Find it fast Open

Superintendent's Blog

Every day I get the New York Times newsletter “The Morning,” where journalists guide readers through things happening in the world and help them make sense of it. On the morning of March 29, 2024, I came upon an article entitled “School absences have ‘exploded’.”


The Times clarified: “Before the pandemic, about 15 percent of U.S. students were chronically absent, which typically means missing 18 days of the school year, for any reason. By the 2021-22 school year, that number had skyrocketed to 28 percent of students. Last school year, the most recent for which national estimates are available, it held stubbornly at 26 percent” [bold and underline added].


I found these numbers concerning; thus, the article made me wonder what Hopkinton’s K-12 absenteeism rates look like. Accordingly, I went to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website to retrieve our data. 

Fortunately, our data looks better than the numbers across the United States, but we do have a chronic absenteeism rate of 12 percent, meaning that 12 percent of our 4,200+ students were absent 18 or more days. That means over 500 students in our schools were out of school in the 2022-2023 school year in excess of 18 days. 


The New York Times reports that “absenteeism has increased across demographic groups…. Students are missing more school in districts rich and poor, big and small.”


Here in Massachusetts our General Laws give students seven excused days before the schools must react in some way. Some specific reasons for absenteeism do result in “excused” absences in Hopkinton, per School Committee Policy JH, which  states:


In addition to the allowable “seven day sessions or fourteen half day sessions of reported absences in any period of six months,”  students may be excused from attending school or being tardy for the following reasons: 

  • Chronic or Long-term Illness or quarantine

  • Bereavement 

  • Weather so inclement as to endanger the child’s health and safety 

  • Observance of religious holidays in accordance with the family’s religious beliefs 

  • Other exceptional reasons with previous approval of the school’s Principal. As written in each school’s handbook, parents shall provide an explanation for a child’s absence or tardiness, either in writing or via telephone to the school nurse.

At times, we’ve heard from parents whose kids have contracted the flu and then strep, resulting in more than seven days out of school. These same children may have been out of school for bellyaches or runny noses or general malaise. Our school nurses are very careful when they look at students’ reasons for absenteeism, meaning back-to-back episodes of the flu and strep, which of course would be exceedingly rare, would likely be excused under the final bullet in the policy: “Other exceptional reasons.” 


So, what happens when a student exceeds seven absences in a six-month period? After seven absences in a six month period, families get a letter from our assistant principals explaining that their children have been out of school in excess of what Massachusetts General Law  G.L. c. 76, §2 allows. In essence, we are required to send those letters in accordance with the law, which reads:

Section 2. Every person in control of a child described in section one shall cause him to attend school as therein required, and, if he fails so to do for seven day sessions or fourteen half day sessions within any period of six months, he shall, on complaint by a supervisor of attendance, be punished by a fine of not more than twenty dollars. 

What is super curious (at least to me it’s curious) is that the state allows school districts to fine a family $20 for excessive absenteeism. The Hopkinton Public Schools do not want to fine anyone nor have we. Ever.  But, perhaps the fine serves as an illustration of the value--however antiquated the fee may be--that the state has historically put on school attendance.


Continuing along the lines of stuff we don’t want to do, our assistant principals are not fans of sending these absenteeism letters to families. Each month, the assistant principals spend at least one full work day (if not more) preparing those letters. For example, Elmwood Assistant Principal Michelle Tynan has sent 213 absentee attendance letters to families this year (meaning 213 of the students at Elmwood have missed seven (7) days or more), and Mrs. Tynan has sent 89 letters expressing excessive tardiness to families. Mrs. Lamoreaux, at Hopkins, has sent 218 letters for absenteeism and 75 letters for tardiness. These assistant principals sometimes call families to help them work on tardiness, especially when it begins to impact children’s abilities to learn.


