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Calgary school boards not considering lawsuits against social media giants

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Calgary school boards are not considering suing social media companies, an action announced by Ontario school boards last week. 

Four of Ontario's largest school boards are suing the parent companies of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, alleging they have disrupted the education system by created products that negligently interfere with student learning.

"I’m not sure what value it would bring if school boards in Alberta wanted to sue social media companies," said Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides in a statement to CTV News.

"The primary responsibility of our school boards is to hire teachers and work to deliver a world-class education to our students, and it’s my view that they should be focused on this." 

Nicolaides says there are concerns around cellphone and social media use in classrooms leading to harassment and cyber bullying. 

"We are also reviewing our learning and technology policy, which is over ten years old and needs updating," said Nicolaides. 

"One of my priorities is to ensure students build a strong foundation of personal wellness, which includes understanding the challenges that sometimes come with social media use."

The Calgary Board of Education says it is not considering a lawsuit at this time.

The Calgary Catholic School District says it cares deeply about the well-being of students and recognizes the sometimes challenging impact of social media on student learning

"We teach our students about online safety and how it is important to be caring, responsible digital citizens," read a statement. 

"We also encourage parents/guardians, as their child’s primary educator, to promote and monitor healthy and safe online behavior."

Philip McRae, associate coordinator of research at the Alberta Teacher Association, says social media adoption starts around the ages of 10 and 14. 

"People will scroll on TikTok or whatever for 1.7 miles a day," he said. "That's how much your thumb is moving, 1.7 miles a day of infinite scroll."

McRae says there needs to be separation from screen time to allow students to succeed. 

"While young people are connected, and getting even more hyper-connected, they're increasingly becoming disconnected," McRae said. 

"And that disconnection in terms of relationships, a disconnection or a fragmentation of their friendship groups, at times, is where we really see the social media issue in particular."

McRae adds that anxiety and depression is also rising in students. 

"Young women [are concerned about] body image, young men [are concerned about] some of the cyberbullying or the aggression," he said. 

"There are a lot of things happening in those spaces that are being seen as more problematic."

Mel Varga, owner of Digital Black Belt Consulting, focuses on screen time and social media use in the classroom. 

He says teachers and educators have a tough time focusing students when dealing with social media giants. 

"You're competing against a company that has unlimited resources, they probably have hundreds, if not thousands, of engineers, and their only job is to find ways to keep all of us online," he said. 

"I'm seeing kids, Grade 5, Grade 6, getting a smartphone. I think that's absolutely crazy. I think that it really needs to be delayed until about Grade 8."

He says social media use should be restricted even more with children, waiting until at least high school. 

"Sixteen seems to be a good point to get into it," said Varga. 

"Kids are a bit more mature, maybe a little more confident, they can handle that. I've spoken to some students, they're struggling, but they go, 'It's tough because my parent is always on their device.' They're always on FaceTime or whatever it happens to be. So parents need to be really aware, kids are watching and the kids are learning from them." 

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