Parent Education Forum on Technology and the Teenage Brain

Laura Vanderberg & Mark Kline

About the guest speakers: Laura E. Vanderberg is Assistant Director of the Academic Resource Center for the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University, which helps students develop effective time management strategies and study and presentation skills. She specializes in development, learning and cognition in emerging adulthood. She earned her master’s in education at Harvard in the Mind, Brain, and Education Program and her Ph.D. in Applied Child Development at Tufts.

Mark Kline is a clinical psychologist and Associate Director of Human Relations Services in Wellesley, where he has worked for the past 16 years. He has studied the impact of technology on adolescent development and parenting and consults to schools and businesses on Internet safety.

Laura Vanderberg’s key points:
Change is always met with a mix of excitement and anxiety – Plato worried when written word was introduced and replaced oral tradition (will it make us forgetful?)

Our brains keep changing and growing, both functionally and structurally, in reaction to our experiences. It’s a two-way process (the child-world interface) that continues well into adulthood.

Working (short-term) memory is finite — analogous to a cup or a kitchen countertop. Multitasking can cause the cup or counter to overflow.

We each process information differently – what works for one child may not work as well for another (e.g. some prefer taking notes on paper vs. typing them).

Encourage kids to understand that different ways of studying may work better for one subject than another (e.g. they may prepare differently for a biology test than an English exam).

Parents and teachers can help children scaffold how they manage using technology. Discuss strategies for self-regulation and mediation of online world. (e.g. Suggest they try turning off wireless when they know they need to focus. Afterward ask, “Did it make you more efficient?” Likely, they’ll see it did.)

Strategies will vary by individual and by age/maturity.

Sleep is best way to restore working memory.

We all need to do different kinds of thinking, both have their time and place. Multitasking spurs quick synthesis; we also need time to focus on deep, critical thinking. It’s possible that our brains are adapting new ways to process information based on online experiences.

Laura’s bottom line: “You’re in a wonderful place [Beaver] to support and teach your kids how to moderate this technology.”

Mark Kline’s key points:
The Internet has benefits and drawbacks. As a father, he sees its power as learning tool, and in his practice he sees the potential pitfalls. (Editor’s note: Naturally, he is more apt to hear from families struggling with the risks than enjoying the benefits.)

Parents’ job is to help their kids develop their own “Internet moral compass” – they will need it to guide them throughout life when parents are not there to police them.

The technology is not going away, and we can’t protect kids from risks by restricting use, so better to set and enforce age-appropriate limits – as their judgment and maturity develop, some restrictions can be loosened.

Mistakes to be expected – part of learning process with technology (as with other parts of life!). “Caught with hand in cookie jar” moments offer an opportunity for thoughtful dialog with child about their motivation (Ask first, “Why do you think people waste so much time looking at inappropriate sites or playing online games?” then offer your opinion, “Here’s what I think….”)

If child seems to be struggling with finding a balance, ask, “How is this working for you?” and “How can we collaborate on a plan that works better?”

“Disinhibition phenomenon” in socializing and communication more likely online. Kids (and some adults) need to learn to modulate what they share and the ways they express themselves online.

Mark’s bottom line: As parents, we need to educate themselves and actively communicate with our children on these issues, because this is the world our children will live and work in.

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