Two students sitting with phonesby Jenn Milam, Ph.D., Middle School Director, Mounds Park Academy

Just last week I had the privilege of sitting among fellow Middle School parents to hear a presentation prepared and expertly delivered by Ms. Mohn’s Upper School women’s literature students about the power and dangers of online vulnerability that exist in and through social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and any number of newly emerging applications. This parent education session serendipitously followed my attending a screening of the new film, “LIKE: A Documentary About the Impact of Social Media on our Lives,” with my family just a few days before.

What is clear to me as I write this piece is that now, more than ever, we must have open, honest, informed, and critical conversations surrounding not only how we (yes, you and I) and our children are using social media; but more, how it is using us. While online interactions in these virtual worlds may seem somewhat disconnected from reality, make no mistake the influence of the social connections, comments, tweets, direct messages, chats, and images that are exchanged online spill over into the very fiber of our daily lives, and into our beings as humans.

It is present each day that the Middle School students walk through the halls at MPA, when they play basketball afterschool, and attend Quiz Bowl tournaments on the weekend. It’s likely present in Lower School students’ experiences as they attend birthday parties and playdates and parents post pictures with captions on Facebook. And, yes, in Upper Schoolers’ interactions as they navigate college acceptances, celebrations, personal life moments, and social dynamics and move into adulthood.

Does this seem overwhelming? If you answered yes, you are not alone. The good news is, we can change our behavior and therefore, change the impact that social media has on our lives and those of our children.

(Dis)connect
While social media was initially conceived as a means to build connection and bridge the gaps of distance, time, and access via technology, it has become almost ubiquitous in its presence in and influence over our relationships. In an article published by Pew Research Center, researchers note: “As smartphone access has become more prevalent, a growing share of teens now report using the internet on a near-constant basis. Some 45% of teens say they use the internet ‘almost constantly,’ a figure that has nearly doubled from the 24% who said this in the 2014-2015 survey. Another 44% say they go online several times a day, meaning roughly nine-in-ten teens go online at least multiple times per day.” (source: http://www.pewinternet.org/2018/05/31/teens-social-media-technology-2018/)

Further, a majority of the time that teens are spending online they are connected to and actively using social media. It is important to remember, as Dr. David Walsh, award winning psychologist, best selling author, and international speaker, explains, “Social media isn’t inherently good or bad, but it is powerful.” It is powerful in controlling our use of time, our attention, and influencing our mental and physical well-being. Psychologists and technology experts alike urge parents to set healthier boundaries for technology use for themselves and their children, including but not limited to:

  • Talk to each other in person. Teach the importance of eye contact and picking up on social cues. When talking do not look at your phone and use the phone to make a phone call occasionally. Talk to your children about solving conflicts face-to-face. Never underestimate the power of personal connection.
  • Keep conversations open and on-going. Guide your family members to set goals and limits for themselves around their use of digital media. If you notice a change in behavior, mood, or perceptions, talk about them and/or seek professional help.
  • Limit device usage. For healthy sleep and balanced relationships, limit access to social media for a pre-determined set of time. Additionally, for healthy sleep, experts recommend no screen viewing a minimum of one hour before bed.
  • Teach self-regulation. As a family, decide how much time away from social media is best. Experts advise a minimum of three hours per day away from social media.
  • Model and plan activities away from social media. Encourage and do activities, as a family, that do not involve social media that may include: board games, cards, walks, baking, reading, movie night, or household organization. It can be fun!
  • Parents should have open-access. Parents should have open access at any time to their children’s phones, applications, and any other digital device. It is important that parents actively monitor their children’s online activity.
  • Get online. I encourage parents to have accounts that allow them to “follow” or “friend” their children via any of the social media platforms. This helps to model what I call the “Golden Rule of Social Media.” If you aren’t comfortable with me, your parent, seeing what you post, then you probably shouldn’t post it.

Power In Numbers
The most important thing to remember, parents, is that you are not alone. Many of us feel overwhelmed, under-informed, and completely behind the curve when it comes to navigating the social media and online worlds into which our children have crawled, walked, and leaped. It is important to ask questions, to seek out other parents and their wisdom, to lean on the school when there are concerns or issues that arise that you feel may impact your child’s school day. In this case, it truly does take a village—a digitally savvy, technologically agile, and committed cadre of adults who hold front and center the safety, health, and psychological well-being of the children entrusted to their care.

At MPA, we are committed to setting healthy boundaries with technology, continually educating parents, and working together to ensure that technology is a tool for learning. We are also committed to consciously reviewing our policies, our approach to teaching technology and digital citizenship, and helping young people learn the social-emotional skills they need to navigate this complex world—not just on the internet, but in person.

Mounds Park Academy, a PreK-12 private school in Saint Paul, is currently accepting applications for the 2019-20 school year. For more information about admission and to schedule your tour, visit moundsparkacademy.org/admission. We look forward to getting to know your family!

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