Dr. Gereboff's Head Notes
A mother, father and two teenage daughters walked into a restaurant where my husband and I were dining a few weeks ago. We decided to time how long it would be before they all whipped out their cell phones and starting staring at the screens. Within seconds the two girls had clicked on their phones, and their parents followed suit a few minutes later. They all stayed focused on those screens even as they were being shown to their table.
By coincidence, at the time we were both reading the book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, by Nancy Jo Sales. It inspired us to focus on more of these scenes throughout the summer. We both spent significant time talking to adolescents at summer camp to see if the book’s findings matched what these young people were experiencing.
The premise of the book is that parents and teachers need to be more informed about the pervasive negative impacts of social media particularly on identity formation of young women. The author focuses on the obsessive participation in such sites as Snapchat and Instagram; which lead to an adolescent’s sense of self-worth becoming dependent upon the “likes” received on frequent posts. There is also significant pressure to post and receive sexually explicit photos. Again, for many adolescents, the willingness to post such photos affects their social standing among their friends.
It has become increasingly clear to many educators and health care professionals who study the effects of technology (positive and negative) on children is that there is much confusion about this topic. We want our children and students to be technologically savvy and we remain largely uninformed about current research highlighting negative impacts on adolescent development. Some of the behaviors connected with technology have the hallmarks of addictive behavior – inability to track time and avoidance of obligations for example. Other ramifications include increases in sedentary behavior, stunted social-emotional development and finally diminished self-worth.
In order to help to inform our community about this phenomenon, we will be screening a movie called Screenagers on September 27th at school. Screenagers is about the impact of the digital age on children and how to help families minimize harmful effects and find balance. The film offers multiple approaches for parents and educators to work with children to help them achieve a healthy amount of screen time. This will be open to the public. Our middle school students will see the movie the next morning in school. In both cases, the screenings will be followed by facilitated discussions. Although we will not be showing the movie to our younger students, this film is a must-see for all parents. I hope to see you there.
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