Grad Night, School Policy and Mobile Media Management

grad night 2013June 6, 2013 …Any personal items (including car keys, ids, cell phones) will be bagged and labeled with the student’s name. Digital cameras must NOT have transmission capability and will be left at coat check. Do NOT bring anything but the clothes on your back, your pockets should be empty. No water bottles, yearbooks, purses/ backpacks, money, iPods or iTouch, video recording cameras, or any devices that allow transmission of emails, texting or other data. All students will be subject to a search and pat-down procedure prior to boarding the buses. It is not a date event and NO guests are allowed.”

Wow. You thought the TSA was getting heavy handed…welcome to public high school media management in the 21st century.

Granted, “safe and sober” graduation and prom event lock downs are evidently quite common these days, but as one who grew up “free-range” I can’t help but hear prison door sound effects pound through my head with visions of Shawshank Redemption looping through my mental relay.

I picture the teens in single-file ponying up their phones, digital cams and wired gear like perps in a pat down, breaking into cold sweats as they release the grip from their tech tethers…From what I hear, that’s not so far off, give or take a twitch knowing they’ll have their devices back at 4am or whatever…

”So, where exactly will you BE on grad night? It says entertainment, food, dancing, but no venue,” I said to my teen.

“Oh, they don’t tell us. We don’t know, nobody knows. You’re not allowed to know. Parents aren’t either.”

“Wait, whaaa?” I inquire with incredulity. “So you don’t know if you’re in San Francisco, or the East Bay or on the peninsula, or where the buses even take you?”

“Nope,” she shrugged it off, explaining the secretive bit stems more from school policy and practices than any big ‘surprise/excitement/reveal’ because evidently mobile media and mass-texting makes every event into ‘flash mob’ potential plundering security and making the venue susceptible to pre-planting contraband, stashing it for use later.

Given recent tragedies and media blitzes about bullying, rape culture, victim-blaming, and social media’s role in both fanning and tamping those flames given teens propensity to use mobile/social to connect, it’s understandable to see why schools are not messing around with any behavioral ‘surprises’ on their watch…

Still, it’s hard to see grad night and prom turned into a digital media frisk.

As I started to bristle at the civil rights and freedoms being trampled upon by media scrutiny and tight-lipped controls bordering on protectionism, my teen gave me some much needed perspective, jolting me into the reality of a 21st century digital kid,

“It’s no big deal, they’re keeping the lid on everything extra tight…after Newton, Boston, Sandy Hook, Columbine and all that, you can’t really blame them.”

That put me into a different head space very fast. Wow.

There was the obvious ‘aha’ bracer of how a digital childhood growing up in a ‘post 9-11 world’ of tighter security and flash mob mobile connectivity was markedly different than even the Millennial era of the pre-cellphone PAGER phenom right before it…

…The ‘yakking on the phone for hours’ Gen X and Boomer generation of peer connectivity seems almost like a quaint remnant of TV-land; much less the ‘meet me after school at the…’ (fill in the blank) type of face to face/word of mouth group gatherings of yesteryear.

More disturbing to me was my teen’s casual subtext referring to horrific crimes in “single-word sound bite” form, which rolled off her tongue as if it were an ingredient in the given mix of life…Newton. Columbine. Aurora. They’re no longer just places to this generation of teens, they are ‘happenings’…

This Forbes Gen Z: “Rebels With a Cause” article purports this may be the generation of “resiliency and realism” as teens adapt to media machinations, privacy limitations, and societal degradation with a surreal seamlessness…in most cases, far better than their parents. (at least THIS parent) What do you think of this, parents? Kids?

What’s your firsthand experience in urban, suburban and rural regions and how does it differ across the nation? We’re based in the SF Bay area/peninsula regions of Silicon Valley, is this a bubble of media exposure/experiences or is it universal adaptation to growing up in a different era, as the Forbes article implies?

This poignant kitchen note scrawled as a ‘just in case’ by my own daughter this year (after one of our local high schools had a ‘Facebook threat’ detected purporting a mass incident) gave me goosebumps.

Granted, mobile media and texting teens had already snapped screenshots of the the threats and sent it around via phones, amping the Facebook drama to epic ‘what ifs’ resulting in most of the student body staying home from school that day as authorities clamped down on social media streams using digital forensics in full tilt ‘better safe than sorry’ mode…but ‘what if’ we didn’t have that “Paul Revere” type of warning system flashing through circuitry in nanoseconds?

