I walk toward the doors of my son's classroom after a long day in my own, my shoulders tight and my soul yearning for an afternoon coffee. This is the brightest spot of any given day--that moment after walking through the doors of my son's classroom when I spot him, he spots me, and he comes running, arms wide open and joy all over his face. My tired and tense is replaced with a sudden burst of pure joy that floods my body as his 4 year-old arms wrap around my neck. We exchange hugs and kisses and I take in every detail he wants to tell me about his day as we gather his things and walk together toward the car.
The end of the workday, for most people, is a welcome relief but, for me, the ride home from school is my least favorite part of the day--not because I'm unhappy to head home and be with my family, but because this is the time of day when I'm least mentally and physically settled. I feel a little like a soda bottle that's been shaken up and sat down, struggling to transition from swirling to settling. There just seems to be so much noise--both literally and figuratively. The noise of the radio, the sounds of traffic that surround me, my son's stories now stretching into twenty-minute monologues that I'm trying my best to actively listen to.
But the loudest, most distracting noise is that going through my head: the attempt to try and process all that I've taken in that day at school while simultaneously trying to let it go, to try and remember what didn't get done so those items can carry over onto tomorrow's to-do list, and the flood of to-do's that are yet to come when I step into the door of my own home. The reality is that home is not where I rest after an already full and tiring day--it's where the second half of my day begins: weekday evenings of a relaxing dinner and 8 o'clock sitcom were at some point replaced as just prep for the next day. To muster up the energy, I pull into Starbucks before tackling the grocery store.
I try to avoid early evening trips to the store by doing my shopping over the weekend--a nearly $200 bill for the week ahead seems like it should be enough, yet it's Thursday and somehow we've blown through most of it and there's nothing for dinner. Plus, it's my son's turn to bring snack for his class and my students have that project that I need marshmallows for. The caffeine boost helps me get through the aisles more quickly. The bill at the register is shocking as always and I do a quick mental scramble to make sure there's enough in the account on this day before payday. The cashier asks if I'd like to donate to help our local schools get the supplies they need. I think "girrrl, please" but politely tell her no thanks, not today, I've already donated toward the cause. As I push the cart through the parking lot, I laugh and joke with my boy and tell both him and myself "we're almost home".
I approach the door to my own home with as many grocery bags as I can carry in my left hand and a teacher cart wheeling behind me in my right, pleading with my four year-old to stop chasing lizards and pick up the grocery bag he dropped so we can get into the house. My shoulders feel tighter now as I balance bags on my leg and fumble with the key. When I walk in it feels like a mixture of relief and dread. I'm happy to be home, yet there's mess as far as the eye can see. Like my attempt at proactive weekend grocery shopping, my weekend cleaning now seems like a futile effort. I can't say it's all my son or husband's doing, I left out my own dinner plate from last night and the contents of my make up bag are strewn across the bathroom sink, not to mention our dog has knocked his food all over the floor. It's nobody's fault really, we're all busy and doing the best we can but somehow it just gets out of control so quickly.
My husband walks in the door and there's a second burst of parent/child joy. "Heyyy, boy!" my husband calls out as my son runs full speed into his arms. He probably feels dirty and tired after his own long day but looks like construction-clad perfection to me in his Carhartt jeans and work boots. He hugs and kisses me and we trade trite how was your day's, and fines. Both of us know the other is genuinely interested but that neither of us has the time or mental energy at the moment to hear genuine answers. Perhaps in a quiet restaurant with a bottle of wine, but not right now. We'll get there later.
As my son and husband commence some sort of weird wrestling/growling session I don't quite understand, I pop in my headphones to escape yet more noise. I pour my one glass of wine for the night and turn on my guilty pleasure podcast as I run through my mental to-do list of what needs to get done in the next two hours. As I pour the wine, I tell myself I should be popping in my headphones to go for a run instead before the sun goes down, but my tired body rejects that idea. Plus, that wouldn't leave enough time for everything else. I spend the next hour and a half in a whirlwind of packing lunches, picking up messes, switching over a load of laundry, and giving baths as my husband showers and helps with dinner. My son pleads with me a few times to play dinosaurs with him. "I want to buddy, I do...just give me ten more minutes."
