Friday, March 23, 2012

Facebook Parenting

“Goodnight remotes
And Netflix streams,
Androids, apps,
And glowing screens.
Goodnight plugs...
Goodnight beeps
Goodnight everyone who should be asleep
Goodnight popstars
Goodnight Macbook Air
Goodnight gadgets everywhere.”
We all remember reading Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown to our children as we tried to ease them to sleep at night. Those days of simply reading them a good story to get them to sleep are long gone. The above is not from that book (didn't sound familiar?!), but rather from a parody called Goodnight iPad written by Ann Droyd (a pseudonym for David Milgrim). In Goodnight iPad that same bunny cannot fall asleep due to all the electronic devices buzzing all around her.
Milgrim (the author) says, “I love my iPhone and my electronic drums and other music gear, and I love having so much recorded music available so easily. And streaming Netflix. All of it. It’s great.” But, he wanted to remind his audience that sometimes it is important to shut down all the technology to enjoy an old-fashioned book. “I fear that some of the simple and quieter things may get lost, in the same way the night sky gets lost to the lights,” Milgrim says. “Those simple activities like being with friends, reading aloud, and especially time spent outside in nature are critical to building a full life and establishing a sense of balance. The quiet beauty portrayed so poetically in Goodnight Moon is a perfect example. The modern world is just way too intense, even for the most sophisticated amongst us.”
In October 2011, the New York Times in an article called, “A Silicon Valley school that doesn't compute,” speaks of the Waldorf School of the Peninsula. There is not even one computer in the school. 75% of the parents have high-tech backgrounds and work in technology, and yet send their children to such a school. The Waldorf Schools' teaching philosophy focuses on “physical activity and learning through creative, hands-on tasks. Those who endorse this approach say computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans.”A controversial and debatable topic. Yet, the message is similar- let us put the technology to “sleep” for even some time each day so that we can focus on the “human experience” of learning.
In a recent workshop, the 8th graders were abuzz about Tommy Jordan of North Carolina who discovered that his 15 year old daughter Hannah was complaining on Facebook about her parents treating her like a slave. Jordan was embarrassed by Hannah's lack of respect and took her laptop out and shot it nine times, posting it on youtube “for all those kids who thought it was cool how rebellious you were.” Whether or not you agree with what he called, “Facebook Parenting” the clear message was that he felt that she was abusing her Facebook page and her “technological rights.” Hannah was also hiding that she had a Facebook page and her father, an IT expert, discovered it on his own.
Meghan Daum from the Los Angeles Times views this story as demonstrating that we are raising a generation that “has no shame.” Her father cringed as their private relationship was made public. Hannah, on the other hand, felt no qualms about airing her dirty laundry in public. The difference between what should be kept private and what should be made public may have been intuitive before the Facebook generation. Today's children need to be expressly taught the difference. One thing this story does demonstrate, in my mind, is that this father and daughter were not comfortable communicating with each other face to face, and were doing so instead via Facebook and youtube. If only they had put the technology to sleep, (no shooting necessary), so that they could talk to each other.
We all know the glorious successes our children can and do achieve with the technology in their worlds. And, like Ann Droyd, we are not advocating going cold turkey. We are advocating breaks and another type of “Facebook parenting.” In my mind, “Facebook parenting” does not mean retaliating against your daughter via Facebook. It means, if your child is a Facebook user, you should open an account and become familiar with the system. She needs to “friend” you, and can even show you how to use it. This is the only way you can monitor what she is doing. (Although, don't dare post on her page!) If you are on Facebook this is a way for you to talk about it with her. Communication face to face, not Facebook to Facebook, is the goal.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

One- Way Mirrors for Looking at Others

 “I have a dream about building a giant, magic one-way mirror. Anyone who is upset about something small — their kid didn’t say please, or their house isn’t perfect — would look in the mirror and see a person like themselves whose life has been turned upside down due to illness or an accident. To make them see and appreciate how much they really have, and how things can change in an instant. If I had a dream, that would be it.” These are the words of Mr. Yitzy Haber,  the speaker who began our most recent unit in 7th Grade Advisory some five weeks ago.  Mr. Haber, Teaneck bred and familiar to the studets as a "Ruach maker" at Bar Mitzvahs, shared his insights on facing challenges. ( A link to an article about him is found the e-mail I sent you). According to Haber, mirrors are not for looking at oneself- they are for looking at others.  This reminds me of a tale I had heard as a child that explained that the difference between a mirror and a window is that a mirror is coated with "silver."  Oftentimes, it is the material aspects of life or unimportant aspects of life that prevent us from seeing the world around us, and force us to focus only on ourselves. The message of appreciating what one has by realizing that so many others have less than we,  is clearly one our students have gleaned these past weeks. 

Last year, I referred to the importance of the metaphor of looking in  a mirror for one's mental health. I had discussed how a significant aspect of this most recent unit "When Life Gives You Lemons" was to train our students to talk to themsleves. They learned about “self-talk” and “affirmations.” All of our inner dialogue, or messages we tell ourselves-whether while looking in the mirror or not, affect how we experience life. Some of our beliefs are dysfunctional and can sabotage us from success and happiness. Much of this self-talk is subconscious. Through positive affirmation exercises we utilize positive statements that challenge  and undermine negative beliefs and replace them with positive beliefs. What we tell ourselves affects how we feel about ourselves. Our students learned that it is good to remind ourselves each day about all the things that our good about ourselves. It is so easy to focus on what we are not good at. We need to focus on what makes us great. And, especially when faced with challenges, it is easy to allow the “negative affirmations” voice to win in our self-talk dialogue. As Henry Ford was quoted as saying, “Whether you think you can, or think you can't you are right.” What better way is there to talk to yourself than looking yourself straight in the eye in a mirror?

This past week, our 7th graders utilized these skills as we closed our Unit in Advisory “When Life Gives You Lemons” stressing skills for resiliency and bouncing back from challenges in life. This week they decorated special pillowcases for cancer patients to use and to “snuggle up with.” But, first, they needed some training as to what to write on those pillows- all based on what they have learned these past five weeks in Advisory.

Mrs. Shifra Srolovitz, a Child Life Specialist from Hassenfeld Children's Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at NYU Medical Center, addressed the students. Her job is to help the patients cope with the challenges they face in treatment and retain positive attitudes. She spoke to our students about how her patients face the “lemons” life has dealt them and the types of messages that would be encouraging for them as they decorate the pillows. The students then heard from our own 8th grader Dena Winchester about a place called the Inn at NIH in Maryland which houses children who are there for treatment. Dena highlighted how the patients focus on why they are lucky and not about the negative aspects of treatment. They also look forward to receiving little trinkets from the “Thoughtful Treasures” project. Dena will be spearheading an effort for our own students to collect trinkets to deliver to these children. (To learn more about this wonderful project see: The students then began decorating the pillows with pictures, jokes and “Affirmations” - positive coping statements. I was inspired as I watched the children consult with Mrs. Srolovitz and their Advisors to find the right words to send encouraging messages to the patients.  Our children learned that you do not even need Mr. Haber's magical one-way mirror to see others. Perhaps you only need to look out the window once in a while to notice those around you.

As the Holiday of Purim is around the corner, we think about the power of a positive attitude in saving the Jews. Esther pessimistically felt that she could not save the Jews. Mordechai challenged her and stated that if she did not go to Achashveirosh, salvation will come from another. And, so, Esther overcame the negative self- talk within her that was sending her messages that she would fail, and did save her people. That is the nature of the chag of Purim “V'nahafoch hu”- reverse it! When all seems negative, reverse your negative thinking and see the positive.