Polly Ely: Staying Attached with Tech All Around

The evening of Tuesday, January 23, Polly Ely gave an on-campus talk called “The House that Tech Built: Staying Attached with Tech All Around.” These are notes from that presentation, which focused on how to engage your child positively around her/his tech habits. You can read more about Polly Ely here: https://www.thelabmethod.com/about/

  • Self-determination theory (competence, autonomy, relatedness) as it relates to tech:
    • Competence: I can figure out both how to use and when to use tech. I can master this.
    • I can follow my inner directives and chart my course on my own in my tech use.
    • I am not an island. I don’t have to figure this out by myself. We are in this together. I am loveable, even when I am out of balance with tech.
  • ⅓ attunement; ⅓ rupture; ⅓ repair
  • What can I ADD-IN to make my relationship with my child more secure, rather than focusing on what I should clamp down on and take away…?
  • Tech can allow your kids to “flip the hierarchy” and gain power over parents. Parents need to be AWARE of when this starts to happen, and maintain calm, cool, control.
  • Strongest reinforcer of bad behavior: when you SOMETIMES give in and allow your kid to break the rules. If this happens even just one in five times, of COURSE kids are going to try for it, every time. This is the “slot machine effect” of parenting.
  • Kids WANT a sturdy adult who can take control over a situation and won’t give in to a tantrum. It helps them feel safe.
  • Teach yourself how to take a deep breath, lean back, and SMILE when you see a tantrum brewing. Keep control.
  • “Sometimes we have to be different from other parents.” Give yourself permission to have the courage to be different.
  • Balancing the desire for screen-time with other parts of life isn’t going to be something we JUST learn by virtue of signing an agreement. But you should still have an agreement.
  • Some kids will lie, cheat, and steal, to get their hands on technology. This doesn’t make them “bad.” It’s not a character flaw. This is them trying to figure out how to live with a device that can be hard to manage in moderation.
  • Technology gives us a chance to practice learning about integrity.
  • The relationship with you (the parent) IS the reward your kids seek more than anything in the world. While they may be asking for screens, a relaxed 15 min with you is their deepest longing.
  • Hold the lines and set limits, but do so with your eyes on our relationship, rather than controlling their use of technology. SAY things like “I am really craving some time with you. What do you think about….with me?”
  • Basic benchmarks/skills that kids need to clear EVERY DAY to get access to any screens (do these things DAILY…eg, movement, pro-social engagement, some path toward inner life, etc.)
  • 3 main controls: wifi routers (turn off as a family sometimes!); turn off cellular for certain hours; block porn.
  • Give kids access and tech privileges SLOWLY. Kids actually like to earn things; it feels good to them. Break each new bit of tech access into bits that are EARNED.
  • “Full disclosure about surveillance” – a trusted relationship paired with human monitoring is the best protection. “Out of care for your learning, about how to use tech responsibly, I want to remind you that i am tracking and watching your online use. I will stand guard over you because to me there is NO PERSON I know more worthy of being guarded and protected than you.”
  • “I love you too much to let you miss this.” [Recommended for tech-free vacations!]
  • With a fever over 100 degrees, limited passive screen time is allowed. But without a fever, they will find another way to pass the time while being sick. This tends to “expedite” the recovery process!
  • The Faucet o’ Fun: TV, video games, phone, ipads, special snacks, excursions…I am ok with turning it off if I need to when you forget to keep our agreement. “For the next few years, it will probably go on and off a bunch of times and that’s ok. Let’s talk about what you can do to keep it on.” (And as a parent, get COMFORTABLE with the idea of giving it back; taking it away; giving it back; taking it away…
  • Always try to parent from a place of “Cheerful indifference.” This is a Buddhist concept. Do not ride the roller coaster with your child–if you do, you’ve probably lost control of the situation.
  • “The Power of 15:” Fifteen minutes of child-led attunement with your child, is more powerful than their screen time. It will “settle their whole system down.”
  • Parents have to unplug as well! And check in before you check out: “I am going to do some work for about 30 min. My body will be here, but my mind will be somewhere else. So when you talk to me, I may not answer.” OR “Babe, I need to step away for about 30 min to return a few emails. I wanted to let you know rather than just ghosting on everyone. Is now an ok time for this?”
  • Kids can sometimes be “the ungrounded wire.” You, the parent, have to be the grounding wire.
  • Leave 6 hours / week of unscheduled time (eg the second half of Sunday), for your FAMILY.
  • Do a rehearsal of turning it on and turning it off, and NAME that as practice for being prompt when it’s ACTUALLY time to turn it off.
  • “PEOPLE FIRST, THEN PROBLEMS.” Connect with your child as a PERSON before you say something like “How long have you been on that thing?!”
  • When it’s genuinely their turn to kick back and enjoy consuming: “Hey, it’s time to get into video game position! You have earned it. Set your timer and enjoy every minute, sweetheart!” Let them KNOW you want them to have fun, when they’ve earned it.
  • TEACH kids about the idea of having “an inside life” and “an outside life.” Teach them HOW to maintain personal care over their inside life. TALK about it. If nobody talks about it, they start to think that inside life isn’t real.
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness, loneliness, and anxiety is occurring in our young people as a result of too much time spent responding to what’s going on OUTSIDE, and never attending to something that needs attention INSIDE.
  • By age 9 or 10, start having short 5- to 10-minute conversations about online porn. Say something like “There are some things on the internet, sweetheart, that feel scary and confusing for kids to see. There are sites with people who are like actors, and they act out (something called) sex with each other. When people do sex in a video, it’s called porn. Sometimes kids feel really sad or upset when they see porn accidentally on the internet. Sometimes kids put curse words in google wondering what will come out, and sometimes it’s things like this. It’s not love, it’s not real, and if you see anything like this, I want you to turn it off. You are worthy of this kind of protection, which is why I’m taking the care to tell you this. But I also want you to know that you’re not in trouble if you ever see it. If that happens, I want you to be able to talk with me about it so I can help you.”
  • When kids break agreements, institute a 1-2 day “tech break.” Think of this break from technology as a GIFT. (They will not feel this to be a gift, and that’s ok. They have permission to be mad.) Break is usually 24-48 hours, starting when kids engage in the cleanup process (repairing whatever damage they did by breaking a rule–eg re-do’s, paying for lost/broken charges, repair relationships…). Break does not actually end until cleanup is done. The interim is an excellent time to review our agreements, figure out what went wrong, do the cleanup, and re-agree. (A break for a MAJOR problem could be 14-30 days…you still engage in repair, have a re-do, and eventually end on a good note.) This may also be a cue for the PARENT to slow down and connect more with the kid.
  • Rather than “I can’t believe you’re still doing this after I’ve told you…”, try something like “We will work on this until we get it.” This is a powerful message to kids.