Eventually the noise settles down and so do we, the three of us crammed into our bed to read a few books before my son goes off to his own. I let him lay with us because I feel guilty about having worked all day and most of the evening rather than connecting with him. My husband opens his laptop and I try my best to feign interest and keep my eyes open as I read Ten Thousand Facts About Reptiles yet again, but I'll read it over and over because I know someday soon he'll be able to just read it himself. On fact twenty-eight, my son nudges me and says "moooom...keep going!" because I doze off slightly. It's not even 8:30. I tell him that's enough for tonight and toss the books aside. We say our prayers and my son requests his nightly bedtime back tickle. As I tickle his tiny, soft back, I take in his precious face and relish in the quiet.
I now feel settled and satisfied, but it's tinged with a little guilt.
I wish I'd made more time for me. I could stay up and take a hot bath or watch my favorite show but my eyes are too heavy.
I wish I'd said more than five sentences to my husband and I wish they'd been something fun, not a reminder that he has a dentist appointment tomorrow.
I wish I'd gotten just one of the papers from my Bag of Good Intentions graded.
My wish list is interrupted by the sound of my phone going off--the familiar ding of a work e-mail coming through. It's now a little past 8:50. I take a glance and notice it's a message from a parent. I sigh and silently wish I taught in 1989 when I would receive a handwritten note at 8:50 in the morning instead.
Against my better judgment, I open the e-mail because the curiosity wins out over my desire to set boundaries. The message is in response to an activity I've arranged for the class to participate in next week. It reads "thank you for doing this for our kids. You are an awesome role model and teacher...you're like a second parent to him. Our son is lucky to have you."
I take a breath and put the phone back down on the nightstand. I needed that tonight. Because, while I'm exhausted, this reminds me that my efforts aren't in vain--that my time and energy that day meant something to someone. I kiss my husband and my son one more time. My husband's "I love you, baby" is sincere and, with my son's arms wrapped around my neck, I am again reminded that the tired and the hustle for my family is also worthwhile--that it's contributing toward something that matters.
Look, I probably won't die rich or well-known by many or having been able to say I traveled the world. I probably won't look back and see a very glamorous life. But I do believe in the things I'm working so hard for. I do believe I'll be able to think back on the hundreds of students I connected with, my marriage, and my relationship with my son and feel I've lived a life worth living--a life that meant something in the grand scheme of things. And that's what keeps me going.
That and the lattes, of course.
She was my 4th grade teacher and one of my all-time favorites--a bubbly, brunette, thirty-something woman with dimples that made learning fun and always wore the cutest high heels that perfectly matched her dress. She handed out Star Student certificates every Friday, signed in perfect cursive, to students who showed good behavior and boy, did I aim to please. That was my main goal at 9 years old really--to gain friends and the teacher's favor by laying low and being good at all costs. I was conscientious, polite, and on-task ALWAYS—a model student.
Until one day, when I made an uncharacteristically bad choice: when I thought no one was looking, I took a Sharpie to the head cheerleader’s jacket.
A little while later Mrs. S. called me out into the hallway. My stomach was fluttery and I felt a lump forming in my throat--she knew. When we were outside, just the two of us, she said “Krissy, I couldn't believe it when another student told me, but is it true that you were the one who damaged Ashley's jacket?” I silently shook my head yes as tears of shame filled my eyes. My teacher knelt down and her voice lowered. “I guess you’ve probably been frustrated with her for some time now, huh? Calling you names and joking to the other girls as you pass by?”
She knew?! I couldn’t believe it; I had no idea anyone knew. I thought I'd been successful in going unnoticed. I nodded as the tears started rolling down my face.
“Krissy, what you did today was very wrong and you will need to apologize—you should’ve used your words with Ashley. But next time, don’t wait until you’re this frustrated to speak up for yourself. Because what you did today, that’s not who you want to be.”
