Can Camas be model for better online behavior?

In his Sept. 18 State of the Community address, Camas School District Superintendent Jeff Snell said administrators and educators in his district are working hard to prepare students for a rapidly changing world.

“If you have teens, you know that technology is involved in everything,” Snell told the dozens of Camas community members who gathered at Lacamas Lake Lodge Tuesday evening to hear about the state of their city and its school district.

In Snell’s own home, he and his wife have set tech boundaries for their teenagers that include a “no phones at the dinner table” rule.

“Pushing it away isn’t the answer,” Snell said of tech and teens. “But how do we still have this human engagement with our kids?”

When he was young, Snell said, it was easier to get away from all of the bad stuff happening at school. He could go home to his mom and decompress.

But today’s teens are so tuned in to social media and the constant interaction with their peers, they often have trouble getting away from the negative stuff bombarding them from every angle.

“So much of social media is ugly, and they can’t get away from it,” Snell said.

Even adults often have trouble staying away from it, the superintendent added, saying he found himself reading horrible comments during the recent collective bargaining negotiations between the school district and teachers union.

Outgoing Camas Mayor Scott Higgins, who spoke after Snell at Tuesday night’s State of the Community event, agreed, saying the constant flow of negativity on social media had definitely contributed to his early resignation.

“The pressures of social media are horrible,” Higgins said, adding that he had recently made a point of sending positive messages to his staff and coworkers to counteract the onslaught of negative online comments. “Never read the comments!” is something I tell my own reporters and teen daughter. For generations older than Millenials, that advice is easy enough. We grew up in a world where long bus or train rides meant bringing a book or newspaper, not a gadget, so it’s easier for us to turn our phones off and unplug for a while.

But for people younger than 30, who have grown up with smartphones and instant access to the entire world, it’s not so easy to get away from that boobytrapped social media maze. I am well aware that my young reporters are not only reading each and every awful comment, but are actively searching for story leads and sources in those comments sections. And I know my 16 year old is staring at her phone while she rides MAX trains through Portland, because she always responds immediately to my texts when I send them during transit times.

We can say “don’t read the comments,” and set rules around when our teens can and cannot use their phones, but how do we show young people how to truly tune out and connect without their technology?

In the Camas School District, administrators and educators are actively trying to focus on their students’ social-emotional health. They are trying to figure out how to teach an extremely tech-focused generation how to cherish the face-to-face human interactions we all need and to become empathetic, kind humans who give back to their communities.

It’s not an easy job. And there are no quick fixes. The Camas School District should be applauded for its dedication to this issue. Especially since their social-emotional programs and strategies seem to be working. Camas students last year reported significant decreases in bullying from 2012 to 2016.

The district hosts a variety of events and educational seminars throughout the school year for parents and community members who are interested in learning more about how to help students’ social-emotional health. Last school year, the district had presentations such as “Teens and Their Screens,” “Understanding Teen Anxiety” and “Competition and High Expectations: Supporting Your Children to Be Independent and Resilient.” All of those presentations, by the way, are available in video form on the district’s website under “View Video Archive” tab at camas.wednet.edu/schools-resources/resources/student-wellness-program.

Higgins said Tuesday he believe Camas residents can be a model for better behavior online and on social media. That certainly should be true of Camas’ next generation, thanks to the efforts of leaders, educators and parents within the Camas School District.

~ Kelly Moyer, Post-Record managing editor