Alabama Waldorf School is a community which strives, according to our Parent Handbook, “to limit the children’s screen and media exposure,” and “protect our children’s environment from commercial or violent images and influences.” In fact, last night at our first Parent Evening of the 2013-14 schooly year, we all read aloud and then signed a Community Pledge which reflects these values.
This means, essentially, that every family in our school (138 students are enrolled in the preschool through 8th grades) is on the same page. How critical this is to the success of implementing any kind of healthy boundary for the growing child! The parent isn’t alone in their stand – when explaining to a child what the rules of the home are, parents can cite the school as an ultimate authority. And when a child comes to the Waldorf school, they aren’t subject to the same kind of peer pressure that can be generated in public schools when it comes to discussion of ipods, ipads, screen time, social media websites, movies, and television shows. Teachers make every effort to limit distractions of this kind in the classroom, not only because it distracts from the curriculum and the lesson, but because these technologies aren’t nurturing or wholesome for the under-14 child.
We as a school are becoming more defensive of our technology-sheltering gesture, especially as the use of screen-laden devices becomes more prominent, indeend, more rampant among adults, children and even babies (!) alike. Our administrator, Lisa Grupe, Ph.D., likes to say, “We aren’t against screen time technology — we’re just saying that it can wait until the child is in high school, when they’re more emotionally and psychologically prepared to deal with what’s out there.”
Difficulties in setting boundaries seem to arise when the discrepancy is made between screen time which is for entertainment (television shows, movies, video games) and screen time which is for communicating (facebook, email, texting). In the Parent Handbook, it states that “AWS strongly discourages any screen time by children.” The handbook goes on to state, “that if, afer careful consideration, media is permitted, no watching/playing be done on school nights, especially by children under the age of nine but preferably through Grade 8. We ask that any weekend watching/playing/emailing/texting that is allowed be limited as much as possible (ie. less than 45 minutes each day).”
So, if limited screen time is allowed in your household, how do you set healthy boundaries for its use?
Last night, Alabama Waldorf School Extended Care teacher and Birmingham photographer Brad Daly addressed the social media component of allowed screen time, and the need for parents to be monitoring any online activity by their children, especially those in the middle school. He cited two sources for his advice, one from a NY Times book review article, Resisting the Siren Call of the Screen: 3 Books Offer Ways to Cut the Cord, If Only Briefly.
While the focus of this article is on the frustrations that come with setting limits to screen time, author Dwight Garner cites a paragraph from page 191 of The Big Disconnect which Mr. Daly read aloud at last night’s meeting, about impressing on your child safe boundaries for using the internet:
“This is not your computer — I know it has your name on it, but this is my computer (or your school’s computer). I’m your parent, and I reserve the right to see everything that’s going on there. You need to be on the computer in an open place. I have the right to know what your homework assignment is. You can’t be in your room with the door closed. You can’t take it to bed with you. You can’t collapse a screen when I walk by. We have a code of conduct and we expect you to stick with it: Don’t be mean, don’t lie, don’t embarrass other people, don’t pretend to be someone you’re not, don’t go places you’re not allowed to go. Don’t post pictures that Grandma wouldn’t love. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t approve of.”
Garner comments after he cites this paragraph that the advice would never work in his household.
I think it would work in an Alabama Waldorf School household, though, and here’s why:
When a child grows up in a household and a school environment that supports these healthy boundaries, they will be more likely to accept the boundaries their parents make for them as they approach adolescence, and then make healthy choices on their own once they are independent enough to do so.
Mr. Daly went on to also provided “5 Guidelines for Social Media safety,” which he took from The British Council website. They are as follows:
Ask your children to show you the websites they visit: their Facebook, Instagram, etc profiles. Be friends/followers/etc with your children online.
Profile settings should be private–this allows you and your children to control who can directly see your online presence. Anyone and everyone can see anything that you post online.
Ask about your children’s online friends. Explain to them that people can create fake online identities and use these to manipulate people. A person who appears to be a fellow adolescent or teenager might actually be someone behaving inappropriately. Your children can also create fake and/or multiple accounts to fool you.
Only post photos that you would be comfortable with anyone seeing. Everything on the internet is permanent and infinitely copyable. Sexting is a new and potentially dangerous form of flirting.
Encourage your children to talk to you about anything worrying or inappropriate that they see online.
Some parents at the meeting expressed frustrations with not knowing how to set privacy settings on social media websites. Another parent said that she had gotten help from her local library in making these settings for her middle school child.
Perhaps the best advice, though, is that if you the parent don’t know how to navigate the wesbite, your child should not be using it.