She was right. That was the thing about Mrs. S.—while I tried my best to be hidden, to blend in at all costs, she tried her best to allow me to be seen for who I really was.
One morning a few weeks later Mrs. S. came in smiling, saying she had some exciting news to share: she was expecting a baby in the summer and we would be having a substitute when the time came closer. I was so happy for her. But no more than a few weeks later, I walked into class to find the principal at the front of the room, saying she had something important to tell us.
“Unfortunately, Mrs. Shaw has learned she is no longer expecting a baby. A substitute will be filling in for her for a while until she can return.”
Not quite understanding how it all worked, one of the students raised her hand and asked what we were all thinking: “why will we have a substitute just because she’s not having a baby anymore?” The principal paused and then answered,
“well...because she’s just too sad to be here”.
Her words were like a brick in my stomach. Too sad to be here? I had heard of people too sick to go to school….but too sad? I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen anyone that sad before in my whole life. My heart ached picturing our bubbly, smiling teacher so distraught.
Later that day a group of us plotted in a small huddle on the playground to problem-solve Mrs. S's sadness. One girl said she knew where she lived and suggested that maybe we could all visit her at home and bring her things to make her happy, like chocolate or coffee. Another insisted that we go to her and remind her that school is where she is happy and refuse to leave until she comes back with us—a kidnapping essentially. We brainstormed all the ways we could think of to fix her sadness and bring her back to us.
Eventually the day came when I walked in to class and found Mrs. S. behind the teacher’s desk once again. Finally, she’s back! I thought. But I quickly noticed something was different. Rather than jumping up to greet each of us as we came in, she nodded half-smile hellos from behind her desk and then looked back down at her work. Her bright high-heels were replaced with black flats and her eyes seemed to always look tired. When I would ask her a question she would sometimes snap at me for reasons I couldn’t figure out. Our teacher was back, but she was different somehow. I wondered if maybe we should’ve gone to her house to cheer her up after all.
Almost 30 years later I found myself standing in the same shoes Mrs. S. had stood in all those years before, unlocking my own classroom door after being out for a week, wondering how I’d face the students who’d learned I was no longer expecting.
I thought about Mrs. S. and how badly I'd wanted to fix her sadness,
how desperately I’d wanted her to just be her old self again,
how I was too young to understand that the change in her had nothing to do with us.
I remembered how I’d analyzed her demeanor, her clothes, her tone of voice in an effort to see just how worried we should be about her. I’d better put on a smile, I thought.
But then I remembered something else Mrs. S. had taught me all those years ago during our talk out in the hallway: how I don’t have to be “good” or “perfect” all the time, just honest about how I feel…before it all builds up and comes out in ways that aren’t me; ways I don’t want to be. And I wanted my girls to hear that from me, too.
My usually talkative class was somber and silent as they arrived that morning and slowly walked to their seats and settled in. I could feel them studying my face just as I had studied Mrs. Shaw’s, trying to measure my sadness.
I asked them to come gather with me down on the rug and said “I know you all have heard that my family’s received some sad news.” I felt the lump rise in my throat and took a breath. “The truth is, I AM sad. I might be sad about this for a little while or a long while, I don’t know. But I also want you to know my sadness has nothing to do with you. In fact, being here with you all, and teaching….this is where I want to be because teaching you all makes me happy. So, even though I may feel sad, I’m choosing to be here.”
Their bodies relaxed and their faces softened. A few of them mumbled that they were glad to have me back, too.
Twenty or thirty years from now it would be fun to be remembered as the lively teacher with the cute shoes and snazzy certificates in perfect cursive--the way I remembered Mrs. S. for all those years.
But the reality is that every one of the girls sitting in my classroom will one day face their own great sadness, whatever it is, and I hope in those moments they remember me less for my shoes and more for those “hallway conversations”. Because, in my own moment of sorrow, that's when I remembered the things Mrs. S. taught me that really mattered.
How she pushed for me to be seen when all I wanted to do was hide in the background.
The way she encouraged me to be real about how I was feeling rather than stuff it down.
