One of the things we believe here at Solebury School is that we should be partners with our parents , that together we should be helping students grow and develop into adults. For us, “college prep” means more than simply imparting a body of knowledge to them; it means equipping them with the skills they need to be successful in college and in life – including the ability to think critically, to communicate effectively, to manage their time efficiently.
We recently had a speaker come to the school to support these goals. The speaker was Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, Ed.D, a clinical psychologist, consultant and author who speaks to audiences around the world about the ideas she covers in her book, The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age.
In The Big Disconnect, Dr. Steiner-Adair examines how technology and media affect children’s growth and learning, offering sage advice for parents on how to balance the benefits of technology while reducing the risks it poses at every stage of a child’s development. Determining how we as parents and educators can help our children navigate this ever-changing landscape is important work. It is a landscape that parents have never had to deal with, and it is not easy. On the one hand, we hear about the “21st century skills” our children will need. On the other, we worry about the amount of screen time and the smaller amount of physical activity some kids get; we hear the stories about children growing up unable to talk to other people because they only text; we see the impact that social media has on kids whether they be our own, our friends and neighbors, or the real horror stories that make the evening news. Dr. Steiner-Adair came and spoke to our parents, to our faculty, and to our students. Her message for each group was somewhat different, but the commonality was that this is ground we can’t surrender, that we need to be conscious and deliberate in navigating it. To the adults, she gave us an additional message that I found particularly powerful – that we need to not only watch our children’s reliance on technology, but also look carefully at our own. At the parent talk, she listed a group of things that she feels parents need to do to prevent phones, tablets, etc. from taking over our homes and harming our families. Here they are:
1) Do not let anyone use a phone as an alarm clock. Do not start day with a screen. All of us need time to wake up, to think about our day, to prioritize our to-do list. Jumping on a screen right away keeps us from doing this. For adults specifically, she had one additional thing to say about this…Which way do we roll first thing in the morning… towards our partner or to our phone? She believes the way many of us “roll towards our phone” has an impact on our relationships and that we risk disconnecting our family connections by turning towards the phone first.
2) If you need to do email, etc. in the morning, get up before the kids to do it so you can be present with them as they get ready for school.
3) If you have a car ride to school, make at least half of ride screen free. Using our phones is a stimulant… we need to relax and prepare for the day, to concentrate on being our most pro-social self. Heck, our children might even talk to us a little bit during the drive.
4) When we pick our kids up from school, we shouldn’t be on the phone when they get in the car. This sends them the message that other things are more important than them. Give them those first few minutes to find out about their day.
5) When we walk in the door from work, we shouldn’t be on the phone. Similar to when we pick our kids up, we should do our best to be present when we first get home or when the kids first get home.
6) There should be no screens at dinner.. .lots of us say this, but then don’t follow it ourselves. Don’t be hypocritical on this one.
7) When they come to say goodnight be engaged; put down the tablet or phone and give them your attention for those few minutes.
8)This generation has a hard time being alone and by themselves; they are not good at using this space to self reflect. These devices hinder their ability to be OK with solitude. They need time alone and offline, and they need to see us do it and to model this for them whether it’s during an average day, on vacation, etc.
9) Consider having device free spaces in your house – whether it’s the bedroom, the dining room, etc.
10) We should not text our children during the school day. They need to be ok without that level of constant communication to build their sense of independence. When there are true emergencies, the school can get us or we can get them through the school as was done for decades.
I leave it to you to decide how you want/need to incorporate this into your lives and what you think of it. For me, it was a wake up call. I walked away clear that I need to consciously disconnect from email more than I was doing, to take a couple of hours in the evening when I’m just a dad and a husband and when the Director of Admissions is away from his “desk” for a bit. It’s a New Year’s Resolution coming a touch late, but hopefully one I’ll be able to follow through on. There was a lot else Dr. Steiner-Adair talked about that our faculty is gearing up to have some really interesting and important follow up conversations about, and I’ve talked to several students who said they heard a lot that made them think. As I said earlier, this is new ground for all of us, but I’m glad I’m in a place that’s engaging the topic consciously and thoughtfully, and that is helping me do so as a person, a teacher, and a parent.