As more of our lives are consumed with digital technology—social media, texting and smartphones—is it any wonder that our children are growing up with electronic gadgets as companions?

A report on media consumption by the nonprofit Common Sense Media said teens spend an average of nearly nine hours a day using screen media, and children between ages 8 and 12 consume an average of almost six hours a day. And, ownership of smartphones — mobile devices with an internet connection — has tripled in recent years among young people. In 2011, 22 percent of students starting high school had a smartphone; by 2015, the number rocketed to 68 percent.

Parents and educators have found themselves wondering, are we raising a generation who won’t be able to look others in the eye when they speak? What is the impact of all of this new technology on child development and SEL (social-emotional learning)—and what can parents do?

Devices and SEL in a Documentary

Those questions were the topic at a screening of a documentary in the Deer Lakes School District.

The film, “Screenagers: Growing up in the Digital Age,” was made by parent and physician Dr. Delaney Ruston when she was confronted with the question of whether to purchase a smartphone for her 12-year-old daughter, Tessa.

“It all started with one question: What phone to get my daughter because her flip phone stopped working?” said Ruston, who has a practice in Setauket, N.Y. “I knew what Tessa wanted wasn’t a phone but a minicomputer—a smartphone. I was confused about what I should do.”

The film explores the impacts of the digital age on children and SEL through statistics and anecdotal evidence from doctors, researchers and educators, who see the effects firsthand. It also provides tips on how to help families find balance.

Fact or fiction: #mobile #devices are stunting #SEL

“All of us are addicted to our devices,” said Bobbi-Ann Barnes, assistant superintendent at Deer Lakes.

“We’re seeing the impact at a younger and younger age,” added David Campos, the district’s middle school principal.

The documentary was screened by students at the middle and high schools, along with members of the community and parents, who were invited to a public viewing Oct. 20. After they watched the documentary, students returned to their homerooms for a 25-minute discussion. But, Campos said, the conversation could have gone on for hours.

Every Monday, some educators said, administrators spend a larger and larger portion of the morning hashing out arguments and bullying that transpired in cyberspace over the weekend.

“Before kids were plugged in, the weekend was a good thing. It gave them time to cool off,” high school principal Pat Baughman said. “Now, these kids never unplug.”

“It tends to escalate over the weekends,” Campos said.

(Next page: Devices, SEL and classroom policies)

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