For much of the past half-century, children, adolescents and young adults in the U.S. have been saying they feel as though their lives are increasingly out of their control. At the same time, rates of anxiety and depression have risen steadily.
What’s the fix? Feeling in control of your own destiny. Let’s call it “agency.”
“Agency may be the one most important factor in human happiness and well-being.”
So write William Stixrud and Ned Johnson in their new book, The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives. Feeling out of control can cause debilitating stress and destroy self-motivation.
Building agency begins with parents, because it has to be cultivated and nurtured in childhood, write Stixrud and Johnson. But many parents find that difficult, since giving kids more control requires parents to give up some of their own.
Instead of trusting kids with choices — small at first, but bigger as adolescence progresses — many parents insist on micromanaging everything from homework to friendships. For these parents, Stixrud and Johnson have a simple message:
(Cory Turner, Senior Editor, NPR Ed. Cory Turner edits and reports for the NPR Ed Team. He’s led the team’s coverage of the Common Core while also finding time for his passion: exploring how kids learn — in the classroom, on the playground, at home and everywhere else. Before coming to NPR Ed, Cory was Senior Editor of All Things Considered.)
The following article by Paul Cumbo was shared recently by the National Association of Schools (NAIS). BCD is an NAIS member school.
There’s poetry written in the heart of a boy. Sometimes with enough coaxing and patience, it bubbles up reluctantly in halting lines and clipped stanzas; sometimes it springs forth in sudden floods of joy or sorrow. More often, the words huddle deep amid the testosterone-fueled confusion of adolescence, yearning to be heard, yet suppressed in stoic silence. In solitude. The hearts of many men are not so different. Perhaps we—educators and parents of boys—can do better at interpreting the verses and building the rhymes.
At the Jesuit high school for boys where I’ve been teaching for many years, we try to promote healthy masculinity—to embrace that poetry, even as it is being written, sometimes very messily. Along with intellectual, physical, spiritual, artistic, and social development, we also try to foster mature emotional fluency by the time our young men graduate. We have retreats, seminars, and formative curricula that challenge our boys to communicate deeply and meaningfully while exploring relationships and feelings. Regarding this, I’ve heard more than once: “It’s good you get them in touch with their feminine side.”
I know it’s meant as a compliment. Except that emotional intimacy is not, of course, exclusively feminine territory. And our culture, intentionally or not, often teaches boys that it is. Same, too often, with artistic pursuits—things like music, writing, painting, poetry, sculpture, and dance. Likewise, when our culture implies to girls that certain qualities, such as athleticism, competitiveness, or business savvy, are more naturally masculine terrain, we do a similar disservice. It’s reductionist and it’s limiting.
Don’t get me wrong. As one of five brothers, a husband, a father of two boys and a daughter, and a teacher and coach of adolescent boys for 20 years now, I have no doubt that boys and girls have differences. Certainly, more boys than girls gravitate to some interests, and vice versa. But I’m not talking about what activities we encourage. Rather, I’m concerned that our culture has assigned, or at least has acquiesced to, acceptable ranges of emotional fluency based on gender. Specifically, it seems we’ve set a problematic upper limit of what constitutes appropriate sensitivity for boys and men—and we are seeing the results in headlines.
Aiming for Emotional Fluency
It’s conventional wisdom among educators to look out for “the sensitive boy.” Of course, this only reveals to what extent we’ve become inclined to consider sensitivity essentially atypical. The thing is, at least in my experience, all boys are sensitive. Some are just better at understanding and responding to their emotions. Or hiding them, which is too often the enculturated default for boys—and therefore a self-perpetuating problem among men. The result? Emotional fluency, along with the meaningful communication it enables, too often becomes framed as the opposite of manliness. And so, much of the poetry gets hidden away, behind a wall of toughness. But toughness and sensitivity don’t have to be “either/or” prospects. They can, and should be, “both/and” qualities.
