Intersections: Conversations on Social Media

December 17, 2019 by Bill Ivey

In a recent meeting, the Middle School Team discussed how technology in general and social media in particular affects middle schoolers, kicking off what we envision will be a series of deep dive discussions. As always, we will rely on a mix of what experts and the research tell us, and how our day-to-day experience with the students - and conversations with families - further shapes our practice.

In general, I have three go-to experts to whom I turn when thinking through approaches to discussing social media with teenage girls: Rachel Simmons, Ana Homayoun, and Rosalind Wiseman. As it happens, Ms. Homayoun recently published a wonderful and highly recommended article which complements our middle school philosophy well, “How Intrinsic Motivation Helps Students Manage Digital Distractions.” 

Students want to do well in school and they want to develop and maintain close relationships with their friends. Phones and iPads can aid in both goals, but given that our brains can only effectively focus on one thing at a time, the illusion of being able to skillfully manage multitasking can serve as a hindrance. Students are increasingly aware that they remember less when they switch back and forth quickly between homework and social media than if they devote a block of time to each, but it’s worth making sure that your child does indeed understand this. 15-20 minutes at a time on homework followed by a five-minute break (if on social media, perhaps with a timer set) can work well for many middle school kids. During homework time, phones should be silenced and out of sight (yes, simply having them visible has a negative effect on learning!), and notifications on iPads turned off.

All that said, it’s often better to approach a conversation about technology by starting with the acknowledgement that it can be positive. What do phones and iPads bring to your child’s life? What apps do they use, how do they use them, and what’s fun about those apps? You can then turn the conversation over to what concerns they might have and, in light of your own core family values, how those concerns might best be managed, just as with any other aspect of your child’s social life and behavior. Check back in periodically to see how it’s going.

I had a similar conversation with my spring 2019 Leadership 8 class, which led to their coming up with a lighthearted Google Slides presentation on social media. They mixed research and their own experience to tell about their own favorite apps (good things and downfalls), digital footprint, and risks of overuse. 

Of course, there’s a place for conversations and there’s a place for simply setting limits. For example, there are now many studies documenting how screen time (for any purpose) within half an hour of bedtime can lead to poorer quality of sleep. In the dorms, students turn in phones and iPads for charging half an hour before bedtime, and we highly recommend that day families do the same. (Of course, this can also prevent reading and responding to that late-night text from a friend that further disturbs sleep patterns.)

Our Classroom Device Policy is as follows. Devices are taken out only on request of the teacher. Devices in use at the start of class are placed on the teacher’s desk until needed. Devices used improperly or surreptitiously will be turned in to the Dean of Students’ office. Phones may not be used, checked, or carried openly in academic spaces during the academic day. Students who use wearable devices for texting or other prohibited activities will no longer be permitted to wear that device.

This post is meant to kick off a longer conversation about healthy technology and social media. Please let me know what you think ( and what your own hopes and concerns may be, or touch base with your child’s advisor. We look forward to the dialogue.

Written by Bill Ivey

A dedicated member of the faculty, Bill Ivey is the Middle School Dean at Stoneleigh-Burnham School. He teaches Humanities 7 and the Middle and Upper School Rock Bands. Bill is the advisor for MOCA, the middle school student government, and he coordinates and participates in the middle school service program. Among his many hats, Bill also coordinates social media for Stoneleigh-Burnham School.

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Filed Under: Middle School, Technology, Rachel Simmons, Middle Level Education, social media, Rosalind Wiseman, Ana Homayoun, Conversation