Part of Hopkinton’s absenteeism numbers also derive from long-term travel. Families get in touch with our building principals to report they will be traveling for both long- and short-term periods of time. To that end, families should be aware that School Committee Policy JH also states that “the school district will not be responsible for curriculum, instruction, or assessments missed during this unexcused absence.” Further, at the High School level, excessive absenteeism can result in loss of credit.


Why all the focus on attendance? According to former Commissioner of Education Jeffrey Riley, “Research supports the connection between regular attendance and a student’s personal, social, and emotional wellness, and their academic success. When students are not present in school, they miss out on opportunities for social development and are often not able to make adequate academic progress; they may disengage from learning as they get further off-track and may even drop out of school.” National research shows that chronic absenteeism erodes the academic, social skills, and mental wellness needed to succeed in school. Students’ attendance rates are also significantly related to several competency areas on the Holistic Student Assessment. The HPS School Committee policy states, “The District believes it essential that students establish consistent attendance behaviors in the early years to ensure continuity of attendance throughout a child’s years in the Hopkinton Public Schools.” In essence, a host of research indicates that when children frequently miss school in their elementary years it can lead to school phobia, school avoidance, and chronic absenteeism by the teenage years. If kids are in school, we have counseling staff--at every grade level--who work on helping children overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of their access to curriculum. Children fare well when they feel connected to their teachers and peers.


Take a look at what has happened across the country since the onset of the Pandemic:

attendance chart


Everything I read tells me that attitudes toward school attendance--broadly--have changed since the onset of the pandemic, making school seem a little more “optional” in the minds of parents and students across the nation. Now please know that I am not advocating for people to come to school when they are not well, but I am wondering about our collective willingness to reprioritize school attendance. As we settle back into a post-pandemic rhythm, I’m hoping to see Hopkinton’s absenteeism rates fall.


I’ve written a lot about the downsides of the pandemic and attendance, but there are a couple of positives. Our secondary students, especially the kids at the High School, have learned to navigate online instruction, frequently using Schoology as a means of communication between themselves and their teachers. We used to hope that kids would take at least one online course before they graduated, just because it would be a good experience for them. Now, our kids can handle online instruction just because of the tools we use--even as we are back to school in-person, full-time.

Thank goodness. 


Before closing I want to go back to the letters. People wonder why they receive letters. They do because the law says we have to send them. And, the law always trumps school committee policy. 


Families,  please know that if you receive an attendance letter and you need any support whatsoever, reach out. Building administrators are always happy to meet with families, and our school social worker and school counselors are ready and willing to help. Our goal is never to disenfranchise families but rather to bring them and their students into the fold. Learning and healthy childhood development are shaped by consistent and supportive relationships, responsive communications, and the modeling of healthy behaviors. Let us provide those services to you.



  • Growth

I get invited to a lot of events. Sometimes these events are must- or should-do’s, even when I’m super busy with things in the district. So, I set the in-district work aside, and I attend. Yesterday was one of those days. The Middlesex County District Attorney invited all of the County’s superintendents and police and fire chiefs to an annual breakfast held at Minuteman High School in Lexington, Massachusetts.

I’ll be honest with you: I wasn’t anticipating a super engaging morning. But, the Minuteman High School food service students (one of the majors in Minuteman’s Career Technical Education sector) shifted my opinion a bit as they presented a lovely breakfast, replete with hot, satisfying, (and, perhaps most importantly) endless coffee. 

After breakfast, the attendees were introduced to a speaker, Dr. Robert Sege, a Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine at Tufts School of Medicine, and a graduate of Yale College, with a PhD in Biology from MIT and an MD from Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Sege was asked to speak on students, their feelings of safety and belonging, and their social-emotional wellness.  He only uttered a few sentences when I retrieved my laptop from my bag, thinking, “I’ve got to capture some of this.”