It’s important to address, at this point, a valid concern. Some will assert—with defensible evidence—that I’ve got it backward. They’ll say this generation lacks resilience and toughness, that today’s teenage boys are not lacking sensitivity at all—that on the contrary, they are, in fact, hypersensitive and thus ill-equipped to deal with obstacles, setbacks, and criticism with healthy resolve. To this point I say: Actual grit and resilience compose authentic toughness—the kind we really want. And that’s a very different quality indeed than a macho façade covering insecurity and self-doubt. In this sense, then, emotional fluency and empathy are key ingredients to the kind of toughness young people do, in fact, need.
Confusion on this matter—what constitutes true toughness—hinders the ability to express deep feelings. Take shedding tears, for example. I have seen many boys cry in my line of work. When they do, whatever they are struggling with is compounded by anxiety over the fact that they’re crying. Because in the confusing messages our culture sends about masculinity, tears and toughness aren’t compatible—except in some very limited contexts. Yes, men and boys express love, pain, and other feelings often without words. But we must do a better job equipping boys with an emotional vocabulary and encouraging its use. This would enable them to listen better—to themselves and to each other, as well as to girls and women. And some cathartic tears from time to time wouldn’t hurt at all.
Teaching Boys to Navigate the Digital Landscape
“Toxic masculinity,” which has been the focus of no small number of recent national conversations, is a fair label for what’s at the root of some terrible attitudes and behavior among boys and men. But let’s be clear that masculinity is not intrinsically toxic. That assertion is toxic in itself. To that end, and particularly in light of recent headlines, we should be ever more direct with adolescent boys about the essential relationship among sex, respect, and love. We should make clear that their natural sex drive is just that—natural—but that misunderstood, undisciplined, or disrespected, it can so quickly lead to harmful attitudes and behaviors.
Sex education is no longer just about the birds and the bees. An additional burden now lies with parents and educators: We must acknowledge and address the ubiquity of online pornography. Even if they aren’t looking for it, it will find them sooner or later. Unfortunately, the trend lately is sooner; by middle school, a kid has almost certainly come across something not meant for young eyes. As parents and educators, our choice is stark: We can either talk to our kids about sexual matters, grounding the conversation in values and mature perspectives, or we can avoid it and hope—naively—that the sketchier realm of the internet won’t provide its own answers to their natural curiosity.
We can’t shy away from helping all kids navigate the digital realm responsibly and respectfully. We need to be savvy digital citizens ourselves. And just as we must make clear that not everything online is real, we must also move past the false dichotomy of online versus “real” life—in other words, concede that online behavior and “real life” are not entirely distinct. What is done and said online is part of real life, with real consequences.
The Power of Authentic Masculinity
If we want balanced, authentic, respectful men, let’s dispel ingrained and enculturated notions that emotional intimacy and artistic expression aren’t masculine ideals—that “tough” and “sensitive” are mutually exclusive. Even as we continue to embrace boys’ needs for roughhousing and physicality and traditional male rites of passage, let’s also get them reading, thinking, and talking more. Masculinity is not simplistic. It’s complex enough to include a range of interests, priorities, ideas, values, and sexualities. Let’s normalize emotionally authentic conversations in forums where boys can be honest and open, mentored and encouraged by men and women who joyfully and lovingly appreciate masculinity’s nuanced complexity. Yes, boys might broach emotional intimacy with their peers in limited contexts—the halftime huddle, the religious retreat, camping with the guys. But we need them to see that authentic emotional intimacy can and should transcend these moments. That it’s key to respectful relationships in everyday life.
Deepening our understanding of masculinity is not about acquiescing to patronizing political correctness. It’s not emasculating. On the contrary, it’s an invitation to virtue. It is existentially vital for boys and men, and we—men and women alike—must take on the responsibility to be proactive in this aspect of education and formation. We can and should read the poetry of boyhood more carefully. Boys will become the boys we raise, and, of course, they will become the men we raised. Ultimately, with a more authentic understanding of masculinity will come a deeper appreciation for our common humanity.