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MCDS Participates in Hour of Code

For many years now, MCDS students have participated in Hour of Code, where students around the world practice coding during the first full week of December. This helps raise global awareness around the importance of learning to code in grade school.

This week, all our 2nd-5th graders watched this 2-minute video:

…and then chose coding exercises from code.org/learn. Students are encouraged to share their coding skills with parents at home!

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This week in 3rd and 4th grades, we watched a series of short video clips to help guide and further our conversations around digital citizenship. As with past sessions, we found that using resources such as these, helped students build context around the idea of digital citizenship. Once the conversation was primed with a video clip, there were too many hands up in the room to have time for everyone to contribute to the whole-group conversation. Students made many connections to what they saw in the clips and were eager to share personal stories and perspectives.

Here are a few of the clips we used:

Meanwhile, in 6th & 7th grade SEL class this week, half the students did SEL work with Darlene while the other half continued the conversation around digital citizenship. In 7th grade, we reviewed some of the “MY DIGITAL DIET” work the students did back in October. Here are a few examples:

My Digital Diet 9

My Digital Diet 8

My Digital Diet 6

My Digital Diet 3

We furthered our conversation around digital citizenship by having students look at their own personal data around their school-Chromebook internet browsing activity for the month of November. Students received CSV files listing their entire browsing history, plus separate files listing videos they watched, google searches they made, flagged & blocked sites they attempted, and Google docs they worked on during the 30-day period. After reviewing the data, students completed the following reflections:

Screen Shot 2017-12-01 at 12.28.34 PM

Next week, we’ll continue the work in 6th & 7th grades by having each student answer these questions:

Screen Shot 2017-12-01 at 12.28.47 PM

…and then pair up with a classmate to discuss what they learned.

Parents–we encourage you to reinforce these conversations at home, and be in touch if you’d like to receive support or offer input!

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Common Sense Media Tech Forum 10/12/17

For our third consecutive year, MCDS hosted a panel of sixteen 8th graders from participating Marin schools, who answered questions about their digital lives in front of a parent audience. Notes are below–some thoughtful, balanced answers that we hope are indicative of the work we’re doing with students around digital citizenship.

Most notes are written from the students’ point of view. We hope they provide valuable insights as you support your child’s relationship with digital technology.