Dr. Sege reminded us that too often, we (meaning all adults) focus on the negative with kids. What is wrong. What is lacking. What needs improvement. You get the idea. Not surprising, actually, given the tenor of our nation. Over a hundred years ago President Roosevelt, advised against pointing out “how the strong man stumbles” or how “the doer of deeds could have done them better,” yet America has–especially recently and for a host of reasons–transitioned to a climate with a focus on the negative, on the critical, on fault-finding and fear.

When we, as adults, engage in negative or deficit thinking we, often unwittingly, hand that thinking down to children, whose skepticism then grows and whose trust and self-esteem then disintegrate. That lack of trust can fracture friendships with peers, relationships with coaches and mentors, and trust in teachers or our public schools.  Research shows that the disintegration of these important aspects of children’s lives can result in mental health issues and academic decline.

Rather than focus on the negative, Dr. Sege talked about seven positive life conditions that improve both mental health and academic skills. A child or adolescent:

  • was able to talk to family about feelings.

  • felt their family stood by them in difficult times.

  • felt safe and protected by an adult in the home.

  • had at least two non-parent adults who took a genuine interest.

  • felt supported by friends.

  • felt a sense of belonging in high school.

  • enjoyed participating in community traditions.

As you can see from this list, the roles we all play as parents, caregivers, guardians, educators, coaches, mentors, advocates and more impact our children profoundly. And while each of the bullets is important in shaping a healthy young adult, what cannot be overlooked is the intersection of the bullets, or more aptly, of the roles we play. For example, in school students might find those two non-parent adults (very likely teachers, paras, coaches) who take a genuine interest in a child. When the child feels that these school-based relationships are healthy–and moreover are connected to the home, the child fares better. In further support of the intersections of these roles, as adults, we all need to help children foster friendships, engage in the school community, and participate in school and community traditions. When schools and parents are aligned, kids experience better mental health.

Every day, students bring their brains into school and these brains’ reward centers are activated. Endorphins are released when kids make art, engage in mindfulness, laugh with peers, play sports, volunteer, and more. Research shows that students who engage in friendships are better able to deal with stress. Now don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t happen with a single power walk or one afternoon of hanging out with friends.

Rather, students come to school 180 days a year for typically 13 years of school. Each day brings different experiences. Some good; some not so good. Every day, a child’s experiences shape and reshape that student’s mental wellness. According to Dr. Sege, the human brain has one to three billion neurons with 10,000 connections. Lots going on there. While one single cafeteria lunch or math class or soccer game may seem insignificant, and statistically each one is insignificant, each is important in its contribution to overall personhood.

We should remember that the brain is wired for trauma, too, and what we must try to resist is focusing on the negative after trauma. The neuroplasticity of the brain allows kids to heal after trauma, if fueled with protective, positive experiences–that is, positive experiences (repeated and repeated and repeated) as outlined above.

Dr. Sege talked about two other important aspects of childhood: engagement and emotional growth. Engagement means kids are invested in something they are passionate about. Sometimes our kids find those things for themselves. Sometimes we have to foster that relationship for them. But, either way, engagement is critical and the passion must be real, not forced, not followed because the child’s friends like it. But, real. Emotional Growth should happen somewhat naturally for kids, and as adults, we have to let it happen, even when it’s not pretty. We have to let our kids strikeout looking at the third pitch, earn a 70 on that big social studies exam, or not make the elite choral group. Yeah, it feels pretty terrible, but through those feelings of failure and the education and healing that follow it, kids grow stronger emotionally.  The word “opportunity” is sometimes defined as a favorable moment or occasion. Failure, when buttressed by education and resilience (which have to be explicitly taught), is an opportunity. Failure serves as a building block for emotional growth.

Dr. Sege gives us hope for our children, their engagement, their emotional growth, and mental wellness. District Attorney Marion Ryan did right by the Middlesex County superintendents yesterday.  I think we all left, satisfied by a hearty breakfast and fortified by ways to help our children grow their mental health and, in turn, their academic achievement.  I need to remember that sometimes, when I set aside the work of the district, I’m actually doing it.  

