The Use of Technology and Social Media with Middle School Students

I recently attended the National Association of Independent School (NAIS) annual conference where the keynote speaker was Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist and author of The Coddling of the American Mind.  Haidt’s address focused on the alarming increase of mental health needs of children in Generation Z. One of his greatest concerns, mirrored by many other academics and professionals, is the potential negative impact social media can have on children’s mental well-being, specifically with regards to depression and anxiety. With this mind, I’d like to focus this blog on a discussion of social media and how it can impact our own middle school community.

Based on his own research and that of others, Haidt argues that although social media has the positive attribute of connecting people, the way that many young people use social media can be harmful. Specifically, he argues that the culture of instant gratification and ubiquitous ratings on every picture and post leads to negative repercussions on developing minds. Notably, he believes these negative repercussions can occur even if children have limited access to social media. In fact, he noted that kids who stopped using social media altogether indicated decreased levels of anxiety and depression. His arguments and research can be found on his website: https://www.thecoddling.com/.

With these types of concerns in mind, I sought to gain a better understanding of the role social media plays in our own middle school community. To that end, I surveyed our middle school students on their phone and social media use. Based on the 85 students that replied to this survey, approximately 85% of 6th through 8th graders report owning a phone and bringing that phone to school. With regards to how they perceive the impact of their social media use, about 19% of students said that social media negatively impacts their emotional well-being. Additionally, approximately 10% indicated that they have seen their friends engage in mean behavior either online or on their phones. While this was just an informal survey and not a comprehensive research undertaking – I do think the findings are useful. These statistics indicate that for at least some of our students, social media may have some troubling and harmful effects.  

Given what we know about the potential for social media to impact our children, and given the prevalence of phones in this age group, the question is what we can do as parents and educators to limit or mitigate the potential harm and how we can be in partnership to ensure consistency. I believe the policies we have at BCD with regards to phone usage is an important first step. Student phones must be turned off and kept in lockers during the school day (with exceptions made for emergencies). I believe this policy has reduced the desire of our students to want to check and use their phones throughout the day. Additionally, we have an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), which is an agreement of how students will use technology appropriately, and a firewall that blocks inappropriate content. Also in 6th grade, we teach students how to use their computers for appropriate school use only. As parents, I think we need to be vigilant in the supervision of our children’s social media usage and should implement parental controls when possible. Below I have attached a list of resources provided by Gabe Hernan, our Director of Technology, about monitoring online use and restricting access. I know that these resources have come in handy in my own home with my children.

Haidt concluded his keynote by recommending that schools ban access to social media during the day and he urged parents and kids to delay social media use until High School. To this end, I recommend that parents check out the “Wait Until 8th” campaign and pledge (waituntil8th.org) that aims to “empower parents to delay giving children a smartphone until at least 8th grade.” This campaign illustrates how parents can work together in supporting one another and creating similar strategies and rules together. 

Ultimately, we want our students to remember the BCD motto of Respect Yourself, Respect Others, and Take Responsibility for Your Actions – whether that is in school or out of school, online or in person.  I will continue to take a hard look at our own middle school policies and work to develop strategies to empower students to know the best ways to use social media. I appreciate your partnership as we help everyone navigate the digital landscape in a way that students feel connected and safe.

Monitoring and Blocking Resources

ARTICLE: Everything You Need to Know About Parental Controls – Great overview of how it all works

Microsoft Family Safety – Block sites, set time limits, and see activity reports

Circle with Disney – Filter content, limit screen time and set a bedtime for every device in the home

OurPact – Mobile guidance for your family, available for iOS and Android

Screen Time – Parental controls for iOS, Android and Kindle devices

Curbi – Parental controls for Android and Apple mobile devices

ParentKit – Control and schedule what is on your child’s iPod, iPad or iPhone

NetSanity – Parental controls for iOS

FamilyTime – Parental controls for iOS and Android

Net Nanny – Parental controls for Android and iOS

Mobile Fence – Parental controls and GPS tracking for Android devices

Verizon Family Base – Monitor wireless activity and set usage limits

AT&T Parental Controls – Manage internet and email activity on computers

T-Mobile Family Allowances – Manage minutes, messages and downloads on phones

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Have additional resources that should be shared?  Please email ghernan@bouldercountryday.org

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