Published in the December 16, 2015 edition
By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — Social media is a positive way for students to learn and stay connected with their friends but it’s important for parents to monitor their children’s activities online, eight students said during a panel discussion Dec. 9.
The Lynnfield Middle School One Club sponsored a teen panel on social media and students’ “digital lives” at the LMS media center. The forum, which was attended by 32 parents and school officials, was designed to give students an opportunity to weigh-in on the pros and cons of social media.
The panel consisted of six One Club members and two high school students. The students who represented the LMS One Club were seventh graders Nolan Von Jako, Molly McCarthy, Ally Dillon and Chris Collins, eighth grader Monet LoPilato, eighth grader Jennifer Bloom, Lynnfield High School junior Kelly Dillon and LHS freshman Colin Lamusta.
Technology Integration Specialist Jen Judkins moderated the forum. Students answered prepared questions as well as questions from the audience.
“Social media is a huge part of our kids’ lives and its important to take some time to hear from kids how social media has impacted them,” said Judkins.
Judkins asked the panel if smartphones can be distracting when students are undertaking important activities such as completing homework assignments.
“It can be distracting when you are trying to get your homework done and your phone is going off,” said Collins. “I usually just put it in another room, put it on silent or just turn it off. It really helps.”
McCarthy said listening to music on her smartphone keeps her focused while she is completing homework assignments.
In response to a question about technology rules, Ally Dillon commented, “It’s important not to let anyone follow you that you don’t know.”
“Even if you see (someone you don’t know) at a place such as your friend’s house, you don’t know them well enough,” said Ally.
Judkins asked the panel what types of questions the students prefer answering face-to-face and online.
LoPilato said its “more meaningful” to have a face-to-face conversation about a personal matter as opposed to simply answering text or online messages about the issue.
Kelly Dillon agreed.
“I think things like an argument need to be talked about face-to-face or over the phone because when you are texting or typing something, you don’t know what the person meant,” said Kelly. “Talking to someone can get your point across and can get something cleared up as opposed to going back and forth.”
Lamusta noted he is very sarcastic, which he said can get lost when he’s responding to a question via text message or online.
“Emotions often get lost when you are texting,” said Lamusta. “And the conclusions you jump to may not always be right. When you are talking to someone face-to-face, it’s easier to understand what someone is saying.”
In response a question about whether or not social media makes students feel better or worse about themselves, Kelly Dillon said social media can provide “stress relief” to students. She also said social media can be a good source of news because students “are not often sitting down and watching the news at night.”
LoPilato said it can “go either way.”
“Sometimes if you post a picture of yourself, people will compliment how you look,” said LoPilato. “But on the other hand, cyberbullying can occur on social media, which can make you feel worse about yourself.”
In response to a question about why high school students use social media less than their middle school peers, Lamusta said students become more mature when they get older.
“You start to reshuffle your priorities,” said Lamusta. “(High school) is a lot more independent and with that independence, you have to make a choice between making time for social media or making time to play that sport you love and your grades, which are more important than social media.”
Judkins also asked the students if there are any misconceptions about social media the panel would like to dispel.
Collins said cyberbullying is a rare occurrence on social media.
“It doesn’t happen that much,” said Collins. “And for the most part, everyone on social media is mature.”
Ally Dillon said people often think there are a lot of negative aspects of social media, but she said students “get a lot of positive out of it” such as staying connected with friends and learning more about students’ favorite musicians.
McCarthy said students often use social media and text messages while working on school-related projects and assignments.
Judkins relayed a question from a parent about whether or not social media can be overwhelming. Ally Dillon, McCarthy, Bloom and Collins said texting and social media can be overwhelming at times but Kelly Dillon said students learn to tune out of those types of distractions when they get older.
The panel was asked when is a good age for a child to receive a smartphone. The vast majority of the panel said students should be given a phone in middle school because that is when students start becoming more independent.
“I find it a little ridiculous there are kids in elementary school who have an iPhone 6 plus,” said Kelly Dillon. “It weighs more than they do.”
Lamusta concurred with Kelly Dillon’s sentiment.
“Smartphones can sometimes harm early developmental skills like talking to someone face-to-face,” said Lamusta. “There are kids in my grade who have a hard time talking to each other and making eye contact.”
The panel was asked if there is any time for parents to stop monitoring their child’s online activities and text messages.
The panel said it’s important for parents to build trust with their children but it’s also important for parents to establish rules.
“I think it’s important to give (students) that initial freedom because it teaches them to learn from their mistakes,” said Lamusta.
Von Jako urged parents to keep tabs on their children’s online activities.
“I feel like parents should never stop monitoring what their kids are doing online,” said Von Jako.
The panel was also asked what types of social media they utilize. The vast majority of students said Instagram and Snapchat.
“Facebook and Twitter are a dying breed,” said Collins, prompting laughter from the audience.
Kelly Dillon disagreed.
“Twitter is still a thing in high school,” said Kelly. “It’s making a comeback.”
Bloom said she doesn’t use Instagram and Snapchat.
“I don’t think there is anything positive about them,” said Bloom.
Von Jako also noted Ask fm is form of social media students should stay away from because it’s an “anonymous” app that can be “nasty.”
After the panel discussion came to a close, the students were given a round of applause.