How has this changed societal stressors and mental health? Particularly when the CDC reports about 1 in 5 teens having mental health issues? Are kids just ‘adapting’ to new circumstances with aplomb or internalizing angst elsewhere?

It’s ‘mental health month’ and I’m hoping we all take a look at media’s pro and con impact while assessing these ‘surges’ being reported in…the media. 

On my homefront, we’d had our umpteenth precautionary talk about NOT letting fear-based antics terrorize us into altering how we walk through the world.

I was rather proud that she’d refused to cower to media sensationalism, despite news reports and extra uniformed officers milling around and was headstrong about going to this school play in spite of the timing, as it said something strong about her character and her willful way of choosing to ‘filter’ media messages with critical thinking knowing full well ‘real life’ doesn’t necessarily mirror the reporting served into the mainstream daily. This is consistent with her similar decision to attend the Dark Knight/Batman premiere amidst the aftermath of the Colorado tragedy.

That said, these touchpoints of growing up in a media saturated era of “always on” connectivity made me think long and hard about the wild frontiers of parenting in this digital age, much less living as a teen today. Yes, these teens have the power of insta-communication with peers in their pocket 24/7, but those privileges have come with a cost of freedom too.

I asked teens from a different school what their ‘grad night’ entailed, and it was similar in ‘all nighter lock down mode’ on a boat on the S.F. Bay, which sounded really fun and festive, until she translated it into my focus of this article,

“Yah, it was great and no one got seasick, but you have to wonder how ANYone would want to be on a boat for six hours, my friends were falling asleep, and I think they just keep us out late to come home at 4am to make sure everyone’s too tired to throw any kind of “after party.”

Hmn. I see the point…logistics are becoming part of any mass ordeal these days to think through the safety factors, to preclude the ‘what ifs’ so in some ways teens are losing freedoms rather than gaining them when it comes to free agency and digital access en masse.

I’d love to hear from other ‘Class of 2013′ teens on this as well as the ‘graduating 8th grade’ age compression and ‘diva’ dynamics now dialing down to 5th grade bridging into middle school…And the preK to Kindergarten milestone has shifted from photo opp to ‘big kid’ status.

What have your experiences been parents? Young people? What role has media played in policy and practices, and how has this changed the landscape of childhood?

Like fish in water not knowing it’s wet, this next generation of digital kids and parents appear to mesh with media environments as a given.

In this newly released 52pp Northwestern University study “Parenting in the Age of Digital Technology” it amazes me that media reports managed to summarize the findings  of parents of kids ages 0-8, into a rather tweaked New York Times headline, “Most Parents Show Little Worry About Media Use, Survey Says.”

That paints with a ‘broad strokes’ brush on a misleading canvas…

It’s not that parents and kids are not ‘concerned’ or that there’s ‘very little conflict in families over media’ which is how some of this reporting is landing on the interwebs, it’s that media is now part and parcel of our everyday lives, and 0-8 is not the dominant ‘conflict’ zone.

The survey suggests the propensity of children ages 0-8 to mimic parents’ media habits, (versus clamoring for media themselves) which is no doubt all too true…but let’s look at that deeper…young kids mimic parents at that early age in ALL habits. Right?

To me, these ‘parenting digital’ conversations actually bode well for a parental sense of agency and indie control of family life cues to kids, implying that the ‘monkey see monkey do’ approach to the early years can shift context and balance with individualized choices…

Families that want more outdoor time and nature play can use media as simply a reinforcing agent for their messages to kids, or not at all. They can reframe ways to experience nature with ‘netiquette’ in a totally wired world, use media to reconnect families even deeper with nature including meaningful knowledge spheres or unplug altogether to experience the absence of media and tactile adventure of outdoor experiences unfettered. 

My rub is that the new study is being given ‘the sound bite/infographic treatment’ without a whiff of a headline accurately pointing to media as a gamechanger in the OVERALL role of adolescence and growing up today.

This study is ages ZERO TO EIGHT, not meant to deal with the context of older teens churning in the sea of real life surges, surfing some stormy moments without navigation, like these various school media policies and society dealing with events en masse.