  • If you haven’t already, check out Common Sense Media’s recent gender equity initiative research
  • My phone usually charges in kitchen; sometimes I sleep with it in my room. My parents use KidsLox so it limits me to 90 minutes per day on my phone, and it shuts off apps at 8pm.
  • I got my phone in 6th grade when I made honor roll. Most of my peers got their phones when we were in 5th grade, so I was excited when I got mine in 6th.
  • Some tech rules for my family: not allowed to be on phone in someone else’s car; have to charge my phone in my dad’s office… I wasn’t allowed on Instagram at first, but eventually my parents let me join. I had to prove I was responsible, and I had to write out a lot of ideas about how to use it responsibly before I was allowed to start my account.
  • I got my phone in 5th grade. My family’s rules are no social media, and no sleeping with my phone in my room.
  • We know that sleep helps connect the prefrontal cortex to the emotional center of the brain, which helps us make better decisions.
  • After being on my phone for a while, I’d rather go outside and kick a soccer ball or something than keep playing on my phone.
  • Sometimes I find myself going down a rabbit hole on social media, and I try to be aware of that so I can pull myself back. Usually it’s Instagram or Snapchat. They have “explore” features that are pretty mindless and kind of pointless, but they definitely suck you in.
  • Moment” or similar tools can help you keep track of how long you spend on your phone, app-by-app…
  • I have Twitter on my phone, just to look at controversial tweets like Donald Trump’s. I don’t really use it for much besides that.
  • I don’t have a phone, and I don’t really have that “FOMO” feeling. Right now I’m on my computer a bit more in my free time, because I’m injured and I can’t play sports. Usually I’m out mountain biking or something.
  • Instagram and Snapchat are what most of us use. Twitter is for 20- and 30-somethings who are trying to be hip. Facebook’s kind of… way out there.
  • I have blocked one person on Snapchat. I blocked them because they sent me something every day, even though we didn’t have a streak going. I blocked them because it was getting annoying, not because I don’t like them or was trying to hurt them.
  • Ghosting (making a plan to meet up with someone and then not showing up) is really mean…I’ve never done that. When someone is being mean or inappropriate, that’s when I block them.
  • I don’t really believe in the blocking thing for people I know. I would assume someone didn’t like me if they blocked me. Instead, I like to use the “do not disturb” function on my phone when I want to block content. And yeah, I also block people who I don’t actually know if they try to follow me.
  • I only get notifications for texts within 10 minutes. I don’t have notifications turned on for stuff like Snapchat and Instagram.
  • In 7th grade, I looked at my phone a lot when I was doing HW. It really didn’t help me–it made it so my homework would take way longer. Now I turn my phone on silent when I’m doing my HW.
  • I try not to use my phone when I do my HW, because it slows me down and distracts me. Sometimes I need to use my phone during homework, when I need to ask a friend a question about the work.
  • My phone is mainly for emergencies. I have an iPhone and honestly I don’t think it’s that cool.
  • I got my phone around 6th grade, and now I sometimes wish I didn’t have my phone a little bit. Now, even if I know I won’t need it, I always bring my phone with me. And I’ve noticed my younger sister, who’s now in 6th grade, is always on her phone with group texts and stuff. It has changed her a little bit.
  • I always have my phone on me, just in case I need to use it. Most of the time, I’m using it for music. I try not to use it too much.
  • Most of my friends are on social media, or they play video games all the time. They also talk about it all the time, when they’re not doing it. It’s sometimes a little bit too much.
  • Most of my friends aren’t on social media, but they do play video games. A lot of them play when they get home, before they do their homework. Some of them are addicted–it’s not good.
  • For soccer carpool, one of my friends is always on her phone. She won’t talk, and she won’t listen. We’ll ask her a question, and she won’t answer… I actually like it when whoever’s driving calls her out on it.
  • There should be places in your house (and your car!) that are device-free zones. Think about designating rooms that are regularly used for family time, as device-free zones. Meal times are great for this as well.