  • Mental Health

Late November. The air has grown cold, and the last few stubborn leaves cling to the oaks. Students (and their grown-up counterparts) eagerly await today’s final bell, and tomorrow many families will gather to celebrate and give thanks.


Before our school children, educators, administrators, and staff head home this afternoon, I want to share my gratitude this Thanksgiving holiday.

I’m guessing that the news has reached everyone’s doorstep: Niche 2024 has rated the Hopkinton Public Schools number one in the State in three categories: Best Places to Teach in Massachusetts, District with the Best Teachers in Massachusetts, and Best School District in Massachusetts. Accordingly, I am thankful for the people in our school community as well as for those in the broader community.  Hopkinton is a special place.


Best Places to Teach In Massachusetts

Despite the incredible enrollment growth and the ensuing construction projects on four out of five buildings; the more disparate needs of students--everywhere; the we’re-still-dusting off the anxieties of the pandemic; and the do-more-with-less budgets, Hopkinton came out as the best place to teach in Massachusetts. 

I think that happened for a lot of reasons. First, I want to applaud the building principals. Having watched that team (in different iterations, of course) now for seven years, I’ve seen them--through good times and bad--put their faculties’ wellness (for example, morale, social-emotional and physical health) front and center. The principals’ doors are open, and they are good listeners. Every one of the five expects high quality teaching and learning, and when that happens, people feel intrinsic rewards and they also get a well-deserved pat on the back. Research shows that adult learning, validation, and support contribute to a positive school climate.

And the kids. Hopkinton kids are really nice humans--big and little. At Marathon, the children know how to care for themselves, care for each other, and care for their building and resources. When Middle School and High School, kids are around their buildings after the regular school day--often on fields and in gymnasiums, on the stage, or just hanging out. In fact, the numbers of students who hang out in the High School after the regular school day surprised me when I first came to Hopkinton. In short, the kids love their schools and begin growing their Hiller pride early on. Take a walk through any elementary school and you’ll see our youngest learners in Hiller wear! 

In celebrating Hopkinton as a place where it’s great to work, I must also acknowledge the community. When I (and ESBC-2 members or the Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations) stand before Town Meeting and request capital projects--new classrooms on Marathon, Elmwood, Hopkins, the High School and  the Elmwood replacement project--the town supports its children. School support groups are amazing, and there are so many of them willing to assist our teachers and children as well as offer resources for learning that augment and extend the regular curriculum. In short, this community strives to let teachers know that they are valued and appreciated.

District with the Best Teachers in Massachusetts

Hopkinton has the best teachers. Period.  Once a week I meet for an hour with each of the building principals, and many times it affords me the opportunity to walk through our schools. I have the great fortune of watching teachers engage our youngest learners in Fundations lessons, which provide a solid foundation in phonics and phonemic awareness. To ensure that students who may have an undiagnosed reading disability get what they need, students also engage in Heggerty, a sensory-based program that serves the same learning goals. Over the past five years, our teachers have worked relentlessly at the K to 5  levels to grow our reading curricula, based on brain-based research.  Our K to 5 Elementary Math Director analyzes data and our teachers deliver first-rate instruction, mindful of the areas in which children (both some and all!) need to grow. Sometimes I marvel at the solid foundation delivered at the elementary levels and the incredible independence and autonomy students have by the time they reach the secondary levels. Teachers at the Pre K to 5 levels are running stations, pulling small groups, and differentiating instruction at high levels. And, amidst the complexities of the teaching and learning is joy. Teachers create classrooms that--very simply--foster joy. It’s an amazing thing to witness. 

