Fire, Fear, and Smart Phones: Don’t Get Mad, Don’t Get Even. Get Thinking.

Part 1:  Fire

This morning I’m feeling extreme relief and grateful beyond words.

My oldest daughter is alive.

Thursday morning she called, stuck on a road trying to get out of Paradise, California.  She had driven home from Butte College when an announcement was made that her town was being evacuated due to a growing wildfire up the road, the now famous “Camp Fire”.

“Dad, ha— you ——- news ——.  There’s a fire and ——— (snapping sound) flames in my backyard. (Silence). —–being evacuated——-”  …. Her panicked voice interrupted by cracks in the connections.  The line goes dead.  I call back.  An obnoxious honking sound. The call has failed.

F*** you iPhone!  What do I do now?  My kid is in the middle of a forest fire, do I Google “Paradise California Fire”?

Yes. And there it is.

Live video from a Redding news channel of a wildfire is burning in Butte Creek County and threatening thousands of homes.  Since 6 AM it has tripled in size with zero containment.  Helicopters are being sent to evacuate patients from Feather Creek Hospital.  All roads are blocked.  Fire departments have been called from surrounding towns to keep the roads open as long as possible.  Over 23,000 people are under an immediate evacuation order.  My kids are two of them.  Hopefully my son is at one of his college classes and not home in the path of the fire. There is only one way out of town not blocked by fire.  It’s a traffic jam.

Back on the other end of the broken phone line, with only a few minutes to grab a couple items from the house she sprinted back to her car and headed towards Chico, 23 miles downhill from Paradise.  After two hours in gridlock traffic, with flames engulfing both sides of the road, the noon sky turning to complete black, the car heating up from the growing flames, watching people running down the street with children in their arms or releasing their pets to fend for themselves, afraid she was going to be cooked to death, my 17 year old daughter experiences a world that has turned into something she should never see.  Hell.  The text messages she sent captured her fear. Images of being trapped on the road.

Laila's Traffic Text  Laila's Fire Picture

Today she’s sleeping in our guest bed here at my house in Salt Lake City.  An hour and half airplane ride from Sacramento, a flight she managed to make after reuniting with her mother and brother in Chico to share tears and concerns.  At this point we fear their house, all of their belongings, and two cats are gone.

Through text messages, twitter, snapchat, and news stories, we try to keep up with whatever we can learn about the fire, fatalities, and more evacuations.

Part 2 & 3: Read on at this page, but beware – the remainder of this blog post features images and tweets from President Trump and responses that are inappropriate.

Social Media Makes Teens Happier?

Hopefully that title caught your attention.  It can’t be true, can it?  Doesn’t Social Media make teens more anxious?  I thought a constant compulsive need for connectivity leads to sleep deprivation? Aren’t all the kids in the world suffering from cyberbullying?

This week I’ve read two contradicting articles online that make me question everything I think I know about social media and the psychological well being of our teenage generation.  Kind of.

2018_cs_socialmediasociallife_infographicimage_1 (1)Common Sense Media released an infographic titled “Social Media, Social Life: Teens Reveal Their Experiences.”  (September 10, 2018)

Click the picture to the right to see the entire image and be sure to look very closely at the change in percentages over the last six years.

The one fact that stands out to me is that since 2012 the percentage of kids who say social media “distracts them from paying attention to the people they’re with” has increased from 44% to 54%.  Both of those percentages seem smaller than I would have anticipated.  To me it seems like 100% of the people I know, teens and adults, are distracted by social media when I’m thinking they should be paying attention to me!

Here’s another shocking statistic – 1 in 5 teen drivers admit to checking social media notifications… while driving!  Come on.  Texting and driving is the number one killer of teenagers in our country today, and now they’re checking social media while behind the wheel?

And finally, the big truth – teens are who already susceptible to low social-emotional behaviors are experiencing more of the negative effects of social media than kids with high social-emotional well-being.  And that fact solidifies my theory – social media is a mental health magnifying glass.  Hold it over a happy person, they see and post happy things.  Hold it over a teenager struggling with mental health issues, you have a child who is more likely to commit an act of self-harm.  Unhappy teenagers who use social media are more likely to feel lonely, depressed, and have a lower sense of self-esteem.

The percentages of teenagers who reported negative effects of social media far outweigh those who report positive benefits – four to to seven fold.  Especially when it comes to cyberbullying.

