TED Talk: The mysterious workings of the adolescent brain

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What eSmart behaviours are Australia’s parents talking to their kids about?

How would you like to see how other parents, across Australia, rate their experience of raising children in the digital age?

The Screen Smart Parent Tour is a great resource that allows parents to answer a series of questions about their children’s Internet use and then see the cumulative results of other families across the country. It also provides further information and advice on the topics addressed in the parent questions.

It is particularly focused on preteen to early teen parents, but has information useful if you have children of any age.

Parent TourThe Parent Tour is part of the iParent section of the eSafety Commission’s website – eSafety.gov.au.

Click here to access the tour.

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Helping your child to research online

A while ago, I was assisting my son to do some research online. I would love to say he was cooperative, but that wasn’t quite how it played out. I asked him to show me the topic he was researching, in this case a biography.

I looked on the learning management system for the task scaffolding and my son simply had to look for what information was required for each paragraph and find the research. Simple enough I thought – not this time – in my case, my son didn’t want to look beyond webpage one, let alone actually read what was on the page.

So, what do we as parents of school students need to know about the research our kids do?

Research today is different – but the principles of research haven’t changed.

I remember an assignment that I did at university in my History of Theatre subject. It is a fond memory because I did so well at it and followed the research methodology better than I had with most other assignments.

Here’s what I did:

  1. I gathered about 10 books from the university library that either covered my subject in depth or had some vague reference to it.
  2. I opened each book, looked at the contents and index pages first and then bookmarked the relevant pages.
  3. I transcribed relevant notes and quotes into a notebook and wrote the reference details for each book at the top of the notes for each book.
  4. I looked through my notes and thought about the ideas and concepts I had noted then checked my task sheet to see how I should collate the notes together into the essay.
  5. I began writing my task and then adding quotes and so on into the body of my essay as I made my points.
  6. After writing a rough copy of my assignment – I typed it onto the computer and printed out my final copy for handing to my lecturer.

This methodology can be applied to the research our children do in a digital space. It does involve being organised and it doesn’t hurt to actually have them take notes on paper.

I believe that the process of writing out the information assisted me in recalling it later when I was constructing my essay. A copy and paste (unfortunately all too common) of a reference doesn’t help with recall or deeper processing of the information.

So, what would I do today if I had the incredible access to resources that my children have?

  1. Search specifically for my topic on a number of search engines (not just Google) using a select group of keywords from my task sheet
  2. Scan the links that are presented from the search engine for relevance – this may involve going further than page 1 of the search results
  3. Click the links to explore the content of the relevant web pages and identify the legitimacy of the article – if good, take some notes and reference the page with a reference generator.
  4. A useful tip for skimming documents is to use the “Find” function of your device (Command – F on the laptop and the share icon on an iPad). By using this feature you save yourself a lot of time if you are looking for a particular term in a document.
  5. At this point I would have created a document where I am collecting all my notes and references to make it easier when I compile the assignment. Some also use tools like Evernote or Apple’s Notes app which continues to become better each year.
  6. I would check the task sheet for how to format the information and what is required – perhaps even search for some tips online for constructing a great essay
  7. Begin typing in my own words and then adding the research and referencing it as I go
  8. Printing my assignment and then after reading it myself, handing it to someone to read it – I tell my students not to ask the proofreader, “Is it good?” but to ask the question “How do you think I need to improve?”
  9. Once I’ve had feedback I would then edit my assignment and then submit it via the online and offline methods instructed by my teacher

That’s generally how I would do it – if you would like further in-depth detail on research skills, have a look at this article from Lifewire – How Proper Online Research Works.

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What’s all the fuss about Fortnite?

“Fortnite is the worst thing on the planet right now!”
“Settle down, it’s just another fad, give it time – it’ll blow over.”

Gaming always polarises people. For most people, it’s either ban it or be cool about it. ‘Fornite’ is now the most popular game on the planet and the same arguments are going around. My take on it comes from a few perspectives: media effects theories, brain science, over 15 years of teaching experience and 16 years of parenting.

What do studies say about gaming and its effect on young people?

Theorists have looked at media effects for over a century now and have come to some very grounded conclusions about any type of media and how it affects us. In the early days, many believed what is known as the Hypodermic Needle theory of media effects. In all communication theories, there is a sender (the media form) and a receiver (the audience). In the case of the Hypodermic theory, there was a belief that the message would directly affect the receiver, like a hypodermic needle injecting the message into the brain.

This was debunked early on because they realised that it was ridiculous to say that audiences believe and act on everything that they see on television or other media. However, it would appear that the media still has some influence because the advertising industry has built its success on something. So, after a number of years, theorists eventually developed theories to identify how the media does influence audiences and to what extent.

The Reinforcement theory said that the media reinforces your currently held beliefs and the Agenda-setting function theory states that the media can’t tell you what to think, but can set the agenda for what you think about.

