Helping your children navigate cyber and cellular technology

October 18, 2021

 

Dear Heathwood Families,

I write to you today as an educator, school administrator, and parent. In my 30 years in education, nothing has been more complex and challenging than supporting students in navigating cyber and cellular technology.

Devices and platforms that on the one hand can significantly enhance our students’ learning and sense of connectedness can also pose serious threats to our students’ relationships, general well-being, and standing at Heathwood Hall. The conflict is often the balance of requiring and using technology for educational purposes as we prepare students for the world they are inheriting, while helping to guide young people in making good choices.

Just recently, a former Facebook employee shared details about the conflict she saw between creating a platform for open and objective discourse, on the one hand, and the pursuit of greater engagement and profits through partisan claims on the other. Additionally, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times each shared internal research documents from Instagram that pointed to the deleterious impact the platform was having on teenenagers’ self worth, body image, and happiness.

If your child has or will soon have the ability--either through iPads, laptops, cell phones, or other home-issued devices--to send emails, text messages, photos, live or recorded streaming action, drawings, and memes, or to post their thoughts in a public forum or in a manner that can then be shared publicly, please read this letter carefully.  

Adolescent and preadolescent children learn about their world through action, exploration, and experimentation, and this journey is often fraught with risk and complexity.  When a child has a cell phone - or a way to share their explorations with the greater world - the danger increases exponentially.

Students have always made missteps -- it’s part of the way that children learn -- but with a phone in hand, they are no longer making their missteps in a small friend group but rather in front of hundreds or thousands of people.  It has become far too easy for our students to place themselves, their peers, and the school in difficult situations through careless and inappropriate actions.

Also, our children are often not seeing empathetic, thoughtful, prudent, and respectful behavior modelled on social media. Shock value and insults are often placed at a premium in the world of social media, and this runs counter to the expectations Heathwood has for treating others with dignity and seeing the grace of God in all humans.

While it can be harmful when our students send negative messages or images to one another, it may become even more problematic when the audience extends beyond the Heathwood Hall community. It is not uncommon for our students to have social media accounts with 100-1000 followers.  Having such an audience requires tremendous responsibility.  While we trust the members of the Heathwood community, in this polarized world in which we live, I worry about our students capturing the attention of people from around our country and the world who are outside of our community.

The app Tik Tok requires your diligent attention.  In this app, students may dance or lip sync with their friends or by themselves to their favorite music.  Much of this is fun and completely appropriate.  Unfortunately, a great deal of the music chosen for Tik Tok videos includes lyrics that utilize unacceptable language and does not represent the student, their family, or Heathwood well. Additionally, when those songs are danced to or lip-synced on our campus or in Heathwood clothes (school uniforms or athletic gear), it further complicates the issue as it is not indicative of the ideals to which this School aspires.

It is our expectation that students will demonstrate respectful and honorable behavior at all times.  It is also our expectation that students will refrain from hurtful, insensitive, profane, discriminatory, racist, thoughtless, sexist, and homophobic language, symbols, or pictures.  Such actions do not represent the expected behavior of a Heathwood student and as always, School responses are guided by thoughtful consideration to individuals and the School community.

Therefore, whether in person or online, members of the Heathwood community should represent themselves with honor and integrity and display behavior that is thoughtful, respectful, empathetic, and caring.  Additionally, Heathwood community members cannot bring negative or distracting attention to the School or treat fellow Heathwood community members in a way that compromises our ability to create and maintain an exceptional and safe educational experience for our students.

This summer, there was a Supreme Court ruling that privileged a student's right to crude speech off-campus over the school's right to police that speech.  However, as an independent school, the first amendment protections are limited in their scope.

At this time, I encourage you to speak with your children about the risks associated with the use of the internet, social media and electronic/digital communication.  Even more importantly, I encourage you to speak to your children about what it means to be respectful, kind, thoughtful, considerate, and honorable and what it means to be a member of the Heathwood Hall community and uphold the standards that we espouse. Our goal in addressing this is to help students grow into good people who are thoughtful and aware of the impact they have on other people because of their actions.

Thank you, as always, for your support as we partner with you to help our students grow into the best versions of themselves while navigating the challenges of life in 2021.

 

Sincerely,

Chris Hinchey