  • It doesn’t happen too much where I’ve posted something of someone they didn’t like, or vice versa.
  • Subtweeting: where you post something about someone without using their name, but everyone knows what/who you’re talking about. Even if you don’t know at first who/what someone is talking about, it raises curiosity and stimulates popularity when someone does this. Also you’re saying something behind a screen and you think it’s ok, but the person you’re talking about could be really hurt by your subtweet. If you have a problem with someone, it’s better to say something to them in person.
  • Anonymous apps like KiwiSarahah, and tbh: went around our school for a little while, but not really as popular anymore. Anonymous apps are really tricky–they mean you run a greater risk of having your feelings hurt.
  • I think it’s ok for adults to tell me it’s time to put the phone down. I try to monitor myself, and I think I’m pretty good about it, but sometimes I need reminders. I see some of my friends who I wish their parents would step in more and tell their kids to get off their phones.
  • My twin sneaks his phone a lot. He gets addicted to technology more than I do. I’ve found that if you’re more responsible, you get more privileges.
  • A lot of people say mean things online because they feel more immune to responses from other kids or parents. Not everyone knows who you are, and even if they do know who you are, some people have an online image that is different from what they’re like in person.
  • I know someone who has committed suicide, so I don’t take that as a joke.
  • Sometimes kids are mean in the comments they post.
  • It can be hard to unplug, because a lot of my schoolwork is on the computer. Sometimes I wish I could unplug more and focus more on my friendships, like having conversations on the bus. It’s also super-frustrating when my device dies or goes out of wifi range and I have lots of work to do.
  • I use my phone sometimes to FaceTime friends when I need help with homework. Like, I’ll figure something out with a friend if we were both confused in class, or I’ll ask a friend to catch me up if I missed class…
  • I prefer talking face-to-face over texting. That’s especially true when I’m trying to resolve a disagreement with a friend. Texting almost never works for that, but FaceTime does.
  • It’s nice to hang out on play dates and sleepovers without phones.
  • You can’t always convey sarcasm via text.
  • “I’ve got your cyber-back” is something some kids are saying to each other these days, particularly girls-to-girls. It’s good to be an “upstander” online, especially when you see a friend in need.
  • Sometimes I get into heated exchanges with friends online. It wasn’t a good feeling. But I recently realized that I can put the phone down whenever I want, and not respond for any amount of time I like…it’s a liberating feeling.
  • Sometimes adults forget that technology can bring people closer together.
  • Sometimes I think adults exaggerate and think I’m on my phone way more than I am.
  • I’m not that mad when my parents tell me to get off the phone. I do get upset when I do my homework for a long time (but my parents don’t see/know/acknowledge that), and then I get on my phone for a couple minutes and they say “Get off your phone; go do your homework.”
  • Sometimes I get frustrated when my parents tell me to get off my phone, because I’m in the middle of something (like making plans) that I need a couple minutes to finish… but generally I’m actually kind of glad/relieved when my parents tell me to get off my phone.
  • For a while, I got a little too obsessed with my phone. My parents got a tool that shut off the wifi every night, and that helped me regroup and manage my tech habits better.
  • Even though I don’t have a phone, I still want one. I play outside a lot, and I like to read, but I think I would still do those things with a phone.
  • I think the longer you can wait to get a phone, the better it is. There does come a point where kids’ social lives are impacted by not having a phone. That point comes at different times for different kids. The right time to get a phone really just depends on the kid.
  • I got Instagram on my iPad in 5th grade, but I didn’t get my own phone till 7th grade. I liked doing it that way because when I got my phone, I already had practice with Instagram. I wasn’t compulsively checking it all the time just because I happened to have my phone with me all the time.