While some might question the number of related arts offerings students experience in our middle school, our talented related arts teachers are engaging kids and piquing their curiosity, such that kids become thirsty for knowledge in increasingly more specified areas. And even while our kids are dabbling in the related arts, the RA teachers’ colleagues are delivering first-rate instruction in what we often refer to as “the core.” Recently I was able to visit ELA classrooms at Hopkinton Middle School. There I saw students analyzing text in small groups, writing persuasive essays, and making intertextual connections between a quatrain and the opening chapter of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. High rigor and high engagement. This happens all the time. Every classroom. Every student. Every day.

Finally, our High School offers incredible opportunities for students to engage in just about anything they wish--thanks again to our teachers who offer challenging core academics as well as unparalleled opportunities in art, robotics, business, music, law, communications, and so, so many other areas; if it’s not a formal course, with the agreement of a faculty advisor it can become a club, and our high school has zillions of them. The design of HHS courses is often wonderfully unique, based on a teacher’s area of expertise. 

The strength of instruction in Hopkinton comes from our teachers, and their dedication to giving kids “the more” cannot be overlooked.

Best School Districts in Massachusetts

I believe this accolade derives from a variety of places, among which are those listed above--top-notch teachers, eager-to-learn students, and an incredible, supportive community. One other thing I feel in the district--and truly “feel” is the right word--is an unparalleled sense of camaraderie…mutual respect…positivity…hope…belief-in-all-that-is-possible. While it’s hard to define or quantify, it’s palpable and darned powerful.  Every member of this community should take pride in these rankings, and recognize that our collective work defines our future.

This Thanksgiving, I will count our students, our faculty and staff, my fellow administrators, and this community among my blessings.

Have a happy Thanksgiving, if you celebrate the day, and enjoy the time to rest and rejuvenate!

  • Achievement
  • Gratitude
  • Niche
  • Thanksgiving
  • Growth
  • Learning
  • Literacy

Here we go into the weekend--another rainy one. I shouldn’t complain because last weekend turned out to be very enjoyable for me, and I was grateful to have dodged wet weather.


Last weekend, while attending a family wedding in Truro, Massachusetts, I had the opportunity to visit the Highland Lighthouse, reported to be the oldest and tallest lighthouse on Cape Cod. I was able to climb the 69 steps to reach the top of the lighthouse and observe the beautifully preserved national seashore as well as the long arm of Provincetown, one of those cool places on the east coast where you can observe a sunset over water. 


The lighthouse, a  partner of the National Park Service, offers a museum shop and admittedly, I struggle to pass a retail space--especially one grounded in education--where I don’t make some purchase, so home I came with a book about sharks to share with my three-and-a-half-year-old grandson.


This was going to be his first foray into “informational text,” so I was pretty excited to present my new book, Hark! A Shark!: All About Sharks, to him on Sunday afternoon.


When we read together, he will often look at the pictures and ask, “Gigi, what is happening here?” And that's exactly how things played out on Sunday. We talked about pictures of whale sharks, tiger sharks, hammerhead sharks, lemon sharks, and of course, great whites; how sharks have smooth skin if rubbed in one direction and rough “denticles” in the other; how shark skin is “clean” while whale skin is “gunky.”


Once we made our way through the book, my grandson wanted to know which shark was on the cover of the book. “Hmmm…” I paused. “Let’s see if there is a shark inside the book that looks like the one on the cover.” Having matched the sharks (we were presuming the shark on the cover was a lemon shark), we went to the index and, sure enough, the index helped us find yet another page that would picture a lemon shark and corroborate our thinking.


Lots of times when I’m reading with my grandson we analyze the pictures. For example, among our favorite books is Lisa Mantchev’s Strictly No Elephants, a sweet little story about friendship and inclusion. As we read the book, we notice that the boy and his elephant wear matching red scarves, and we talk about why the illustrator, Taeeun Yoo,  might have made that choice. The illustrations in this text are fabulous, by the way. My little guy and I particularly like reading the emotions of the characters, which are not always described in the text itself but rather, at times, must be inferred from the illustrations. Color, texture, facial expressions, and weather, allow us to wade into the shallow end of literary elements such as tone and mood. 

