A couple of weeks ago, WCCS had the privilege of hosting the first annual Educational Therapists of the Carolinas mini-conference. Some of our speakers shared some great information about how to understand the 21st century learner and become more aware of some of the negative effects technology and social media can have on a student’s brain development.
At WCCS, we understand that there are many benefits to using technology appropriately in the classroom, and even believe that it can be used to connect with and reach others for Christ. However, there is powerful research showing that it must be effectively monitored and balanced with more traditional forms of learning - such as reading and having meaningful interactions with teachers. This week, we have asked WCCS Educational Therapist and EXCEL Teacher, Beverley Furrow, to share some insight from conference speaker, Dawn Poulterer Woods to help us all understand and guide our 21st century learners more effectively in school and at home.
The Negative Impact Screen Time Has on Executive Functioning of the Brain: research has shown that social media and gaming are impacting children and adolescent brain development, particularly in the way of executive functioning – this is the area responsible for enabling your student to plan, organize and complete tasks. It is also responsible for regulating emotions and self-monitoring. The part of the brain that houses executive functioning is the frontal lobe, the same part of the brain that is the last to fully develop. When students attempt homework or other cognitive functions while also texting, snap chatting, or multi-tasking with other screen functions, the frontal lobe does not activate properly. Excessive screen time can also lead to Electronic Screen Syndrome (ESS), causing your student to have issues with mood, focus, sleep and behavior. Physicians are having an increasingly difficult time distinguishing between ADHD and ESS because the symptoms of each are so similar. Another interesting fact that researchers are discovering is that the smaller the screen size, the greater negative effect the screen activity has on the brain.
Cognitive Offloading: in today’s world, students literally have the world at their fingertips. This is advantageous in that they can explore and research topics quickly, however the ease to which students can retrieve facts from the internet can also inhibit their ability to think deeply on a topic and rely on memory and deep research rather than a search bar. The brain is a muscle and the less it has to work to retrieve information, the weaker and less skilled it will become at learning and performing.
The Dopamine Effect: The types of activities that are performed on screens release dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that is released into the brain and causes pleasure and arousal. This dopamine effect is what produces addictions, including social media and gaming. Research has shown that addictions formed during the teenage years are the hardest to break and can lead to a lifetime of future addiction problems. It is shocking to think that addiction to screen time has become so common among today’s youth that many are being sent to rehabilitation facilitates to regain freedom from these devices. Even if your child never has to go to a rehab facility, consider the effects technology addiction might be having on his or her ability to establish authentic relationships with their peers, teachers and siblings as well as the ability to develop effective communication skills.
Understanding the nature of how students have been created by God physiologically, psychologically, and emotionally, is essential in successfully educating the 21st century learner. As part of God’s intelligent design, developmental stages and readiness must be incorporated into the methods used for teaching and guiding today’s students. The point is not that all things related to screen time are bad. As in all things, the key is moderation. The activities of reading, daydreaming, unstructured play, and encouraging imagination seem a part of the past. Rekindling these skills is essential for today’s students and would bring about a healthier developmental environment for the 21st century learner.
Below are some tips for maintaining proper “screen health” for your 21st century learner.
Talk to your child or teen about the dangers of overuse of technology.
Delay smartphone and tablet use for young kids as long as possible.
Remove all smartphones from your child’s homework area.
Monitor the content and number of hours your child spends on social media throughout the week and set limits.
Have “screen-free zones” such as the dinner table, the morning and afternoon drive home, your student’s bedroom, etc.
For young kids, stop by the park on the way home from school and encourage physical, outdoor play with siblings or friends.
For adolescents, encourage participation in athletic teams, hobbies or service clubs after school.
Your student needs your help navigating the world of technology and social media in a Christ-honoring way. Their brains are simply not cognitively mature enough to resist the many temptations, pressures and distraction that smartphones and other technology devices pose. As Christian educators, we want to partner with you in sharing helpful information on this growing topic of discussion. For more resources on this topic, visit www.familiesmanagingmedia.com.
Recently, the US Surgeon General released a report on the mental health of adolescence in America. According to the report, 1 in 5 adolescents will experience a mental health issue during their school years. More concerning is the finding that death by suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in students ages 10-14 and the 2nd leading cause of death in students ages 15-18. This is an important topic that we know some of our students may be dealing with, either in experience themselves, or as they relate to their peers.
As a school, we are becoming more aware and are taking steps to better care for our community and students in regards to this growing epidemic.
Already this week, we have met with a trained professional to better equip us with the tools we need to recognize, assess and support at-risk students in the classroom. This week, we have asked School Chaplain, Jake Tassy, to provide some additional tips for parents in talking with children and teens about anxiety, depression and suicide.
Let’s face it. Life is sometimes hard. As a parent, the statistics we shared above are frightening, aren’t they? It’s important to know that though we do everything we can to love, protect, and guide our children, not one of them are immune to the struggles of this world. The devil continues his business to “kill, steal, and destroy” wherever he can (John 10:10). But, you know what? We still have HOPE. We serve a God who makes it HIS business to restore and heal, and because HE is on our side, we do not have to walk in fear, “but in love, power, and a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7). How we bridge the gap between research and the Gospel helps us in each challenge we face in parenting, and with the Holy Spirit, ALL things are possible. Below are some tips and resources that we have shared with teachers in approaching this topic with students that we feel are even more applicable for parents at home. I encourage you to have a conversation with your student, even if you believe they are “ok”.
Tips for Talking With Your Child About Their Mental Health
Listen: Does the mood of your home make it a safe place for your child to open up to you? Do they have the freedom to express themselves emotionally (within reason)? When your child comes to you with a struggle they are facing, LISTEN…and really listen. Avoid the temptation to immediately try to fix the problem or offer a solution. Most of the teens I talk with say that they wish their parents would just listen sometimes without trying to offer immediate advice. Realize there may not be a “quick fix”, and that’s ok.
Empathize: Take a minute and empathize with the challenges your student is facing. Put yourself in their shoes, and remember your own “growing up” years. Maybe you went through a similar struggle. This may be the door of entry for you to start the conversation, and let the Lord use the truths you learned from past experiences.
Affirm: It’s important to remind your student that God’s Word is full of practical wisdom for any and all of life’s situations. The world defines success contrary to the Truth. Sometimes our teens need help in remembering where there value comes from (or more importantly, WHO their value comes from). Point them to Scripture. Commit to helping them discover who God uniquely created them to be and do for this world.
Direct: What lies from Satan need to be kicked to the curb? Pinpoint them and replace them with corresponding Scripture to refill the gaps.
Enlist: How can they participate in their own healing? Have them give some suggestions and take action.
Refer: Keep the circle small, but encourage them to reach out to a Sunday school teacher, WCCS mentor, coach, teacher, or other adult.
Pray: Pray continuously for your child. Sounds so simple, but it’s the single most important step you can take as a parent.
Some of these resources are geared for educators that are teaching students about these topics, but they are also extremely helpful to you as parents as you seek to guide your child.
Teen Health & Emotions
Information on various topics
Speaking to a student with depression (or anxiety). It has a section of what to say and, equally as important, what not to say.
Interaction with someone that is suicidal
National Alliance on Mental Illness
As you use these resources, I encourage you to go back to Jesus as you talk with your child. Only HE can give them the hope they need to face the challenges of this world. He has come to give life, and to give it more abundantly (John 10:10).
Also, please know that there are WCCS faculty and staff available to partner with you in whatever ways your family may need support. At the heart of our school mission is the desire to help each one of our students reach their full, God-given potential, to thrive, and to be able to bless our world in HIS name and for HIS glory.