Tompkins Parents: Get Smarter about Kids and Social Media

Our kids are spending more and more time on social media, according to a recent survey. Are you a parent who feels confused and even despairing about raising children in the Digital Age?

The survey by Common Sense Media found that teens are spending an average of one hour 27 minutes a day on social media apps (current top favorites are TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram). That’s a 25 percent jump between 2019 and 2021.

A worrying trend is the growing use of social media by kids aged 8 to 12. Eighteen percent of tweens are on social media every day, and overall tween use almost doubled to 18 minutes a day on average during the height of the pandemic.

Another survey in 2020 by the Lurie Blog found that 58 percent of parents believe social media has a net negative effect on their children. The concerns fall into two categories: what it takes away (sleep, schoolwork) and exposure (cyberbullying, sexual content).

To learn more about the pitfalls—and benefits—of social media, and how to handle the sometimes sticky issues with your children, sign up for a webinar designed for Tompkins County families on Wednesday October 19 between 12 Noon and 1:30 p.m.

Social media expert Chris Vollum  will present “Digital Intelligence and Well-Being for Parents,” a free webinar via Zoom sponsored by Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca and The Sophie Fund.

Click Here to Register (It’s free!)

Vollum’s webinar seeks to give parents clarity, confidence, joy and new skills on how to support and discuss both the benefits and risks of social apps and platforms with their children.

“Social media and social apps dominate student life,” Vollum says. “In a post-pandemic world, they are relied upon even more to build relationships, establish connections and stay in the loop.”

He encourages parents to become more proficient with the social apps and platforms that their kids are using to define their lives. His presentation equips parents and caregivers with the skills to launch important conversations with their kids on a level that builds trust, collaboration, transparency—and establishes mutual expectations.

The webinar presents a visual step-by-step walkthrough of the features, functionality, and privacy settings of Snapchat, TikTok, Discord, and Instagram.

“With a working understanding of the world of social media and what drives its global popularity, fear and uncertainty that participants might have is extinguished and replaced with confidence, knowledge and inspiration,” Vollum says.

The webinar is part of the United in Kindness series in Tompkins County during the month of October.

How Schools Can Address Bullying

Amanda Verba, chief operations officer for the Ithaca City School District, urges school personnel to take measures when they see serious acts of discrimination, harassment, or bullying that may be violations of New York State’s Dignity for All Students Act.

Amanda Verba, chief operations officer, Ithaca City School District

Verba spoke at the 2022 United in Kindness Symposium, “What to Do About Cyberbullying,” on January 27 sponsored by the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force.

“When we see something, we have to do something, when it’s around the Dignity Act work,” Verba explained. “Kids do have an opportunity to work it out. When they run out of skills, when it really looks like it’s creating this threshold of harm, that’s when we need to say something. Everyone has a right to not just be welcomed, but to belong. We want to be in a community with one another.”

In a presentation titled “Creating Safe and Caring Schools via the Dignity Act,” Verba reviewed the purpose, definition, and operation of DASA, as the law is known.

The goal of DASA, she said, “is to create a safe and supportive school climate where students can learn and focus, rather than fear being discriminated against, harassed, or bullied.” She noted that the act took effect in 2012, and was amended in 2013 to include cyberbullying and again in 2018 to include gender identity and expression.

She said DASA protects against discrimination based on race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, sex, gender, and “other.”

Harassment is defined as the “creation of a hostile environment by conduct or by verbal and non-verbal threats, intimidation, or abuse,” she said. More specifically, she added, the behavior qualifies as harassment if it interferes with a student’s educational performance, opportunities, or benefits, or mental, emotional, and/or physical well being; causes fear for personal safety or may cause physical or emotional injury; or risks disruption of the school environment.

Bullying, Verba said, is defined as using an imbalance of power, involving the use of physical strength, popularity, or access to embarrassing information, to hurt or control another person; occurring or having the potential to occur more than once; with the intent to cause harm. Cyberbullying is simply bullying that occurs through any form of electronic communication, she said.

WATCH: “Dignity for All Students Act (DASA)”

Verba explained that under DASA school staff have a responsibility to provide instruction to students on civility, citizenship, and character to address the prohibition against harassment, discrimination, and bullying and cyberbullying. School staff must orally report incidents within one school day, and follow up with a written report within two school days, she added.

As for school administrators, they must provide students, staff, and families with information about DASA and how to contact the school’s DASA coordinator, Verba explained. She said administrators lead or supervise investigations into all reports of DASA violations.

A case rises to the level of a “material incident” that is reported to the state, Verba explained, if  it is a single or series of related incidents involving harassment, discrimination, or bullying that created a hostile environment to interfere with education, well being, or physical safety.

Verba acknowledged that school personnel sometimes grapple with the line between bullying by an aggressor against a victim, and conflict where all parties are affected. And, she added, there is a line between bullying and behavior that, though unfortunate and needs to be addressed, is rude or mean.

She said that when school personnel interpret incidents of rudeness or meanness as bullying, they may fail to give students the space to work out the issues on their own. “Many of us have done some self-reflection on that,” she said. “I probably called things or misdiagnosed things because of my urgency to make something right.”

Another struggle Verba described is when parents and school personnel disagree about the seriousness of an incident affecting their child. “Parents will respond often in a way of, ‘You don’t care about my child, you’re not going to do anything,’” Verba said. “It does not build the bridge of relationship and parent as partner.”

She stressed that it is important for schools to respect the lived experience of the child and parents. “I really need these parents as my partners,” she said. “If they’re telling me that this met the threshold of something that created a hostile environment for their young person, am I really going to tell them that they’re wrong?”

The 2022 United in Kindness Symposium was made possible in part through grants from the Tompkins County Youth Services Department and The Sophie Fund.

DOWNLOAD Dignity for All Students Act in Tompkins County