By Superintendent Carrie Hruby
Nearly two hundred years ago Frederick Douglass said, “It is better to build strong children than to repair broken men.” As parents, grandparents, educators, and community members we strive to help every child become a strong adult. We dedicate our time, our energy and our funds to the future by supporting children and their education and development.
But so much has changed in the almost two centuries since Douglass said those words. Today’s generation of children continue to be influenced by their families and friends, but now are also heavily influenced by social media, television, video games, music lyrics and movies. Children lead lives of constant interaction with technology. While that technology helps our society progress, it can also be an outlet of harm to our children.
A short three decades ago children were never influenced by the internet or social media. If a friend challenged another to take on a risky dare, it wasn’t shared by video on a YouTube channel for hundreds of thousands of other children to repeat. Children did not welcome strangers (who might be posing as a peer) into their homes via a headset and online video game. Thirty years ago children reserved the label “friend” to someone they knew well, not a social media click. So much has changed, and so must we.
As parents, grandparents, educators and community members, we must recognize this new world children live in is not new to them at all. They’ve never known a world without these technologies, so they can’t imagine what it’s like to not have them or to give them up. As adults we must monitor and talk to our children about their involvement with technology. This isn’t easy because children see it as us prying into their personal diaries. The experts in the field have many tips for helping students cope with external influences brought to them via social media and the internet. They suggest we:
Watch them closely…monitor their YouTube accounts, gaming conversations, internet activity and social media apps.
Meet their friends…invite them over or meet them at an event. Meet their friends’ parents.
Talk about the tough subjects….even when they respond with eyes rolling, children who know an adult is there to talk will eventually open up or seek out support.
Teach them not to follow a crowd…especially when it feels wrong but seems popular. Every day there are new “challenges” that might seem harmless, but end up doing harm. Whether it be ingesting cinnamon or laundry detergent, or something worse, children need to be explicitly told how dangerous these “games” or “challenges” can be.
Encourage independent thinking and self confidence. Encourage children to reach out to someone who is alone or lonely.
Most importantly, we, as adults, need to continue to talk to children, eye-to-eye, on their level. Their worlds are full of outside influences, and they need our help to navigate them.
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