#PlasticPlants

If your family is like mine, your social media use has probably exploded during the pandemic. Without the ability to see family and friends in-person, social media has provided a respite of connection during a time in our lives when public health officials are advising us to limit in-person gatherings. While the benefits are many – the pictures that my daughter sends of our “grand-dog” are absolutely precious – we also know that misuse of social media can have  devastating effects on friendships, attention to work (school or otherwise), self-esteem, and more. So, what now? When is social media use appropriate? What boundaries should we set?

The key is balance. In an article for the Military Health System about maintaining positive social media interactions, the author explores how social media helps us connect with far-flung friends, provides a creative outlet for many, and can help nurture deeper relationships offline. On the flip side, social media can encourage unhealthy social status comparisons, lead to aggressive posting and online bullying, and lower feelings of well being. The Department of the Air Force’s chief of chaplains, Maj. Gen. Steve Schaick, sums it up well. He compares social media to plastic plants. “From a distance, they look good. And of course, they don’t need to be watered so there’s nothing to maintain.” But, says Schaick, “the rewards of caring for live plants are exponentially more satisfying.”

The research isn’t yet clear regarding how much social media use is the right amount, and it probably varies by person; however, our job as parents and role models is to dig deeper into these questions. The challenge is that your family is different from mine, age matters, and no 13 individual year-old has the same makeup as another. As a result, we need broad guidelines that can account for differences in each child.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends families develop a media use plan and also published recommendations for families to consider as they think about their plan. They include:

  • For children younger than 18 months: Avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years: Limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
  • For children ages 6 and older: Place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health. 
  • Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
  • Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.

Common Sense Media recommends social media rules for different age groups. Check out the basic rules for middle schoolers and the rules for tweens and teens. They also publish a guide for new parents that helps us understand what we should and shouldn’t post about our own growing families.

Ultimately, each of us will need to wrestle with these questions and more as we think about the benefits and risks of our children’s social media use. Regardless of outcome, I hope you’ll keep Maj. Gen. Steve Schaick’s advice in mind. Being in the presence of a live, caring person far outweighs the relationships we only have online.

One Thing in Common

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In The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey writes one thing “undergirds and affects the quality of every relationship, every communication…every effort in which we are engaged. That one thing is trust.” While trust traditionally forms the bedrock of all school-family partnerships, it is especially important this school year. From election year politics to social injustices to the pandemic, rarely have we tackled a year like 2020. Uncertainty lies around every corner, and never in my nearly 30 years of independent school education has it been so critically important that schools and families work in partnership to build trust in our communities. 

It’s certainly not surprising to know that students learn best when schools and families have robust partnerships. Yet, those partnerships are much harder to develop and nurture in 2020-21 than they were a year ago. Ironically, the health and safety measures we have in place for the purpose of protecting our community result in the distancing of families from in-person connections. If school is in session at all, parents drop off their children in carline or Hug ‘n’ Go, are restricted from entering campus, and can’t participate in natural community-building activities like meeting on the playground after school. Furthermore, intentional community building efforts such as back-to-school gatherings, community socials, and all-school assemblies are also not part of the “new normal.” How, then, will we build the type of community our constituents can depend on?

Over the course of the past six months I have been collecting advice from experts across a variety of fields (education, business, psychology, and more) that will help us build trust in our community. If we consider these suggestions as the year progresses, we’ll have a much better chance at overcoming the obstacles in our way. And, who knows, maybe we’ll emerge a stronger community as a result.

  1. Assume good intentions and operate from the fundamental premise that families and school personnel have their children’s best interests at heart. Put our students at the center of our thinking. 
  2. Forgive easily and be empathetic to others. Stress and anxiety levels are high and all of us could use some extra breathing room.
  3. Simplify. At school we are focusing on the core tenets of our education and program. Try this at home as well to lift unnecessary burdens.
  4. Communicate frequently, especially informally. Small gestures of gratitude can have a huge influence on trust building.
  5. Be consistent and authentic as we parent and teach our children. They have an incredible ability to see and feel when something’s not right. 
  6. Remember, this is a temporary situation. This, too, shall pass. Be optimistic about the future and think positively.
  7. Don’t forget to play. Our world is full of restrictions; be sure to find time for joy.

Way back in 1997 James Comer and Norris Haynes, Professors at Yale University, wrote an article for Edutopia titled, “The Home-School Team: An Emphasis on Parent Involvement.” In it they remarked, children “constantly observe how the significant adults in their lives treat one another, how decisions are made and executed, and how problems are solved. All the experiences children have, both in and out of school, help shape their sense that someone cares about them, their feelings of self-worth and competency, their understanding of the world around them, and their beliefs about where they fit into the scheme of things.”

As the significant adults in their lives, our job is to deepen our relationships and build our level of trust so that the children we love and the students we serve develop a greater sense of certainty in what are without question uncertain times. If we follow the advice of Comer, Haynes, and others, I am confident we can fulfill Stephen Covey’s assurance that “trust is something [we] can do something about. In fact, [we] can get good at creating it!” Doing so will not only allow us to navigate this school year, but it will also provide a springboard for school-parent partnerships for years to come.

Attend an Open House to learn more about BCD’s strong community. https://www.bouldercountryday.org/admission/tours-and-open-houses