Look around at today's students, and you'll find them spending inordinate amounts of time listening to mp3 players, texting and chatting online with friends, and posting and reading Facebook messages. Indeed, there's a new study by researchers at the University of Maryland showing that heavy users of "devices" can display symptoms similar to those of better-known addictions, such as alcohol and drug dependence. (Try this interesting "Internet addiction test" to measure whether you or someone you know is indeed hooked.)
We wanted to find out how the technological revolution affects—and should affect—the parents and teachers of technologically advanced students. We asked Larry D. Rosen, professor of psychology at California State University—Dominguez Hills and author of the new book Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn for some of his best findings. Here are his 7 best tips:
1. Learn the student's communication preferences. The latest figures from the Nielsen Company show that the average teen sends and receives 3,146 text messages per month or 10 per waking, nonschool hour. But wait—it's a phone so you can call them, right? Nope. If you want to reach your son or daughter, you had better learn how to text them.
2. Learn how to send long messages. Suppose you want to send a message to your student that can't be squeezed into a 140-character Tweet (that's net-savvy talk for a Twitter message). You decide to call them or send an E-mail (these are the two most preferred parent communication tools), and you want to make sure that they get the message. As soon as you leave the voice mail or send the E-mail, text them and tell them to check for your message.
3. Get them to read (and respond to) the entire message. When I used to leave my 19-year-old daughter a voice mail or an E-mail, I would write the same way I would speak to them face to face: in paragraph form. Most often, what I would get back would be: "OK"—with no indication of what part of my message was "OK." Tip: include a numbered list of questions and ask your student to respond to each. For example, you might say: "Hi, sweetheart! I have a few questions about your trip home next month. To make it easier for you, I have numbered them so you just need to type (in a return E-mail) or say (in a return phone call) the number and your answer."
4. "Face" the realities. Virtually every college student and most high school students have their own Facebook pages, and so should you (there's no restriction any more on who can join). Ask your child to show you how to make your own Facebook page. Allow them to show off and make it fancy or add photos or whatever will make them proud to be your tutor. Then, ask them to "friend" you: My research shows that more than 70 percent of these kids are happy to friend their parents.
Extra Pointer. Your kid may not want you to be a friend. This may be a warning flag that something is there that they don't want you to see, or might just be an expression of their desire to have you "butt out." If you want to know which it is, you might (delicately) ask.
5. Don't put down multitasking … When I see teens walking with friends, texting, talking, and listening to their iPods simultaneously, I am in awe of their ability to multitask. My research shows that multitasking climbs dramatically in the early teens, peaks in the late teens at seven or more tasks at a time, and then starts to decrease in young adulthood to around six. Don't blame them. It is our fault. We built computers with multiple windows. We bought them iPods plus all those other fun tech toys. We put the TV and video game console in their bedroom.
6. … But realize multitasking might not be so terrible. Our research shows that, first, you can't stop students from multitasking and, in any case, it might not be all bad. Constantly switching from one task (like homework) to another (such as texting) makes students take longer to do their homework, but in the end, they do just as good a job. You should, however, be on the lookout—especially if your student is in high school—for falling grades, which might be an indication of too much multitasking. In such a case, you shouldn't make the student unitask, but rather encourage them to cut down on the number of things they are doing at one time.
7. Keep 'em safe. There are some potential online dangers and you should be diligent in making sure your student is practicing "safe surfing." Pay attention to what is on their computer screens, who they are talking to, and what they are posting (pictures and words).
5-Star Tip. A recent study by Career Builder UK reveals that 44 percent of employers check social media sites such as Facebook when hiring employees. It's good to tell your student that what might have seemed cute at the time might not seem quite so cute at the interview at Procter & Gamble five years later. Some college admissions offices routinely check, too.
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