and posts online are like the whispers in the school hallways that make up the rumor mill.


What makes this so dangerous is that everyone involved knows exactly whom the tweets and posts are referencing, yet no one outside of the school or a circle of friends would have any idea who they are about. Moreover, if confronted, the bullies can deny that the person being hurt was ever truly the recipient of the harsh words. This, of course, adds to the sticky situation that parents, teachers and administrators often find themselves in when dealing with cyberbullies in the first place.


Should Schools Tell Parents About Bullying?

There’s a debate happening around the country about whether schools should be required to tell parents about bullying. At least eight states already have laws requiring notification, however some LBGT advocates argue that schools could be put in the position of outing a student to their parents. In New York State, Jacobe’s Law is a bill that is being pushed by parents of a 12-year-old who committed suicide after repeated bullying, and is possibly close to passage.


Survey Offers Insights From Kids on Bullying

About 77% of students between ages 9 and 11 said they have witnessed bullying, and 1 in 5 admits to being a bully, according to a survey commissioned by the Cartoon Network, and reported on by National Public Radio. Students overwhelmingly reported that the adults in their families model good behavior, while only 14 percent strongly agreed that our nation's leaders model how to treat people with kindness. While this survey’s findings are much in line with others on similar topics, it does stand out for drawing attention to the small positive acts that can make a powerful difference in a child's life. More than 8 out of 10 kids surveyed said it would help kids to be kinder if they all had a person in their lives who really cared and listened.


Bridging the Home School Tech Divide

There is something known as a “device gap” in schools, where students from lower-income backgrounds don’t have the same digital access as their middle class peers. This gap affects everyone, because assignments are limited to the digital resources that are available to everyone – impacting not only homework assignments but all the way up to district curriculum.  How can parents and educators can help families make better use of technology resources outside of the classroom? Take a look at what this paper from the Center for Early Learning at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation recommends, including connecting parents to the local library for digital services and hosting parent-teacher learning exchanges on the use of tech with young children.


New Rating System for Education Apps Stresses Privacy

Common Sense Media has released a three-tiered privacy-rating system for education apps covered on its website. The company consulted with students, parents, teachers, developers and other stakeholders when developing the system, which includes "not recommended," "use with caution" and "use responsibly."


Curious About How Conspiracy Theories Get Spread Online?

The latest online attacks against the teen survivors of the Parkland shooting is a good case study on how this happens and how quickly it occurs. An article in The Washington Post entitled We studied thousands of anonymous posts about the Parkland attack – and found a conspiracy in the making outlines the part that anonymous social media forums play in the process. It’s a primer on how misinformation is created on purpose, endures endlessly, and the havoc that it plays in lives of those who are targeted.


Acquiring Job Skills to Survive Automation

Three-quarters of K-12 and higher-education instructors say careers that emphasize creative thinking and problem-solving will be less affected in the future by automation, according to an Adobe survey. However in the same survey, 69% of the educators say such skills are not emphasized in primary and secondary curricula because students lack time to use technology to create projects, have limited access to software and other technology at school and at home to stimulate creative thinking and most educators do not have the right kind of training to assist them.


Universal Depression Screening Recommended for Adolescents

There is a lot of blame put on technology for the increase in teen bullying and isolation. Because of this, the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued updated guidelines recommending all youths ages 12 and older undergo depression screening at least once a year. It is recommended that teens privately use a self-reported questionnaire that teens fill out themselves, either on an electronic device or on paper. Kaiser Permanente has also started a campaign hoping to reduce the stigma of reporting or suffering from mental health issues called Find Your Words.


Is Technology Use Changing Young Children’s Fine Motor Control?

Is your young child struggling to hold a pencil or a pen? A new study from England indicates the use of technology by young children may be affecting students’ hand strength.  This leads to difficulty holding pens and pencils, according to Sally Payne of the Heart of England foundation NHS Trust. So what can you do to counteract that? Activities such as cutting, playing with building blocks and pulling ropes can help young children develop proper writing grip and strong control of the fine muscles in their fingers.


