Iowa Conference to focus on 'media-use' disorders

Average teen spends 50 hours a week on digital media

Visitors to the Samsung 837 showroom in New York admire the Samsung Galaxy S8+ smartphone on Saturday, April 1, 2017. (Richard B. Levine/Sipa USA/TNS)
Visitors to the Samsung 837 showroom in New York admire the Samsung Galaxy S8+ smartphone on Saturday, April 1, 2017. (Richard B. Levine/Sipa USA/TNS)

DES MOINES — Iowa leaders are organizing a first-of-its-kind digital literacy conference designed to help educators, parents and others identify and address “media-use disorders” that young people may develop due to lengthy exposure to TV, social media, video or other electronic devices.

The conference, to be held Nov. 10 in Ames, will feature educational and scientific leaders who will share innovations in digital literacy teaching with educators, health professionals and others.

The one-day conference is being organized by the Partnership for a Drug-Free Iowa, with support from Iowa State University, the Mayo Clinic, the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy and others, Gov. Kim Reynolds said in highlighting the event during her weekly news conference Tuesday.

“This conference is an opportunity for Iowa to lead the way with cutting-edge research and teaching tools to strengthen our children and teens by making them more media savvy,” the governor said.

“The goal of digital literacy is to improve the behavioral health and educational outcomes of Iowa’s youth,” she said. “That means minimizing the risks and maximizing the benefits of growing up in a fast-changing digital world.”

Reynolds cited ISU research indicating that an average child or teenager spends more than 50 hours a week — often unsupervised by adults — involved or interacting with digital media that include TV, video games, movies, social media, video and cellphone.

That usage has raised concerns that parents, educators and others are not keeping up with the influence of media that may cause high-risk behaviors among young people.

“Digital literacy helps address attention disorders, bullying, cyberbullying, obesity, poor school performance and substance abuse, among other behavioral risks that can be influenced by media interactions,” said Peter Komendowski, co-founder of Iowa’s Digital Literacy Project and president of the Partnership for a Drug-Free Iowa.

Iowa is doing a good job combating substance abuse, Komendowski said, but he noted there are new threats and changing perceptions of risks for children.

These include dangerous new substances, harmful habits and toxic behaviors on social media that all can exacerbate mental-health issues, undermine the educational process and alter the values of children.

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