Centennial School District encourages open dialogue about technology

The Centennial School District has now hosted a viewing of the film “Screenagers – Growing up in the Digital Age” two times. The difference the second time lay in the audience.

In addition to parents who attended the screening Sept. 30 at Centennial Middle School (CMS), every student who attends CMS also saw the film, either on Oct. 2 or Oct. 3. The screenings were funded through a Centennial Area Education Foundation (CAEF) grant.

“In partnership with Community Education and CAEF, the middle school was able to show this documentary to all of our students following the districtwide viewing. We felt the information was valuable and we didn’t want any of our learners or staff to miss it,” said CMS Principal Bob Stevens. “These are very complicated times for students, families and staff surrounding the use of technology. We believe that knowledge is power.”

The film delves into the topic of how much time children and teens are spending on computers, tablets, cell phones and other electronic devices and the possible effect it has on their health and well-being.  

The film, directed by primary care physician Delaney Ruston, the mother of two teenagers, explores the pull that electronic devices have on kids and what it means to parents. The film shows examples of several kids whose experiences with devices have caused them extreme emotional damage and addresses the effects it had on their families.  

After the film there was a panel Q&A. The panel consisted of Sarah Holmboe, early childhood family education coordinator; Scott Johnson, executive director of teaching and learning; Renee Dietz, early childhood special education lead; Dawn Westanamo, middle school counselor; Mike Macken, middle school assistant principal; Michele Noha, district nurse; Moriah Mueller, clinical social worker at Centerville Elementary (with Lee Carlson Center); and Mary Healy, Centennial Library branch manager.




How have you seen social media and technology impact the social and emotional well-being of students?

Westanamo explained she sees students who have emotional concerns on a daily basis. “Sometimes the kids are taking on way more of a responsibility when they are working with their friends, text messaging back and forth and taking on the role of counselor or therapist with their friends, and trying to get them through difficult times,” she said. “A lot of that happens late at night when they are getting messages that are concerning from friends and it definitely affects them throughout the day when they get to school.”

Dietz explained that she has seen impacts in very young children who aren't learning how to self-regulate. “I think a lot of parents are using technology to pacify them and to keep them calm. We see that with even our youngest kids; parents are handing them screens and they are using it to keep them busy because they have things to do. Young children especially have a hard time knowing when enough is enough. We are seeing a lot of behavior problems with the youngest of kids, 4- and 5-year-olds, who don't want to put the screens away,” she said. “The way that kids learn language, cognitive and social skills is (through) face-to-face interaction, and if you are replacing that time with a screen you are not giving your child that time to learn language, communication and social skills.”

Noha added, “Parents are holding their babies, but they are looking at their phones so babies are not learning how to read social cues.”

Mueller said at least once a day she talks with kids about their screen time or with parents about how to manage fights that come up with their kids when trying to set limits. “It is a struggle, but it is a struggle that is worth having and that you can overcome. Kids using screens as a way to distract or regulate themselves can work well temporarily,” she said. “It is a really good coping skill in the moment, but long term, it is really problematic because you are not learning how to face that thing that is causing emotional distress. You are just ignoring it, and when you start that habit at a young age and don't have other skills, you don't tolerate the stress as well.”

Johnson said a statement about comparisons has resonated with him: “Comparison is the thief of joy. I think so often for many of our girls, but perhaps even some of our guys, social media can really be that thief that is taking away their joy because they never really measure up to what they think is reality,” he said.


What impacts on physical health have you seen in your work with students?

Noha said especially at the high school level, they are witnessing students who are only getting three to four hours a sleep per night, not participating in activities outside of school, who then are less able to be patient with people and are unable to stay focused.

At the middle school level, Macken said they are seeing a lot more students with anxiety and depression. “I'm not sure if it is necessarily tied to screen time, but it used to be when kids had an issue at school, kids would get a break because when they left school they were somewhere else. I think lots of times right now the things that kids are dealing with at school, games or at events, when they leave those places it is very difficult for them to get away from that incident because it follows them on social media,” he said.

Dietz said at the early childhood level they are seeing many children come in with sensory integration problems. “I think screens have an impact on that and are causing it because kids are not getting out and moving, running, jumping, playing, climbing and touching things,” she said. “That's the way that kids learn, and when they are sitting and looking at screens they aren't able to do all of that movement that helps and so their sensory system is not being developed the way it should be.”


Editor Shannon Granholm can be reached at 651-407-1227 or quadnews@presspubs.com.

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