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Texts Tweets and TV part 1

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Boys Town's Lauran Buddenberg discusses texts, tweets and TV.

We have a little more than an hour to talk about kids and technology. My name is Laura Buddenberg, I do work for Boys Town. I have worked for Boys Town for a little over 10 years and I am a training manager, so I work over in the training department. I'm also an author and have co-authored a few books here for Boys Town. But more than any of that, I am a parent myself. So my interest in this area and dealing with that really springs out of having two young adult daughters. Our girls are now 22 and 24. So we dealt with kind of the technology beast in our house. In our role at Boys Town, we travel all over the country. We work with school districts and teachers, so we hear all about the issues of kids and technology when we're in a school, from that perspective. And we also do a lot of parenting class and parent training. And everywhere we go, parents are talking about how are we going to kind of tame the technology beast in our house? It's a big, big subject. So tonight really, what we're going to kind of take a look at is, what are the forms of technology kids seem to be using the most? And I'm going to make reference to a report, you can see my copy dog eared marked up from the Henry Jake Kaiser family foundation, if you want to take a note of that. It's not in your resources list, but you might want to look at it. They survey and find out about media in the lives of kids every few years. And they had a January report this year — Media in the lives of 8 to 18-year-olds. So it's an interesting snapshot. So you may wonder, gee, is my kid using this stuff as much as other people's kid that are using it? So you kind of get a look at what's going on there. So we're going to take a look at how kids use it. Then we're also going to take a look at kind of those big three areas of cell phone usage, computer usage and television, which is still the kind of media big dog on the block in terms of how much time kids are spending with technology. And hopefully give you some hints and ideas about establishing a family media use policy. Because really, as parents, that's kind of the direction that we are going.

Now this week I've been paying extra attention to media news and I had to chuckle, because there was a big article that a museum in Chicago has discovered the first cuneiform writing. In other words, when people first started writing stuff down, when did that happen? And the written word kind of sprung up in several parts of the world — China, Mexico, and Egypt and other parts of the Middle East and after this happened Plato actually wrote these words about the written word: "For this invention of yours will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn it." He says, "It will mean that they will recollect by the external aid of foreign symbols, and not by the internal use of their own faculties. Your discovery therefore is a medicine not from memory." In other words, we better watch out for this written word it could be big, serious trouble. What are kids going to do with it? They're going to get their hands on it, and their brains are going to go away. Okay the point being, kids and technology is not new. I mean it's been going on for a long time. In my parents' generation it was television and Elvis. We've always been worried about it. The point being, technology is here to stay. So it's not going anywhere. There are some very good things about technology. So I am definitely not a technology basher. In fact I'll tell you, if I get my purse out of here, and I did by the way turn my cell phone off  because, I will confess, I have a new smartphone and I can't figure out how to get the thing on vibrate.

I get it when I think it's on vibrate and yet things are still ringing, I don't know, I'd better read the manual. I have a cell phone, if you were to look further you would see that I have an automatic key ring here, I can open my car even from here, and I also have an iPod. Most of us carry technology, and in fact I did an interview yesterday about this presentation sitting in a parking lot, talking to the interviewer on my smartphone. I said, "You know what, that is kind of ironic. We're talking about technology and the only way I can talk to you is on my cell phone."

Some of us have had the experience too of watching our kids multi-task online. I remember coming home from work a few years ago, got to the door into the family room, opened it, and first of all it was like a wall of sound came moving at me. I had a kid sitting at the computer, one ear bud from her mp3 player in, texting on her cell phone, I'm not making this up, several windows open on the computer. She's clearly having conversation but she was also doing something that at least from a distant looked like homework, and the television was on.

I came in, I thought, "Ah!" I mean my teeth were rattling, and I went over to turn off the television. What do you suppose she said to me? "I'm watching that mom!" I turned around and said, "I don't even think that is physically possible." I mean how can you be paying attention? So we're going to kind of talk about that, too. What is happening when our kids are consuming technology at this rate, when they are multi-tasking and kind of what is going on? As we think about our kids though, the first thing I want to say to you is please remember that nobody knows your kids like you do, and nobody loves your kids like you do. You are sort of the PHD and expert on your own family. So you know the effect this is having on your family and your kids better than any researcher does. I will also tell you that when it comes to technology, somebody is going to have to be the grown up and I hate to say it, but it's going to have to be you.

I must say that being the grown up, adulthood specifically parenthood, isn't nearly the Mardi Gras I pictured when I was a kid. That's not nearly as much fun as it looked. When you help your kids learn to place some limits on their technology usage, I will tell you, you will become somewhat uncool. If you're a parent, it's pretty much your role in life to be somewhat uncool, and all that does is tell you that you must be doing it right. You're definitely going to be going against the grain a little bit if you're going to be talking to your kids about technology.

