Social Media and Digital Health – Reflections from a Parent

By Danielle Robinson P’28

Dr. Rezach, three KPS Upper School students, and Dr. James Sherer on Zoom

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Ethics Speaker Series  regarding Digital Health with technology addiction specialist Dr. James Sherer and three Upper School students. Before attending, I knew social media could be somewhat troublesome for the developing adolescent brain. During the course of the presentation, I went from thinking of social media as an anodyne time waster to feeling horrified that my child’s brain is subject to hijacking by behavioral scientists who study the best way to keep us all fixated on their apps. The goal is the scroll, and the likes and the interaction feed our innate desire for acceptance, adoration and affirmation. The potential harm to adolescents cannot be underestimated yet remains widely unknown. As parents and caregivers, “appropriate” social media use can be tricky terrain to navigate. How much is too much? If we ban it altogether, will our children be able to communicate with friends? Are there any recommended standards of engagement? These are the tough questions parents posed during our discussion.

Galvanized by a 2020 talk from Max Stossel, director of “The Social Dilemma”, regarding the sneaky methods social media companies wield to capture our attention, these Upper School students decided to take action on our campus. Now, we have the Kent Place School REBOOT/Digital Health Program started by students and for students, creating awareness of the pitfalls of social media and tools to engage critically. I am encouraged by the passion for this project by our intrepid upper school students. As a parent, I appreciate the peer to peer perspective that my seventh grader was given last week when the group presented to her grade. I am excited by the myriad opportunities this program will present for parents and students to learn how to interact with social media in ways that are healthier for us all.

The next step is how we can work together as a school community to implement guardrails that affirm the values of our families and provide developmentally appropriate guidance to our students. We don’t give car keys to our children without teaching them and modeling how to safely drive a vehicle. It’s helpful to see social media through that lens as well; not banning what can be a useful tool, but providing guidance on its power. I look forward to seeing the Kent Place community develop safeguards that affirm our collective values and protect our students from harm and I encourage all families to attend upcoming Empowered Parent presentations by The Ethics Institute.