6th Grade Data re: mobile devices and tech challenges

As you may recall, 6th grade Tech/SEL content focuses on pros and cons of having/not having a mobile device. On September 27, we continued that conversation by polling two groups of MCDS 6th graders, each group containing 21 students. The results are presented in the PDF below.

Headlines include:

  • Overall, approximately 38% report already having their own smart phones with data plans; 38% report already having a device like a simple flip-phone or iPod touch; and 26% report not yet having a mobile device. (See first two pie graphs.)
  • There seems to be a healthy attitude among students toward technology. Both groups show a standard bell curve for balanced a balanced relationship with technology. (See bar graphs.)
  • Students widely vary in terms of what they see as the trickiest thing about technology for themselves. We do, however, see a distinct trend in both groups that the trickiest thing for 6th graders in general is “Digital drama.” Furthermore, 6th graders in both groups distinctly noted that the trickiest thing about tech for the adults in their lives is “How much time it takes up, that you should be spending on other things.”

Please review the data carefully and as always let us know if you have any questions. We hope to see many of you at the Common Sense Media teen panel this thursday, October 12, at 8:30am in MP1.

For the full-res version, click here: 6th Grade Data 20170927

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7th Grade SEL summary – Sept 15

The focus for the tech portion of 7th grade SEL shifts from cell phones to the broader, more abstract concept of the media. Like in our first 6th grade session, we started with the questions “What makes technology tricky?” and  “What makes it different from other things in our lives?” We also looked at some of the features of CW’s GoGuardian dashboard:

  • top websites visited by the whole school, or a particular grade
  • most flagged students (names redacted when displayed during class)
  • a full timeline of any student’s full web history
  • top videos
  • a full list of any student’s google searches or videos watch
  • a graphical view of how much time a student spends editing docs vs visiting specific websites vs searching the web vs watching YouTube vs flagged activity


We talked about how you will be invited to reflect on your own web usage trends at different points throughout the year, and what you can do in the meantime if you have questions or would like to request your own data. We also talked about the huge amount of misinformation and/or upsetting content available on the web, and the importance of identifying a trusted adult as your main resource for questions on growing up, friendships, drugs, alcohol, sex, and so forth. You guys are the first group of adolescents to go through this time in your life and also have so much access to digital technology. That’s a huge responsibility– we all need to take care to address that, to help you grow into your very best self.

Next week you’ll have an SEL session with Darlene. The week after that (Friday, September 29), we’ll be back together as a whole group of 40 students in the PA. You will be asked to jot notes and sketches that help explain your own relationship with technology and your “digital life” (or lack thereof). To help you prepare for the 9/29 session, be thinking about some of the following questions:

  • What’s on your Spotify playlist? What popular playlists do you like to follow? (If you don’t use Spotify, talk about your relationship with music, digital or not.)
  • Do you understand all the lyrics/meanings behind the songs you listen to?
  • Do you want to be famous? (If so, famous for what?)
  • Should there be different tech rules for adults vs kids?
  • Who are your favorite YouTube stars right now?
  • What’s the latest thing you’ve heard about FAKE NEWS?
  • Do you feel pressure to look or act a certain way because of what you see online?
  • Which 3 celebrities grate on your nerves the most and why?
  • Seen anything funny on the web lately?
  • Do you like to document your life? Do you WANT a record of your life?
  • Who are your role models that you see in the media?
  • What’s the coolest thing with tech right now for a 7th grader?
  • What’s the worst thing about tech right now for a 7th grader?
  • At what time in the day/evening/night do you usually take your last look at a screen?
  • Track your mood: would you say you’re in a better mood, a worse mood, or no difference, after doing social media or video games?

6th Grade SEL Class Summary – Sept 13

Today we had introductions from the full SEL teaching team: Darlene, Nell, Señora Ellsworth-Yow, and Christopher.

We explored questions like

  • What makes technology tricky? and
  • What makes it different from everything else in our lives, that we would need to have major rules, guidelines, expectations, and conversations around it?

We talked about how our screens are really powerful–they captivate our attention, tempt us, and distract us frequently. We touched on the “attention economy,” where all those web- and app-developers out there are trying to “suck you in,” to keep you coming back to their app or site, to get you to buy things or believe the same things they do. We also touched on how self-awareness, self-control, and intentional MINDFULNESS will help prevent our technology from controlling our lives.

Mainly, though, our conversation focused on one idea: cell phones and other mobile devices. In 6th grade, cell phones and mobile devices start to be a BIG DEAL for some. (As adolescents, you are turning your attention from adults toward each other, and many of you want to connect socially using technology.) Already in 6th grade, we have a bunch of kids who have cell phones or other mobile devices that allow them to text, FaceTime, email, and otherwise connect with friends.

So, as the year goes on, we’re going to explore more deeply how to build a 6th grade community where everyone feels included, even when some might be connecting over technology and others may not. We also want to remember that having a phone is not always an advantage–there are many benefits also to waiting a while longer before you get your own personal device.

Half the grade will pick up where we left off on this conversation September 27; the other half will pick back up with me on October 4. In the meantime, think about your own personal relationship with technology and media:
  • What devices do you use on a daily/weekly basis?
  • What apps, sites, or other programs do you mainly use? For learning OR fun?
  • How, if at all, do you like to connect with others using technology?
  • What are the benefits of spending your free time OFF screens?

MCDS teachers & students: help reduce print waste!

Students, teachers, and parents: welcome back for the 2017-18 school year! This year we are launching a campaign to reduce print waste on campus. You can follow our progress with this initiative all year at THIS SITE.
Here’s a preview of what you’ll see if you click-through:

Reducing Print Waste

Thank you in advance for doing your part to help save resources and protect our planet! We are excited for the year ahead.

MCDS student holds Tech+Social Media Event for 8-16 year-olds: April 29, 2017

Mercer Henderson, an MCDS 8th grader who founded 4GirlsTech (empowering young girls to solve problems through entrepreneurship), will be hosting a tech + social media event at the JCC in San Francisco, 8am-noon on Saturday, April 29. This event is open to boys and girls alike, aged 8-16. We applaud Mercer on her efforts to empower girls in the 21st century! If you’re not familiar with her apps, check out Audiots (integrates sound with emoji) and FriendIts (facilitates clothes borrowing/lending among friend groups).