Last April Joanna spoke at Barnes and Noble in Roseville for Educator’s Week, about blind spots and the parent-teacher relationship. Below is a summary of this presentation.
Blind spots are the stuff about our children’s lives that we cannot experience or know unless we are open to receiving data about our children from sources other than our own children and our own beliefs and expectations about them.
There always have been blind spots in parenting.
However, the advent of the Internet and the mobile phone transformed the dynamics for communications with societal implications that leveled hierarchies at work and home; the model for formal authority that was once tied to social structure (position) carries less significance than it did for previous generations. Titles like “president”, “teacher” or “parent” carry less authority. In a flat world, where hierarchies are traded for networks, authority is more related than ascribed.
And because our children are tethered to us with their mobile phones, it becomes more natural to simply believe what they tell us about what is happening. And children quickly learn that if they tell us what we want to hear, they gain more and more autonomy unchecked.
Children are learning executives
Undetected and improperly addressed, blind spots (the things we do not know) can be a huge distraction, disturbing the peace which keeps kids from really learning.
And we know that we cannot make someone learn something. It is an intrinsic thing and it requires motivation – it involves free will. In this regard, distraction is the enemy of learning.
Our culture respects free will (i.e. civil liberty) which requires executive function, so let us then think of our children as “learning executives”; parents as “household executives”; and teachers as “classroom executives”.
Our primary objective in the parent-teacher relationship then is to establish a basis of communication to overcome blind spots which can allow distractions to develop and persist.
Examples of blind spots that distract children from learning
Under the right circumstances with the wrong thinking, we are all capable of anything. This is the human condition. To be certain, it is human nature that we are all, especially children, subject to the pressures and manipulations of the world, hyped in the network. For youth, some examples include:
- Accepting “friend requests” from people they don’t know
- Agreeing to meet a stranger they met on line (they may believe him to be a peer)
- Cyberbullying (being the target, or piling on)
- Sending sexually explicit photos via text
- Plagiarism (cut and paste)
- Cheating (texting answers)
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Addictions to video games, gambling and porn
- Classroom conduct issues
Lack of motivation reflected as “attitude”
For sure the experiences of childhood in a cyber-powered world inform children differently, much differently than their parents.
Commercial influence is predominant. In his book, Jump Point: How the Network Culture is Transforming Business (2010), Tom Hayes creates a portrait of the “digital native” for commercial exploitation. I read his book to understand the “digital native” so that parents could better establish the protective cover of their authority in raising “children of the web” into secure cyber citizens who govern themselves with minimal manipulation by their network. Below are some of the major characteristics of a digital native:
- Perceive authority as a relational experience
- Cyber-powered “friend” communities beckon them around the clock
- Texting main artery of communication
- Seek authenticity
- Attention is premium
- Trust is currency
Cyber powered friend communities can overwhelm the individual. In this environment, a lie can easily become an experience that murders the truth. Some lies include:
- You do not exist unless you are on Faceboook or social media app of the day (i.e., Instagram, Kik)
- Prescription pills are safe to use; drinking alcohol is no big deal as long as you don’t drink and drive
- Being cyberbullied so intensely it appears there is no hope for a future
- A belief that how you perform in high school determines the rest of your life – it is a “you bet the farm” proposition (some students rally, others give up)
The modern learning environment
Accommodation has become the new norm and, by the same token, there is a lot of anxiety and fear of failure as the purpose of education, learning, gets lost in the process.
In the network culture, children are conditioned to pull information, whereas the education process of generations past has been based upon the teacher being the primary resource pushing knowledge and information, and now, with the federal education standards, teaching to take tests.
The old saying “people don’t care about what you know until they know you care” has never been more true. Below are some of the features of the modern learning environment.
- Authority is more earned than ascribed
- Accommodation is emerging as a new norm
- Media is a huge influencer with social media and other on-line apps and games
- Instant gratification
- Fear of failure
- Global society – children are more worldly at earlier ages
So there is a lot more information and commercial pressure aimed at children like a fire hose.
How blind spots develop
Blind spots develop in three main ways:
- Relying on our own beliefs about what we think is true about our children and their experiences
- Leading with our assumptions supported by these beliefs (i.e., my child would never plagiarize or cheat, he is a straight A student)
- Anxieties that perpetuate the beliefs and assumptions
A common belief is that children know how to learn. And the reality is that without discipline to behave in the classroom, learning is not possible. In generations past, the socialization at home provided basic learning discipline which incorporates virtues associated with good citizenship: compassion, honesty, kindness, listening. Not so much today. Fewer children come ready to learn, creating new demands on teachers to first teach discipline, and then teach the material.
“Used to be the majority were ‘good citizens’ in the classroom. Today, classrooms are filled with more bad apples and many more swing voters”…anonymous teacher of 25 years
A common assumption is that when our children are having an issue with grades or a relationship on campus, the fault is with the other person be it the teacher or other student. Approaching your child’s difficulty with this assumption creates a defensive posture and prevents you from learning something about your child, and your child does not a chance to learn how to resolve conflict, correct their work habits to earn better grades, and own their part in a dispute or disagreement.
If we are anxious about our child’s future based upon their academic performance, we may wind up insisting that they are an “A” student, even when they hit a rough patch that may require them to accept lower grades in order to learn something. Our approach to the teacher may be defensive and can be intimidating, causing teachers to eventually adjust standards to please the demands of parents.
A similar thing happened with doctors prescribing antibiotics or medication because we parents had to get back to work. There was no time to convalesce. The experts can feel pressure to capitulate, just as parents can feel it from their children.
The other harmful thing that sometimes happens when our anxieties fuel our assumptions is being openly critical of the teacher in front of children. It is a license for children to disrespect the teacher. And the “impulse response” will cause the teacher to become defensive and then the student is not expected to help make the relationship work.
Your children are not your children…They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love, but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts….You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. –Kahlil Gibran, 1923
Overcoming blind spots
First assume good intent. This approach will allow the teacher to feel supported and will be better able to respond to your concern. And then:
- Listen to the teacher’s point of view and experience with your child (whether or not you like or believe what you hear)
- Repeat what you heard the teacher say – so that he knows you were listening. And then,
- Express your concern and ask for his help.
The role of the parent
- Setting expectations for the student related to classroom conduct as well as study habits
- Enforcing consequences for student decisions and actions
- Supporting the teacher and the student around common ground
Establish a united front with teachers
- Limit access to electronic equipment at home.
- Make sure that you can receive grade updates via website or email.Support the rule of no use of cell phones during class
- Email teachers early and ask for contact and show support.
- Hold the student more accountable – don’t “rescue” the student when the student is at fault.
- If there is a problem, contact the teacher first and try to work it out before going to the principal or vice principal.
What teacher’s need from parents
- Don’t assume that because they look mature they are. Most teenagers need guidance all through their high school years.
- Look over student work when students are having troubles.
- Enforce consequences for negative behavior & celebrate good behavior/successes.
- Healthy questioning of your child’s judgment is a good thing.
- Encourage student to get extra help at the first sign of trouble.
The most simple, sweeping recommendation for the modern parent with regard to helping their child become a better learner is to expect good classroom behavior and adopt good study habits. Focusing on grades can send the wrong signal; rather help your child develop a focus rooted in a sense of purpose. For a child that has the discipline to learn, is going to have a better chance of finding their purpose and achieving their dreams.
Proceed to the next article: A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM, Tuesdays.
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