South Side hosts parent forum on technology for kids

Experts discuss how to keep kids safe in the age of smart devices


South Side High School hosted a forum on Oct. 2 for parents, called “The Appropriate Use of Technology for Our Children,” with speakers Katie Schumacher, founder of the Don’t Press Send campaign, and Nick DeLuca, juvenile detective from the Rockville Centre Police Department.

Schumacher began by offering advice and insight on the effect of digital devices on children, and how to moderate it. She said that “the screens themselves create a barrier to empathy,” which remove a key component of how kids learn to socialize.

In a hypothetical scenario, Schumacher talked about what happens when someone says mean things to a person face-to-face. “You can see their reaction, it’s in their face, or maybe they withdraw physically, and it makes you think, ‘Maybe that was mean. I probably shouldn’t have said that,’” she said. “You don’t get that kind of feedback on social media.”

She founded the Don’t Press Send campaign, which advocates for mindful use of technology in order to combat its increasingly dominant position in the lives of young people.

Schumacher said that part of the problem is that kids are exposed to tablets and smartphones when they’re as young as 2 years old. “When your kid is throwing a tantrum,” she said, “sure, it’s easier to shove a screen under their nose and distract them. We’re a generation of parents who are afraid to let our kids have a bad feeling.”

After she told a story about a Connecticut town whose parents all agreed on a “Wait ‘till Eighth” campaign, which kept smartphones out of kids pockets until eighth grade, the crowd broke into applause.

Schumacher said that it would be wrong to come to the conclusion that technology is all bad. “It’s not,” she said, adding that responsible parents should set limits, including times and spaces where smart devices were forbidden, like during car rides, or after 7 p.m.

She also made an example of her son, who took frequent breaks from operating one of the high school’s cameras behind her to check his phone. “While his mom is out here talking about how we’re glued to our phones, there’s my son, giving a perfect example.”

Detective DeLuca’s presentation explained the more sinister side of technology. He showed parents a website, which requires special software that hides users’ identities in order to access, where people would post requests for nude pictures of high school students, organized by school. “That’s South Side, right there,” he said, pointing at a picture of the high school’s colonnade.

He explained that cell phones photos contain GPS coordinates in their metadata that could help predators locate someone who sends them a picture, even if they think they’re doing it anonymously.

As part of his slideshow, DeLuca showed a list of misdemeanor charges associated with sexting, reminding parents that juveniles could be arrested for misdemeanors involving sexual images of children under 16. “If you think it’s not happening in Rockville Centre, you’re crazy,” he said before mentioning some recent incidents with kids at South Side Middle School. “Thank God it’s not rampant here, but it happens.”

DeLuca wrapped up his presentation by demonstrating for the parents how to set content and app restrictions on their children’s phones. He went down the list of restrictions in the settings. The crowd chuckled at the beginning of this exercise, as it seemed he would end up restricting every last item, which he did. But they found it less humorous when he demonstrated that, by default, Apple devices are set to their most permissive settings, including allowing NC-17 rated movies, sexually explicit books, and podcasts with “mature content.”