By Brian Kacharaba
Three years ago, Katie Schumacher was doing what most parents usually do this time of year, attending her children’s open school night. But this particular trip would end up being life-changing event for her.
That night, the principal spoke to the gathered assembly and voiced her concerns over social media and the negative effect it was having on the students. That speech made an immediate impact on Schumacher, a mother of three teenagers.
“She said they were having a lot of incidents on social media with children being inappropriate and unkind,” the Rockville Centre resident recalled. “I am a teacher. I have been home with my kids. So I said, ‘I’ll see what I can do.’ I never had social media before and I wanted to learn about it. Then I started making rules and guidelines.”
Those rules, along with information collected during subsequent interviews with teenage students, led to the release of her book “Don’t Press Send: A Mindful Approach to Social Media. An Education in Cyber Civics.” The purpose of the book is to educate parents and their children about the pitfalls of social media, setting and sticking to rules when it comes to internet usage, and how children should consider the consequences before sending or impulsively posting pictures or negative messages online.
During her initial interviews for the book, Schumacher quickly became alarmed about the lack of guidelines put in place by parents after giving their children their first cell phone.
“I asked (teenagers) what rules did their parents set in place,” she said, “and they would say ‘Don’t lose it and don’t break it.’ The minute you give them any technology, you have to go over the rules.”
Some of those strategies include not putting a child’s cell phone in their bedrooms at night to eliminate the temptation of using it during sleep time, having specific days and times when technology is not to be used, and never talking to anyone they don’t know online.
“That needs to be said and it’s not being said,” Schumacher said. “Many times kids get on these sites by accident and people know how to entice kids. Eleven, twelve and thirteen-year-old kids are talking to strangers and end up meeting them and telling them information they shouldn’t give.”
Schumacher launched the book in front of approximately 60 Rockville Centre community parents and educators at her home on Sept. 29. Rockville Centre Mayor Francis X. Murray and State Sen. Todd Kaminsky also attended.
“She’s done a wonderful thing for our youth,” Mayor Murray said. “She started out by herself, she’s gone into the schools, (and the app) is now in 12 different countries. I was happy to be there.”
The self-published book is currently selling on Amazon. There is also a Facebook page that provides additional social media articles and videos to further educate parents and children.
Beyond the book, Schumacher does approximately 30-35 speaking engagements a year in the tri-state area to further promote her “Don’t Press Send” movement, which also features a website detailing different strategies on technology use and a pledge children can take that states they will be responsible while online. She will be visiting Maryland next month and hopes to do another appearance in California in early December.
Schumacher is a former 10-year educator in the Baldwin School District, taught kindergarten and second grade. That experience, along with the interview information for the book, gave her a better understanding of a child’s psyche.
“My intention as a teacher, for me, was that nothing matters more than how my kids feel about themselves,” she said. “My thing was success always came when kids began feeling good and confident. A teenager wants approval. (Back then), we didn’t know everywhere our friends were and we weren’t included in everything. This is hard for them to navigate. They are losing themselves. I think it really gets in the way of their development and self. They’re so overly-consumed with their peers.”
Despite social media being a nationwide epidemic, Schumacher feels that a solution could be found down the road.
“It is 100-percent doable,” she said. “It is just like the education of M.A.D.D. and S.A.D.D. It worked the same thing can happen here. It’s all about education. It’s very easy to communicate in a positive light. It’s a lot harder to be not nice.”