Do you recall a childhood filled with meeting up with neighborhood kids and playing outside? Perhaps, you were even told to be back before the street lights come on. My childhood experience consisted of memorizing friend's numbers, calling them on a land line to play and figuring it out from there. We didn't necessarily have a plan but we would figure it out when we met up. The conversation was simple, do you want to play? There were numerous unwritten rules to this process. The most important was to be on time! You did not have the option of simply texting someone if you were running late. Your word was what defined you.
This letter will pose more questions than answers. The intent is to raise consciousness around the fundamentally unique challenges facing parents and children today.
Can a kid truly be a kid anymore?
This is a question that truly needs to be analyzed thoroughly. Inherently, older generations ask this question of the next in an almost rhetorical manner. Full disclosure; I am classified in the often scrutinized group of young adults in our nation called millennials. Being born in 1983, I have lived a divided life to this point. Many people consider the year 2007 as a watershed year and where I consider my divide beginning. This is the year the iPhone was introduced to society. It changed the world and the way we live our lives. People can debate whether or not this changed our lives positively or negatively. Technology has undoubtedly made our lives more efficient. It has also made our lives much more complicated. Smartphones, in particular, seem to be the most transformational piece of technology we have encountered. When is the last time you have left the house for the day without your phone? If your answer is never, could you do it? Could you engage in a digital detox , where you delete all of your apps; social media, etc. and simply use your phone as a phone? No texting either! This is difficult. Now, think about your children. What would happen if you took this all away? Now, revisit the question in the heading.
For children to truly develop socially and emotionally we must allow them to engage in meaningful social interactions. This does not mean talking to friends on Snap, Instagram, Messenger, etc. It means being present and interacting responsibly. Have you ever went out to eat and witnessed a table full of people not talking to each other? Instead, they are all staring at their devices. Or a family with adults on their phones and children on their devices? These are questions and statements we hear all too frequently now. Companies are now marketing phones that can only make calls. These dumb phones are specifically designed for individuals with addiction to their devices. Are we becoming less human in the digital age? Is social media the leading precipitating factor to increases in mental health issues in adolescents?
Children at Play
On the first nice weekend of spring, a group of children came bursting out of their houses like creatures arising from a long hibernation. They spent the entire day outside, playing and interacting. They did not know what they would play. When they got tired of one game, they debated as a group and moved on to the next activity. At no point did an adult intervene to organize the play. Instead, they were left to problem solve, resolve conflict independently and interact responsibly. Most importantly, the games they payed were fun! Simply because they were the ones to choose it and there was no external pressure to succeed from adults. Are we creating space for children to have unstructured play? Have we, as adults, created a system of organized play where every situation has a rule and structure explicitly laid out for children? Has this created a barrier to kids thinking critically? Has this system created a paradox where every time a child plays, it is in a high-stakes, pressure-filled scenario? Has our high-stakes testing systems in schools created undo stress on students?
What role does/should the school play?
This is an essential question for our organization. We have the responsibility and ability to address many of these questions in a meaningful way. Depending on how you reflected on the aforementioned questions will invariably shape your perspective. We understand that every child has a different life experience and school is the place where we strive to provide equity in experience. I do believe that we are reaching a point of critical mass on these subjects as they are being widely discussed and researched across the globe. It is a simple question that is difficult to answer. Are we doing right by all of our kids?
Cell Phone: Should students be able to have their phone with them during the school day? Smart phones are not going away. Is it the responsibility of the school to teach students proper etiquette and usage? Or, should we be ensuring that students do not have their devices with them during the school day to offer a respite? Is there a balance in between these questions? These questions obviously depend on age of the child but bring to light a philosophical debate that we all grapple with.
Unstructured Play:Recess! We do firmly believe in the many benefits of recess. Especially at the elementary level. Kids need to move, play and interact to properly develop socially and emotionally. Furthermore, they need to expend energy to properly focus on instruction! Some of the most valuable learning will happen during this time. We remain committed to valuing this sacred time and will be making concerted efforts to increase physical movement and play in the future. We also remain committed to helping kids develop socially and emotionally. This year, we implemented a Life Skills class in all of the elementary schools that has helped students interact responsibly and lay foundations for future success.
Thank you for taking the time to reflect and grapple with some very complex questions that were presented in this letter. Please feel free to reach out to me at any point in time as we value your opinion. Our aim, with your assistance, is to help shape happy and healthy children who are able to think critically.
Thank you for your continued support of the Parchment School District!
Jason P. Misner, Superintendent