JACKSON TWP — A large part of teaching children to use technology responsibly stems from parents doing the same, according to Jennifer Ehehalt, Pittsburgh regional manager and digital literacy advocate for Remake Learning.
Ehehalt was one of five panelists in the first of Seneca Valley School District's new series of healthy living presentations Jan. 29 in the senior high school auditorium.
About 70 Seneca Valley community members attended the presentation.
Also on the “Bullying Prevention in a Time of Cell Phones and Social Media” panel were Judge Kelley Streib of the Butler County Court of Common Pleas and Family Court; Phillip Little from the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General's Office of Public Engagement; Ryan Klingensmith, a licensed professional counselor and cofounder of Shape The Sky, a network to enrich online experiences for children; and Joe Bruzzese, founder and CEO of Sprigeo, a reporting system used for youths to communicate when they feel unsafe.
Linda Andreassi, Seneca Valley communications director, and Jeff Roberts, Seneca Valley director of special and gifted education, moderated.
Andreassi kicked off with a statistic, sharing that 95 percent of teenagers have access to smart devices now — a 22 percent leap from the 2014-15 academic year.
Superintendent Tracy Vitale said introducing this discussion to the school district is important to “open conversations with our parents and community about things our teenagers are facing when it comes to bullying, cell phones and social media.”
“These are not the same things we faced as teenagers,” she said. “While it may be true that every generation faced difficulties, today's teens are faced with something very different from past generations — a constant barrage of negative personalized messages overwhelming their underdeveloped brains. Many of them do not get a break from it, not at school, not at home, not even when they're supposed to be sleeping.”
Before joining the panel Bruzzese spoke about how the behaviors that used to happen only at school now follow students home through their technology “so kids never really get a break in the social aspect of their lives.”
“They're always on, as long as you have a mobile phone and access to social media or texting,” he said.
Bruzzese, who is president of the board of the International Bullying Prevention Association, said this puts youths in a position where they can be targeted more easily.
“We might say, 'Oh, just turn off your phone,' but the fear is that if they aren't online, they're missing what's happening,” he said. “So, even if they don't want to see what's happening, the fear of missing something is sometimes just as bad or worse.”
Streib later reiterated Bruzzese's point about the inability for many students to escape bullying due to the technology they have, which wasn't a problem when she was in school.
“When I got home and closed my door, I had a break — to be built up by my family, to rest,” Streib said.
Navigating the new social norm of needing instant information and responses from peers can be difficult to understand for people who didn't grow up with this technology, but Bruzzese says it's important for adults to be at the cornerstone of helping these children make the right decisions.
Ultimately, Bruzzese said, the kids will decide the culture, but “adults also have a role in perpetuating culture at a school.”
“The kids have to take ownership, but the adults need to support it by having assemblies and bringing in speakers and reinforcing that bullying behavior is not appropriate,” he said.
Many of the questions for the panel were about parenting expectations, challenges of cell phones and positive uses for new technology.
Ehehalt said it's important to have discussions about how to use technology well and come up with ideas to avoid obstacles in teaching children right from wrong. She emphasized the importance of leading by example.
“Adults are on just as much,” Ehehalt commented on the statistic of teens using screens about nine hours daily. “Those minutes add up.”
Ehehalt said parents need to be mindful of the time they are on their phones because their children will see that use and mimic it.
Seneca Valley's next Healthy Schools presentation will be titled “Teenage Vaping, Drinking and Drugs” and take place Feb. 20.
For more information or child care RSVP, visit www.svsd.net/healthyschools.