For media pundits and news reports churning headlines like “59% of Parents Don’t Worry if Their Kids Stare At Screens All Day” it not only misrepresents the solid research, giving it short shrift with misinformation on implications…It also misses the opportunity to frame critical thinking around how to a.) instill media mgmt early on, b.) open dialog early and often with media literacy and digital citizenship and c.) address media context and assumptions about “screen time.” 

Saying “parental decisions are driving media use” is one thing, but pundits making sweeping implications that there’s ‘no conflict’ among families surrounding media use and implying parents are giving media a shoulder shrug is another…again, reminder, this study is 0-8! Media is a huge ‘change agent’ and influencer in adolescence…

It’s a great time to springboard conversations about the “three Cs” of screen time/media: context, content and the child but without acknowledging the mass impact of digital media’s role in policy, schools, society and new conundrums that come forth daily with older kids, the journalists generalizing headlines as no big deal to parents is simplistic. You can’t just scrape that off like gum on a shoe…parenting in the age of digital technology is a brave new world, and today’s ‘Class of 2013′ (and their parents!) are doing the best they can to adapt and assimilate to the nuance.

So, hats off to you graduates…

You’re forging forward as pioneers into a much different future, helping to make and manage new media roles and rules as they morph from devices to new and exciting digital fabrications we have yet to even comprehend in terms of implications as societal gamechangers…from tech sensors to 3D printing.

Viewing media context in macro versus micro, holistically vs slices of age groups and demographics is key to processing how successful we’ll all be handling these emerging changes.

As we look toward tomorrow, let’s keep an eye on what we’re gaining AND losing from freedoms to eco systems, in order to make sense of the interconnectedness of it all.

What are your media rules at schools for mass events these days? What about new ways of using media as graduates merge into the next sphere of life? (My own teen is already connecting with a potential roommate via an app that filters personality/lifestyle preferences in the dorm, all using mobile/social media)

I’d love to hear more about media’s role in your own graduations at every age and stage…Parents? What’s it like to be “parenting graduates in a digital age?”

Visual credits: Lead generic graphic,; social media job search/grad



  1. WOW, things sure are different on Maui. I suppose most of that additional security is “big city” stuff, for all the good reasons your daughter mentioned.

    It’s almost comical though to think that security needs to “strip us down” to our 1950s personas of only “clothes on our backs” to save us from technology/drugs/evil (*note those three words fit together too easily).

    I’m sure fun will be had by all though, and the extra “attention” the kids receive will be most welcome.

  2. Oh, Everett, that makes me feel so much better! Our idyllic island days had their bumps and bruises, but geez…I’m hoping this is a ‘city mouse country mouse’ issue more than a homogenized lens of protectionism which slowly erodes both souls and serenity over time…I KNOW kids ‘adapt’ yadayada, but as much as I love media it just floors me that we’re ‘losing’ as well as gaining here…and we need to keep a close eye on all that to make some ‘market corrections’ as needed.

    Kids deserve their childhood…and it may not be a ‘Free to Be, You and Me’ Marlo Thomas romp, but we could at least keep from strip searching in Shawshank style, ya know?

    That said, I DO think much is environmental, as I recall metal detectors in my own east coast Va/DC schools PRIOR to my transition to Hawaii…and yah, the guy I was crushing on got shot/grazed in an incident my freshman year, so it’s all relative…le sigh.

    Not sure if you remember me showing up in jeans jackets prior to muumuu mellowness, but clearly I was ‘ready’ to adapt to whatever I was gonna face in my new school…So maybe it’s just a digital version of adaptation and student’s ability to transcend adversity has been ‘ever thus?’ 😉 (or maybe it was just me in my weird global citizen/move every few years life) ha. Thx for taking the time to comment. Great to hear from you…

  3. I’ve been accused of being naive about teens, as evidenced by my “Doh!” reaction to your comment about keeping the kids out all night so they’re too tired to party when they return! But I do feel strongly that our grads are young adults and very soon will be on their own (in just about every way except financially!), so we shouldn’t treat them like children. At the same time, they are teens, many with still undeveloped limbic systems, who can make poor decisions, especially when in large groups!

    My daughter’s school event, which is one you alluded to above, was not a secret location but there were strict rules about no purses/backpacks, etc. Because the event was on a boat, contraband could not have been pre-planted. The boys were patted down but the girls were not – and my daughter and I shared some laughs the next day about what she could have brought in nestled in her bra! I think picture taking is, for them, an important part of their culture and I’m glad this wasn’t taken away from them. I also want my daughter to be able to call or text me in the event of an emergency – and emergencies do happen.

