Screenagers: “Why Kids Lie About Screen Time”

In 2017, our Grade 7 and 8 students viewed the movie “Screenagers”. The response was so positive with both students and staff that the school decided to host an evening when parents can see the movie as well. The filmmaker (Delaney Ruston, MD) puts out a weekly blog called “Tech Talk Tuesday” so in preparation for the movie night (Tuesday, February 20th, 7:00 at the Main Campus for parents with students of ANY age), we are going to pass along the weekly blog. At the end, there are some questions for families to discuss so feel free to start a conversation at home if appropriate.

WHY KIDS LIE ABOUT SCREEN TIME – Delaney Ruston, MD January 30, 2018

When I am talking with youth about screen time, I often ask them, “What do you want your parents to understand regarding your screen time?” The number one response is “I want them to trust me.” Many of the same kids go on to tell me about the ways they sneak tech time from their parents—under the covers, during school days, etc. It took me awhile to wrap my head around this disconnect.

I have to come to understand how kids are telling the truth about how much our trust means to them. They want adults to believe that they are capable of making things happen and capable of being independent. They need our trust and our confidence to give them the strength to deal with all the challenges they face in growing up.

So why lie? Kids and teens lie to us about a lot of things, but usually, it’s in the form of withholding information and not blatant lies. One of the big reasons that research shows is they don’t want to be judged poorly by adults, it’s not just that they don’t want to get in trouble.

Parents often put honesty at the top of the list of virtues they most want in their children.  Plain and simple, right? Not really. We, humans, partake in many untruths all the time. Yep, we lie in different forms—a lot.  Kids hear us twist the truth, omit things wittingly, and so on.

Developmentally, lying takes intelligence. It’s a skill young kids start to explore around age three and then increases until they’re about six years old. Usually, by seven it’s on the decline. When kids hit pre-teen and teen years, when sensation seeking urges increase and desire for greater autonomy also increases, often they will withhold information and at times will lie.

Sneaking screen time is ubiquitous, it can cause a ton of friction in homes and put strife into relationships. Kids don’t feel happy about sneaking—it comes at an emotional cost. They know at some deep level that they are undermining the one thing they want so much: trust.

So how to raise more honest children? Here are some data-driven ideas:

  1. Pay attention and try to decrease how often you say white lies…they pick up on all of that of course.
  2. Reward truth-telling far more than the digression. A recent study gives insight into how our actions can help steer kids towards more truth-telling as they grow up. When a truth is uncovered, particularly if the child comes forward with the truth, the key is to put a lot of positive focus on the fact that they came forward. “…children who expected more positive parental responses to confession were reported by parents to confess more in real life than children who expected more negative parental responses to confession.”
  3.  Practice the skill of effective rule setting.

Research shows that youth lie the least to parents who do these three main things:

  1. Are emotionally warm
  2. Have taken the time to set some clear rules and explained why
  3. Are open to hearing why their kids disagree with certain rules, and will, when warranted, make adjustments

Here is an example. Tommy, from Screenagers, admitted to me he would sneak his iPad at bedtime. Even though he used it under the covers, his parents could see the light. When Tommy got caught, Tommy’s dad told me he didn’t punish him. Instead, he had a conversation with Tommy about why using his device after bedtime was not good for his health and sleep. He wanted Tommy to understand that, while he understood the pull of the game on his iPad, there were reasons for needing to set limits.

Lastly, I have learned that as much as youth want to be trusted, they want to be understood. So let’s listen. Show them that their voice matters and make adjustments to rules now and then. For example, if a teen makes a good argument for why his/her phone should not be put away at 9:30 but 10, then you may decide to do that but stick to another rule, like making sure all screens are out of the bedroom at bedtime.  You can explain to your teen science and experience shows us that “sleep is supreme.”  You know me—I always want to do a plug for sleep hygiene.

For this weeks’ TTT let’s talk about honesty:

  1. Do you know people who are especially honest? How so? And, how does it make you feel?
  2. What ways do we as a society alter the truth? i.e., when we say to our kids, “Be sure to thank grandma for the purple sweater and tell her how much you liked it.”
  3. What are the reasons that people might not tell the truth, i.e., to not hurt someone’s feelings or when rules are felt to be barbaric?
  4. What are the downsides of not being honest?
  5. How does this all relate to screen time and ourselves and relationships? Are we lying to ourselves about how much time we spend on screens? Do we alter the truth to others about our screen time activities or usage?


