Seminar explores the hidden dangers of Social Media

ORLANDO – As part of its commitment to ensure the safety and well-being of all students in Catholic schools in the diocese, the Office of Catholic Schools has introduced a social media seminar geared just for parents.

“Unintended Consequences: The Hidden Impact of Growing Up Digitally” teaches parents about the hidden impact of digital exposure on a child’s physical and mental development. Topics include social media, brain development, grooming, human trafficking, safety measures, and “the good, the bad, and the ugly” of popular social media apps.

“Technology is a revolutionary tool for learning, and we have seen its impact in healthcare, science and just easy everyday life,” said Henry Fortier, Superintendent of Catholic Schools. “However, it is also a powerful tool or potential weapon that can be used for evil. It is our moral responsibility to equip our parents, students and teachers with the knowledge necessary to keep a balance with technology, while guarding against those who would use it to do them harm.”

The seminar was created and presented by Tami Murphy, a middle school teacher at Holy Family Catholic School in Orlando. Throughout her teaching career she has advocated for children as an educator, instructional coach, and social media director. She said her keen interest in social media responsibility, internet safety, and adolescent brain development surged when her children were in middle school.

“The social media world in which our children are growing up in is vastly different than the world many parents knew as children,” Murphy said. “It poses both possibilities and perils new and unique to this generation. We’re starting to see how these platforms affect learning and scientific studies are giving us more insight on the impact of social media on young, developing minds.”

In Fall 2019, she presented her talk to the Catholic school principals during an Office of Catholic Schools Leadership Meeting. All agreed that the information needed to be shared with parents. Thus far, parents from 10 schools have had the opportunity to participate. Fortier’s goal is to offer it to every Catholic school community in the diocese.

Jermania and Chris Estevez, parents of a 10 and 13-year old at St. John Vianney Catholic Schools attended the most recent presentation at Good Shepherd Catholic School on Jan. 30. While they consider themselves attentive parents, both said they were astounded by what they did not know.

“This presentation should be mandatory for all parents,” Mrs. Estevez said. “We feel overall that we are on top social media, but we learned there are many hidden dangers out there that we never even considered.”

Pope Francis warns of potential social media perils in his message ahead of the 54th World Communications Day. While he admits social media can promote the great love story between God and humanity, he also warns, “We may not even realize how greedy we have become for chatter and gossip, or how much violence and falsehood we are consuming.”

“My hope is to help parents realize the importance of responsible social media use for their children, familiarize them with some of the less obvious dangers of some social media applications and provide general information about ways they can help protect their children in an ever-changing and evolving social media landscape,” Murphy said. “If as a result of these seminars we can encourage responsible and age appropriate use of social media and keep even one child safe from some of the pitfalls that exist, then we’ve been successful.”

Special to Linda Caldwell from The Florida Catholic