Senior leads discussion on ‘The Social Dilemma’

Sydney Neal ’21, a Peer Educator & Assistant, was inspired by the documentary to lead a guided discussion on technology and the role of social media in students’ lives.
By Sierra Smith, Communications Specialist

Released by Netflix in August 2020, “The Social Dilemma” is described as a documentary-drama hybrid that “explores the dangerous human impact of social networking, with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations.” After its release, many began to reevaluate their social media presence and usage; some deleted their accounts altogether. 

The film left a lasting impression on Sydney Neal ’21. As a Peer Educator & Assistant, Sydney saw value in making sure all of her classmates watched and discussed “The Social Dilemma,” as well. 

“Social media and other online platforms have been linked to serious mental health issues. And teenagers in this pandemic, in a world where the influence of technology is skyrocketing, are highly susceptible to these disorders,” Sydney said. “I wanted my classmates to have the opportunity to see what really goes on behind the screen and how dangerous technology can be.”

With the help of Dean of Students Nicole Jules and High School Counselor Beth Eberl, USN acquired the license to show the documentary during advisory. 

“It’s important for students to discuss topics like this because they need to be aware of what is happening in the world they live in and make informed choices,” Jules shared. “Also, they need to understand the difference between using a tool and being used by a tool. Technology and social media should be tools to enhance our lives but never take over.” 

Over the course of three days, High School students and advisors watched segments of the film and discussed its content. 

“Advisories were the perfect way to ensure everyone could see it if they didn’t have access to the documentary or simply didn’t want to take the time to watch it. I also think it was important for faculty to take part in because many of them are raising young children and haven’t had an opportunity to educate themselves about their devices either,” Sydney said.

The discussion primarily focused on the roles and responsibilities students and school have in creating healthier habits surrounding technology and data collection, the effect they have on students, and the how technology is or isn’t essential in one’s life. 

“I got a lot of really positive feedback on the discussion, and everyone in my advisory was eager to participate and share how shocking some of the statistics in the documentary were,” Sydney shared. “We were also able to brainstorm some things that would encourage ourselves and our peers to minimize their screen time.” 

Sydney is using the initial discussion’s momentum to seek out additional opportunities to advance her goal of educating her peers. As the spring 2021 semester begins, she’s seeking potential guest speakers who are experts on the subject and is working with High School and Middle School administrators on initiatives that will encourage students and their families to unplug from technology.

“My hope is that these discussions have our students really evaluating how much time they are on devices and what other things they can be doing with that time,” Jules said. 

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