Meredith deChabert, Middle School Principal
Note: I wrote a version of this column in November of 2015, but it is worth publishing again in this world of ubiquitous social media.
Social media. These two words can evoke a wide range of emotional responses, depending on one’s position as either a user of social media or the parent of a young adolescent making forays into various online communities. For middle schoolers, social media can be a way to participate in and navigate peer groups, develop a unique voice, be creative, and explore the world – all good things that are normal and important to this stage of socio-emotional development.
Alongside these positives, however, can come some difficulties for young users of social media: peer group drama, hyper-connection and FOMO (fear of missing out), cyberbullying, and various other types of harassment and inappropriate communication. It is Rye Country Day's policy that our students must feel safe and respected at school. When student conflicts that stem from social media spill over into the school arena, the School will investigate and take appropriate corrective/disciplinary action.
The best and simplest way to ensure that your child is conducting him- or herself appropriately online is to supervise his or her activity. We continue to be big fans of the website Common Sense Media, which aims to help parents, schools, and the media and technology industries “raise a generation of kids who think critically, act responsibly, and interact positively in the digital world.” The website offers helpful reviews and ratings of all kinds of media, including movies, video games and apps, television shows, websites, and books. The site also offers articles on a variety of topics related to tweens and teens and their use of social media, for example “How can I help my kid avoid digital drama?” and “How do I keep up with the latest social apps and sites teens are using?”
Your middle schooler might think that he or she has it all figured out, but young adolescents need the adults in their lives to help them with boundaries. What makes a healthy relationship? When is it time to take a time-out from the phone, tablet, or computer? Mistakes happen, so who are the adults they can rely on to help them navigate a problem and get out of a tough spot? These topics are all explored in SEEK classes throughout the middle-school years, but they make great fodder for family discussions, as well. Some excellent advice can be found in this recent New York Times article entitled “Seven Ways Parents Can Help 13-Year-Olds Start Their Social Media Lives Right.”
You also might consider making it a rule that your child must surrender his or her mobile device whenever you ask for it. Knowing that a parent’s eyes are but a request away can help some youngsters make better decisions online. You also can link your child’s social media to your own so that you can see what he or she is posting and downloading.
Social media and being connected online is the social reality for the majority of our students. We need to help our young adolescents navigate these powerful and potentially productive tools appropriately so that their online communities are as safe and wholesome as those that are offline.