That's So SA
That's So SA

Healthy (Mediated) Relationships

Sean Freese, Director of Technology
I’ve previously written in this newsletter about my evolving understanding of what I have come to call “Digital Wellbeing” and the ways we as a school can help students develop healthier relationships with technology. Last year, I presented a new framework for understanding digital wellbeing to the students in the class of 2025, as part of our Health and Wellness curriculum. In this model, five key aspects of digital wellbeing are framed as essential questions every person can ask themselves when engaging with technology, with the response to each question connected to, and rooted in, a sense of one’s own personal values. I called this framework “The Circles of Digital Wellbeing.”

Earlier this fall, I had the honor to be invited back to Health & Wellness, under the stewardship of Health Educator Maggie Scott and School Counselor Caroline Adams, to do something I rarely get a chance to do: reconnect with the same group of students to dive deeper into this rich subject. This time, my conversation with the sophomores zoomed in on one of the Circles of Digital Wellbeing they first encountered as freshmen: Relationships. Over the course of one day, I joined each of the five Health & Wellness groups for their full, 65-minute class to wrestle with the essential question of the relationship circle: How can I nurture healthy relationships, regardless of the medium I use to connect with the people in my life? 

I started out by sharing one of my core principles in approaching this work: my belief that all relationships are mediated (even in-person ones) and that the medium you use to connect with others has a profound impact on how those relationships develop over time. I got to geek out a bit on some of the thinkers who have shaped my understanding of this idea, including mid-century cultural critics Neil Postman and Marshall McLuhan (of “the medium is the message” fame) and cultural anthropologist Michael Wesch, who witnessed the profound impact the advent of literacy had on the people of Papua New Guinea during his time conducting fieldwork there. After this introduction and brief discussion, we watched Behind the Post, an excellent short film produced by One Love, an organization that works to foster healthy relationships and prevent abuse. In addition to dramatizing 10 warning signs of an unhealthy relationship, the film highlights the ways that social media, instant messaging and other technologies affect the actions and choices of the main characters. It’s an intense film but one that is rich with meaning. I saw something new every time I watched it.

I was extremely impressed with the insightful and nuanced comments that the sophomores shared in our discussions after watching the film. Each class took the conversation in distinct directions, moving beyond the obvious to really dig into the subtle and complex ways that relationships can be both healthy and unhealthy at the same time. I heard the students express ambivalence about the role technology plays in their own lives, the way it both enhances and limits their ability to express themselves authentically. These conversations left me feeling hopeful that our students are thinking critically about social media and messaging apps, neither fully embracing nor reflexively rejecting them as tools for connecting with others.

I am filled with gratitude for Maggie and Caroline for allowing me to join their classes and for the students themselves, who put so much into the discussions. As the world continues to wrestle with the long-term impacts of a global pandemic – physical, emotional, social, political and economic – it’s heartening to know that our students are thinking deeply about reconnection after being apart and seeking to forge healthy relationships (in any medium).

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Santa Rosa, CA 95404 
(707) 545-1770

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