And her guidance to take the high road rather than lowering myself when I feel beaten down.
I think of Mrs. Shaw often and wonder if she ever started wearing her cute shoes again...if she ever went back to that old bubbly self I once loved. I hope at least a part of that spark came back, not just for her students but for herself. Because, while it's good in the sad times to let ourselves fully feel what we feel, it's also important to eventually let yourself allow the joy in again—to put your smile and your cute shoes back on, to get your zest for life back.
I can remember in my own shock of grief thinking “I’ll never smile or laugh again” simply out of respect for the love I’d lost. But I eventually learned that allowing in happiness doesn't take away from the gravity of the loss or dishonor the one you're grieving for in any way. You don’t leave them behind when you move forward, you carry them with you.
That’s what’s so amazing about the strength of a woman—she can carry her smile, her obligations, her losses, all of it along with her everyday, everywhere she goes.
Even in cute high heels.
If you're a teacher-mom like me, you know there's no sweeter feeling than the very first morning you open your eyes and realize it's summer break! When it hit me this morning a big smile spread across my face--not because I'll be away from the kiddos I love to teach or the coworkers I love to laugh with, but because summer means...
HAPPY SUMMER TEACHER-MOMS, ENJOY! 😎
I teach at the same school my son attends & with the craziness of the end of the year approaching—events, report cards, conferences—I’ve been switching my teacher/mom hats pretty frequently lately. It can get a little hectic but one of the many blessings of being both a teacher and a mom is that it gives you the ability to see both perspectives of two really important & challenging jobs.
Just recently I was added to a Facebook group that a local parent formed in support of teachers with the purpose of advocating for an increase in pay, and it’s gaining popularity quickly. Despite now being a Montessori teacher no longer part of the public sector, I care about this mission because I was a public school teacher for ten years, I'm a parent and concerned citizen, and I fully support any movement that stands behind teachers in general, regardless of where they work. But after being added to this group and observing the posts, I realized that, regardless of whether the pay raise comes to fruition or not, perhaps the greatest value of this group is the feeling of support it provides--5,000+ community members saying "we see your value and stand behind you".
It's a promising movement to witness. The parent-teacher dynamic has been an interesting one to observe in my years of teaching, both in the public and private sector. It's really been a mixed bag--parents who show their support, those who do not, and those who seem to land somewhere in the middle. I've witnessed such incredible support from parents over the years and it comes in a variety of forms. I appreciate that support whether it comes in the form of meaningful heartfelt words, gifts, or volunteer hours--whatever way they are inclined to express it. What comes through all of it is "I see you...I recognize what you're doing and value it".
But it would be ignoring the elephant in the room not to acknowledge the contention I've observed as well over the years, on both sides, between teachers and parents. For some, the parent-teacher relationship has become fractured. While it's the small minority, I have encountered parents who entered our relationship from day one with defenses up--a wall I knew I'd have to work to break down, and I've often wondered if it comes, at least in part, from their own negative experiences with school growing up.
The worst case of this I've ever witnessed was in a group meeting years ago involving a father & several staff members with the purpose of coming up with a plan on how to best support his son. He entered the meeting, having never met most of us, with such anger and distrust that I knew it could only come from his own history of negative experiences in school. He later revealed that was the case--he had long ago lost trust in teachers and school staff. Without that knowledge coming in, we didn't stand a chance in helping him or his son before we even got started.
Ideally, the relationship between parents and teachers should be one where respect is mutual and they work as a team toward one common goal: the growth and well-being of that child they will share for 10 months. If every open house or meeting started with each side voicing that as the mission statement for the year or the intention for the meeting, maybe any resentments that either side has coming in could begin to be diffused.
I've heard parents over the years who say "teachers don't support my child"--these are the ones often labeled "difficult parents".
Likewise, I've seen weary teachers who have many years behind them expressing sentiments like "parents just don't support teachers"--these are the ones often labeled "disgruntled ".
