By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — A grassroots effort by parents to support and educate families on navigating today’s technology is growing at St. Paul the Apostle School and Parish.
Principal Julie Delaney said the group called Navigating Technology Together (NTT) has hosted several parent meetings. The monthly meetings in the school’s media center are open to parents who have children and grandchildren enrolled at St. Paul’s and other Scott County Catholic schools.
Parent Erin Dolan explained that the effort got started as a result of a parents’ rosary group that meets on Mondays. “We share our prayer intentions and then pray for all of the children of St. Paul’s. Many times our prayer requests focus on issues that our children are facing and we noticed that technology, devices and social media seemed to frequently be connected to issues with our kids and concerns for us as mothers,” she said. “Many kids are tech obsessed, so many kids are getting smartphones (and social media) at such a young age. We wanted to change this pattern.”
During a rosary group meeting in 2018, the parents learned about a group in the Kansas City area called START (Stand Together And Rethink Technology). “We liked their model of gathering parents to discuss current topics pertaining to technology and our kids, with the goal being to inform each other about the obstacles we encounter and to bring back the ‘it takes a village’ mentality.”
They invited Delaney to a rosary group meeting to share what they were thinking about and why they were concerned. “She has been extremely supportive and was excited to have a parent-led group working on these issues,” Dolan said.
The parents opened up their NTT group to others. Notices are published in the church bulletin and the school’s counselor, parish director of religious education and director of youth ministry have all helped spread the word.
Meetings are generally held every four to six weeks, Dolan said, with a break during the summer. One meeting addressed electronic screen syndrome and how young students are affected by screen usage.
“We discussed video gaming and the addictive nature of Fortnite. We heard from a mom who used a reset outline in ‘Reset Your Child’s Brain’ by Victoria Dunckley to reel in the use of video games in her home.” The group discussed social media for middle-school students and how Snapchat and Instagram are not good choices for that age group, Dolan said.
Another meeting addressed the benefits of boredom. Officer Hank Jacobsen of the Davenport Police Department spoke on a variety of topics to keep parents up to date on what is going on, including a huge problem with “sexting.”
Mental health therapist Lisa Beecher spoke at a meeting last school year. She shared research data on “virtual autism,” memory tests, anxiety and depression and screen addiction. She also talked about parenting challenges, building trust, values and fitting in vs. fitting out.
In November, Dr. Lyndsey Day spoke on pornography and children. She addressed how kids gain access, at what age parents should talk to their kids, how to start a conversation with children, how to help protect them and what a parent should do if they find out their child has been exposed.
Dolan said parents with students in middle school and high school see changes in their children who have become obsessed with their smart phones, social media and video games. “We know that is a very difficult thing to manage and without proper parental guidance, (social media) can be a very scary and dangerous place to be.”
She said studies have shown dramatic increases in the rate of depression and suicide among youths and that social media is associated with these heartbreaking issues. She also said studies show that young children are exposed to pornography or solicited by strangers on the internet via sites that many parents may think are safe.
Children need to be taught responsible use of technology, Dolan said. “We want to empower parents with knowledge and resources to do what they feel is best for their kids and families, even if it means going against mainstream society.”
Through the various talks, handouts and resources “we really want parents to feel connected to the community and empowered to develop rules that work for their families.”
For more information on Navigating Technology together, email Dolan at firstname.lastname@example.org.