So to start off with as Stephen Covey likes to say, "You want to begin with the ending in mind." What I'm going to ask you to do is take a couple of minutes, you can turn to the people around you and think about, what kind of kid are you trying to produce at your house? In other words, what kind of character do you want your child to have? Who do you want your child to be? What's your end game, in other words, for your kid?

I'm going to give you just a couple of minutes, talk amongst yourselves and then we're going to come back and write some of this down. I saw you visiting beforehand find your neighbors and have a little chat about that.

But what I want to know is, what is your end game, anybody, for your kids? What are some of the things you want in terms of your child's character? Who do you want this person to be? Responsible. Yes okay. Responsible, confident, I like it. Integrity. Okay. Respectful. Okay, internally motivated, self motivated. I like it. Nice list. Anybody want to add something? Yeah, practicing their faith, okay. Honest. Yes? Okay, socially skilled, I like it. Socially skilled face to face. That's a big one. At Boys Town we're a character counsel organization so we also say when we look at kids, the kids we work with here and the families, we work with everywhere, we're going for the six pillars of character — trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.

All of these fit in there and by the way, we are the social skills people. So we are really interested in helping families raise kids who are good citizens. Who can go out there and interact with other people. Who will be responsible, who will contribute to society, if you're a parent, who will produce grand children for you at some point, as I've been dealing mine. So we're thinking about all these things. The reason I start off here, is that when you're evaluating technology, how you want your family to use it? Okay, what your family media user technology policy is going to be, we're going to refer back to this list. Because you want to let technology serve your family and bring you together, instead of make you its servant and keep you from communicating with each other. I think we will find, when we look at the good, the bad and the ugly of technology, that if we take some time to think about it, and if we're willing to endure a little push back from our kids, we can actually use technology in our families in a way that gets us what we want for our kids, instead of endlessly frustrating us and we're fighting each other. So that's where we are going tonight.

Now how many of you ever saw The Karate Kid and by this time I mean the original? Okay Mr. Miyagi said, "Better learn balance." If balance is bad, pack up and go home. You need to have balance in life. This is what we really need to figure out in technology. I think if you assume that you can shut your kid off from all technology you're just going to be frustrated. The other thing is kids can get technology everywhere. Years and years ago, before we had the internet at our house, I was out doing all kinds of parent presentations, this was even before I worked for Boys Town, and I was very happily marching around Omaha announcing that we did not allow internet access in our house because we were holding the tide, and we thought this was dangerous and weren't doing this.

In the meantime, and she knows I tell this story, daughter number one suddenly conceived the great desire to frequently visit the Omaha public library. Well my masters degree is in family and new services but my undergrad is in English literature, and I am married to a newspaperman. So, reading, "This is so great. The kid wants to go to the library. What could possibly go wrong at a library? You take..." I was so proud, and then one of our friends who is quite good with the technology called me up and said, "Did you have any idea that Kate has established her own website?" And I said, "What?" She was running an entire digital life and identity out of one of the branches of the Omaha public library, thereby making a fool out of me all over town, because as we all know parenthood is very humbling, I mean if nothing else. Just when if you really think you're nifty go home and ask your kids. So I was floored. And I said to Roger, "This is really a bummer. I had no idea the kid could do this at a public library." And then we talked about it and we decided, "You know what? If she's going to have access to this medium, we'd really rather that she have access to some of it at home where we can teach her to use it properly, and where we have some prayer of keeping track of what she is doing." So that's my first experience with, parents if you're thinking, "I just don't want my kid anywhere near any of it," good luck with that.

If your kid ever leaves the house, the odds that your child will find a way to have access to it is pretty high. So teaching them that balance at home matters a good deal. Now, there's a lot of technology out there, okay, and there's a lot available for kids to use. What's interesting to note is just how much kids are using the technology.

Let me ask you, anybody have any idea among 8 to 18-year-olds how much screen time on average kids are getting a day? Anybody want to take a wild guess? Six hours, five hours? Screen time, media, technology time folks. That's actually a little high. The average, 10 hours and 45 minutes a day. If you're looking at the Kaiser study, which is a good one. You're looking at me saying, "When do these people sleep? And by the way, I know I dropped this child off at school, what is happening?" Well remember that kids do multi-task. For example, if you are listening to your mp3 player, texting and keeping track of your Facebook for an hour, you're actually getting three hours of media exposure in the space of an hour. Let alone if you're watching television. But we are talking 10 hours and 45 minutes a day.

It's interesting to know, when I look at your list, about talking face to face, okay. About being self motivated, practicing your faith, confident, responsible, honest. Most parents will say also having some joy in life, I mean we like our kids to really enjoy life, that among extremely heavy users of technology, which the Kaiser study classifies as those who were getting more like 16 hours of screen time a day. Bear in mind 10 hours and 45 minutes is the average.