We see this labeling and generalization of groups in many areas of our culture: in politics (Republicans labeling Liberals as __________ and Liberals labeling Republicans as __________), religion, race...you name it. But, in my perception, all of it stems from the same cause: a feeling of "you're not seeing me, you're not hearing me" over the years that builds up and leads to deep resentments, and those resentments create walls. The taller the walls get, the harder they are to break down, and that results in a sort of learned helplessness. In other words, after enough negative experience or frustration with a particular group, we begin to generalize the whole as "bad" because dismissing them is easier than the energy it takes to remain open-minded, open-hearted, and consider people on both sides as individuals.
The only solution to division in politics, race, and yes, even the parent/teacher dynamic, is to be willing to break down that wall of built up resentment whether it's on the parent's end or teacher's end. And the only way to do that is to be willing to see things differently--for teachers to begin looking at parents as individuals and parents to look at teachers the same way, considering them on a case-by-case basis.
I'm a teacher and a parent and I can say that one of the many reasons I respect the opinions of my son's teachers is that I know firsthand everything that goes into this incredibly difficult and important job. It's like my sister who used to wait tables--she's the best tipper ever. Why? Because she understands all that goes into the job--she respects it. Someone who hasn't done a particular job may be ignorant to all the challenges it involves beneath the surface. And I believe the lack of respect we receive from some members of the community—not all—stems from exactly that: an ignorance as to the level of skill, training, multitasking, organization, time management, creativity, and patience it takes to do this job well.
But, when it comes to poor relations between any groups, isn't ignorance often the root cause?
A lack of understanding?
Assumptions rather than facts?
Not having walked in the other’s shoes?
Lack of respect is often bred through ignorance, and ignorance comes from lack of information. So part of our responsibility as teachers is to inform the public—including the parents of our students—of our credentials, certifications, and expertise. At Open House each year, I hand out a personal letter to parents that includes my philosophy & mission for the year and, attached, a resume of my education, experience, and training. It’s not bragging or showboating, it's communicating "your child is in the hands of a highly-qualified professional”. If your doctor has his or her credentials hanging on the wall, you should too as a professional. Some teachers may argue "why should I have to sell myself to earn respect?" I see it more as facilitating a paradigm shift that needs to happen in the way the field of education is perceived, valued, and respected.
What I believe teachers have been trying to work toward for so long is not just higher pay but the recognition of two main points: #1-that the job we do carries an incredible amount of responsibility and a workload often not proportionate to the time alloted and #2- dispelling the notion that certain caretaking/service jobs should be done for "the love of the game"--the idea that, if you ask for more fair compensation, you are not "in it for the right reasons". Yes, many of us (including myself) are primarily driven by love for what we do and who we serve but, at the end of the day, this is a career--a line of work. What we do is of great value--perhaps THE GREATEST value. And we choose every day to not only teach them rigorously but to put their safety first, even as the job continues to grow more and more dangerous by the day. We are not asking to be millionaires, we are simply asking to be able to breathe a little easier at the end of the day having worked a job that carries so much weight.
But let's be real, these are not new ideas--these points have been raised over and over and over again throughout the years. I'm not sure the message falls on deaf ears, people hear the words...I just think the perception is the problem--that we're somehow whining or complaining, rather than raising valid points that warrant consideration.
This raises an interesting but important question of why that perception is there in the first place. Others will undoubtedly disagree, but I believe that part of what’s behind this perception is that teachers are a predominantly female group. If members of a largely male-dominated field ask for more compensation, they are often perceived as advocating for themselves, while we are perceived as complainers. I can't help but wonder if this has to do with a larger collective perception around how people perceive men vs. women speaking up for what they need.
The movement I feel happening at this time in history, in so many arenas, is about ending generalizations about whole groups of people--whole genders, whole races, whole political parties, whole professions--and to move toward respect over ignorance for that which we do not know. When it comes to compensating teachers in a way that more fairly matches their level of responsibility and workload, I cringe when I hear the phrase "the fight for higher pay". Who are we fighting? Our public? Our public includes other school staff, our classroom parents, our neighbors. The term “fight” immediately invokes defensiveness in those on the perceived "other side". News flash: there is no other side. We, as a community, are in this together for the collective good of our children. When teachers can pay bills without robbing Peter to pay Paul they can sleep better at night, they're less stressed, they feel valued, "their cup is full"--and that only means better stuff to give to our students.
