By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator 

Removing the children from the world of virtual reality and returning them to the real world was the goal of a social media information workshop at St. Jude the Apostle Church and school in Baton Rouge on Sunday, Aug. 18. Attendance at the event was mandatory for parents of children enrolled in school or the Parish School of Religion because, as St. Jude pastor Father Trey Nelson said, “We would not ask their presence if we didn’t think this was an important issue.”  

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Dr. Erin Dugan presents a workshop on social media to parents at St. Jude School on Aug. 18. She said playtime, not screen time, is a huge tool in helping children develop into independent, resourceful adults. Photo by Bonny Van| The Catholic Commentator 

 

It’s what’s going on in the family,” said Father Nelson. “You know if a parent is sitting there on the sofa every night, on their phone checking Facebook or whatever it is they do, and it’s not bedtime yet – they could be interacting with their children in some way but they’re doing that instead. First of all, what does that do to that relationship, and secondly, what is the example that it’s setting?”  

Father Nelson said the idea for the workshop came up after a discussion with other parents about the popular video game “Fortnite.” The discussion, he said, “kind of mushroomed into a bigger topic,” including screen time effects on academics, behavior and social interaction.  

“How does it affect interaction between (children) and their parents and vice versa? And so I was very excited to do (a workshop),” explained Father Nelson. “And then the school board really wanted to do it, and I made a statement that I think this may be something that we need to ask parents to come to, not invite but ask.”  

Dr. Erin Dugan, associate dean of academic affairs in the Department of Clinical Rehabilitation and Counseling at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, informed the parents there is a limited amount of research on the impact of social media. She said that social media is defined as “any type of screen that we put before ourselves no matter how old we are.” She said social media also has many advantages, “so it’s a take it in moderation approach.”  

Dugan told the audience that parents’ jobs are to nurture, engage, challenge and provide structure for their children. However, she said providing that structure for social media can be difficult with kids arguing or pleading, “I need to” or “everyone is doing it.”  

“So we look at social media which some call the ‘zombie apocalypse,’ ” stated Dugan. “Between Twitter, Instagram and Facetime, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, the list goes on and on. And, we, as parents, find ourselves interested in all these things … and while these platforms have a lot of advantages, they can also be somewhat harmful.”  

She stated the ability to immediately access someone anywhere has become “the norm.” She said it’s also a “quick escape” during down time such as a doctor’s waiting room or an elevator. 

Screens, she said, are everywhere and even technology, such as intelligent assistant devices like Alexa or Siri, are frequently on and part of many lives. She also mentioned the pitfall of making virtual friends versus real friends.  

“Many parents worry about social media use,” she said. “Ninety-two percent of teens report internet usage daily. That’s a huge number.”  

Dugan stated that social media gives immediate satisfaction and responses to the user, through “likes” or comments but “many children don’t know how to comment or how it can be misconstrued.” 

Citing classic psychological theories on cognitive and social development, Dugan said children “don’t reason cognitively until the age of 12.”  

“The classic studies are there, and they’ve been used for years and years and so being able to have parents understand some of these major theorists’ studies and how kids are developing is crucial in understanding who their children are, prior to putting something extraneous such as social media or screens in front of them first and foremost,” said Dugan.  

The benefits of social media, according to Dugan, include opening communication channels, finding support groups and other helpful information such as medical or educational. She said the negative impacts are superficial friendships; it’s a tool for predators, criminals and terrorists; takes away from family time; and increases social anxiety. She said the best activity to combat screen time for all ages is playtime.  

“Huge amounts! It’s what’s going to help support kids, their skills, the resources that they’ll need for survival for professional careers in their life,” explained Dugan, who admitted to setting aside her own “play” or down time from devices.  

Steve Barrios, a teacher at St. Joseph’s Academy in Baton Rouge, said parents need to be aware of what kids are exposed to, especially with the speed of technology.  

“They (students) don’t understand the concept of public and permanent, that whatever you post is public and it’s permanent. There’s no way you can get rid of it,” said Barrios. “And it seems like every six months a new type of social media pops up. I mean last year it was TicToc. I had no idea what that was. I had to have my students explain it to me.”  

“There are so many types of social media, even more than there were just a few years ago, so knowing more and having knowledge of what they have access to is important,” said Lexlee Overton, a mother of three.  

“We recognize that social media and technology is a part of our everyday life, it is not going to go away,” said St. Jude principal Michelle Gardner. “So as parents being the primary educator of their child, it’s very important that we educate them and give them as much information as we can in our partnership with them.”