Paul J. Cumbo is an English teacher at Canisius High School in Buffalo, New York, where he chairs the Digital Citizenship Committee. He served as founding director of the school’s “Companions/Compañeros” immersive service-learning program. Prior to CHS, he was a housemaster at Georgetown Prep in Maryland, where he taught English and worked in Campus Ministry for three years. He is an adjunct with the Jesuit Schools Network, facilitating the Seminars in Ignatian Leadership for fellow educators in Jesuit secondary and presecondary schools.
Bring a Parent to School events exceed expectations and a curriculum that connects the dots
As the fortunate grandparents of seven, four of whom are currently attending private schools in major US cities (DC and Dallas), one who just graduated from a NY school and is attending Kenyon College, I want to share my enthusiasm for BCD with you. None of these institutions can surpass BCD’s programs, physical plant, imaginative staff, confidence and community-building tone. The integrated curriculum seen across the spectrum of grades, is, as my grandchildren would say, “awesome”. We are most grateful to see our grandchildren wholeheartedly embracing BCD’s community spirit and love of exploration and learning. Thank you for your “bring a (grand)parent to school” invitation and for everyone’s efforts. (feedback after our Bring a Parent to School event – please add your comments below!)
the school community watched the wonderful video created by Assoc. Head of Sch. Leigh Doherty and Alex Lederman ’15
Attendance, and more importantly the enthusiasm for and feelings, at our recent “Bring a Parent to School” events exceeded expectations. We are grateful for the passion and participation of our vibrant school community. It was especially meaningful to share what makes our school intentional and relevant across all grades, to provide tours that demonstrated how we provide an extraordinary program that asks every learner to actively engage and absorb so much within our rich and broad-based curriculum. I know it was affirming and meaningful for our students and teachers to host visitors, to share our comprehensive and challenging curriculum, and to be seen in action during a typical day at BCD.
There are many things I have loved about being Head of School, but one thing I have cherished the most has been the opportunity to observe each child’s unique trajectory here at Berkshire Country Day. I have had an inspiring view of our students’ individual multi-year experiences in connecting the dots between what they learn in school and what they see in the real world; between individual areas of study; from grade to grade.
Our intentional curriculum has informed and guided those connections, starting in Preschool. Inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach, our Preschool program, now expanded to include two-year-old children, provides a nurturing, stimulating educational environment that supports each child’s learning style and developmental readiness. Experienced teachers encourage children to create, play, take risks, listen, and find their voices as they explore the many resources of our historic 27-acre campus.
In Grades K–3, children proceed through predictable stages, each at their own pace, and each in their own way. Our Lower School classrooms and program have been carefully structured to support those individual journeys. Through guided discovery and inquiry, our expert faculty help children build a solid foundation in reading, writing, and mathematics; explore and expand their understanding of the world around them through science and social studies; discover their creative talents through music and art; and grow as responsible citizens through our social curriculum, Responsive Classroom®.
Fluent learners by third grade, our students enthusiastically embrace the challenges and opportunities of Middle School, where they adeptly move from the concrete to the abstract. The Middle School program cultivates confidence and self-sufficiency, building the skills that will help students become independent learners, articulate advocates for themselves and their work, and motivated community members. They begin to take deeper advantage of our arts and athletics program, and are challenged by an increasingly vigorous academic program. As their world expands, they benefit tremendously from the fact that Berkshire Country Day School offers the resources of a larger school with the intimacy and sustained connections of a smaller one.
Finally, our Upper School program is thoughtfully designed to allow our students to become the very best versions of themselves—as students, community members, and citizens — demonstrating increased levels of achievement in academics, the arts, and athletics. In subject matter, as well as in quality and vigor of discourse, many of our classes resemble high school classes. We set high expectations for Upper School students, fueling their acceleration toward greater independence and maturity as they take full advantage of the many resources BCD offers.
At the end of their personal BCD journeys, our 9th graders graduate with a strong sense of self, able to see how they will engage across multiple dimensions and areas of study. They are well-prepared to take on any high school program, and ready and eager to assume a variety of leadership roles.