    I guess as a parent my bottom line is that we should treat our teens as the adults we expect them to be. I believe the majority will live up to it, and those who break the rules will have consequences. My daughter’s grad night was attended by a couple of paid security guards as well as several parent chaperones. (Someone told me a funny story this week about juniors who snuck onto a grad night boat – they were apprehended “at sea” and had to spend the entire long cruise in a room below deck.)

  4. Holy moly Kris that ‘boarding at sea/staying below deck’ story cracks me up in terms of ‘just desserts’ as I got green just thinking about staying in the bowels of a ship for hours. eesh.

    Meanwhile, at grad brunch talking to her godfather today (a SF Coast Guard Cert/charter boat Captain dealing w/the influx of America’s Cup events etc) he reminds that ‘we’re at level orange’ still, so the schools are just as concerned (or maybe more concerned) with security *outside* of kids antics than inside teen scene/shenanigans/pranks and such. She even tried to go to the field last night to see what the seating was like for elderly etc. and security trucks were shining lights on her approach, so very tight. Her godfather talked to local police contacts who confirmed they were ALL out in full force “even in high view from the trees” on grad day today…so though it seems ‘over the top’ I guess since it’s a huge school w/thousands of people in one locale, anytime that happens, security is bound to amp.

    That said, as I write this after midnight, wondering where they ended up tonight, (the return time says “4am, must leave lot/pick up by 4:15am”) MY biggest concern is a sleepy-eyed teen driving home that late.. 😉

    p.s. They were allowed to have digital cams, just nothing “that transmits” so hopefully they’ll have plenty of keepsakes to share…wherever they may be…

    p.p.s. Also was pleased to see a lighter side of the day w/rogue beach balls bopping around the grads without incident and even the ‘decorate your mortar board’ dynamic which I thought might be a ‘bragging rights’ lack of inclusion/sore point for those NOT going to college ended up being turned on its head too, with some kids ‘making up’ schools and logos and others w/blank slates even tho they were headed to ‘big name’ ivy leagues…Truly, adults need to ‘relax’ as the kids have a great way of working things out in their own way; after all, isn’t that what growing up and getting wings is really all about? Joyous day.

  5. Kim Coffee-Isaak says

    Congratulations to you on a big milestone on the wild parenting trip ride. We certainly do live in interesting times!

  6. Amy,

    As usual, you cover so many important topics with such wisdom and depth, it’s hard to know where to start.

    Like you, I have a daughter in a huge public high school that always seems to be forbidding, shutting down, or otherwise constricting some activity or another. The kids seem to have accepted this as the status quo. Good or bad? I don’t know. My daughter was, however, allowed to bring her cell phone to the prom. Thank goodness, because otherwise I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to see the photos that showed how much fun she was having.

    At the same time my 8th grader was away on week-long river trip with her class – no cell phones allowed. This is the class I teach “Cyber Civics” to, so of course when I saw the class upon their return my first question was, “Well, how was the week without tech?” Guess what? Not a single kid missed their phone (they did miss their music, however). They got to be kids again. Many had not experienced a tech-free week in their entire lives.

    When it comes to technology, everything has happened so fast that we have not had time as a society to grasp these changes or to assess how they are effecting our kids. I agree with you, that 0-8 study doesn’t tell the story. Those parents have no idea what lies ahead. More telling, I think, is this study about Digital Deception:

    We don’t know what we don’t know. Which is why I have to sign off and get back to the work of CyberWise.

    Thanks for all you do Amy!

  7. Thx Diana, Kim, Kris et al…yep, I think we’ll need to keep a close eye on the civil liberties aspect of media privacy, security and digital behavioral alteration as we move forward in these ever-changing times of the information age…

    The gains and losses are wince-worthy sometimes, but I have confidence it’s a leveling process and hope the cultural credo is one of optimism over fear and dystopia; positive potential over quake in the boots/gated garden mindset.

    Media proliferation-wise it’s much like any new upending technological wave; takes shifting and vamping to find footing in what often feels like quicksand. Tomorrowland…here we come. Augmented reality…etc etc.

Speak Your Mind