(Excerpted from Strictly No Elephants)


There are some children’s texts that would make no sense without the illustrations. Maybe you’re familiar with the Pigeon series by Mo Willems. Let’s take his book Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. That text is just not decodable through words alone. Kids have to read the pigeon’s expressions to understand the bird’s frustrations at being told no, at being thwarted when he thinks he has a compelling argument that strikes out.

(Excerpted from Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus)


Why is this important? Because as teachers of literacy, we need to both evolve with new science and adhere to what has historically been effective.

Reading pictures is incredibly effective. However, using a cueing system, where kids look at the pictures as compensation when they don’t understand the words, is not effective, and we do not teach reading that way in the Hopkinton Public Schools.


So back to my lighthouse as a metaphor. In 1996, noting the erosion of the coastline in North Truro, the National Parks and the Town of Truro knew the lighthouse was in danger. They hired highly specialized engineers to move the lighthouse 500 feet back off the shoreline; it took 19 days to do it. Over time, other historic preservationists repaired or replaced the exterior brick on the lighthouse, and made moisture and ventilation changes that would sustain the structure for many years to come.


The way Hopkinton educators approach teaching and learning is not much different. We watch for places of erosion, follow the science, bring in specialists, cling to what works, make moves to new curricula--all over time. We are proud of the literacy work we do with our students.


We hope that as you’re reading with your children (and our Hopkinton children), you will still use and read and analyze the pictures in ways that help your children become increasingly proficient in accessing text and knowing how to make meaning of it.


Stay dry this weekend.


According to an NPR article published on February 16, 2023, between the years 2009 and 2019, depression rates doubled for all teens. Please note that the article reminds readers “that was before the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The article came on the heels of Mitch Prinstein, the Chief Science Officer at the American Psychological Association, delivering a 22-page testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, in which he stated, “Our brains, our bodies, and our society have been evolving together to shape human development for millennia.…Within the last 20 years, the advent of portable technology and social media platforms [have been] changing what took 60,000 years to evolve.”


The NPR article offers 10 useful takeaways for parents regarding the use of social media and the impacts it may be having on the mental health crisis. I have taken the liberty to share them with you here, along with the link to NPR’s original article. 


1. Social interaction is key to every child's growth and development.

Humans are social creatures, and we learn through social interaction. Prinstein stated, "Numerous studies have revealed that children's interactions with peers have enduring effects on their occupational status, salary, relationship success, emotional development, mental health, and even on physical health and mortality over 40 years later. These effects are stronger than the effects of children's IQ, socioeconomic status, and educational attainment."

This helps explain why social media platforms have grown so big in a relatively short period of time. But is the kind of social interaction they offer healthy.


2. Social media platforms often traffic in the wrong kind of social interaction.

What's the right kind, you ask? According to Prinstein, it's interactions and relationship-building "characterized by support, emotional intimacy, disclosure, positive regard, reliable alliance (e.g., 'having each other's backs') and trust."

The problem is, social media platforms often (though not always) emphasize metrics over the humans behind the "likes" and "followers," which can lead teens to simply post things about themselves, true or not, that they hope will draw the most attention. And these cycles, Prinstein warned, "create the exact opposite qualities needed for successful and adaptive relationships (i.e., [they are] disingenuous, anonymous, depersonalized). In other words, social media offers the 'empty calories of social interaction,' that appear to help satiate our biological and psychological needs, but do not contain any of the healthy ingredients necessary to reap benefits." In fact, research has found that social media can actually make some teens feel lonelier.


3. It's not all bad.

The APA's chief science officer also made clear that social media and the study of it are both too young to arrive at many conclusions with absolute certainty. In fact, when used properly, social media can feed teens' need for social connection in healthy ways. What's more, Prinstein pointed out, for many marginalized teens, "digital platforms provide an important space for self-discovery and expression" and can help them forge meaningful relationships that may buffer and protect them from the effects of stress.