What continues to make BCD independent, intentional, and inspired? Our Latin Program! BCD at Classics Day – January 19, 2018
On Friday, as has been a tradition at BCD for many years, Upper School Latin students traveled to attend the Pioneer Valley Classical Association’s Classics Day at Mount Holyoke College. Berkshire Country Day School was one of nine schools in attendance. Students enjoyed participating in workshops and contests with over 300 peers (in grades seven through twelve) from Academy Hill, Amherst Middle School, Belchertown, Herberg Middle School, Lenox Memorial High, MacDuffie, Reid, Pittsfield High, Taconic High and Williston.”
Every middle school and high school student present must attend a workshop and enter one of the contests. Individuals memorize and recite specific Latin passages for the Oral Interpretation Contest, make and wear a costume for the Costume Contest, or create a painting, mosaic, sculpture or model, with a Greek or Roman theme, for the Art Contest. Schools may enter teams of four in the Latin or mythology certamina, which are run like quiz bowls. In addition, docents at the Mount Holyoke College Museum hold workshops, during which students don gloves and handle and inspect ancient coins.
Once again, thanks to Mrs. Fawcett (!), BCD’s students were well-prepared, poised, and demonstrated their advanced skills and passion for learning and Latin. Competing against students in grades 7-12, BCD students received the following awards:
CLASSICS DAY 2018 AWARD WINNERS
NOVICE CERTAMEN (Latin I A TEAM) – second place
Samuel C., Rafi K., Henry V.S., Chase V.
NOVICE CERTAMEN (Latin I – Team 2) – first place at this level
Daniel C., Halle D., Esmé L., Eli M.
MYTH CERTAMEN TEAM – A – second place
Aurora B., Donald M., Keely O’G., Samantha S.
ADVANCED POETRY ORAL INTERPRETATION
1st -Chase V., 2nd – Keely O’G., 3rd – Henry V.S.
LATIN INTERMEDIATE PROSE ORAL INTERPRETATION
2nd – Halle D.
Esmé L. – Mosaics – 2nd place; Norah S. – Sculpture – 2nd place; Models – Esme M. & Gevi S. – 2nd place; Lana M. & Lilah O’N. – 3rd place; Jack B. – Military – 2nd place
Yesterday, former Associate Head of School Carmen Dockery Perkins shared information about the festival to honor W.E.B. Du Bois, who was born 150 years ago. A former BCD trustee, “Dr. Skip Meade, led Berkshire Country Day School in a year-long study of Du Bois back in 2003 when BCD celebrated the 100th anniversary of the publication of The Souls of Black Folk.
As a result of the Dr. Meade’s work, BCD’s efforts, and the town getting on board, signage was placed around town to indicate that Great Barrington is Du Bois’s birthplace, The River Walk was created, and his homestead site was converted to an outdoor “museum” by the University of MA – Amherst.”
