Lately I’ve appreciated TV commercials depicting moms disabling wifi or turning off the power to get their husbands and kids to turn away from their electronic devices. Much like moms, schools also grapple with setting limits on technology.
To address digital citizenship at the school where I am principal, we hosted a retired law enforcement officer who presented a vivid depiction of negative outcomes of misusing social media and the internet. Students learned the impact of cyber bullying and how inappropriate posts on social media can have lasting consequences. Some students have even lost their college scholarships.
We also learned about “creepers” – predators who gain private information such as addresses by obtaining GPS information stored in electronic photos. We were guided through our camera settings to disallow location information. We also covered the embedded camera on our laptops. We were creeped out by the creepers.
Schools can’t teach digital citizenship just one time per year, so we are hoping to integrate lessons into the curriculum. It’s a team effort. In 2016-17, my school hosted Tech and Teens parent meetings, which featured our district’s school-based sheriff’s deputy explaining the legal consequences of students sharing sexual material via social media.
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Technology isn’t always causing problems. There is some balance to the doomsayer messages. For example, peer interactions on social media are like going to the mall for my generation. Parents have both online and offline fears, but somehow technology makes us feel more vulnerable.
This year, my school showed a documentary about excessive screen time and its impact on adolescent physical and mental health. We showed it to our 8th graders and to parents and students at an evening showing.
At our parent showing, I hosted a panel discussion, which included a local pediatrician, a mental health practitioner and a representative from our district’s tech department. We provided valuable resources, particularly templates for tech-use contracts between kids and parents.
Even if children already have a smartphone or video game, a new purchase might be the perfect time to collaborate on a contract. What I particularly like about the templates is that they address the whole family.
In my role as a principal and as a host-mother of a young adult, I grapple with how we can help shape adolescents’ responsible use of social media. Our school’s policy limits students’ use of electronic devices, and therefore promotes face-to-face social interaction and curbs cyber-bullying.
In search of answers, I’ve been reading a non-fiction book about girls and social media. It’s more alarming than the creeper information from the assembly. The author has heightened my awareness of how often people on social media comment on females’ appearances.
Reflecting on the pressure that girls and young women feel to garner “Likes” for being flawless and sexy, but not too sexy, I find myself asking, “What can I do to improve this social phenomenon?”
I started close to home. A few months ago, my 21-year-old host daughter, Vanessa, posted a model-like photo, and I noticed all of the comments were about how beautiful she looked.
With the book in mind, I posted, “You look relaxed and happy, ready to take on the tech world,” her chosen occupation. Vanessa later confirmed that she and other millennials depend on others for self-worth. “That’s a lot of pressure to put on others,” she said.
When I become discouraged by the epidemic of screen-dependence that’s rife with depression and anxiety, I watch our middle school students outside during lunch playing tag, basketball and making up other games that require cooperation and ingenuity.
When we limit students’ screen time or comment on something other than their appearance, we become part of the solution without having to turn off the power or wifi.
Heidi Fedore of Lakewood is a middle school principal in Gig Harbor. She is one of six reader columnists who wrote for this page in 2017. This is her last column. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org