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The Unplugged Summer

As we reflect on the past school year and look to the summer, I would like to raise awareness of children and teenagers' dangerous trends in technology and social media use. Technology and social media have become a big part of children's lives, and we must understand this influence. I am not stating that the exposure is all bad and recognize the many positive aspects. However, as families and schools across the nation are experiencing, excessive use negatively impacts children.

Children are distracted; they are not getting enough sleep and cannot focus; they risk exposure to bullying, rumors, unrealistic views of others and themselves, and tremendous peer pressure. They cannot socialize appropriately with others due to a lack of practice with face-to-face interactions. They are isolated, experiencing anxiety and depression, and reduced participation in physical activities. Children are experiencing cyberbullying or some form of it at an alarming rate.

Children socialize virtually more than they do face-to-face. Those who spend more than three hours a day using technology, social media, and gaming platforms are at heightened risk for psychological and physical problems. Because of teens' impulsive natures, those who post content or participate in chat rooms are at an increased risk of sharing intimate photos or highly personal information, being bullied, harassed, or even blackmailed. Parents are often unaware even though they monitor their children's accounts because children create "spam" or fake accounts that their parents do not know about!

Children and teenagers communicate negatively with peers through chat groups, text messaging, and direct messaging. Many do so with the freedom of no accountability or adult oversight. Children involved in chat rooms are more likely to use profane language and experience exposure to inappropriate content. An alarming 43% of children 8-13 years are talking to people they have never met.

Last year, schools dealt with 'Devious Lick' challenges. First, students were encouraged to steal something from their school, then damage their school, which quickly evolved into the "Smack Your Teacher" challenge. The worst was the "Bring a Weapon to School" challenge.

Outside of school challenges, many other concerning challenges dominate TikTok. The "Benadryl Challenge" involves taking enough Benadryl to hallucinate and posting the footage. The ridiculous "Cha-Cha Slide" challenge involves teen drivers swerving their vehicles to the tune of the "Cha-Cha Slide." In the "Pass out Challenge" and "The Fainting Game," individuals are dared to choke themselves until they lose consciousness. Despite the apparent risks and deaths associated with these challenges, they have taken TikTok by storm. The list of challenges goes on, and each is scarier than the previous. Impulsive-natured children and teenagers are partaking in these challenges to gain popularity and reactions from others.

This summer, make deliberate changes to your child's screen time exposure by limiting time on devices, gaming, and social media. Monitor what your children and teenagers are accessing, who they are talking to, and how they communicate. Seek out any opportunity for face-to-face interactions, such as playdates, summer camps, community service opportunities, and summer jobs for teenagers. Take time this summer to help your children create healthy habits with technology, avoid overuse, and experience the joy of an unplugged summer.

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