Faith & Life

THE DARK SIDE OF TECHNOLOGY

Catholic Schools and Parents Must Monitor Kids’ Screen Times to Ensure Safe Use.

By Cathi Douglas     11/7/2018

Embracing technology in elementary school classrooms empowers teachers to tailor lessons to individual students’ abilities, provides a pathway to directly engaging parents, and develops students’ key critical-thinking skills. 

Yet research highlights the detrimental aspects of excessive screen time on developing brains and on education, with tech leaders acknowledging the dangers of screen addiction and urging parents to limit children’s screen time. 

As a Catholic News Service story indicates, the dark side of technology is particularly worrying to the leadership of Catholic schools, where administrators and teachers are concerned with their students’ human and spiritual formation. 

Diocese of Orange school leaders recognize the value of technology while tempering its ill effects with strong filtering software and frequently warning parents about excessive screen time. 

“We have made a conscious effort to limit 1-to-1 devices to students in fifth through eighth grades because of the problems we’ve seen,” notes Joseph Ciccoianni, principal of St. Norbert Catholic School in Orange. “Because younger kids don’t have self-regulation skills, the devices can be too distracting.” 

In addition, Ciccoianni adds, St. Norbert’s faculty members discern the most appropriate times to use devices. “It’s important to know when making eye contact and focusing on someone talking is the right move,” he says, noting that seventh- and eighth-grade students were mesmerized for more than 90 minutes when a Holocaust survivor recently shared his story with them. 

Being bored, even for a few minutes, isn’t a part of our children’s lives anymore, Ciccoianni laments. After all, when Elijah escaped into the mountains he noted that God’s voice is heard in whispers. “If we are constantly diverted, how do we know what God is calling us to do?” he worries. 

Indeed, today’s kids have never lived in a world without screens or the Internet, both of which are changing the model of the traditional classroom, agrees Kim White, principal of St. Bonaventure Catholic School. 

The Huntington Beach parish school recently invited parents to a showing of “Screenagers,” an award-winning documentary that chronicles the impact of technology on children. A student version of the film was shown a few days later to fifth-through eighth-graders. 

“We want to give parents the best advice and the best tools to raise their children for academic success, and to develop students’ morals and character,” added Vanessa Frei, the school’s director of marketing and enrollment. “Screen time has significant social and emotional implications.”  

Even among parents, White notes, there is a misconception about what constitutes screen time, which includes exposure to television, computers, tablets and cell phones. “Our No. 1 promise to the community is to address screen time,” she says, based on several troubling incidents that occurred during the last school year. “Parents bear responsibilities in relation to their children, screen time, and social media use.” 

Parental oversight of children’s screen time is perhaps the most important way to combat the rampant misuse of screens, notes Ciccoianni, who points to St. Norbert’s ongoing efforts to warn parents about the need to closely monitor their children’s use of technology. 

“Children, even in the second and third grades, have cell phones that offer completely unfettered access to every cesspool outlet available,” Ciccoianni notes. “If parents have these devices in their home they must monitor and filter what their children see. Every sin that is in mankind’s heart is on display on the Internet. Algorithms can push you in a very dark direction.” 

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