Parents Institute hosts Digital Lives talk

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Parents Institute hosts Digital Lives talk

Barry Mason

Barry Mason

Barry Mason

Samuel Singer, Staff Writer

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Internationally recognized clinical psychologist Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair spoke to Middle Division (MD) parents Thursday about the “Big Disconnect” between parents and students regarding their online lives and how to properly monitor children’s online behavior.

The objective of the talk was to teach parents how to be both empathetic and authoritative surrounding their children’s use of technology, Steiner-Adair said. “It’s important that parents are in control and able to monitor their children’s online life,” she said.

“Many of the concerns brought to the school surrounding parenting issues are those of technology and how to monitor it, so it was important to bring in an expert,” President of the Parent Association Grace Peak said.

Steiner-Adair began the talk by summarizing data she had compiled from polling MD students about their online presence.

According to Steiner-Adair’s data, students reported that 15% see nude images online while 46% see racist content, 24% see homophobic content, and 23% see online bullying. “Their entire adolescent experience has been through technology, meaning they see things that they wouldn’t see in real life at their age,” she said.

Steiner-Adair also emphasized the negative impacts of technology on MD students, including increased anxiety, lack of independence, and decreased confidence from artificial social interactions.

“Many middle schoolers treat technology as a coping mechanism for life problems but become overdependent and need to use technology to not only stay connected but feel connected,” Steiner-Adair said.

Later in the evening, Steiner-Adair advised parents about how to help control their children’s online behavior. Such strategies included using parental control apps when children should be phone-free and using a standard “Family Media” agreement to help families set guidelines and regulate internet use.

She also advised parents to set limits on technology use around the house by teaching children to fall asleep without their phones and setting time limits for their gaming apps.

“Middle school is the time when you can set limits with kids; at that age they want face-to-face help and advice from you, which is something that they desire less as they grow older,” Steiner-Adair said. “They’re exposed to the whole world through their high tech tools, and your job is to teach them how to use that power for good and not for harm,” she said.

Parents expressed various reactions to the talk, many were encouraged to use new strategies regarding their childrens’ digital lives.

“I think access to constant social media has become very harmful to our teenagers because kids are not getting enough time to relax and disconnect from a constant assault of communication and social chatter,” Jonathan Cohen P’23 said.

“They’re digital natives, so they know so much more about what’s happening and what’s current, so we’re on the outside, so coming to something like this we get a little glimpse of what we should look for,” Lauren Smith P’25, 26 said.

The event was a part of the Parent Institute program, which offers informative talks to provide parents a greater appreciation of Middle Division student’s adolescent journeys in an increasingly complex world, Middle Division Director of Counseling and Guidance Wendy Reiter said.

The program is spearheaded by a team including the Parent Association, Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly, and Reiter, and plans to organize further talks surrounding familial pressure, success in middle school, and stress, Kelly said.

“Through speeches throughout the year by experts, the program will create parent involvement by allowing students to have conversations with personnel and experts relevant to their school lives and social lives,” he said.