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Superintendent column: Parenting in the digital age

A favorite album of mine when I was in college was Billy Joel's "The Stranger." I loved the music because it was new and different from the hard rock music I listened to in high school.

One of the songs on the album is called "Vienna." In the song, Joel sings: "slow down, you crazy child and take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while, it's all right, you can afford to lose a day or two ... when will you realize, Vienna waits for you?"

As we continue to seek ways to better address the support our students need in the area of emotional well-being, the idea of taking the phone off the hook, (although dated) and disappearing for a while seems to resonate today as appropriate advice for our 24-hour-a-day plugged-in world.

One of the challenges we have as parents and educators is the constant pull of social media our kids experience each and every day. Along with many of the positive aspects of social media and our ability to connect effortlessly with friends and family across the globe comes a darker side. Kids can be exposed to a number of negative influences from unsavory sources that work to inundate their thinking. Having the ability to be connected 24 hours a day brings a host of other challenges. We need to get away from the constant communication and emotions of the internet. We need to unplug and relax to allow us to recharge for the next day. For some kids, quiet or down time becomes impossible. The pull for kids can disrupt their sleep not only because they are not getting enough sleep, but if negative things are being distributed, the emotions elicited can put them in a flight-or-fight response to stress. They may go to bed in a state where deep and healthy sleep is not possible.

So, what are we to do as parents and educators? We believe we need to work together to learn how to help our children navigate the world of cyberspace in a positive and healthy manner. We know the landscape of social media and internet sites will continue to change and evolve. Knowing the positive and the negative about the world our kids are growing up in is important in helping to ensure they develop the emotional and cognitive skills to maintain a positive outlook on life.

As part of an on-going effort to support our students on all levels, including mental health, our district will be hosting a community conversation for families with Erin Walsh. Ms. Walsh is an expert in the field of digital media and its impacts on youth and families. The presentation entitled "It's Complicated: The Relationship Between Children, Social Media and Mental Health" will explain how technology is changing the ways that children grow up, socialize and forge their identities using brain science, stories and humor. The event will be held in the auditorium at Oltman Middle School on Monday, April 15 from 6-8 p.m.

Ms. Walsh will begin with a presentation geared towards parents and community members that will give tools and strategies for how we can collectively help our kids navigate the online world and fully support their mental health needs.

Following Ms. Walsh's presentation, district administration will discuss the following:

• How to report bullying

• How administrators respond to reports

• Next steps as a school district in terms of mental health

The evening will wrap up with time for questions from the audience.

I hope you will be able to join us for what I believe will be an informative and enjoyable evening. I think you will leave with a new understanding of how to help our kids thrive in the digital age.