1000 Friends and Still Friendless

December 13, 2018

Dear Parents,

Before you read this post, please note three things. First, I use technology and social media. Second, I hate technology and social media. My reasons for using social media often appear to be rationalizations. In many cases, they are. In other cases, I feel they are legitimate.

Finally, I write this post to and for all parents. To the parents of middle school students, I hope that it serves to begin a critical and necessary dialogue. To the parents of my third to fifth graders, I hope that it gives you time to pause and to reflect on how you choose to navigate each of these necessary evils.  To the parents of my PreK to second graders, I hope that it provides you information that will allow you to think ahead about your child’s use of technology. To all of you, I hope that it empowers you to consider the future cause and effect relationship between technology and social media.

I follow the NAU Parent group on Facebook. My daughter, Maddy, is a Peer Jack mentor. NAU Peer Jacks mentor out-of-state students in order to better help them connect at NAU. Over the past month, two things struck me as I texted with Maddy and read through posts on the parent page. 

First, according to the NAU Parent page, one hundred twenty-seven Lumberjacks intend to withdraw from NAU upon the conclusion of this semester. Statistics suggest that by the end of the year, half of all freshmen who embark on their college journey fail out of school. While this is an alarming statistic, the 127 students I mention do not contribute to this statistic.

Sadly, according to the posts on the page, ALL 127 students depart NAU with GPAs above 3.0. Academically, many seem to be flourishing. They declined further enrollment because they are failing to connect. When they are not in class, they are hibernating in their room. They struggle to find ways to engage with other students. They refuse to join clubs. Fear consumes them because they don’t know how to engage in face-to-face interactions.  This breaks my heart.

Second, Maddy reaches out to me regularly for ideas on how to support her mentees. She shares that despite the Peer Jack program, they struggle to make genuine connections. They listen to her advice. Yet when she follows up with them, she discovers that they struggle to implement it. We discuss action steps she could share with them to no avail. 

My worry. 

Social Media. 

I would argue that when we were teenagers and we faced the challenges of adolescence at school, we could retreat to safety at home. Today, our teens lack a safe haven. They are connected 24/7. To what end? 

We receive one opportunity to protect and to support our precious ones. I would argue that our number one priority as parents is safety and protection. When our loves struggle with friendship at school or on the playground, we come to their defense. I know I do. Are we doing the same at home?

We don’t want to be THAT parent. You know the one. The one that isn’t cool because they won’t allow their children to have social media. The one that won’t provide their child with a cell phone. The one that puts boundaries around screen time.

Sunday night, 60 Minutes aired a show that discussed the impact of technology on the brain. Recently, my personal professional development focuses on the impact of technology on our precious ones under the age of seven. I find myself utterly speechless, alarmed actually. New studies reveal that technology use is changing the map of the brain’s processing center. Within the next 5 to 7 years, education will see an increase in processing delays and deficiencies. Our littlest of littles find themselves at greatest risk. 

While we celebrate how well our youngest generation navigates an iPhone or tablet, I wonder if we realize the impact it is truly having. Did you know that children under the age of two playing technology games that involve building with blocks are unable to translate that knowledge into 3-dimensional activities? Did you know that infants receive a greater rush of dopamine when they successfully navigate a task? Did you know that key players in Silicon Valley have their children attend the Waldorf School? Did you know that that school is completely technology free? 

I can tell you our house echoed with teenage tirades. Three EXTREMELY strong-willed individuals reside in a house in Highlands Ranch. Have you ever wondered from where the yelling is coming?  I could hazard a guess. It’s a wonder Paul remains the steady calm. We battled, at times, to epic proportion. How dare we require phone check-in?

Now, as I watch Maddy navigate school amidst students who huddle in their beds when they are not in class, I realize that the battle was worth it. She struggles to navigate much heartache and loss. Yet, she battles face-to-face with her life cheerleaders. I wonder if it is because of the rules we enforced. Based on all of my recent reading and research, I believe the rules certainly did not hurt.

Honored to Serve You All,

Janet Worley

Value Up: https://value-up.org/ 

60 Minuteshttps://www.cbsnews.com/video/elon-musk-screen-time-ryan-speedo-green/

Digital Futures Initiative: https://dfinow.org/about-us