I recently planned a date night with my husband. We got the sitter, headed to dinner - and to give you some insight on my idea of a fun night out, we then attended a guest lecture at St. Mary’s Academy on stress and anxiety in young women. It was a crazy night out on the town! Yet in all seriousness, Dr. Lisa Damour was one of the most entertaining, insightful, and truthful speakers either of us had seen in all our years in the field of education.
Most famous for her book Untagled, Dr. Damour used the latter part of her lecture to focus on technology and its effect on our children’s stress and anxiety levels. She isn’t the first to praise technology yet warn about its dangers. In fact, she is part of a growing number of concerned adults preaching about the technology limbo. Steven Spielberg stated that, “Technology can be our best friend, and technology can also be the biggest party pooper of our lives. It interrupts our own story, interrupts our ability to have a thought or a daydream, to imagine something wonderful, because we're too busy bridging the walk from the cafeteria back to the office on the cell phone.” Sound familiar?
As we begin our focus on Digital Citizenship with our learners for the month of October, we will go beyond the discussion of putting technology down to engage in face to face interaction with others. We plan to address internet safety, digital footprints, and distinguishing real news from fake news with online sources. However, before we can get to the nitty gritty world wide web, we must start by addressing the buzz word itself, technology.
I am the first to admit checking my work emails from bed, sometimes staying up contemplating a response in my mind, unable to shut it off. But as an adult, it’s my choice. Physically, my brain is developed - I can use all rationale and all prior knowledge to decide when to disconnect. Our children physically and emotionally cannot do this at their age. They are irrational beings whose brains are wired by the desire for praise and reward, who cannot keep up with the emotional chaos in their limbic system while trying, for the first time in their life, to not be egocentric. They cannot apply logical operation to everyday decision making, as their brains continue to develop in a continuous motion. Dr. Delaney Ruston, the face behind the documentary sensation, “Screenagers,” points out that when looking at MRIs of the brain for kids that play 20 hours or more of video games a week that, ‘something is really happening on a physiological level. It's not just psychological.”
Technology has put our children’s brains in a constant state of flight or fight mode. They post on Instagram, then check and recheck for hours and even days to see how many likes they have. If they surpass what they feel is adequate, they are in a state of euphoria. If not, the opposite emotion consumes them. They rush home to be able to meet up online with another Fortnite player three hundred miles away. Retweets and likes and shares are enough to completely shift your child’s mood, and over time, it is enough to rewire it all together.
So how will we proactively teach learners about technology while constantly trying to keep up with the world that technology has created? While many of our children are already more tech savvy than we as parents find ourselves to be, it is more than appropriate for these measures to begin at home and continue as they enter through our gates.
When looking at what parents can do to help shape their child’s interactions with technology, I go back to some very key ideas shared by Dr. Damour:
- Protect sleep - In order to function at their best, your Middle School child needs 10 hours of sleep and your Elementary School child needs 11 hours of sleep. Work backwards. If your child wakes at 7, they need to go to bed between 8 and 9. This means they need to start the winding down process (no technology) at least 45 minutes prior. According to a 2017 study, children who have 4-6 hours or more of screen time a day are more likely to have sleep disruptions, affecting that solid 10-11 hours needed. Keep this in mind when adding up the daily screentime your child has (Parent, Justin, Wesley Sanders, and Rex Forehand, 2017).
- You need to separate tech time from family time. Model this as a parent. Don’t have your phone at dinner, don’t attempt to engage in conversation with your child while simultaneously texting. If you need to send an email, leave the room and come back when you are ready to get back to family time. Teach them the habits through watching how you treat your technology.
- No technology EVER in the bedroom. This is not just to prevent your child from being on it. The near temptation of technology being nearby, of cyber conversations occurring and photos being shared, is enough to cause stress. Buy an old school alarm and don’t buy into the fact that a phone is necessary on the nightstand.
As a school, we continue emphasizing no cell phones during the school day, no listening to music through air pods as you play football at recess. Using screens only when necessary in the classroom, and lastly, continuing to teach your child what it means to be a digital citizen of the world. We hope you will partner with us throughout October to send the message to your children that technology is a beautiful thing, when used the right way.
For more information, or topics for discussion at home, I recommend CommonSense.Org.
- NewsHour, PBS. “The Drug-like Effect of Screen Time on the Teenage Brain.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 4 May 2016, www.pbs.org/newshour/show/the-drug-like-effect-of-screen-time-on-the-teenage-brain.
- Parent, Justin, Wesley Sanders, and Rex Forehand. "Youth screen time and behavioral health problems: The role of sleep duration and disturbances." Journal of developmental and behavioral pediatrics: JDBP 37.4 (2016): 277.
- Counselor's Corner
- Digital Citizenship