3 Parent Tips to counter cyber conformity

By: Tonya Mead, PhD, MBA, M.Ed, School-based Psychologist

Parents do you want to instill critical thinking, problem solving and independent thinking skills in your child?  Why is it important? Prominent job and success coaches warn, in preparation for your child’s future career success,  you should begin to teach these critical skills before your child reaches the age of ten.

So we’ve got to prepare our children for the next generation of challenges before they reach adolescence!  Even if you’re not thinking your child will become a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and are guiding your child toward vocational training or professional graduate programs, these life skills are still important.  Looks like they are even crucial for academic success on the elementary, secondary, k-12 level, college and even graduate school programming. For instance, “higher order critical thinking skills are necessary for students preparing for professional programs. (Wallmann and Hoover, International Journal of Exercise Science, 5(2), 93-96, 2012).

But critical thinking skills are Ingrained into the American Psyche, yes?

Around the world, globe trotters and trendsetters used to buy into the myth of American Individualism. Independent thinking, playing the devil’s advocate, critical thinking and problem solving, it’s in our DNA, we say. No need to prepare, we chuckle. In fact, along with Canada and Australia, researchers used to view our populace as one who “will rely on their own value or attitude to make a decision.” (Chen, Management and Organization Review, 4:3, 337-348, 2008).

But, we only need to look around us to see that this once firmly held belief is trudging to its post to pass the baton to groupthink and cyber conformity. What do you mean? You may question.  Back in 1972, “Janis originally defined groupthink as a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action (Group and Public Communication, in E. Griffin (Ed) A First Look at Communication Theory, 235-246, McGaw Hill, New York). At the time, it was considered that groupthink was associated with a lot of faulty decision-making in the leadership class. Janis forecasted this omen “the social constraint consists of members’ strong wish to preserve the harmony of the group, which inclines them to avoid creating any discordant arguments or schisms.”

This is interesting. The avoidance of healthy discourse is something to consider and is actually antithetical to critical thinking, independent thinking, and the scientific problem solving process.  

So, parents, it looks like it’s on you to teach your kids these vital lifelong success skills. Perhaps there isn’t any teacher, educator or tutor who wants to voluntarily enter the fray for abject fear of ostracization or unemployment. While we sympathize, what we definitely don’t want as parents, are children who cannot effectively mentally process any and all stimuli in any and all environments for which they are faced; including home, school, work, and leisure.

But what does this have to do with Cyber conformity?

After Janis developed his theory of groupthink, approximately 50 years later, another psychological phenomenon, cyber conformity came into existence. It is Groupthink 2.0 or Group thinking on steroids. Storseth, in his Master’s Thesis, defines Cyber conformity as “an exaggerated social sensitivity specifically liked to our constant orientation towards ‘the others’ in digital social spheres.” (Cyber conformity and safety: the groupthink dilemma, p.3). He argues more profusely, “the digital omnipresence in our life imposes a deep change in our psychology, a change towards conformity and compliance,” (ibid, page 7).

What must parents do to teach critical skills interjacent to cyber conformity?

Perhaps now in this political climate is not the time to teach ‘Devil’s Advocacy’ skills (the subject of another article). First, it might prove prudent to take tiny steps to teach your toddler or adolescent independent self direction skills.

Independent Self Direction Skills

  1. Create classroom exercises or home-based activities that require your child to work independently on a mini project for at least 15 minutes each day.
  2. Create classroom exercises or home-based activities that require your child to continue to work on complex or difficult, multi-step project or hard classroom assignment without becoming discouraged or quitting.
  3. Choose a container to put “savings” in and explain that your child can add money to this “bank” until there is enough money to buy something special like a gift, or something your child has been wanting.
  4. Break home chores and class assignments into task that involve smaller or shorter parts or steps as the child becomes more capable.

Second, as your child matures to pre-teen and teenaged years, it is imperative to teach critical thinking skills, often presented in the form of a research project or paper. Why? According to the basic principles of education and systematic learning, “Bloom’s taxonomy, promotes higher-order thinking skills and more critical thought in the form of synthesis-level thinking and builds upon the prior skill levels in a hierarchical fashion.” (Bloom, BS, Taxonomy of education objective: the classification of educational goals., New York: D. McKay, 1956).

Critical Thinking, Independent Thinking and Problem Solving Skills

If your child is older than 12, a young adult in college or still living in your home, its never too late. Research shows that we continue to learn new skills and novel concepts until death. Further, the human brain continues to grow and develop up to about 25 years of age. (Pew Research, 2015, Teens and Social Media Technology).

Option One

  1. Require your child to complete a written research project where he/she must conduct a literature review, identify sources, evaluate the sources, analyze and discuss the source materials, and provide an opinion of his/her findings.

Option Two

  • Require your child to conduct a hands-on multi-step scientific experiment based upon the scientific method that involves a hypothesis and null hypothesis. In so doing, your child will also complete option one above and explain why his experiment met the objectives of the experiment or did not.

Option Three

  • Require your child to complete a Hands on Learning Project also called experimental learning, project-based learning and learn by doing. According to educators,this type of instruction or learning model “where students are guided to gain knowledge by experience. This means giving the students the opportunity to manipulate the objects they are studying.”(the Knowledge Network for Innovations in Learning and Teaching, KNILT). It is theorized and backed by research that “students learn through experience and observation to utilize problem solving and critical thinking skills to complete a task.”(ibid).

Option Four

  • Require your child to regularly marvel and examine the intricate and consequential processes and the interconnected balance between and among the various ecosystems of earth and the universe. As one becomes more aware of one’s surroundings in nature, one might realize that each organism is interdependent upon another. In so recognizing this life fact, one’s views of others becomes less dichotomous, less critical, more open minded and less prone to prejudicial judgments.

Third, in closing, our children are our main priority and our number one asset (no, not your car, home appreciation, stocks invested in NYSE or equity in a small business. We must do all we can to grow, support, and maintain this asset so that it will form into a healthy, fully functioning adult who blossoms into a positive force for life and not a negative force of darkness.

I hope this information has proven helpful for you, your child, and your family and loved ones as you navigate these perilous times. Please take care and God bless.

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Dr. Mead, PhD, MBA, MA http://www.ishareknowledge.com is a consultant specializing in human behavior, school and social psychology. She can be contacted at: tonya at ishareknowledge dot com


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