4. Adolescence is a "developmentally vulnerable period" when teens crave social rewards, but don't have the ability to restrain themselves.

That's because, as children enter puberty, the areas of the brain "associated with our craving for 'social rewards,' such as visibility, attention, and positive feedback from peers" tend to develop well before the bits of the brain "involved in our ability to inhibit our behavior, and resist temptations," Prinstein said. Social media platforms that reward teens with "likes" and new "followers" can trigger and feed that craving.


5. "Likes" can make bad behavior look good.

Hollywood has long grappled with groups of parents who worry that violent or overly sexualized movies can have a negative effect on teen behavior. Well, similar fears about teens witnessing bad behavior on social media might be well-founded. But it's complicated. 

"Research examining adolescents' brains while on a simulated social media site, for example, revealed that when exposed to illegal, dangerous imagery, activation of the prefrontal cortex was observed suggesting healthy inhibition towards maladaptive behaviors," Prinstein told lawmakers.

So, that's good. The prefrontal cortex helps us make smart (and safe) decisions. Hooray for the prefrontal cortex! Here's the problem.

When teens viewed these same illegal and/or dangerous behaviors on social media alongside icons suggesting the negative content had been "liked" by others, the part of the brain that keeps us safe stopped working as well, Prinstein said, "suggesting that the 'likes' may reduce youths' inhibition (i.e., perhaps increasing their proclivity) toward dangerous and illegal behavior." In other words, bad behavior feels bad — until other people start liking it.


6. Social media can also make "psychologically disordered behavior" look good.

Prinstein spoke specifically about websites or online accounts that promote disordered-eating behaviors and nonsuicidal self-injury, like self-cutting.

"Research indicates that this content has proliferated on social media sites, not only depicting these behaviors, but teaching young people how to engage in [them], how to conceal these behaviors from adults, actively encouraging users to engage in these behaviors, and socially sanctioning those who express a desire for less risky behavior."


7. Extreme social media use can look a lot like addiction.

"Regions of the brain activated by social-media-use overlap considerably with the regions involved in addictions to illegal and dangerous substances," Prinstein told lawmakers.

He cited a litany of research that says excessive social media use in teens often manifests some of the same symptoms of more traditional addictions, in part because teen brains just don't have the kind of self-control toolbox that adults do.


8. The threat of online bullying is real.

Prinstein warned lawmakers that "victimization, harassment, and discrimination against racial, ethnic, gender and sexual minorities is frequent online and often targeted at young people. LGBTQ+ youth experience a heightened level of bullying, threats, and self-harm on social media." And online bullying can take a terrible physical toll, Prinstein said: "Brain scans of adults and youths reveal that online harassment activates the same regions of the brain that respond to physical pain and trigger a cascade of reactions that replicate physical assault and create physical and mental health damage."


9. It's hard not to compare yourself to what you see in social media.

Even adults feel it. We go onto social media sites and compare ourselves to everyone else out there, from the sunsets in our vacation pics to our waistlines – but especially our waistlines and how we look, or feel we should look, based on who's getting "likes" and who's not. For teens, the impacts of such comparisons can be amplified.

"Psychological science demonstrates that exposure to this online content is associated with lower self-image and distorted body perceptions among young people. This exposure creates strong risk factors for eating disorders, unhealthy weight-management behaviors, and depression," Prinstein testified.


10. Sleep is more important than those "likes."

Research suggests more than half of adolescents are on screens right before bedtime, and that can keep them from getting the sleep they need. Not only is poor sleep linked to all sorts of downsides, including poor mental health symptoms, poor performance in school and trouble regulating stress, Prinstein said, but "inconsistent sleep schedules are associated with changes in structural brain development in adolescent years. In other words, youths' preoccupation with technology and social media may deleteriously affect the size of their brains."

  • Growth & Development
  • Social Media
  • Wellness