So no, I’m not really an advocate for "the fight for better teacher pay". Rather, I'm more interested in participating in an evolution of how our work is perceived & valued. This doesn't happen overnight, but when it does and our work is more highly valued by the public, the higher pay will result as a natural byproduct of that change in perception. In a sense, we're fighting the effect rather than addressing the cause.
I think I also speak for many teachers when I say we're so grateful for those of you, like the Facebook group mentioned previously, who already show us that shift in perception--you are contributing to that evolution and you keep us going. We see you, too.
While the word "teacher" is used throughout this post, there are a number of roles that make up a school staff who work just as hard and add just as much value to our schools and are also underpaid : paraprofessionals, extended day staff, custodial staff, school secretaries, front desk, cafeteria staff, I'm sorry I can't mention you all but THANK YOU...we see you, too.
Close your eyes and take yourself back to your middle school years for a moment.
No thanks, right?
For almost all of us, middle school was a time of awkwardness and the search for acceptance. It's also a time when a massive shift begins to take place: for the first time peers start to matter as much, if not more, than family. Forming our own identity as individuals and developing a sense of belonging become the basic needs that we're trying desperately to get met.
The awkward years certainly didn't escape me. In sixth grade, my family moved from West Virginia to Florida and, from my eleven year-old point of view, I may as well have been moving to a foreign country--everything about my world suddenly felt different. I figured two things out quickly: that everything that had been cool back home was definitely NOT cool here and that the girls here were way more advanced. A girl in my 6th grade English class talked about smoking and sex--things that weren't even remotely crossing my mind yet. By the end of that first day I'd been made fun of for my accent, clothes, and body. Things were not off to a good start.
There’s two approaches a new girl in my position can take: try desperately to be noticed and accepted by the A-listers or try desperately to just get through each day unnoticed and fly under the radar. I became good at manipulating so that I could do that latter. I made good grades and stayed quiet in my classes so that teachers wouldn't notice me and I found ways to dodge social times before and after school by pretending to be sick. The guidance counselor's desk sat across from the clinic. After awhile I began to dislike the way she traced me with her eyes as I headed there each day.
Finally one morning she struck up a conversation. I don't remember many other teachers' names from back then but her name was Mary Cooper. She asked me if I would help her in the mornings with work and it was during that time that we would have conversations. She didn't grill me with questions about whether I was happy or needed help, we just talked as I worked. I was kind of on to her game but deep down it felt good that someone at school was finally seeing through my act. Over time she helped me develop the skills I needed to find the two things every middle schooler is looking for: acceptance and belonging.
So I look back at those difficult years and I think to myself: Thank God I had Mary Cooper and thank God I didn't have a smartphone.
Because the search for belonging and acceptance can get messy if you have access to pretty much anything and anybody at anytime. A world of information at your fingertips mixed with raging hormones and poor judgment seem like a recipe for disaster. I look at my four year-old and wonder how in the world I'm going to navigate this territory. I didn't have a cell phone until I left for college and it certainly wasn't a smartphone--the world he'll go through puberty in is an entirely different one than I did. Trying to keep up with it & keep control over it feels overwhelming.
When it comes to our kids & technology, there are so many layers of concern: the instant access they have to so much information, the addictive nature of social media and gaming, the “stranger danger” aspect of chatting online, the list of concerns is long. Here's a few reasons why it's especially tricky territory for our tweens & teens:
#1--Hormones & The Adolescent Brain
The ages of 10-15 are a time of dramatic changes in the brain. Hormones are raging so hard that they have a similar impairment on logic as alcohol. Proportionally speaking: if the effect of testosterone in the adult male brain is equal to one cup of beer, adolescent males are walking around with the equivalent of a gallon!* This impairment in judgment often leads to more risky behaviors like skipping class, cheating, or exploring inappropriate content online.
