It’s May and every year at this time I work extensively with fifth graders on podcasts and other multimedia projects. Each year the students’ conversations drift toward their anticipation of sixth grade, middle school … and new cell phones. A connection exists, in their minds, between the first year of Middle School and getting the all-important digital accessory. Actually, the kids feel it’s an accessory, but their parents consider it a lifeline — something to keep them connected to their children whenever it’s necessary (and sometimes when it isn’t that necessary).
Last Monday I read three powerful articles, and they fit together like a puzzle. They illustrate how a generational digital divide accentuates adolescent virtual world problems — a result of the contradictory digital perceptions of teens and adults.
POISONED WEB: A Girl’s Nude Photo and Altered Lives, appeared in the New York Times. The article describes how small, teenage misjudgments in the unsupervised world of instant web, smartphones, and cyber-bullying, can magnify hate and cause terrible pain. Reporter Jan Hoffman quotes adults who wish they had supervised more carefully and pledge to do more in the future. I wondered, as I often do when I read these articles, what leads adults not to supervise in the first place? Reading about the teachers, administrators, and officials who attempted to create opportunities for growth and learning out of the senseless hurt and cruelty was a highlight of the article.
“Facebook depression” is a small part of the policy statement, but the benefits and the learning opportunities offered by social media are a larger part. Rather than focusing on the positives and on the recommendations for moderation, the media is shouting out the negatives. My fifth grade media literacy students can run circles around these headline writers.
A recent US News and World Report articlefeatures a headline that is balanced and far more sensible.
I’ve been keeping Dr. Gwen Schurgin-Okeeffe’s (AKA Dr. Gwenn) book close by for several months now. Cybersafe: Protecting and Empowering Kids in the Digital World of Texting, Gaming, and Social Media is chock-full of helpful information and advice, juxtaposing the need to empower as well as protect today’s children in the always-expanding virtual world where they live. I’ve read the entire book, and I highly recommend CyberSafe to a people who are planning school book fairs and searching for a book that addresses technology and parenting. For parents who are seeking a broad overview of digital age parenting, CyberSafe, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, is the current best bet.
The updated policy statement, written by media education advocate and lead author Victor Strasburger, M.D.,together with a veritable who’s who of like-minded pediatricians, addresses the health concern that arise when children are over-exposed to media. Easy-to-read and jammed-packed with information, the document provides an overview of physician concerns about the media literacy of their young patients. With 93 footnotes, the policy statement also connects readers with pertinent scientific research so that readers, if they choose, can search for research abstracts about media education and children’s health (check PubMed for the abstracts).