Introducing REBOOT – Rethinking Ethical Behavior Online for Oneself Together

By Rosalinda Markels, Parent ’19 and ’23

“Social media can be better than real life.”

“I obsess over how my life is perceived.”

The life changing benefits of digital media are clear, but so are the pitfalls.  The statements above came from an upper school (US) survey of KPS students. Students reported significant procrastination and distraction, feelings of increased insecurity from comparing oneself to others, a lack of control over screen time, guilt and overall higher anxiety – all directly linked to their social media use. 

Two years ago, the Ethics Institute in collaboration with the Parents Association invited Max Stossel to speak to our community after viewing The Social Dilemma documentary. It confirmed something parents, teachers and students knew: that deteriorating teen mental health trends are linked to excessive and unhealthy social media use.  The problem is that the medical community hasn’t yet caught up to this health crisis, much less the educational community. More work is needed in hospitals, universities, media companies and institutes all over the world.  

Enter REBOOT (Rethinking Ethical Behavior Online for Oneself Together). REBOOT is a program created by the Ethics Institute with the vision of empowering students to confidently and ethically navigate the digital world.  Over the past two years parents, students, faculty, staff and experts have met to discuss how we could achieve this vision at KPS.  A program has been drafted for each division and will be rolled out in phases. Events and activities have already begun throughout the school including: custom research, expert speakers, NO PHONE days, student panels for parents, US students mentoring middle and primary school students, and much more.  

The most exciting thing at the moment is what’s been happening with the US REBOOT Team, a group of about 15 US students. Next month, they are formally kicking off the US program, designed by students and for students with the goal of empowering them to examine their relationship with social media specifically, and digital media in general – to put them in the driver’s seat of their digital media use. These students have reviewed research, both internal and external, brainstormed ideas, created an integrated year-long strategic plan and have committed over a year of their time to developing this initiative.  The plan is comprehensive and includes: creating podcasts, publishing case studies, expert speakers, assessment tools, discussion circles, mentoring, student and expert panels, peer-to-peer coaching, and much more. We believe that this is the only program of its kind in the nation, truly leading the way.

Upper School students in the summer REBOOT planning meeting

This is very exciting to me as a parent of two KPS girls ages 21 and 17.  I began to worry about the impact of social media on their development in 2013, when my eldest was in seventh grade.  It was clear to me, even back then, that the phone I had given my sixth grade daughter was having a negative impact on her sleep, her social interactions, her mental development and it was robbing her time.  Time she could be dedicating to hobbies, studying, and important time with us, her parents.  The situation got progressively worse, I could feel it spiral out of control not only for my kids, but for an entire generation.  Most adults also sensed something was wrong but there was limited information about the negative impacts or about what we could do to help.  I quickly realized that it would be nearly impossible to try to manage my daughter’s phone use by myself, or ask her to manage it by herself. The social implications and negative mental impact of being “the one left out” are real for teens. The solutions would be found in doing something as a community, not as individuals.  We all know that without proper education, without healthy limits and without some adult oversight, phones may create a toxic environment for kids, one that they are not prepared to navigate.  They know it too.  This is why I’m excited that KPS is taking action.  I’m convinced that the combination of a strong, close-knit community, talented and motivated students, and the Ethics Institute joined to develop solutions can be a model for how generations to follow manage their relationship with digital media, maximizing the benefits while reducing the pitfalls.  

Stay tuned for the REBOOT launch in mid-November.