Minimize risks associated with screens

Workshops for teachers and students aim to shift kids from being passive consumers of media to savvy creators

One of the biggest challenges parents and teachers face today is how to manage screen time. Parents struggle to establish and enforce healthy habits, make sure kids aren’t bullying or being bullied on social media, and help children understand the difference between what is real and what is fake online.

It’s a big job, made more difficult by the fact that many of us are also fighting Instagram-fuelled FOMO (fear of missing out), Facebook envy, information overload, and distraction due to constantly pinging smart phones.

At kindergarten concerts, dance recitals and concerts, the crowd ripples with a sea of glowing rectangles recording little Braden and Bronwyn’s every move. Does recording every milestone take us out of the moment? Or maybe sharing those experiences is just a part of how we experience those moments in our modern age?

For Montreal-based media literacy expert Jessie Curell, simply asking these types of questions is an important step to finding balance between the world we experience through our five senses, and the world we experience online.

“Screen management is a big thing we need to be addressing,” she said.  “We need to be careful that technology isn’t taking over our lives, and it is in a lot of cases. We are in a time of transition and we need to have patience with ourselves and with each other. We’re learning as a society how to best use technology.”

For 15 years, Curell has been leading media and digital literacy workshops at schools, museums, non-profit organizations and film festivals across Canada, the US, Northern Africa and Asia. She said media literacy begins with asking questions, critical thinking, and improving our understanding of how media works.

Four years ago, Curell founded Hands on Media Education, which offers workshops for teachers and students, as well as at birthday parties and week-long day camp programs aimed at shifting kids from being passive consumers of media to savvy creators. Her programs include stop-motion animation workshops for ages 6 and up that demonstrate how media is made and teach kids that everything they see online is the result of someone’s creative choice and digital storytelling.

For Curell, the goal is to ensure children are provided with the tools and understanding to make the most of the many advantages of digital media, while  learning how to set appropriate limits and guard against its many pitfalls. It’s a big job, and one that many parents and educators feel they are unprepared for.

“For the most part, people are allowing their kids to use technology but not adequately taking care that harm is minimized and that they know what they’re doing. Parents don’t know what to say or what to do and they just hope it works out,” she said.

Curell said learning to manage technology is like learning to ride a bike. When our children first learn to cycle, we usually start them with a tricycle or a balance bike, then upgrade to a two-wheeler with training wheels. Even when the training wheels come off, we stay by our children’s side to encourage them, and teach them the rules of the road. We cycle with them and watch carefully to see if they remember to stop at stop signs and look both ways before crossing streets. When they are finally ready to ride alone, we start by letting them cycle a nearby friend’s house, then maybe to the park down the road, and so on until we are fully confident in their riding skill and good judgment.

Just as parents coach children how to mitigate the risks associated with riding their bikes around the neighbourhood, they need to do the same with screen time, she said.

“There is a generational gap between students, teachers and parents right now. Teachers and parents don’t get that online life is basically the only life students know. We have an understanding of how it was before. But for digital natives, kids who grew up with technology, they don’t know anything else,” Curell said.

For more information, visit handsonmediaeducation.com.

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