The need for people to be effective at self regulation has always been important. However, I believe its importance is greater today and increasing given the “always on world” we now live in. When I was a kid, self regulation involved behaving properly, using proper table manners, putting my hand up in school, and being home for dinner on time. I think things have become a little more complicated in these technology transformed times.
“Self control should increase with age due to the development of the sensory system. As the sensory system develops, people's perceptual abilities expand. For instance, children do not have a concept of time, and in this sense, they live in the present. However, as children age and develop into adults, they gradually gain the ability to comprehend the future consequences of their actions.”, Self-control. Wikipedia March 4, 2012.
Self-regulation (aka self-control) needs to be learned early on and it’s encouraging that this is something that, I understand, receives quite a bit of attention in our early learning (K-3) classrooms. What I worry about though is what happens as young children grow up in a technology rich and highly distracting world. Also, it’s shocking how young people and adults alike fail to self-regulate when they use amplifying social media technologies like Twitter and Facebook. These tools too often bring the worst out in people. When I see name calling, emotionally charged tweets from who I know to be good, intelligent people, I see a failure to self-regulate. A lack of self-regulation when using social media can at best embarrass and at worse get someone fired or sued for defamation of character. What we say online is who people will believe we are and it never goes away, you can’t take it back, and it’s completely and globally public! Even if you think you’re right or it’s true, it doesn’t make it appropriate to broadcast your thoughts online. Maybe we can’t “save” adults from themselves but our school systems certainly aught to weave self-regulation learning in, K through 12 so as to raise up a generation of thoughtful people who easily and naturally self-regulate.
Another area where self-regulation is crucial is in managing our focus, attention, and time in a world where our technology relentlessly beckons us. I now use a laptop, an iPad, and a Windows 7 Phone. I recall the days when all I had access to was a desktop computer at work and the same at home. To check e-mail at home required a “trip” downstairs to the computer and it took forever to logon to get email. Email reading/responding was an infrequent event ‘cause it was inconvenient. My wife, kids, and I took turns accessing the computer then where as today I think there are about 10 Internet connected devices in my home at any given time! We now have über convenient access to email, social media, websites, ebooks, online games, online music, TV, and movies, etc. It’s crazy how things have changed in 20 years or even the past 10. The level of distraction today is unprecedented. I know I struggle to leave my phone and iPad alone. They are always present and available. It is a significant struggle to not check if there’s a new email, tweet, or some other piece of information just waiting for me to consume and respond to. It’s easy to cross a line and be disrespectful to those with whom you’re present by connecting to those who are not. I think parents of young children have a seriously important job in understanding how and why their kids use technology today and guide and teach them to self-regulate their use. Reduced TV use but significantly increased handheld or online gaming is not a fair trade for kids!
Students and schools wrestle with the use of cell, smart phones, handhelds, tablets, and laptops in class. Most teachers today see these tools as distractors not supporters of learning. Or, think about school or District staff meetings and people with their laptops and smart phones doing email, using Twitter, or just off-task reading something else while the meeting is underway. How can these tools possibly be useful when all they do is take us off to other places rather than remaining present and in the moment? But hold on, this isn’t any different than passing notes in class or meetings 20 years ago, right? Or perhaps before technology, people day dreamed more…
Although I understand the challenge teachers and meeting facilitators face, it does bother me when people blame the tools for poor behavior, being off task, etc. and ask participants to shut them off. How can that possibly be the right answer when the tools bring so much power to your fingertips? Tools are neither good or bad, they’re agnostic. Behaviors though, are learned and can be modified. In this always on world shouldn’t we be figuring out how to transform how classrooms are managed, lessons are taught and learned, and information is disseminated and transmitted? I think so. We should be redesigning how learning, teaching, and meeting works to maximize the beneficial use of the technology at our disposal or at least neutralize the distraction. Otherwise, how will students and adults learn self-regulation and positive behaviors with the technology? Howard Gardner states that “educational efforts are dedicated toward the acquisition of the appropriate disciplinary knowledge, habits of minds, and patterns of behavior” (Five Minds for the Future, Kindle 421). Our schools are key partners with parents in instilling the discipline of self-regulation in students.
Our technology is increasing in quantity, power, convenience, accessibility and is not going away. We had better get a handle on how we self-regulate our use of it, before it completely masters us. We need to be masters of our technology, not the other way around. Used effectively, technology is an enriching experience, opens doors previously closed, amplifies learning and communication, and stimulates imagination and creativity. Embrace it and be a self-regulator.