For teenagers in today’s world, a cell phone has become like an extra appendage. Whether they’re in the classroom, bedroom, with friends, or by themselves, their phones are always by their side. And while technology of course has its advantages, giving an impressionable, impulsive youngster such a powerful device can also have devastating effects.
For Mineola native Katie Schumacher, hearing stories of teens being cyberbullied or embarrassed online had reached a tipping point. The parent of three teenagers had gone to an open school night for her children in Rockville Centre and heard the principal talking about the myriad problems the district had been having with technology and kids being unkind to one another online. As the principal explained how teens were embarrassing and hurting each other, Schumacher realized that something had to be done.
“If this many kids are doing it wrong, we’re not educating them,” Schumacher said, noting that the parents of today’s teenagers did not grow up with the vast array of technology and social media that is now so prevalent. “We have given our teenagers devices they’re not ready for. If we give them the phone, we have to give them rules and guidelines.”
Schumacher, a social media novice at the time, started doing research and learning more about what teens were using. After learning more about the influence phone use and social media had on the young generation, she came up with the Don’t Press Send Campaign, an education in cyber civics.
She came up with a pledge, which promoted kind, careful communication, and began speaking in schools in Rockville Centre about making smart decisions online. Soon, parents and teachers from other districts started asking her to bring her presentations to their districts. This school year alone, she’s given 30 presentations.
“The misuse of social media is an absolute problem. We need to give them guidelines and strategies. The importance is kind and careful online communication,” Schumacher said. “Be respectful of one another. Realize the screen is emotionally disconnecting you.”
There are countless stories of teenagers being cyberbullied or humiliated online by their peers. Schumacher said that because teenagers can’t see the face on the other side of the screen, they are more emotionally disconnected, which opens the door for them to say cruel and mean things, or be disrespectful.
“You can’t say whatever you want without any regard to the people on the other side of the screen,” Schumacher said. During her presentations, she shares with students the stories of others who have had to suffer because of bad decisions they made online. “All of your actions have a consequence. Something you worked really hard for—a job, scholarship, college acceptance—can be taken away in a second because of a push of a button.”
She also stresses the importance of being safe online, on social media such as Snapchat and Instagram and gaming platforms like XBOX Live, as well as sites where users can be anonymous. She encourages teens not to give out any personal information online and to limit their circle of friends or followers. She also reminds students to not forget that perception is often not the reality and that “boasting is not posting.”
“Kids are learning to live a false life on social media and pretend their life is great. It’s really messing with their self and emotional growth,” Schumacher said. “You’re comparing your life to these other things on Instagram and Snapchat. But if it doesn’t make you feel good, you don’t have to partake in it.”
Schumacher said at every presentation she gives, there is always a line of kids waiting to talk to her or ask questions afterwards. But she doesn’t want to limit her expertise to children alone; she’s also passionate about helping parents learn how to better navigate the tricky world of teens and technology.
“This is a conversation you need to have,” Schumacher said. “From the feedback I’ve gotten, I know parents have never thought to tell them these things. If you use this device, use it with rules, responsibility and respect.”
And having rules in place, such as limited phone hours and not partaking in anonymous sites, can keep a lot of anxiety at bay, Schumacher said.
“Every time it rings or tings, they have to get it. They’re overvaluing every little thing,” she said.
Schumacher’s new book, Don’t Press Send: A Mindful Approach to Social Media and Education in Cyber Civics, tackles a lot of the issues teens face today when it comes to technology. Ultimately, Schumacher said she hopes that teens can learn the proper place technology has in life.
“Our kids are mostly communicating in the cyber community, we have to teach them how to make it a nice one,” Schumacher said. “Our kids need us to give them guidelines. I don’t claim to know all the answers, but we do need to start asking what’s appropriate.”
Learn more about Don’t Press Send at www.yarhahar.com.