Movie screening, panel discussion explores children’s social media usage

San Dieguito High School Academy junior Alexa Mendes, who wrote a book about her experience quitting and then successfully moderating her social media use, took part in a panel discussion at Earl Warren Middle School.
(Luke Harold)

As a fifth-grader, Alexa Mendes began using social media and quickly became hooked to the point of constantly checking her Instagram and Snapchat. But she noticed that the apps made her feel increasingly lonely and isolated, and by high school, she had made a commitment to limit her social media use.

Mendes, now a San Dieguito High School Academy junior and author of a book about how she managed her social media usage, joined digital expert Jon Moffatt at a panel discussion Oct. 21 at Earl Warren Middle School about how students and parents can better manage their time, privacy and other adverse effects from using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and a growing list of social media platforms.

The event started with a screening of the documentary “Like,” which details the tactics employed by social media companies to get users to spend as much time on their apps as possible.

Moffatt, a consultant who works with students, parents and businesses on navigating the perils of social media usage, said it’s becoming more difficult to manage social media usage when a growing number of children carry cell phones at all times.

“When it follows you everywhere you go, how do you escape from it?” he said to the local students and parents in the middle school’s gym. “How do you balance it?”

His advice included a “child tech contract” for parents and their children to follow. Some of the terms involve agreeing on a set amount of screen time each day, requiring children to make their parents aware of any new social media networks or games that they start using on their phone, and require parents to meet their children’s potential online friends and followers in real life before they’re allowed to connect through social media.

Some of his other tips were for smartphone users to set their displays to grayscale to avoid the red notification icons designed to entice them to open the app, and to avoid using their phones as their alarm clocks.

Mendes, whose book “#Unsubscribed: How I’m Thriving in High School Without Social Media (and You Can, Too)” is available on Amazon, said the self-control required to limit social media use “is like a muscle.” As a high school freshman, she learned to use her social media occasionally to stay connected with school events. She added that each family is different, making social media “something people need to moderate for themselves.

“It’s not all good but it’s not all bad,” Mendes said.