School safety: the role of technology

GREEN BAY, Wis. - It's a day and age of constant communication.

We tell our friends what we're up to, show them pictures of where we've been, and converse about our day. But the tool that's keeping us so connected may actually be doing just the opposite.

"We're moving toward almost a non-relational society, which is almost oxymoronic," local psychologist Frank Cummings said.

A study by Common Sense Media, a non-profit organization advocating for safe technology usage in children, found that teens who use a smartphone spend 4 hours and 38 minutes using it a day. Teens who use a phone for social media average almost two hours a day. Other high uses are listening to music, watching tv, and playing electronic games. A Menasha psychologist we talked with says those numbers could be leading to a problem.

"The social environment seems to be very fractured or disconnected in face to face interactions," Cummings said.

We sat down with a group of Oshkosh North High School students, face to face, to get their thoughts on what that disconnection could mean.

"I definitely think that being disconnected from other people in that way and kind of being lost in these pits of different ideologies can lead to radicalization or just intense depression or just a separation from your friends and people around you at school or at home," student Kira Loewenstein said.

Students say that those kinds of feelings can feed into what they call a toxic online environment with little to no tolerance.

"There's not a lot of connection going on," student Maichia Xiong said. "I don't care about how they feel - I'm right, they're wrong. It's that type of society that we live in today, and of course, this polarizes America as a whole."

Students say behind the screen of social media is a deceptive world.

"The way it's painted is that everyone's life is perfect, that you can start to feel like your life isn't and you aren't measuring up," student Caleb Sullivan said.

"It's hard to see the wonderful lives that people are living and it's toxic to your own mental health, so I deleted my instagram and twitter," student Brock Doemel said. "I couldn't deal with it anymore."

Experts say that screens are also shifting what it means to be social.

"It's crucial to have social connections that are face to face, hand to hand, hug to hug if you will," Cummings said.

But that's not the direction much of society is taking. People can go an entire day with very little face to face or social connections. Siri can answer all of our questions. In Seattle, a new store called Amazon Go lets customers come in grab their food and leave. Cameras and sensors track customers and the food they take which is paid for through an Amazon account. Customers don't ever have to interact with another person. While technology such as this new Amazon store has benefits, people need to be aware they must balance their lives and seek our real human interaction.
"It's really cool that we're able to use technology for a lot of new things and effectively present information to people," Loewenstein said. "On the flip side, i do think it's still important to have these face to face conversations."
Experts say a growing dependency on technology can affect a child's mental health when a person struggling ecomes disconnected.
"Then it just becomes internalized where they don't know how to process those feelings of estrangement," Cummings said.
The shooter in Parkland, Florida posted extremist views online. The Sandy Hook school shooter lived almost in isolation, constantly playing video games online.
"The struggle that we've learned, is you have to have emotional intelligence, not just verbal or nonverbal intelligence," Cummings said.
Experts said parenting plays a key role in developing real connections. The internet or cell phones are okay for kids, but parents need to choose what's best and limit technology.
"Freedom and responsibility," Cummings said. "Responsibility is two words - and that's able to respond."
Responsibility falls to parents as well - having those face to face interactions themselves. 
"The best thing we can do for our kids is make sure they are loved and cared for in the home, and that they feel safe and that we do everything we can to make sure that they have a safe, nurturing environment in the home," Cummings said. "I think that's absolutely fundamental."
Experts said there are steps you can take to start limiting a child's screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children younger than 18 months old should avoid the use of screen media. Through age 5, they recommend limiting screen time to one hour a day. Then, from ages six and older, AAP recommends parents decide on and set consistent limits on time spent using media and the types of media.
That limit should depend on age, health, personality, and development. The AAP also recommends parents prioritize creative, unplugged playtime for younger children, and as they get older, continue to balance media with other heathly, active behaviors.

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