2015-03-13 / Front Page

Wired

Area teens to detail digital habits
By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


Memorial Middle-schoolers, from left, Dahliya Tucker, Kaleisha Towle and Toby Laber-Smith, use their school-provided iPads between classes Monday. All three will be part of a 12-member teen panel discussion on digital citizenship. Billed as an opportunity for students to help parents understand how they use computers and social media in both their education and personal lives, the event is free and open to the public. The talk begins at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, March 16, at the South Portland High School lecture hall. (Duke Harrington photo) Memorial Middle-schoolers, from left, Dahliya Tucker, Kaleisha Towle and Toby Laber-Smith, use their school-provided iPads between classes Monday. All three will be part of a 12-member teen panel discussion on digital citizenship. Billed as an opportunity for students to help parents understand how they use computers and social media in both their education and personal lives, the event is free and open to the public. The talk begins at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, March 16, at the South Portland High School lecture hall. (Duke Harrington photo) SOUTH PORTLAND — There’s no doubt about it, life for a modern middle-schooler is a lot different that it used to be. It’s not just the modern world that makes life tougher for teens, but how much that world dominates their lives through the inescapable presence of social media.

So, how do school administrators deal with the digital onslaught?

“We run and hide a lot,” Memorial Middle School Principal Megan Welter joked.

“It’s here to stay and it does, it takes an enormous amount of time to deal with,” said Welter. “I think the greatest responsibility we have as the adults in their lives is to make sure they have the tools to be able to use social media and the devices, whether it’s cell phones, an iPad, or a computer, responsibly. It goes with all the things we preach and work on every day, in terms of how they treat one another.”

But school officials recognize that education is not a one-way street. Students need to give as well as receive information, and that’s especially true in the information age, when they’re often the ones at the forefront of change and innovation.

That’s why the South Portland School Department is hosting a teen panel discussion on digital citizenship.

Billed as an opportunity for students to help parents understand how they use computers and social media in both their education and personal lives, the event is free and open to the public. The talk begins at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, March 16, at the South Portland High School lecture hall.

The event is being organized by a three of the school department’s “technology integrators” — the staffers whose job it is to help teachers uncover the best ways to use computers, apps and the Internet in the classroom. The trio – Sarah Glatz (Memorial), Erin Davies (South Portland High School) and Steve Koelker (Mahoney Middle School) –have chosen four teens from each of their schools for the panel.

Audience members will be given an opportunity to ask questions of the student panel and will be given tips and resources for keeping kids safe online.

“We just want kids to speak candidly about their experiences with socializing online,” said Glatz. “I don’t think a lot of parents understand how important it is. It’s such a big part part of their lives.”

In order to give both students and parents attending the talk a full understanding of how the digital world affects teens, the panel was purposefully selected to include both hardcore and novice users of social media.

One of the novices is Memorial seventh-grader Kaleisha Towle, who is not on Facebook, Twitter or any other network.

“I think adults need to know how much of a role technology plays in our everyday school lives,” she said. “We have iPads and iPhones and everyone, parents, grandparents, when they see us on one, they automatically think ‘texting.’ They think, ‘Kids are always texting these days.’ But that’s not what we’re always doing. We might be doing our homework.

“Parents and grandparents are always telling us what’s good and what’s bad about being online, but I don’t think they actually realize all of what we’re doing,” she said.

Still, social media is a part of most students’ lives and has been for as long as many young students can remember.

“I don’t have a Facebook, but I do basically everything else — Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Kid,” said seventhgrader Dahliya Tucker, who has been an active social media user since the fourth grade, when she was the last among her circle of friends to join Instagram.

“Everything that happens, basically happens online,” Toby Laber-Smith agreed. “I have seen students get really distracted by their iPads.”

Interestingly, all three agree porn and cyber-stalking are not huge issues.

“While I assume the impulses of teens have not changed much over the years, I have not personally seen anything illegal or highly inappropriate on any of our machines,” said Glatz, noting that the school department does use web filtering and also blocks outright a handful of noneducational applications on its network.

“Ninety-nine percent of any problems we do see are offtask and game playing-type stuff,” Glatz said.

Towle also points out that teachers at the middle schools are known to say, “hold up your iPads” without warning, for a quick spot check on who’s doing what.

But, while she thinks the school’s iPads are a boon, she notes that many kids take advantage of them in ways beyond gaming and chatting. For example, while “the dog ate my homework” is liable to be met with a jaundiced eye, imagined computer glitches can get buy a student extra time on an assignment.

“Teachers have to buy into it because that’s a very likely thing that can happen,” she said. “And sometimes it does happen, and then I get in trouble for not doing my homework.”

All three students worry about the digital footprint they may be laying down already. The Internet and social media can’t be avoided completely, and while none have experienced cyber-bullying, all three worry about online anonymity and how it can be abused.

But more tellingly perhaps, all three also say that, despite what their parents and grandparents may think, the rapid pace of change in technology has them experiencing the same sense of future shock, even though they’ve dealt with digital media all their lives. That, as least, is something they’ll have in common with any adults who attend the upcoming panel.

“I’ve thought about what I want to do for a career when I’m older, but then, I’m like, how can I decide. Who even knows what the world will look like by then, or what will be possible,” said Laber-Smith.

“I think, what’s next?” said Towle. “When I was in elementary school I always thought once I got to middle school I’d be using a laptop, but now I’m using an iPad. Now I think when I get to high school I may be using a version of an iPad. But what if I’m not? What if I’m using some little watch thing that makes a hologram?”

“What we want to do is foster a discussion on technology between generations, and the ups and downs of how it affects teens,” said Glatz. “We think that’s important. But this panel is an experiment. We hope for a good turnout. But, if not, we’ll try something else.”

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