Prior to reading the article I found contradictory evidence about teen use of social media a 2016 Journal of Adolescence article #sleepyteens  Click the title to download a PDF Version from ScienceDirect

There are no surprises here – 467 Scottish adolescents confirmed that there is a link between social media and wellbeing.  The interesting aspect of the research here, which differs from the survey done this summer by CommonSenseMedia, is the effect on teens’ well-being depending on the time of day in which the online activity occurred.  Night time use drastically increased vulnerability to anxiety, depression, and negative self-esteem.

Could this be because of the sleep deprivation incurred from late night social media use?  More research certainly needs to be done to determine if this is causation or correlation.  Does Social Media use “CAUSE” mental health issues?  Or, are teenagers predisposed to mental health issues simply experiencing increased negative effects from social media triggers?  Either way there is definitive evidence for one simple solution –

Keep internet connected devices out of your child’s room after bed time.  It doesn’t matter if their four years old, fourteen, or forty four.  Screens don’t belong in the bedroom.

Happy teenagers may cite benefits of social media use, but remember this – teenagers aren’t always happy.  In fact, it’s rare.  The hurricane of hormones swirling around in their still developing frontal lobes change in extremes that parents can never prepare for.  Allowing your “happy teen” to fall into the negative effects of social media isn’t worth the risk when the only thing to gain are a few likes on Instagram or a longer Snapchat streak.

Remember the “S” in R.E.S.T.O.R.E. – set limits.


ELIMINATE – Goodbye Facebook! Again.

slotmachineThe second letter in the acronym “RESTORE” stands for “ELIMINATE” .  Have the courage to eliminate the apps and distractions on your phone that make you feel bad or waste time.  Here’s a story about digital elimination…

This is hard.  Deleting the Facebook App from my phone has been like walking away from a slot machine with a cup full of coins and the knowledge that it’s just about to hit the jackpot. The Facebook scrolling interface is addictive and never ending.  Flipping your thumb up the screen in search of the next big hit of dopamine… will it be a post from a college friend?  Funny video?  An article about Trump’s latest lie?  Or a disappointing ad about the coolest new minimalist wallet?  A passive aggressive Bible Quote?  Dear Jesus, please make it stop!

While I’m reading the book A Deadly Wandering by Matt Richtel I’m reflecting on my use of the Facebook App on my iPhone.  There’s no question it’s the biggest time suck on my device.  Looking into my settings / battery report  I can see 25% of my battery was burned by Facebook over the last three days.  That means one quarter of my iPhone time is spent on Facebook.  That’s absurd.  This device is designed for me to read and send emails and text messages, or make phone calls.  It also allows me to get directions for driving, check my bank account, even pay bills.  But I’m spending a quarter of my time looking at posts I rarely care to see?

Visit the Syncios Blog and learn how to see what you’re doing on your iPhone and iPad

Matt Richtel does a great job of explaining why.  Facebook is a lot like a slot machine because it leaves the user unsatisfied, “it works on the principle called variable and intermittent reinforcement.” (Richtel, A Deadly Wandering p.198)  Most of the content I see on Facebook is totally useless, mind numbing, pointless digital content.  I scroll through it quickly with my eyes scanning the text looking for that tiny reward of seeing something that actually interests me.  And when it hits?  I want more.  The scrolling continues.

In addition to the scrolling, there’s the constant checking.  Nothing to do for a minute?  Let’s see if my last photo get any likes?  Yep!  There’s a another smiley face and two more thumbs up. Jackpot!

Let’s look at another hypothetical twist to this Facebook issue.  Addiction.  Is it addictive?  Or is it a compulsion?  Or, is it just a habit?  Either way I believe it’s a problem.  For me.  I’m saying this for myself, I’m not trying to project anything onto you the reader.  You don’t have Facebook addiction.  Maybe.  But for me, a person who possesses some characteristics of attention deficit, hyperactivity, and anxiety disorders, Facebook fuels these symptoms like a shot of nitro-methane.

I’m not completely sure without sticking my head into an MRI, so I’ll say this with caution – I think it’s very possible that scrolling through Facebook is not only a waste of my time, it’s also contributing to the decline of my attention span, instigating hyperactive tendencies, and triggering my anxieties.  And if this is truly happening, it may be negatively impacting my ability to make good choices.  So let’s go deep end and apply this diagnosis on a global platform.

What would happen if this was simultaneously occurring for everyone using Facebook?  Which at the time of this blog post writing is 68% of the adult population in the United States (Pew Research Center).  That’s roughly 167 million people currently active on Facebook.  If 45% of them get their “news” from Facebook, that’s 75 million adults… and if 58% of them voted…  what could go wrong?


