Parents and educators attended a special meeting Monday sponsored by the Mooresville Graded School District to learn how to stay plugged in with the latest technological trends and how to keep their children and students happy, safe and healthy in the digital age.

Barbara Huth, education program manager for Common Sense Media, a non-profit organization designed to ensure digital well-being for children, was the guest speaker for the meeting held at the Mooresville High School Performing Arts Center.

The digital landscape has changed greatly just in the past few years, said Huth. Today, mobile device use is nearly universal among children up to age 8 with 98 percent of homes having a mobile device in 2017, she said. That’s up from 2011 when just 52 percent of homes had a mobile device, she said.

“Our kids are spending more and more time on mobile devices, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but that’s what’s happening,” said Huth.

The increased presence of digital media at home and at school can present challenges, said Huth, a former Mooresville science teacher who now lives and works in Washington, D.C.

Using their mobile devices, parents and students in the audience engaged in an interactive survey listing their biggest challenges with digital media. Parents listed content, time limits, privacy and distractions as their biggest challenges while students in the audience listed time, cyber bullying and parental controls as their biggest challenges.

Across the nation, attention, distraction and addiction are the top challenges facing parents and their children, Huth said. Fifty percent of teens say they feel addicted to their mobile devices while 59 percent of parents feel their teens are addicted, according to a 2016 Common Sense Media poll.

“This pressure to be connected is real,” said Huth, adding that digital devices and social media are designed to keep you online with dings, beeps, notifications and in-app purchases vying for your attention at all times.

Among parents, social media is also a big concern, she said. “Social media gets a bad rap but there’s a lot of good things about social media,” Huth said. By using social media, kids can communicate with others, learn information and find support in communities, she said. Teenagers said social media makes them feel better and more confident about themselves overall, according to a 2018 Common Sense Media poll, she said.

But, the downside of social media is that kids can be affected by negative comments and it is difficult to detach when it is time for other activities, she said. Parents feel there is less in-person interaction because of social media, she said.

It is the vulnerable teens who are the ones who tend to have negative experiences on social media because they feel excluded, she said. While 15 percent of students have been electronically bullied, 18-31 percent of kids have experienced in-person bullying, Huth said. The best response to bullying is to report the abuse and encourage upstanding, or the act of standing up and making things right when bullying takes place, she said.

Huth urged parents to set the standard and serve as a model for how they would like their children to use social media and their devices. “It’s all about a balance, right?” said Huth. “Not completely being online all the time.”

To determine this digital balance, parents should ensure their children are physically well, happy and sleeping enough; connecting socially with family and friends; engaged and achieving in school; and pursuing interests and hobbies, she said.

Parents should also set mobile device and social media expectations and rules and create “sacred spaces” such as the dinner table where mobile devices aren’t allowed, she said.

A parent in the audience asked if the MGSD administration, which distributes students mobile devices like iPads and laptops beginning in elementary school, teaches students how to be good digital citizens. Scott Smith, MGSD Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education and Technology, said students are taught about the appropriate use of their devices and screen time. Digital initiatives are there to ensure the students are safe and secure online, he said. The district uses technology as a tool but students don’t spend all their time on laptops or devices, Smith said.

Park View Elementary School Principal Misha Rogers said media specialists work with teachers to teach students how to use technology appropriately at home and at school. Students are also taught how to react when they hit an inappropriate technology “speed bump,” Rogers said.

Common Sense Media has several tools to help parents and students make healthy media choices. To learn more information, visit www.commonsensemedia.org.

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