Among heavy users, personal contentment is much lower than light users. That when kids are plugged in all the time, they aren't as happy with their lives, they're not enjoying themselves very much. They are not relating to other people. When we're looking at our kids we want to bear in mind that when they're doing all of this, this is consuming their whole lives, they really aren't getting necessarily what they want either either.

The Kaiser study is saying that the three big things like I said before are cell phones, and we're going to start off there, computer usage, and continuing into this day, television. So let's dive in and think about cell phone usage.

Just by a show of hands how many people in the room have a cell phone yourself? Most people do. I will confess my husband did not have a cell phone at all until a few years ago. His logic was, they can find me. I'm either at work or I'm at home. You can find me anywhere, anywhere you are. And then we actually had an incident in our family when I was on the road for work, our younger daughter was in a pretty severe car accident. She was all right. There's nothing like keeling over and to sleep in oblivion in your hotel room after a long day at work. Your cell phone buzzes, I'm thinking about not answering it. And then it keeps buzzing so I get up and I answer it and I had a message from someone saying, family friend saying, "Well I just want you to know everything is all right and the paramedics are here." So I was instantly awake and driving up and nobody could find my husband. He plays in a little community orchestra, they were out at a gig in a nursing home somewhere, and my kid is frantic and she can't find her dad, and I'm two and a half hours away somewhere else. I will confess that when I got home I said to Buddenburg, "You must take yourself to our wireless carrier ASAP, you gotta have a cell phone." The good of cell phone usage.

Now, thinking about cell phones, by the way, how many kids do you suppose actually talk on the phone? Are kids talking on the phone? What are they doing? They are texting. They won't answer an email, because that is old person technology, but really they're texting which is the same thing on a phone. They are texting. By the way are they texting their parents? No. Those of you who are parents has it ever occurred to you that you were paying for this device, okay. You were paying for it and the wireless contract is probably in your name, and by the way if you can figure out what that contract means you're smarter person than I am. The wireless contract — there's a subject that we could spend all night on.

Now when we work with parents why do you suppose parents tell us they'd get their kids a cell phone? Safety? And so that they can talk to you. Yes. Now, that is just funny isn't it? Because what happens is that you are paying for your child to avoid you and talk to everybody else. At one point, Buddenburg looked at me and said, "We have become the instrument of our own misery." We are literally paying for the kid to never talk to us. We know that she knows who's calling because we have been with both of them when their phones buzz, beep, ring, have other interesting tones, and they instantly look and know and we have actually seen them respond in an instant moment to everybody but us. So you're paying for this thing so your kid won't talk to you. It's kind of amusing in a way and not. And kids yes, are texting. Kids actually talk on their phone roughly 30 minutes a day, but the average kid with a cell phone is sending, on just the average day, not when something exciting is happening, the average day, about how many texts a day do you suppose? Actually that's high. In about 118 texts a day, about 118. Obviously they can text quickly. I had to buy a phone with the whole keyboard on it and being an english major, I find it necessary to text in full words with punctuation. I can't bring myself to not use the language properly, it really bugs me. But kids are texting, they're using the phone for a lot of different reasons.

Like I said, the good of the phone, yeah you can get a hold of your kid in an emergency. Your kid can call grandma after a big event. When you send your children out to drive, it is comforting to know that there's a phone so that when your kid calls, real story from our house last week, and says, "Dad, I'm on the road and the oil light keeps going on and it's been going on for a while, should I be concerned about that?" He said, "Well as a matter of fact, yes you should." And we were glad that she had a phone. The bad is in fact you are heading out for Thanksgiving dinner, you get there, you're with grandma and grandpa, they are thrilled to see your kid because your kid is the light of their lives and you have a 14 year old who spends the entire Thanksgiving dinner texting under the table and grunting at the relative because he can't keep track of two conversations at once.

And the ugly of cell phone usage which is the fact that kids do use their phone to harass each other sometimes, to send sexually explicit messages, now every phone is a picture phone, anybody tried to buy a phone without a camera on it? When those first came out the girls came to us and said, "We need picture phones" and Roger said, "Why?" and Kate said, no lie, she thought she really had us on this one, she said, "So the next time I have a car accident I can take a picture at the scene." I was like, "You won't be driving or having a cell phone." I mean he was like, "I'll get you one of those little disposable cameras for the glove compartment." He's like, "What do you mean you need a picture phone?" So they are using it for those reasons. So let's stop a minute, then I'm going to ask you to think about it and you can write down some on your sheet about answering the big question that if you're going to establish some kind of policy in your home for use of the cell phone. First of all, you need to ask who can use the phone. So here's my question, how old should kids be in order to be carrying a cell phone, do you suppose?