A lot could go wrong.  In a lot of different ways.

From fake news to fake friends.  Spam.  Russian hackers.   Is our sense of reality being stolen right out from under our screen  flicking thumbs?  Identity theft seems benign compared to reality theft!

So this morning I’ve deleted the app.  Again.

I originally removed both Facebook and Instagram from my phone before a week long trip to Hawaii and it felt great.  There was a brief period of withdrawal followed by a new found sense of presence and focus.  I enjoyed every moment of that trip.

Then last month I brought Facebook back thinking it would help communicate with family.  I was wrong.  I can communicate with family just fine by email, text, phone, and FaceTime.

I’ll keep Facebook on my computer to access from time to time, when I can sit down and focus.  But there’s no more space on my phone for this app.  Facebook is great for helping me communicate with my own fears and other peoples’ false realities, and who needs that?

Twitter Chat Overload

Participating in an EdChat on Twitter can be a lot like kayaking or mountain biking.  If it’s your first time, you’ll definitely be overwhelmed.  Things move at a very quick pace and trying to take it all in will send you flying over a waterfall or flipping over the handlebars, metaphorically speaking.

If you’re new to Twitter and jump into an EdChat be prepared to let some things go.  Just like shooting down a river in a kayak you’ll need to focus on what is in front of you and try your best not to be distracted by everything going on in your peripheral vision.

Imagine going into a staff meeting at your school and trying to follow all the things going on if everyone talked at the same time!  Impossible.

A twitter chat may seem like this at first.  You’ll see questions and answers filling up your device, Tweetdeck or page faster than you can read.  The nice thing, however, is you don’t have to listen to everything.  You can turn off the noise by only looking at specific people or specific hashtags.  In other words, pick and choose what you want to read and think about – don’t try to do it all!  That would make about as much  sense as trying to identify wildflowers while zooming down a mountain at 30 mph.

Here are a five tips for safely consuming all the incredible information coming at you at warp speed during an EdChat on Twitter:

1.  Don’t jump into the deep end until you learn how to swim!

Believe it or not, you don’t need to have a Twitter account to be on Twitter.  You can easily access a twitter user’s page and tweets by going to the address and then /their name.  For example, all of my tweets can be seen at  It’s also possible to do the same thing to read over tweets that included a hashtag, check out to see what’s been happening with the Utah Ed Chat.

2.  Make it simple and just watch.

If you do have a Twitter account you can try following an Ed Chat by showing up on Twitter at the predetermined time and watching all the tweets fly.  You’ll see tweets appear from the moderator with Q1:, Q2: etc before each question.  Participants will likely respond with A1:, A2:, and so forth.  If you see tweets with ideas you like go ahead and click the star button to favorite these tweets.  That way it will be easy for you to go back and look at your favorites at a later time when the EdChat is over or the pace has slowed down.

3.  When you’re ready to participate try following some of the other participants.

It’s one thing to favorite a few tweets, but you may start to find there are a few Tweeters that you really like.  Follow them!  Don’t be afraid, simply click on their name or icon image.  If you are already following them you’ll see the icon with “Following”, and if not, click it!

4.  Use a tool to help control the pace and stay focused on specific topics.

TweetDeck is simple and free!  Install the app for your Mac or iOS device and then compartmentalize the flood of tweets.  It’s easy to follow a hashtag, specific person, activity, direct messages, etc.

5.  Search previous EdChats to find resources you might have missed.

Many EdChat hosts will use the tool Storify to create an archive of the conversation.  A chat I recently hosted about balancing technology and teaching can be seen at  If a Storify isn’t available you always do a search for the EdChat’s hashtag, like #utedchat, and then go back and read all the tweets that were made with that hashtag.

Now that you have an idea of what to expect and a few tools to use to make it easier to be a part of an EdChat on Twitter, here are a couple you might want to try out:

Utah EdChat = #utedchat

Wednesdays from 9-10 PM Mountain

Full Schedule here:

EdChat = #edchat

Tuesdays from 7-8 AM Eastern

Get more info at

EdTechChat = #edtechchat

Mondays from 8-9 PM Eastern

Hosts and topics are listed at

MDEdChat = #mdedchat

Tuesdays from 8-9 PM Eastern

Archives and info can be found at!mdedchat/c21qz

SATCHAT = #satchat

This one is hard to follow because it’s on Saturdays from 7:30-8:30 AM

Catered to administrators, SatChat is explained in detail in the following Edutopia article:

And for more tips on hosting a Twitter Chat, check out