I was recently speaking with several other Heads of School of Chicago area schools at an annual conference specifically for Heads. We were discussing the challenges that we are all facing related to the increasing use of technology by our students and the impact that, for example, the ubiquitous nature of cell phones has had on our students. We began this conversation as a continuation of the dialogue we started last September at a gathering we hosted at Roycemore. We discussed how we might do a better job of ensuring our students have the skills that they need when they leave our schools to find success in college and then in the work world. Both university and corporate representatives shared with us at that time that they are finding less and less young people with the requisite skills that are needed and expected– skills such as problem-solving, the ability to build teams, communicate, collaborate and more. In our follow up conversation, the fellow heads and I identified several areas where we believed we could collaborate for the good of our school communities and we decided to begin with a focus on the social-emotional health of our students. In the coming year, we will partner to provide educational opportunities for our communities such as creating programming for students and providing expert speakers to support parents.
Each of our schools are finding heightened levels of anxiety among young people. While we believe that there are a variety of reasons for this, we agreed that the nearly addictive use of cellphones is a factor. Not the ONLY factor, mind you, but it has had a significant impact on our students.
One of the sessions at the conference was, “Recognizing, Understanding & Supporting Anxious Youth and Their Families.” The session referenced research that was done at the University of California- Berkeley related to happiness. Out of this research, the Greater Good Science Center was formed at the university and has served as a home for ongoing research related to happiness. In fact, just this past week, the Center’s magazine published an article citing a new study in the journal, Computers in Human Behavior. It maintains when people are on their cellphones more, they smile less and reduce their ability to connect with other people that they are physically present with. It’s compelling and makes sense– put your phones down and smile! What else might we do more of if we spend less time on our phones?
We can take this on as a community. I would love to hear from our families about ways they encourage more face-to-face engagement vs. screen time with their children. What’s working? Have you made a change in your household that is making a difference? Have you personally made a change or have you made a change with respect to your child’s phone use? Share your stories with me, and I can facilitate sharing with fellow parents and caregivers. Let me know if you would like to engage further on this topic as it is through working together that we raise great young people. Those great young people will soon be our country’s leaders. What are the skills that we hope and dream for them? Becoming more present in their own lives, as it is happening, is surely a tool we want to give them for the future!