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Panther Pause: What is technology doing to our youth?

Chance Langeness is the SCC Middle School Dean of Students1 / 2
Pete Nusbaum is the SCC Middle School Principal2 / 2

Written by Pete Nusbaum and Chance Langeness

We would like to start with this: We know this article may come off as accusatory, upsetting or offensive.  It is a risk we are willing to take - and have to take - because it is time for a wake up call.  What you are about to read is directed at ourselves as much, if not more, than at anyone who takes the time to read it.  So here’s to sparking the conversation!

We recently read an article titled “Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety” published in the New York Times.  Speaking on behalf of ourselves and every school principal in America, we agree that anxiety is a widespread issue in our schools.  The New York Times article listed its Top Ten Reasons for the increase of anxiety. 1.) Electronics offer an unhealthy escape.  (Constant access to digital devices lets kids escape uncomfortable emotions like boredom, loneliness, or sadness by immersing themselves in games when they are in the car or by chatting on social media when they are sent to their rooms.  And now we're seeing what happens when an entire generation has spent their childhoods avoiding discomfort. Their electronics replaced opportunities to develop mental strength, and they didn't gain the coping skills they need to handle everyday challenges.)

2.) Happiness is all the rage.  3.) Parents are giving unrealistic praise. 4.) Parents are getting caught up in the rat race.  5.) Kids aren’t learning emotional skills. 6.) Parents view themselves as protectors rather than guides. 7.) Adults don’t know how to help kids face their fears the right way. 8.) Parents are parenting out of guilt and fear. 9.) Kids aren’t given enough free time to play. 10.) Family hierarchies are out of whack.  We can’t say we agree with all of them, but we are definitely guilty of many of them as parents and as principals.  Do we push our kids too hard?  Do we need to push our kids harder?  The one area we are definitely guilty of and working to change is providing opportunities for students to learn ways to deal with struggles on their own.  By all means we will be there to help and guide whenever needed, but we also cannot have our kids grow up to believe they’re too fragile to cope with the realities of life. 

We most likely are guilty in one way or another regarding numbers 1-10.  Number 4 is where we recognize a major growth area.  Many parents have become like personal assistants to their teenagers. They work hard to ensure their teens can compete: They hire tutors and private sports’ coaches and pay for expensive SAT prep courses. They make it their job to help their teens build transcripts that will impress a top school. And they send the message that their teen must excel at everything in order to land a coveted spot at such a college.  We can be better with all of these, however, where we and the entire country are incredible guilty is the overexposure our kids face with social media and Internet use.  The teenage smartphone problem is worse than any of us think.  According to Common Sense Media’s 2015 Census, on any given day the average American teenager consumes just under NINE HOURS of entertainment media, excluding time spent in school or for homework. The average teenager sends an astonishing 3,400 texts a month: more than 100 a day, according to estimates from a 2010 Nielsen survey.  Many learn the hard way that once they hit "send," there is no such thing as an "erase" button.  This quote comes from an article written by Donald Coburn: "If we continue to allow our teenagers to lapse into binges of media consumption, our polarized cultural narrative is doomed to intensify."  What a very scary statement. 

With all this said, our biggest concern falls with what kids are accessing and sending via social media.  We continually hear about cyberbullying and sexting.

Cyberbullying:

  • According to a study in 2014, 52% of young people report being cyberbullied.
  • An astounding 95% of teens who witnessed bullying on social media report that others, like them, have ignored the behavior.
  • A study found college girls who reported being cyberbullied were 3 times more likely to meet clinical criteria for depression. And if the cyberbullying was connected to unwanted sexual advances, the odds of depression doubled.

Sexting:

Sexting is defined as the exchange of sexually explicit photographs or messages via mobile phone.  Recently we have learned of hiding spaces in SnapChat, Instagram, and even in a fake “calculator app” that are used to hide photos and images from parents.  SnapChat has a hidden space called “My Eyes Only” that requires a different password and allows the user to hide images from parents.  Young adults are creating fake Instagram accounts (“Finstagram”) to post and house certain photos.  The most incredible hidden app is a calculator that truly looks like a calculator and functions like a calculator, but if you enter a special code it will open to your secret photos.  Teens face incredible peer pressure and stress, and we have recently found out that a teen may get numerous requests to share pictures.  Can you imagine the guilt that each teen feels when they share a picture they know is wrong and cannot get it back?   Where are we in society when our children may feel they need to send a nude picture of themself to fit in?  As much as we talk about the repercussions of sending inappropriate images in our schools, the pressure to share images seems to outweigh the consequences.  It is time to make sure that every teen understands these POTENTIAL LEGAL AND FUTURE REPERCUSSIONS:

  • Taking sexually explicit images of oneself could have you charged with manufacturing child pornography, which is a felony. If you share that image that is distribution of child pornography, also a felony. 
  • Images cannot be kept secure once a person hits "send" and can end up online in the hands of strangers all over the world who may collect and/or sell them.
  • Colleges and employers check an applicant's online activities when they consider them for admission into college and for a job position.

Folks, it is time to help our children reduce the stress, bullying, and pressures in their lives.   It is vital that each and every parent sit down with their child and go through their apps, images, etc.  There is no family or child that is immune from the dangers of technology.  We need to stop allowing our teens to use technology privately in their rooms.  We need to limit their time on technology. We are going to do our best at SCC to continue to educate our families and students regarding the issues of technology. We encourage you to take a close look at the top ten list that kicked off this article as everyone needs to slow down and help our children enjoy their youth!   We are not just talking about technology - we need to start allowing our children to have fun with sports and hobbies and stop making it seem like it is life or death!  We think it is time that we all stop and reflect on the rat race we all find ourselves in.  Let’s laugh, cry, run, sing, and dance with our kids every single day.  They deserve it!

Pete Nusbaum is the SCC Middle School Principal, while Chance Langeness is the SCC Middle School Dean of Students

Jordan Willi
Jordan Willi is a reporter for the New Richmond News. Previously, he worked as a sports reporter at the Worthington Daily Globe in Worthington, Minnesota. He also interned at the Hudson Star Observer for two summers and contributed to the Bison Illustrated sports magazine at North Dakota State University.
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