Is Self Regulation Unnecessary Now?

by / Tuesday, 29 September 2015 / Published in Movement Health, Somatic Futures

Would it be helpful for parents and teachers to know what the students are eating, who they’re hanging out with and where they’re going? Sure, you could argue for that. However, in addition to the very real concerns that the data might be used for discrimination, identity theft and advertisement, I wonder how it will effect students’ abilities to learn to regulate their own behaviour? The more their activities are tracked and then measured, the less likely they might be to take responsibility for their own actions.

Here’s a good example of how data collection on students along with the concerns about how it could be used. As with all information, there are pluses and minuses.

As it becomes more and more possible to track and collect data, we’ll be seeing some very powerful connections monitoring and possible influencing our behaviour.

School districts have long kept records of students’ academic performance and extracurricular activities, their health conditions, gender, race and eligibility for reduced-price school lunches. Educational apps, homework portals, digital cafeteria payment systems and other programs may log even more granular information in real time — about how students study, where they go, what they eat and whom they interact with and when.

Source: Tools for Tailored Learning May Expose Students’ Personal Details

Here’s a possible scenario: You’re a parent with a son (who’s name is Bill) in middle school. Like his friends, Bill has a smartphone and a health tracker that can track his activity level and location. You can also know what he’s purchasing because he uses a credit card with a monthly allowance. Now lets say that there’s a service offered by the school that collects this information and suggests an optimal amount of movement, social activity, study (again because it’s all done on a computer, you can record how much) and what he purchases. The school service knows what is optimal for your son because it’s been developed by educational specialists, nutritionists, doctors and psychologists.

So it turns out that Bill is spending too much time hanging around the Taco Bell, eating tostadas but not enough moving and studying. The next time Bill heads over to a fast food joint after school, the service posts a message on Bill’s smartphone and says his weekly allotment of fast-food has been reached. Then he’s instructed to go to the next Whole Foods and purchase a piece of fruit, then head back to the study hall to catch up on physics homework after which he should go to the gym and spend half an hour on the treadmill. The directions would of course be mapped out on his smartphone so he will have no problem finding the Whole Foods Store. Oh, and by the way, Whole Foods is one of the sponsors of this service, along with Apple Nike, and Fitbit.

For some parents, this may seem like a Godsend. “Finally we don’t have to spend all that time arguing about how many tostadas are healthy or not.” But what has Bill learned? Only that he’s being watched and that someone else will tell him where to go, what to eat and what to do. More importantly, what has he not learned? How to regulate his own behaviour and take responsibility for how he uses his time. The real danger in this kind of massive data collection is that we’re laying the foundation for surrendering and even worse, never learning self-regulation and self-determination.

We need to lead by example, making our own positive choices and teach our children to become strong, resilient and responsible. Does that sound like a tall order? It is, but our parents and their parents etc. did it (even without mobile phones and computers), so can we.

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