In the last few years, I’ve thought deeply about the intersection of technology, ethics, and mental health and wellness. Like many schools across the country, we continue to grapple with the fact that researchers are seeing increasing rates of teen depression and anxiety that are connected to the rise of time spent on social media and technology. Our technology department, counseling team, and teachers are looking at the ways in which we help our students understand how they can make ethical decisions when it comes to their engagement with electronic devices, apps, and social media; where the lines get blurred when it comes to privacy; and if privacy can truly exist for online messages or posts.
Three years ago, we hosted our first forum for all of our students that included a screening of the documentary film Screenagers and different workshops students could attend based on their interests. Since then, we’ve used that same format with subsequent incoming sixth-grade classes as a way of supporting their transition to the Middle School. Ingrid Sabogal, Middle School ethics and technology coordinator, has been working closely with our high school student-to-student leaders, Upper School ethics and technology course students, and sixth-grade teachers and counselors in preparation for this year’s Screenagers forum. Our sixth-grade students are then leaving for their overnight trip, where the tech-free experience is a way to thoughtfully engage students around making connections, developing relationships, and building community.
The daytime student forum is paired with an evening screening of the film for parents. Where possible, we look for ways in which mutually supportive learning opportunities take place for students and parents. As important as it is for us to develop a student culture and community around technology, it’s also important for us to help support parents, who, like many of us, are trying to stay ahead of the students and the technology!
My colleagues and I want our students to engage with each other in the present moment as they continue to develop those important interpersonal and soft skills that will be vital as they get older. Learning how to communicate and resolve conflicts in person is a skill that is developed over a lifetime and comes through practice. As we know, electronic communications do not allow students to see or hear tone in a written message. During this developmental age, it’s important that we help students continue to support each other around their growth in both verbal and non-verbal forms of communication.