What doesn't help is that the adolescent brain also struggles to make the connection between their choices and the long-term consequences--they often fail to see the "big picture" of things, including how their own behavior affects others. When you ask a twelve year-old boy "don't you realize how your behavior is disrupting the entire class?" and he answers "no"...he's probably telling the truth. We, as adults, have to help them make that connection. The failure to fully understand long-term consequences of risky behavior is especially problematic in the online arena: once something is posted, it's out there--possibly forever.
#2--There's No Escaping It
I can remember during those tough days of almost constant teasing from my peers just counting the hours until I could get home. They would tease me on the bus, walking off the bus, and walking through the neighborhood. But when my feet hit my yard, I could let out a breath of relief. I could relax and get away from it until the next day. At home people loved me, I belonged.
While some teens today can still seek refuge within their own families, they don't have the luxury of fully escaping teasing & bullying just because they’re away from school. Cyberbullying is now the most common form of bullying and the harassment is taking place mostly via text and social media. Had I had a computer or phone back then, even home wouldn't have been a refuge.
#3--The Need for Acceptance + Belonging = Social Media Obsession
The 24/7 nature of the online world makes it difficult for us, as adults, to breakaway. Think about how hard it must be for kids still learning self-control. Add in a yearning for the acceptance and approval of your friends and it can cross over into an unhealthy obsession. Here are some interesting statistics from a survey of teens* in regard to technology use:
With such disturbing statistics, it’s clear that our kids need a place to ask questions and seek guidance, and of course our hope as parents that they will reach out to us for that. But even teens who report feeling close with their parents said they shy away from reaching out to them about these issues. Why? Because they're afraid if their parents know about what they’re seeing or the struggles they’re having around technology, their electronics will be taken away. This leaves parents in a tricky predicament--how do we help if we don't know what's going on?
While these statistics are troublesome, the solution isn’t as easy as cutting out technology use altogether—not only is it nearly impossible to actually enforce, it removes the benefits that technology brings to their lives as well (and it does). Teens who were surveyed about how they feel technology positively impacts their lives reported benefits such as increased confidence, a broader knowledge of what’s going on in the world, & a wider array of friends, from cultures and backgrounds they might not otherwise be exposed to. They also share that the use of text messaging, as opposed to face-to-face conversation, allows them to perfect & accurately express exactly what it is they want to say and prevents the miscommunication of “not getting the words out right”.
According to the girls' empowerment network Smart Girl Society, social media actually has some benefits as well, including increased awareness around social issues and exposure to opinions and beliefs outside those of their immediate family and friends. In other words, social media and other forms of technology open our teens to a wider world--which, of course, can be both good and bad.
Overall, I'm not sure the basics of how we should approach responsible internet & social media use is all that different in the long run than how our parents approached other topics of concern with us...for the most part, maybe the old philosophies still apply:
At the heart of responsible technology use is self-discipline—a great thing to model for our kids. A mentor of mine shared that the word discipline comes from the word disciple, which means the student or follower of a leader. Maybe, when it comes to technology, our role should be “leader by example” more than “enforcer”.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic in the comments below or on social media (oh the irony 🙄). For more tips and helpful information, check out the links below:
"How To Teach Your Kids To Use Social Media Responsibly" (Huffington Post)
"Are There Positive Effects From Social Media For Teens?" (Smart Girl Society)
"Parenting in the Age of Online Pornography" (NY Times)
"The Secret Social Media Lives of Teenagers" (NY Times)
*Much of the information from this post came from the knowledgeable speakers at the 2018 Orlando Innovative Schools Summit. Follow them on Twitter for more helpful parenting & teaching tips:
Tracie Berry-McGhee, Therapist/Speaker/Author/Founder of SistaKeeper
Brian Mendler, Speaker/Author/Expert on Working with Disruptive Students
Larry Thompson, Principal/Speaker/Author
Robert Jackson, Speaker/Author/Consultant
Steph Jensen, SEL expert/Speaker/Author