2017-12-13 / Editorial

Lessons to be learned from our students

Last Tuesday, and again Monday evening, parents, students and the public attended two forums held in Lapeer Community Schools’ buildings titled “Dangers of the Digital Age: At-risk behavior of our Young People.”

The forums were an eye-opener even for our seasoned County Press reporters. We think we know the inside scoop on the latest news and developments in our community. We are familiar with statistics and surveys noting the latest national trends in teen and pre-teen behavior and attitudes. But when survey results come direct from local students (some who may be our own children) and those results are jaw dropping, it got our attention. We sat up and took notice, as did many of the parents attending the forums upon hearing the survey results firsthand.

When 75 percent of students said alcohol use among teen students is a problem, we take notice. When forty percent of students surveyed said they have been bullied online, and when 72 percent of Lapeer High School juniors said cyberbullying is a serious issue in their lives, we take notice.

Forty-one percent of students surveyed admit they text and drive; the real numbers are likely higher than that.

We’ve reported on the consequences of such risky behavior many times — but often it’s the result of some national or state highway study from faraway places. Sure the numbers were startling, but they weren’t our numbers.

The survey responses shared by Lapeer Police Chief Dave Frisch, Lapeer County Sheriff Scott McKenna and LCS Superintendent Matt Wandrie are our numbers based on responses from our local students.

Some of those findings are downright frightening, and should give every parent pause to ask if they truly know what their children are doing when they’re out of the house and away from their supervision. Are they texting on the way to school, or engaging in other equally dangerous distracted driving behaviors? Are they being bullied at school or online? How are they spending their unsupervised online and smartphone time?

Other statistics shared at the forum include: Ninetytwo percent of survey respondents said they’re online daily, 56 percent said they’re online several times a day and 24 percent indicated they’re online almost constantly.

“What are your kids doing on their cell phones, on their computers? Do you know? You should … It’s insane what kids have access to,” Wandrie said at last Tuesday’s forum.

He continued with good advice: “First parent tip of the night. Look at your kid’s phones. Trust, but verify … Do random phone checks. Have conversations about things you’re seeing on their phones.”

Advances in technology, and smartphones in particular, have ushered in new norms for our school-aged children where now nearly every student has access ­— with varying degrees of supervision — to the internet, social media apps, and texting and other messaging apps.

That access makes our students vulnerable to much more than the simple distraction that we adults face at the hands of our digital devices.

Distraction alone is scary and serious in terms of distracted driving — for any age driver, but especially for less-experienced teen drivers.

Add to that the specter of cyber-bulling and the very real danger of how a teen-fantasy echo chamber can devolve into a horrific plot to do harm to others.

It’s unlikely parents could turn back the clock of technology in their homes even if they wanted. Technology also serves as a great facilitator and tool for education. We’d be doing our children a disservice if we tried to ban access.

Instead, as the presenters of the forums advise, we adults — parents, educators, community leaders – must provide a good example (put down that smartphone when you are driving) and go out of our way to communicate with our children on what is happening with their lives — both real world and online.

Communication with our kids — and setting and enforcing boundaries for them — are parental tools that are still in style, even in the digital age.

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