Grant Principal: Grant Elementary School Principal Christian Fuhrer addresses 5th-grade students at a media wellness assembly on Sept. 13. Photo by Thomas Leffler

Cellular phone usage continues to increase throughout the nation, not just in number, but in age range. Children receiving their first cell phone or similar device before reaching middle school has become commonplace, setting the stage for potential pitfalls on growing minds.

Attempting to define a media-savvy standard for the students of Grant Elementary School, Principal Christian Fuhrer and Grant faculty hosted presenter Julia Storm Wednesday on the topic of media wellness. Fuhrer said that it’s the school’s duty to provide media training, particularly at the beginning of the year while minds are still fresh.

“We’re seeing students, children, engage online at a younger and younger age as the years go by,” Fuhrer said. “I feel like we’re doing them a disservice if we don’t talk to them about the dangers … I don’t think we want to get rid of technology out here. We don’t want to get rid of the access to important resources. But we have to be safe online.”

Storm provided two separate presentations, one for 3rd and 4th-grade students, and a separate session for 5th-graders. A Los Angeles-based digital media wellness educator, Storm launched her organization ReConnect as a way to educate parents and students alike on “how to live healthy lives in the digital age.”

The sessions gave students the opportunity to have conversations about bigger themes such as online-offline balance, along with smaller sub-themes such as how social media feeds use notifications to increase screen time. Lessons typically reserved for teenagers are also crucial for younger device users, Storm noted.

“It’s this really kind of sweet spot where they’re starting to have the experiences online, but they’re still open to learning the lessons that will keep them safe,” Storm said. “If you wait until they’re teenagers, they don’t really want to hear it from you, they think they have the answers. It’s a lot more important for them to fit in than to take care of their digital well-being.”

Storm walked students through text etiquette, and how emoji usage can change the meaning of a sentence. She used the example of someone texting ‘I just fell down the stairs!’ in three different contexts: One without an emoji that signified discomfort, one with a laughing emoji that showed the sender was okay and laughing about the situation, and the same sentence with a frown and ambulance emoji that meant the sender was going to the hospital.

Another tenet of text etiquette is the ‘invisible audience,’ or those that aren’t the intended recipient of a message that see it anyways. This could be other friends, family members or co-workers. Because of the ‘invisible audience,’ Storm suggests thinking before texting or posting, as it leads to shaping one’s reputation in a potentially negative way.

The wellness educator also visited with Grant parents earlier this year, stating that it is a tough time for parents to manage both the drama and distraction that a cell phone or other technology can bring to kids’ lives.

“We need each other,” Storm said. “Parents need the support of schools, and schools really need the support of parents. We all need to figure this out together, get educated; and learn how to guide, mentor, and be allies to our kids in the digital age. Not just always fighting and putting down roadblocks.”

Fuhrer, a former education technology teacher in his own right, agreed that the partnership was important. Grant currently ties media wellness topics into school standards and goals, creating a system to shield students from online predatory tactics and indecent exposure on a cell phone or other device.

“Who’s to say what’s appropriate or not, but we can all agree that there’s at least a baseline standard of what children shouldn’t be seeing,” the principal said.

Teaching Technology: Digital media wellness educator Julia Storm speaks to 3rd and 4th-grade students during a Sept. 13 assembly. Photo by Thomas Leffler

Thomas Leffler has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Broadcast Journalism from Penn State University and has been in the industry since 2015. Prior to working at SMDP, he was a writer for AccuWeather and managed...