"Why don't you go outside and get some friends together to play a game of soccer?" I say to my then 7-year-old, back in 1999. "Who will decide teams and who will be the ref?" she asked in a perturbed and mystified tone. Needless to say, no soccer game took place.
As a child? I was a tomboy. I was an athlete. So much of my "character"—determination, discipline and dedication—comes from my childhood experiences in athletics. My students typically assume I am referring to formal sports teams, like park district or school sponsored programs. Programs where an adult was facilitating all events, from start to finish. Yes, I had coaches. And I loved them and learned from them. But I fondly recall the majority of my childhood evenings being occupied by pick-up basketball or softball games, tag, olly olly oxen free, and just general kid craziness in our back yards. When it was time for bed, my mom would ring the bell to signal the end of the evening. Yes, a bell. We determined a winner and/or settled our differences, and then planned the next get-together.
No, I don't consider myself ancient. I'm only in my 40s, and I still LOVE basketball, working out and running. So as a parent, I am bewildered by how foreign the idea of "pick-up games" is to my kids, which has led me to a more general area of concern. My daughters' days are so scheduled, the idea of simply "hanging out" with friends is somewhat frightening to them. The "down time" they have with their own thoughts and the impromptu interactions with peers is far too scarce. And I have always thought that the institution of education and the underlying political/commercial motives continue to cause our children harm, in so many ways. (A telling poem by Clydia Forehand is worth a read.)
danah boyd has shed light on at least one aspect of why shutting down, controlling and/or "facilitating-to-death" our kids' free time might legitimately stunt their growth in terms of developing social skills. She provides an intriguing perspective in her article Sociality is Learning. Our kids are trying desperately to take back their free time. And they're doing so right in front of our eyes. It's not so much rebellious behavior, but a personal necessity. The uncertainty and awkwardness that we navigated during our adolescence might be (partially) achieved through social media.
Certainly, I have many parental concerns regarding social media—the need for interpersonal communication, the detriments of multitasking, the art of managing time, etc. But perhaps we need to embrace the idea of teaching our children how to navigate this new world. Perhaps we need to "unlearn and relearn" how to teach and fine-tune social interactions. Certainly, as an educator and parent of both a teen and a tween, I have some brainstorming and investigating to do.
As a parent, are you teaching your children the benefits of social media? Are you discussing etiquette? As a parent and/or educator, how might we embrace this world so that children don't feel we're trying to "structure" their "unstructured" social media time? How do we become comfortable with this? Still formulating my questions...Would love to hear your thoughts/questions as well.
Educators. Students. Community members. Much more unites us than divides us, particularly knowing we all wear multiple hats. Building relationships. Thinking BIG.
Challenging and supporting one another. Developing engaged, empathetic citizens. Please join me in pondering how best to nurture these common ground connections.