Don’t Press Send Aims to Teach Online Empathy & Accountability

Don't Press Send founder Katie Schumacher at a workshop in Merrick.
Don’t Press Send founder Katie Schumacher at a workshop in Merrick.

DPS Button

By Kathryn G. Menu

The way children and teens communicate with each other has fundamentally changed with easy access, and at younger ages, to social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook. For Katie Schumacher, educating students and parents on ways to responsibly use technology was her goal when she founded the organization, Don’t Press Send Campaign.

On Wednesday, October 7, Sag Harbor School District students in fourth through seventh grades will meet with Ms. Schumacher for a workshop aimed at educating and empowering children on how to use technology in an empathetic and mindful way, and on how to set boundaries. According to elementary school teacher Donna Denon, the fourth and fifth grade classes will have one session with Ms. Schumacher, followed by the sixth and seventh grade classes.

A meeting in the Pierson High School auditorium is also planned for parents that evening at 7 p.m.

According to Matt Malone, principal of the elementary school, it has been more common over the years to see children in the upper grades of the school—primarily fifth grade students—with access to a cellphone. The school policy is that all cellphones be kept off and in a backpack since they are used primarily to contact parents after school, according to Mr. Malone. Some children are using social media outlets as well, he said, although not at or during school. When conflicts arise as a result of social media use after school, he said the district is consistent in its message.

“The overarching message we promote is being kind and respectful to one another whether with our words, or with what we write,” said Mr. Malone.

“When these circumstances happen, and they do, we try to communicate that actions in technology have reactions—both positive and negative,” said Ms. Denon.

And teaching students just that is one of the reasons Ms. Schumacher started her organization in 2013. The former educator, who is from Rockville Centre, has three children. It became apparent to her that social media had become, for many children and teens, the primary way they communicated with their peers.

According to a 2011 clinical study published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, 22 percent of teens logged onto their favorite social media site more than 10 times a day, and more than half of adolescents log onto a social media once a day. Seventy-five percent of teens owned cellphones at the time of the study’s publication, with 25 percent using them for social media, 54 percent using them for texting, and 24 percent using them for instant messaging.

“Thus, a large part of this generation’s social and emotional development is occurring while on the Internet and on cell phones,” reads the study, titled “The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents and Families.”

“Because of their limited capacity for self-regulation and susceptibility to peer pressure, children and adolescents are at some risk as they navigate and experiment with social media,” the study states. “Recent research indicates that there are frequent online expressions of offline behaviors, such as bullying, clique-forming, and sexual experimentation, that have introduced problems such as cyberbullying, privacy issues, and ‘sexting.’ Other problems that merit awareness include Internet addiction and concurrent sleep deprivation.”

Advances in technology has come with many positives, noted Ms. Schumacher, adding she will arrive at Pierson High School Wednesday with the help of her GPS—but there are obvious drawbacks, especially for middle and high school students navigating the murky waters of a social life at a tender age and maturity level.

Once something is posted online in a social media network, it is available for everyone to see, she noted. A simple mistake or bad decision is all of a sudden read about or viewed by sometimes hundreds of people, depending on where it has been shared, which can cause a great amount of humiliation that is difficult to get past because of how quickly, and how pervasive, something shared on the Internet can spread, she said.

Bullying, sharing inappropriate images—including selfies—or jokes that are hurtful, exclusionary behavior—these are all regular mistakes made by children unaware of the impact their actions can have on themselves or others, said Ms. Schumacher.

“The screen creates an emotional disconnect,” she said. “It’s like a barrier.”

The Don’t Press Send Pledge asks students to commit to certain rules including not posting anything or sending any messages they would not say face-to-face, always using careful and kind communication, not responding impulsively to other’s posts or messages, and not sharing group photos that would make others feel left out.

“We need to teach our children empathetic skills,” she added. “We have to go back to basics, because there are good kids with good foundations and families doing hurtful things to each other.”

The pledge also asks students to respect each other’s privacy when it comes to posting photographs on line, and to never post or send any images of themselves or friends without clothing on, which is against the law—not something a child thinks about when they act impulsively.

Understanding that social media is addictive, Ms. Schumacher also asks students to put limits on their use, pledging not to have access to a cellphone during homework hours and making a pledge as a family to dock all devices at a reasonable hour at night.

“I am trying to be proactive and get to children as young as we can. Instagram and Snapchat—some children are using these sites as young as fourth grade. The suggested age is 13,” she said. “The bottom line is we are parents, and we have to take ownership. Kids have access to something they are clearly not mature enough to handle, but socially that is how they socialize, and I understand that. It’s a real pressure for parents to give into that, but if you do give them a device, you have to be held accountable. You have to tell your kids they need to be responsible for what they put out there.”

Ms. Schumacher’s message has certainly been embraced by local districts—she has spoken to dozens in the last three years, just released the “Don’t Press Send” App, and has a book coming out on the subject as well. On Wednesday, Mr. Malone encouraged parents to take advantage of the opportunity to attend the Don’t Press Send presentation for parents.

“I think the technology is here, and it is a part of all of our lives, and as parents and school leaders we are always keeping safety and well-being a priority, so anything parents can learn in keeping with safety, kindness and respect is positive,” he said. “They should take advantage of this great opportunity. What Ms. Schumacher teachers is directly in line with what we promote as a district.”