When Are Kids Instagram Ready?

Want to be the one to introduce the ins and outs of social media to your kids? Follow the adventures of one parent in doing so in a Well Family post on the New York Times site. And think about the advice the author offers about how to how to have a “social media talk” (akin to the “birds and the bees talk”) with your kids, as well as, ideas for when to create a usage “contract,” monitor use, and remain open to learning from kids about global connectivity.


Do Phones Make Kids More Safe or Less Safe During a School Emergency?

Usually the debate about smartphones at school is about whether they are a distraction or a tool for learning, but the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida  has sparked some debate about whether students are made more -- or less -- safe by carrying cellphones at school. Some say students with the devices can alert others that they are safe when getting to and from school or during an emergency, but others argue that phones can make students less safe during a crisis by distracting them from following directions by teachers or first responders, giving away their location to an assailant, or jamming up communications interfering with those coming to help them.


Who Sponsored That Ad?

The Federal Election Commission has drawn up a proposed framework that would require political digital and social media ads to adopt the same sponsorship disclaimer rules as those appearing on TV, read on radio and in print. Political audio and video ads on both social and digital platforms would require candidates paying for the ads to say their names and include the statement, "And I approve of this message," and graphic and text ads would have to display the sponsor's name "in letters of sufficient size to be clearly readable," the proposal says. In addition, Facebook has announced that it will mail postcards to political ad buyers to verify that they live in the US. A code from the postcard will be needed to buy a political ad on the platform, and November's midterm elections will be the first time the process is used.


Is FOMO the Real Cause of Teens’ Smartphone Addictions?

In a recent interview on CNBC, Ana Homayoun, the author of Social Media Wellness: Helping Tweens and Teens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World explains that social media companies “create this system where you always want to be online. And it can create this fear of missing out (FOMO) if we're not online.” But Homayoun argues there are some ways parents can curb addictive behavior including introducing access to mobile communication incrementally by starting kids off with a flip phone instead of just giving them a hand me down smartphone and establishing times and days when the phone is off-limits (especially at night). She also recommends not letting kids use the phone as an alarm clock because that only leads to it being in their room at night unsupervised and using apps like Circle or OurPact to monitor their usage.


YouTube to Clamp Down on Creators of Violent and Cruel Videos

YouTube has formally announced new punishments that go beyond just their existing community, and copyright policies for those who post violent videos or videos that promote cruelty or bullying. In an announcement titled "Preventing Harm to the Broader YouTube Community," YouTube details the new disciplinary actions which span from stopping payment to those who have channels who promote these kinds of content and being barred from the site's trending video feature.

Although no specific creators were singled out, the policies target creators who "[conduct] a heinous prank where people are traumatized, [promote] violence or hate toward a group, [demonstrate] cruelty, or [sensationalize] the pain of others in an attempt to gain views or subscribers." YouTube currently has a three strike policy under which creators' channels can be terminated following copyright or community guidelines violations, however, this announcement explained the need for "a broader set of tools...that can be used more quickly and more effectively" to bar content. It will be interesting to see how they enforce this new policy.


Wonder Where All that Cellular Data Goes?

Curious about how all that data consumed by sharing and streaming photos, audio and video on your cell phone adds up? You might be interested in getting a quick estimate from a data calculator like the ones on the AT&T or Verizon Wireless sites. Your cellular provider may have it’s own sample measures. 

Interested in some simple ideas for reducing your data consumption? Take a look at Measuring and Managing your Cellular Data Use on The New York Times site.


Don’t Have a Ban, Have a Plan – Cell Phones at School

What is the policy on students’ use of cellphones at your children’s school? A blog article on the Education Week site entitled As Cell Phones Proliferate in K-12, Schools Search for Smart Policies could be an excellent primer on the subject.  It can help parents, teachers and administrators using the evolution of the cell phone policy of the Katy School District in Texas as a sample case study. What is the district’s advice on the topic? Setting clear expectations for cellphone use in classrooms, and establishing models for appropriate use, is the better alternative to simply forbidding their use.