Proactive Approach

Youth Groups Help Kids Find Balance Between Activities, Internet

Local youth organizations have had to adapt to the advancement of technology, specifically with cellphones and internet. For the local Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA, finding the balance between screen time and actual human interaction has been the focus. Pictured is the computer lab and pool room at the Jamestown Boys and Girls Club.

Despite increased internet, cellphone and social media use, kids around the county are still active. For local youth organizations, adaptation and evolution was key to finding a balance between screen time and human interaction.

With the boom of the internet and cellphones 20 years ago, younger and younger ages groups began assimilating to a more technology-friendly culture. Eventually, the technologies merged, effectively placing social media, digital applications and video games in the hands of everyone — even children.

“We’re trying to be proactive with (the internet and cell phones),” said Dianne Woleen, assistant executive director at the Jamestown Boys and Girls Club. “Initially, as technology grew, there was resistance from staff and administration to incorporate that.”

Woleen said the Boys and Girls Club has made an effort nationally and locally to incorporate evolving technology. She said while there are negatives to increased cellphone and internet use, there are also many positives. Overall, Woleen said enrollment into Boys and Girls Club programs has not observed a decrease since about 2000 when cellphones and the internet became more common.

“I don’t think it’s really affected the number of members using different programs (at the Boys and Girls Club),” Woleen said. “They way programs are implemented have changed and adapted.”

The local Boys and Girls Club often integrates cellphone applications into educational lessons. For example, cellphones might be used on outdoor scavenger hunts or to incorporate statistical math during sports discussions. In the Science, Technology, Engineering and Manufacturing (STEM) program, technological advancements is key. In the program, several cellphones have been donated allowing children to take them apart and see inside of the device they use so frequently.

Also, children are being taught how to use basic computer applications in the computer lab such as PowerPoint, Word, Excel and other relevant programming. With those programs, they’re learning earlier stages of research as well.

“We’re training the staff to be creative in how they use (technology) instead of just saying, ‘put that away,'” Woleen said.

Woleen admitted that at the Boys and Girls Club, some restrictions are put in place regarding cellphones. Photography is restricted within the organization to control what is being released to the public. Additionally, electronic devices are prohibited from entering pool locker rooms to eliminate the possibility of theft.

Woleen also noted that there are negative impacts of cellphones, social media and internet use. The main impact she pointed toward was bullying.

Despite adapting to and restricting cellphone use for Jeff Kroon, executive director, there is no getting around the impact technology has made on the world.

“Total access to information at all times has changed everyone’s lives,” Kroon said.

Additionally, communication has expanded too — a positive effect in Kroon’s opinion. Children involved in the Boys and Girls Club now have almost immediate contact with their family. Before, Kroon recalled having to call individual children to the office if a call needed to be made.

As for the access to information, Woleen viewed that as a positive too.

“They’re exploring more things that maybe they wouldn’t even know about,” she said about unlimited access to information.

But for Kroon and Woleen, the most important aspect of increased use of technology is finding the balance.

“How much screen time is too much screen time?” Kroon asked.

Kroon acknowledged that digital technology use should be supplemented with “actual human activity.”

He said it benefits children to interact with each other during pool sessions, engage in physical activities, create art or simply hang out with friends in the game room.

As for adapting to changing times, Woleen said, “I think you have to.”

The same goes the local YMCA. For CEO Mark Eckendorf, organizations like the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club and the YWCA are essential for children using more and more technology.

“We need places like the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club and the YWCA where kids come into contact and have to put their phones down,” Eckendorf said.

“It’s easy for (kids) to get tied in front of their computers, Playstations and cellphones. It’s far too easy,” Eckendorf continued.

The YMCA restricts cellphone use in many of its programs. With teenagers, the restrictions are less severe, but with younger children cellphone use is regulated. Eckendorf admitted attempts at limiting cellphone is difficult as it has become apart of everyday life.

“On the other hand, you can’t totally ignore that it’s there and a part of culture and our lifestyle,” he said. “You need to use it to your advantage.”

Eckendorf said with advancing technology, communication has become much smoother and immediate. The YMCA uses Facebook to promote events and communicate information with members.

While Eckendorf said the YMCA has never measured if there has been a decline of enrollment within the last 10 to 20 years, he assumed there has been with the advancement of technology.

But Eckendorf maintained that youth organizations promoting human interaction and physical activity is beneficial and allows children to “break away from their phones.”

“They go outside. They’re exercising and playing with other kids,” he said. “I think it’s really healthy to have this.”