In the “Zone”

School zones and particularly their drop-off and pick-up zones were in the news recently due to an accident in Toronto that took the life of a five-year-old girl. Police, school, and safety officials all agreed that school zones are getting busier every year.

As the housing surrounding the Mentor and TEAM campuses changes, I am seeing more students walking to school but we are still far from the typical “neighbourhood school”. About one-third of our students use our school buses (with a much-smaller fraction taking public transit) so I estimate that about 60% of our students get to and from school via the family vehicle. The school feels that the morning drop-off and afternoon pickup works very well considering the volume of traffic (and we are in a position to say this because there are administrators and teachers overseeing these areas during the busiest times).

But just like the high school student with a 96% overall average, you can say that “there is always room for improvement” so here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Use only the “drop-and-drive” lane for drop-offs and pick-ups. If you use the “drive-through” area, your child will need to cross the drop-and-drive lane where drivers may be coasting forward watching their child enter the school (not expecting foot traffic in front of them)
  • Have students ready for drop-off. The drop-and-drive lane is named for how it is supposed to work. When vehicles stay in this lane too long, the driver who pulled up behind feels the need to back up in order to extract themselves from the lane and thereby endangering students who are crossing the lane.
  • Double parking/stopping. This is usually found on Queen Street by the Mentor campuses either for a quick drop-off or pickup or in the afternoon while waiting for the buses at the Primary Campus to clear. With parking allowed on both sides of the street, there are only two lanes available and vehicles parked/stopped in one lane when the street is at its busiest makes for an uncomfortable traffic situation. 
  • U-turns. There is a reason why there are specific signs forbidding U-turns around our schools. If you are tempted to do one of these illegal/dangerous moves, please just do another lap of the school; there are too many vehicles and pedestrians who are not expecting such a manoeuvre.
  • Be a good “mentor”. We love when our Grade 11 students start driving (accompanied by Mom or Dad in the passenger seat!) with their G1 licence. We owe it to them to exhibit proper driving habits and, because we are on the streets near the schools or in the parking lots, we should be even more diligent.
  • Be patient. In my over 25 years of watching traffic around the schools, most of the issues could have been resolved if drivers just waited a few more seconds for the traffic around them to clear. So if this happens, have another sip of coffee and say to yourself “Mr. Starkey would be proud of me for being so patient!”

Chris Starkey
Administrative Principal
Mentor College/TEAM School

OEC Highlights For 7/8: Canoeing, Fall Colours, Amazing Race

The seasons at the OEC (Outdoor Education Centre) are flying by, as usual. The Grade 8s of Mentor and TEAM started off the year early in September and continued each week through October. Every group participated in the highly-anticipated canoeing programme on Ryde Lake – enjoying gorgeous fall colours, wildlife viewing, and a trip through the Tree Museum. The Grade 8 session were focused on leadership – while being challenged at high ropes, low ropes, and the stream study. Each group also created a leadership video group project – which was viewed by everyone at the end of each week.

Following the Grade 8s were the Grade 7s – whose programme typically starts with some enjoyable fall weather, but can become unpredictable with snow, sleet, hail and rain. The students were well prepared for whatever Mother Nature had in store for them while we challenged them to a full day’s worth of the OEC Amazing Race and helped them to step outside of their comfort zone at times as they attempted to conquer Team-All-Aboard-High-Ropes Challenge. We cannot forget about the Animal Survival Game – where students are part of an experiment to see if they can accurately portray an animal in the woods searching for food, water and shelter, all the while trying not to be preyed upon or infected by disease.

Immediately following the break, the Grade 6s will be on their way up to the OEC to strap on the snowshoes, navigate the forest via GPS, and glide down the cross-country ski trails. Well, at least until their skis cross each other and they do a face plant into the ample snow that we are expecting … and hoping for. So, Grade 6s, pack your wool socks, and warm layers, and get ready for a Muskoka winter adventure that you will never forget! Grade 5s, in the spring when the ground thaws and the sap begins to run, we look forward to seeing you here!

Log in to Facebook to see more photos from the OEC!