When it comes to video games the answer isn’t a simple one where we can link games directly to violence or other societal evils. The Reinforcement theory would indicate that some people already predisposed to a particular behaviour will be influenced more strongly by that behaviour.  The Agenda-setting theory would also indicate that if we allow the media through children’s use of technology at a young age to set the agenda for what they think about – they’ll think about it.

What about the brain science?

Brain science is a very new field in the sciences because its only in the last 10-15 years that our technology has enabled us to delve deeper into how the brain works and more longitudinal studies have been made available. There are a number of areas we could cover in relation to Fortnite and other games, but the main ones are the management of dopamine and the development of executive function in children and adolescents.

Unless there have been dramatic changes to teacher education in the last few years, all teachers are required to take a psychology unit at university to better understand a child’s psychological development. Part of those studies include developmental psychology that tells us that there are physical changes that occur in the brain from childhood to adolescence. Less has been said about changes from adolescence to adulthood.

These ideas basically tell us that, in the area of executive function, children can’t physically think like adolescents and adolescents can’t think like adults. It’s physiologically impossible. Executive function is formed in the frontal lobe of the brain and is responsible for decision-making. The reason teenagers more easily take risks is due to an underdeveloped frontal lobe that can’t foresee consequences as well as an adult. These fully form sometimes into people’s 30’s, so it’s not necessarily linked just to adolescents.

Pair this with a video game and you have a recipe for very unhealthy behaviour because the game is here and now, it’s fun and there couldn’t possibly anything bad that could happen. As a matter of fact, I’m not even considering anything beyond ‘this game is fun and you’re spoiling my fun if I can’t play now.’

Enter dopamine. This is the chemical your body uses to make you feel pleasure. The brain science on this one is that the more you try and get a thrill and activate it, the more dopamine is released. The brain can’t be on a constant thrill ride, just like you feel tired after a burst of adrenaline, it has to recover or compensate. It creates a dopamine barrier so that it takes more effort to release the dopamine. More excitement is needed like the next great game or the next new thing and the cycle continues.

The downside of this is the person wants to feel more dopamine and therefore needs more to release it. The cycle ends with addiction to dopamine and the only solution is to take away the thing causing the addiction until the person is free from its hold.

So what’s my take away on Fortnite?

I personally think it’s like every other game and fad, it will come and go and it contains all the usual problems listed above. There are a few interesting things to consider about this one:

  • They now are offering cash prizes in each of their new seasons of the game, this is generally for career gamers – you can read more in  this article from Fortune
  • Children (and adults) who play Fornite are purchasing V-bucks with real money so that they can buy purely cosmetic upgrades to their characters. This sends the wrong message on multiple levels.
  • It looks like a fun game and there are some articles out there that would suggest playing it with your children. This can either make it uncool because you’re playing it, or help you connect with your kids – two quite good outcomes – just don’t get addicted yourself! I probably would, so I’m steering clear of it.

My final word on the issue is that, academically and in life, time management is a skill that demands constant attention. This requires delayed gratification which is excellent character development for anyone.

Games like Fortnite, or any other new online fad, take a sledgehammer to time management and delayed gratification. If we want to build good character in our children, we need to make sure that their focus is on being producers in our society and not consumers.

Time is our most precious commodity and we can either use it to enhance our lives and the lives of others or squander it. I’m pretty sure we’d have some excellent solutions to our world’s problems if we didn’t spend as much time on Netflix and every other time-waster the Internet has brought us.

Proverbs 21:5 (NLT) says “Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty.”

On a lighter note, here’s some mums who thought they’d have some fun with the way their kids behave when playing Fortnite – enjoy.

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What’s all the fuss about Fortnite?

"Fortnite is the worst thing on the planet right now!""Settle down, it's just another fad, give it time - it'll blow over." Gaming always polarises people. For most people, it's either ban it or be cool about it. 'Fornite' is now the most popular game on the planet...

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This week I got an email that started with the line "We are very proud to announce that King's Christian College has now attained eSmart Status! This is a wonderful achievement." The email was from eSmart Schools, an initiative of the Allanah and Madeline...

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Digital Reputation

Children with Internet-connected and camera-enabled devices can often be caught out when the technology outranks their maturity and their ability to see the future consequences of their actions.

This video gives an insight into the impact of the humble selfie on our culture.

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#Talkb4Sharing

Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, Twitter, WhatsApp, Discord... it seems that as the internet continues to grow, it is becoming more and more focused on the sharing of photos. In addition to this, as the smartphones in our pockets continue to have better and...

read more

What’s all the fuss about Fortnite?

"Fortnite is the worst thing on the planet right now!""Settle down, it's just another fad, give it time - it'll blow over." Gaming always polarises people. For most people, it's either ban it or be cool about it. 'Fornite' is now the most popular game on the planet...

read more

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This week I got an email that started with the line "We are very proud to announce that King's Christian College has now attained eSmart Status! This is a wonderful achievement." The email was from eSmart Schools, an initiative of the Allanah and Madeline...

read more