Addicted or using technology responsibly?

‘Screenagers’ addresses digital use


Laughed occasionally filled the Woodmere Middle School auditorium on Monday as eighth-graders watched boys and girls near their age battle with parents over electronic device use or describe their own technology habits in “Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age,” a film that examined the impact of smartphones, video games and screen time on children and offered strategies to help youthful users become response digital users.

Shown to all three grades in the middle school on Oct. 2, with a showing at Hewlett High School for the community at night, the documentary focused on a young adolescent girl convincing her parents she needed a smartphone, boys that played video games and how a simple text could turn to possible cyberbullying.

After all three middle school showings, Ginette Orlando, a social worker at the school, asked the students questions about what they learned from the film. She and colleague, Raffaella Pugliese, have put together what they call “Internet Safety Guide for Parents."

Available on the Hewlett-Woodmere School District website, it includes information about some of the dangers children are exposed to when using the internet and social media, current apps and websites that are popular with teens, and sample contracts families can use when allowing their children access to technology.

In the film, the girl and her parents work out a contract regarding her use of the smartphone. The parents found the contract by reading a blog written by a mother of four children. “There is a plethora of information to be found with a simple Google search,” said Orlando, who has been a social worker for 18 years, 14 in the Hewlett-Woodmere district.

Orlando and her colleagues have conversations regarding internet use and social media with administrators, teachers and students in formal and informal settings. The aim is to educate students on cyberbullying, internet safety and what it means to be a digital citizen, defined as using technology responsibly and appropriately.

They also counsel students on specific instances of alleged cyberbullying and concerning behaviors, meet with parents and provide resources. The social workers also present classroom lessons on social-emotional learning to enhance self-esteem, and decision-making skills and to foster tolerance.

Eighth-graders, Molly Williams, Abby Sreter, Cory Easterling and Jared Glassman discussed ‘Screenager’ with a reporter. All 13, the same age as the girl who wanted the smartphone, the students said they saw themselves and their peers in the film.

“During the film, you see the cyberbullying and how people hide behind the screens,” Williams said.

“I learned that so many people can get hurt on social media,” Sreter said, noting the case where a girl text a photo of yourself to a boy, and then the boy responded ‘why did you do that. I didn’t ask for that.’ “That can hurt,” Sreter added.

Easterling admitted to spending about three hours per day during the week using electronic devices. According to the film, boys spend an average of 11.3 hours per week playing video games. “She said she would be under a plan, but you get busy and definitely go over [your time],” he said about the girl with the contract.

“One thing I do that I didn’t I see in the film is how you study,” Glassman said. “I study for a class and then go back to the phone, then go back to studying. I get my homework done over a long period of time.”

Lawrence addresses topic

In the Lawrence School District, Jackie Beckman, an assistant principal at Lawrence Elementary School, is a Google-certified administrator, and teacher Lee Aroaz, oversees technology training and implementation, said Superintendent Dr. Ann Pedersen.

“At our recent staff development day we had each teacher trained in a component of using the Google suite in the classroom and addressed the terminology of footprint and digital citizenship,” Pedersen said. “Although we have discussed digital citizenship we haven’t adopted guidelines. We will continue to address this ongoing topic.”

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For the Hewlett-Woodmere guide, visit