Brian Scheill & Heidi Smith
Outdoor Education Teachers
Mentor College/TEAM School

Are We Like The Leafs?

After leaving a VERY busy Open House for prospective parents and students on Saturday, I was listening to a sports talk radio show. They were talking about the Toronto Maple Leafs (as they often do) and the discussion revolved around the reasons why the hockey team was struggling as of late. The host pointed out a quote from coach Mike Babcock earlier in the season where he warned that skill alone will not win you many hockey games but if you make hard work your priority, THEN the skill will have a better chance of being displayed.

If this is his coaching philosophy, I think Coach Babcock would be a good person to have for our speaker series. When I look at the student body at Mentor and TEAM, I know that we are very fortunate to have “skill” because if we didn’t think a student could handle our academic expectations, we would not offer them a spot in our school. Most new students already have a significant academic skill level when they come to us but they do not always have the work ethic that we expect. One family I spoke with at the Open House assumed that coming to Mentor would automatically boost their child’s average by 10%. I had to warn them that their son would probably need to work harder than he was now just to maintain his current average.

I think this “skill before hard work” trap can affect returning students as well. It is easy to say to yourself “I got on the honour roll last year” and assume it will happen again but if you don’t continue to put in the hard work, your reputation alone will not get you the results. Our high school DECA team (business competition) is a good example of this. They could go into competitions with just their smarts and do OK but they work hard at preparing for their competitions months in advance and are rewarded with way more ribbons and medals than they could get simply on their intellectual skills.

This applies to our school as a whole, too. We know that we cannot simply open up our doors every September and assume that last year’s families will all be back and that a bunch of new families will join us based simply on our past successes. We strive to provide a top-notch educational experience for our students and this means that we need to put in the work to do so. If our current families are satisfied, they will not only continue to send their children to us year-after-year but they will also be our most effective “brand ambassadors” as they talk about Mentor and TEAM with their colleagues and circle of friends. That’s what makes days like last Saturday fun; almost every family present listed a number of current students or alumni who recommended us to them. We certainly had a better Saturday than the Leafs did!

Chris Starkey
Administrative Principal
Mentor College/TEAM School

A Graduate of I.O.U.

It is human nature to want to better ourselves. As a school, this is our main purpose…to give students academic tools and a nurturing environment that makes them better students and prepares them for the next step in their educational and life journeys.

Unfortunately, society has replaced this old-fashioned thinking with one of entitlement. Putting in the time and doing the work has been supplanted with shortcuts (usually accompanied by a monetary exchange). This story from the CBC is an excellent example.

Erwin Sniedzins, a Toronto entrepreneur and would-be politician, spent $8,100 to get a Master of Education degree in Technical Education from King’s Lake University. Sniedzins also noted that he did not want to spend $30,000 on a real degree that required him to actually do any work to earn the degree. He was shocked to find out that the “no studying, no exams, and no academic work” policy of the school was too good to be true and he had been scammed.
Sniedzins repeatedly told CBC Toronto that he never suspected a degree based on life experience that required no academic work, studying or exams could be fake as it was in line with his approach to education. “I thought that was great. They should actually have universities that do that,” he said.

Now if it were me, I would rather consider the $8,100 as unrecoverable rather than have everyone in the GTA know what an idiot I was to fall for the scam. Even worse would be to let my family, friends, and colleagues know that I was willing to buy accreditation rather than earn it!

This is not a phenomenon with adults or with post-secondary education as we see this kind of thinking even at the high school level. There are schools who offer course credits with the same promises that Mr. Sniedzins cherished; in exchange for low effort and a fee, you can get a high mark in a course that you need for university acceptance. The long-term problem comes when the student gets to post-secondary education and her/his artificial marks do not help them understand the concepts being taught. Our students, who have put in the time and effort, quickly see the difference between where they rank academically (regardless of their entrance average).

Whether it is a kindergarten student who reads their first picture book or the Grade 12 student who finally “gets” how to find an indefinite integral, it is our mandate to give students the skills to work independently and to feel that they have “earned” these skills. After all, would you rather give your child the marks to get into post-secondary studies or the skills needed to be successful and finish their degree?

Chris Starkey
Administrative Principal
Mentor College/TEAM School