Tuesday, March 21, 2023

An Alarming Deficit

I could give you quite the list of local happenings worthy of a blog post this morning. It’s not as though there’s nothing to write about. But there’s an image sticking in my head and it won’t move out of the way. It’s from the Instagram account for UMBC.

Speed Friending: Join us for snacks, games, and new friends!

One of the sponsors of this event is the UMBC Office of Off-Campus Services, so I’m guessing it’s targeting commuter students who aren’t in residence at UMBC. Still, it may have been open to anyone. I’ll check. But certainly it can be harder to forge social connections if you don’t live on campus.

 Why is this on my mind?

Over the last four years I’ve seen frequent posts on the Facebook parent page for UMBC about the difficulty of students connecting and making friends. I’ve been wondering if there’s something about how we are educating our kids that is somehow shortchanging them in the crucial social emotional skills that foster human connection and friendship.

Certainly the pandemic took a big chunk of normal adolescent development away from this generation. They are still playing catch up. All of our kids are, no matter what their age group.I wonder if that makes it harder to make friends?

Cell phones and the dominance of social media in teens’ lives is another factor - - and a big one, I suspect. There was a time when I was hopeful that this “new technology” could be used as a springboard for research and all kinds of learning experiences in the classroom. I am less optimistic today. I can’t say unequivocally that they are a work of the Devil and should be banned but I do think kids are harmed and we could be doing a better job supporting them.

As an aside, I find it interesting how attitudes have changed in the years since cell phones were allowed in schools. At the beginning I saw more teachers trying to maintain an open mind and explore ways to use technology in the classroom, whereas parents were flat-out objecting. Now I see teachers practically begging to get the devices out of the classroom and it is parents demanding that they remain.

What if I need to communicate with them? What if there’s a school shooting?

For a long time the mantra of the schools was “college and career ready.”  But what happens if you get to college - - or your first job - - and you don’t know how to make friends? How “successful” a human being will you be without human connection? Positive interactions and the ability to forge bonds with other people are what make life worth living. 

What happens if we as parents push our kids to focus on the kind of academic success that looks good on a college application but neglect to model for them the social skills and human kindness that support happiness in adulthood? We can’t blame this all on schools or cellphones. What have we valued? What have we ignored?

And one more thing: are we too involved? Do we want to be able to intervene and fix things even once they are away at college? Does our continued assertion of that parental control weaken our kids and hinder their ability to make their own choices, take their own risks, and even make their own friends?

Right now in Howard County high school seniors are nearing the end of the K-12 experience. Parents are anxious to know graduation dates. There will be college decisions and awards assemblies. Come September, how many will be lonely, disconnected, unsure of how to navigate life after high school?

Is there something we can do?

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