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A very 'Big Brother' type of technology can spy on your kids at school for you. Should you use it?

I first saw the alerts one afternoon when I was working at my desk two weeks ago.

I first saw the alerts one afternoon when I was working at my desk two weeks ago.

A series of notifications about my son popped up on my phone.


What was going on? Was he skipping school? I began to wonder if my usually responsible firstborn, a high school junior, was suddenly developing a taste for rebellion and the thrill of forbidden joyrides or something.

I am a big proponent of the golden rule in all things. So instead of jumping to conclusions, I entertained other extenuating circumstances. Because I knew he was planning on talking to his counselor about changing classes around, I figured something might have gotten jumbled in the attendance system. It turns out, that's exactly what was going on.

But imagine if I'd jumped on him when he walked in the door that afternoon, demanding to know why he wasn't in class (when he really was)? It would have created a needlessly negative situation — something many parents and kids navigating the tenuous teen years don't need any more of.

This was my first experience with CampusPortal, an iPhone app that hooks into the grading and attendance bookkeeping system by Infinite Campus that some schools use.

It's one example of how technology companies are trying to assist parents in helping their kids to juggle deadlines.

High school: It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

Remember the pressures of finishing big papers and passing tests, the social events, trying to get the hang of this "being a productive, well-liked person" schtick?

"If I smile at my homework, maybe it won't suck my soul right out of my still breathing body and torture it for a thousand years." Image by Amanda Mills/CDC.

It's a lot to manage even in the most positive circumstances (when kids have attuned, caring adults in their lives to help).

But "CampusPortal" can help parents be more involved by keeping them apprised of attendance and grades.

In real-time, the app sends you notifications as grades are entered for your student:

These are screenshots from my own son's school life, which he's given permission to share (that's important, parents — in the social media age, we can damage our precious two-way trust when we put our kids on blast without checking with them first).

In some ways, these updates have been helpful. It's a consistent frame of reference for how much work is on my son's plate, which helps me be mindful of how much more I'm asking him to do when I assign other tasks. And it helps me keep my eye on a part of my son's life that he would sometimes prefer to talk about in vaguenesses.

But is technology putting us in danger of micromanaging our kids to a damaging degree?

In other ways, these notifications are tempting little morsels that invite me to pore over details of my child's life that he needs the practice (and space) to manage on his own.

There's a lot of potential for annoyance here.

For instance, if I'd been a certain kind of parent (or I guess if my son had a habit of being truant) I might have looked at the series of absences and assumed my child had skipped most of the school day.

And heaven knows if I'd had someone keeping an eye on every itty bitty detail when I was between the ages of 16 and 18, it would probably have backfired pretty badly in the form of resentment and refusal to fit neatly into "authority's" little boxes.

Here's what my son says about it:

"I feel like it's a good attempt at trying to keep us from goofing off and doing stupid things, but it's too Big Brother-y; it infringes too much on our rights. Whether we've signed them off to the school or not, we should have more freedom than that. It feels creepy that no matter what, I'm just tracked by that. And if I'm marked truant for being late to a class because I was helping a teacher, then I might have to hear about it later from a parent even though nothing bad occurred. It leaves out necessary context."

I get what he's saying. You might feel pretty motivated to do a good job and be a respectable student of your own free will but then have that positivity micromanaged right out of you with an app like this.

"I like to break a mental sweat." Image by GnarlyCraig/Wikimedia Commons.

You see, intrinsic motivation is pretty important to human development, but it doesn't get talked about a lot.

There's no way to really measure it and evaluate it and win awards for making a career out of revolutionizing it because there's not a good way to systematize it.

What even is intrinsic motivation?

"Intrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is driven by internal rewards. In other words, the motivation to engage in a behavior arises from within the individual because it is intrinsically rewarding. This contrasts with extrinsic motivation, which involves engaging in a behavior in order to earn external rewards or avoid punishments." — About Education

Getting to the root of intrinsic motivation is a deeply personal, case-by-case kind of thing. And only each individual can do it. A coach, parent, or mentor can help us tap into it, but ultimately it's up to us ourselves to identify it and feed that beast to keep it going. And too much of the extrinsic kind of motivation can interfere with a person ever really getting to the root of what moves them to pursue things.

Carrots are a nice after school snack and all, but maybe not the best method for having truly self-motivated humans. Image by Alan O'Rourke/Flickr.

It's important to remember this when we look at systematizing every little part of the education system. Some things, like intrinsic motivation, aren't easily "scalable." It requires one-on-one time with teachers and allowing educators and parents the time and space to really get to know what works and doesn't for each kid.

So how good is this tool, really?

"It gives me less leeway to bullshit you."

In the end, I think it's like Facebook, the Internet in general, and GPS — it's only a tool that's as good as the hands and minds that are using it. If it is being used as means of micromanagement without a deeper understanding of our kids, then yikes. But if it gets people to pay more attention to what's going in kids' lives and is being used judiciously to be a good helper to kids, then yay!

In spite of his criticisms, my son also acknowledged this app could be helpful. For instance, instead of having wrongful truancies listed on his record long-term (which would have been difficult to go back and rectify with clarity months later), I was able to get to the bottom of the attendance mixup and get it fixed immediately.

"At the same time, it gives me less leeway to bullshit you," he admitted with a sheepish chuckle. And let's be honest — we all value a little wiggle room to prioritize our own time on our own terms.

Axel had a good day today. I can see that he got a 100% on his AP literature quiz and that he's been marked present in every class. But when he walks in the door, instead of congratulating him and flexing my "I have eyes everywhere" muscle, I will use some self-restraint and let him share about his day in his own time and in his own way.

After all, that's how I'd want someone to treat me.

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

A simple solution for all ages, really.

School should feel like a safe space. But after the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, many children are scared to death. As a parent or a teacher, it can be an arduous task helping young minds to unpack such unthinkable monstrosities. Especially when, in all honesty, the adults are also terrified.

Katelyn Campbell, a clinical psychologist in South Carolina, worked with elementary school children in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. She recently shared a simple idea that helped then, in hopes that it might help now.

The psychologist tweeted, “We had our kids draw pictures of scenery that made them feel calm—we then hung them up around the school—to make the ‘other kids who were scared’ have something calm to look at.”



“Kids, like adults, want to feel helpful when they feel helpless,” she continued, saying that drawing gave them something useful to do.

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Alberto Cartuccia Cingolani wows audiences with his amazing musical talents.

Mozart was known for his musical talent at a young age, playing the harpsichord at age 4 and writing original compositions at age 5. So perhaps it's fitting that a video of 5-year-old piano prodigy Alberto Cartuccia Cingolani playing Mozart has gone viral as people marvel at his musical abilities.

Alberto's legs can't even reach the pedals, but that doesn't stop his little hands from flying expertly over the keys as incredible music pours out of the piano at the 10th International Musical Competition "Città di Penne" in Italy. Even if you've seen young musicians play impressively, it's hard not to have your jaw drop at this one. Sometimes a kid comes along who just clearly has a gift.

Of course, that gift has been helped along by two professional musician parents. But no amount of teaching can create an ability like this.

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