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Put down the phone and connect as humans. Motivational speaker shares ideas

Area students, teachers and parents heard another plea to put down their cell phones, but not from law enforcement. "We have stopped connecting as humans. We see it everywhere. We are constantly on our screens," motivational speaker Joe Beckman s...

Joe Beckman speaks to Pequot Lakes students Monday, Feb. 11.
Joe Beckman speaks to Pequot Lakes students Monday, Feb. 11. Erin Bormett / Echo Journal
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Area students, teachers and parents heard another plea to put down their cell phones, but not from law enforcement.

"We have stopped connecting as humans. We see it everywhere. We are constantly on our screens," motivational speaker Joe Beckman said Monday night, Feb. 11, at a community event in the Pequot Lakes High School auditorium. "The problem is, what we know at the end of the day is human connection matters. We need it. We need it as students as well as adults."

Beckman spent Monday afternoon talking to Pequot Lakes fourth-graders, middle school and high school students. He also spent time with Brainerd High School students earlier in the day.

Human connection is a universal, world-wide need, Beckman said. He noted an increase in society of anxiety, depression, suicide, bullying and mental health issues since 2007 - which, he said, is when Steve Jobs stood on a stage and introduced the iPhone.

"By 2011, nearly every single youth had a cell phone in their pocket," Beckman said, adding he tells students that no social media friendship will ever replace real-life human connection.

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Beckman has spent the last 17 years speaking at schools with one mission: to reclaim human connection. How do we move forward with technological advances and not lose what got us this far as a species - human connection, he asked his audience.

"I don't have all the answers. I'm a parent with three kids and battle the same struggles everyone battles with. There's no seven steps to less screen time," he said, noting he hoped his talk would be a start to a larger conversation that goes beyond one night and one school.

Statistics

Beckman shared the following statistics:

• Every day, 160,000 kids skip school because they are afraid of how they will be treated in the hallways.

• The average age for depression is 14 ½; it used to be age 28.

• 5,400 youth will attempt suicide every single day.

"These are the students that are walking in our communities," Beckman said, adding they are the kids we invite over to hang out with our kids. "You'd never have a clue."

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He said we must engage these youth and connect with them.

"They need another human being to see them and validate they are on this planet for a reason," he said.

Three phrases

Beckman shared three phrases kids - and adults - need to hear:

• Love you: This refers to self worth. You are enough as you are now, not because of how pretty, popular, athletic, etc. you are.

• Push through: This refers to resiliency. Whether being bullied, having a reputation destroyed, being emotionally or sexually abused, or losing someone close - all situations that hurt and are unfair - it's how you respond that matters. Ask, "Now what?" instead of, "Why me?"

• Just look up: This refers to human connection and the importance of seeing each other. Notice people around us who need us. Put down the devices, look up and see what we need in our world. Simply smile at someone, say hi or ask them to sit with you at lunch and talk to them.

More advice

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Beckman advised parents to be real and vulnerable, and to share their lumps. Share your successes, but also your failures and struggles with your children.

He shared a story of his young son who marveled at toast popping out of the toaster. At one point, all of us used to cheer for little things, like the magic of toast popping up. Life gets busy, you gain responsibilities and you forget the little joys - and you have become addicted to that rectangular phone in your pocket.

Just make toast, Beckman said.

He shared another story of people years ago relaxing by smoking cigarettes. They didn't realize then that becoming addicted to cigarettes could end in death.

Similarly, years down the road people may be incredulous that we let our children play on iPads all day without recognizing the health consequences.

"Study results show the more time we spend on screens, the less we connect as human beings, the worse we feel," Beckman said. "It's killing our young people. Our job is to figure out, how do we model cell phone behavior? Are we modeling the same behavior we are asking of our kids?"

It doesn't hurt to have rules, he said, sharing that his family doesn't allow cell phones at the dinner table, and in the car he hands his phone to his daughter to put in the glove box.

Social scientists say two hours of screen time per day won't have much adverse effect on kids, depending on what they are looking at, Beckman said. After that we see risk factors for mental health.

The average amount of time we spend on cell phones leisurely is seven hours per day, and a lot of that time is on social media. That's not positive for our brains, Beckman said, noting people say things on social media that they'd never say in person.

Q & A

Beckman, Pequot Lakes Middle School Principal Mike O'Neil and Pequot Lakes High School Principal Aaron Nelson fielded questions and comments from the audience.

When asked what to tell a student who had another student tell them, "I don't want to live anymore," they said that student should be told to tell someone - a principal, counselor, etc. - because the student isn't equipped to handle that, and one way to show support is to report it.

If a student were to tell them he or she was contemplating suicide, Beckman said he would give that student a reason to stay with us. Tell the student that where they are at today isn't where they will be at tomorrow; remind them they have a purpose, he said, and talk to them about getting help.

A physical therapist in the audience shared that research shows time spent on technological devices rewires a child's brain. Play and movement are the best ways for children to learn, she said.

O'Neil emphasized the importance of unstructured play and encouraged parents to model that by being active.

The three men told the audience kids must be told that it's OK to have moments of weakness. Beckman said society needs to redefine masculinity as "tender" and "tough" aren't mutually exclusive. We must surround ourselves with people who allow us to be ourselves, he said.

Nelson said "kids these days" are pretty remarkable and have done powerful things that deserve celebration. And they aren't always on their cell phones.

"Come see us at lunch - they're talking," he said. "It's refreshing to see our kids in conversation at lunch. ... There are kids who can put down their phone and parents who help them."

Nancy Vogt is editor of the Pineandlakes Echo Journal, a weekly newspaper that covers eight communities in the Pequot Lakes-Pine River areas - from Nisswa to Hackensack and Pequot Lakes to Crosslake.

She started as editor of the Lake Country Echo in July 2006, and continued in that role when the Lake Country Echo and the Pine River Journal combined in September 2013 to become the Pineandlakes Echo Journal. She worked for the Brainerd Dispatch from 1992-2006 in various roles.

She covers Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Lake Shore and Crosslake city councils, as well as writes feature stories, news stories and personal columns (Vogt's Notes). She also takes photos at community events.

Contact her at nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com or 218-855-5877 with story ideas or questions. Be sure to leave a voicemail message!
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