1/15/18 Noon – 1 pm MLK Interfaith Service (Reception to Follow with Du Bois calendars) First Congregational Church, 251 Main St, Great Barrington
1/18/18 3:30 – 5:30 pm W.E.B. Du Bois 150th Festival Opening Reception: Festival Walk
Town Hall Gallery: Let Freedom Ring: A Gallery of W.E.B. Du Bois Images
Mason Library Exhibit: Still Sounding the Call: An Exhibit of Du Bois Artifacts
Unveiling of DuBois Mural with Railroad Street Youth Project
Young writers for Justice with Multicultural BRIDGE. Young Voices on Du Bois, The Triplex Cinema, 70 Railroad St, Great Barrington
1/19/18 6 – 10 pm W.E.B. Du Bois: A Man for All Time – One man play by Alexa Kelly
featuring Brian Richardson Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, 14 Castle St, Great Barrington
2/10/18 3 – 5 pmThe Enduring Legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois with Dr. Jamall Calloway
Great Barrington Historical Society, Searles Castle, 389 Main St, Great Barrington
2/11/18 3:00 pm Du Bois Musical Tribute: Larry Wallach, MaryNell Morgan, Wanda Houston, Rodney Mashia, and Misty Blues, fronted by Gina Coleman. Saint James Place, Great Barrington
2/18/18 11 am – 3 pmDu Bois Reflections with Macedonia Baptist Church, Multicultural BRIDGE, and Harmony Homestead & Wholeness Macedonia Baptist Church, 9 Rosseter St, Great Barrington
Legacy Walk: Du Bois Boyhood Site & Family Gravesite Walk 4 – 5 pm Prayer Vigil, Harmony Homestead & Wholenesss Hillsdale, NY
2/19/18 7 – 10 pm Movie screening: Du Bois in Four Voices with Dr. Wesley Brown and Judge Harold Ramsey and Macedonia Baptist Church, Berkshire South, 15 Crissey Rd., Great Barrington
5 Things To Know About Screen Time Right Now by Anya Kamenetz (NPR)
After another round of holidays, it’s safe to assume, a lot of children have been diving into media more than usual. They may have received new electronic toys and gadgets or downloaded new apps and games. Managing all that bleeping and buzzing activity causes anxiety in many parents. Here’s a roundup of some of the latest research, combined with some of our previous reporting, to help guide your decision-making around family screen use.
Globally, tech brings young people opportunity as well as risk: A new report from the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, surveys the online experiences of children and youth around the world. They found that adolescents and young people are the most connected generation and that children under 18 represent 1 in 3 Internet users worldwide. Digital resources are expanding access to education and work, and in some places, young people are using them to become more engaged. But there are serious harms — such as sexual abuse, child pornography and sex trafficking — that are exacerbated by the Internet, especially in the developing world. And in the developed world, there are emerging concerns about the ties between Internet use and mental health problems like anxiety and depression. The key, say the authors of the UNICEF report, is “taking a Goldilocks approach” — not too much, not too little — and “focusing more on what children are doing online and less on how long they are online.”
Young children are spending much more time with small screens: Ninety-eight percent of households with children 8 and under, rich and poor, now have access to a mobile device, such as a tablet or smartphone. That is up from 52 percent just six years ago, according to a nationally representative parent survey from Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization. While children’s overall screen time has held steady for years (at 2 1/4 hours), more and more of it is taking place on handheld devices: 48 minutes a day in 2017.
Families are organizing to put off giving kids phones: Brooke Shannon, a parent in Austin, Texas, with three daughters, started an online pledge last year called Wait Until 8th that calls on parents to put off giving kids a smartphone until the end of middle school. “Children just don’t have the brain development at this age to be able to navigate the tricky social situations that come with social media,” she says. So far, a few thousand families across the country have taken the pledge.
A new study offers a way to measure problematic media use in children: The question of whether screen media use can be a true “addiction” is not yet settled among mental health professionals. But a study released in November in the Psychology of Popular Media Culturetries to get a better measure of problems with screens. The researchers interviewed parents of children aged 4 to 11 about their children’s relationship to media and their general well-being. The parents were asked to respond to statements based on an existing measure of problematic Internet gaming in adults. Here are some of the statements that, if true, can indicate a bigger problem:
It is hard for my child to stop using screen media
When my child has had a bad day, screen media seems to be the only thing that helps him/her feel better
My child’s screen media use causes problems for the family
The amount of time my child wants to use screen media keeps increasing
My child sneaks using screen media
Screen time limits may have nothing to do with a young child’s ability to thrive: Finally, a finding that may cause some relief to parents stuck inside, combating that frigid outdoor weather.
For a study released last month in Child Development, researchers at University of Oxford and Cardiff University in the U.K. interviewed nearly 20,000 parents of young children aged 2 to 5. After controlling for factors like race, income and parent education level, they found limits on screen time over the course of a month were not necessarily associated with positive outcomes in children. On the contrary, the researchers found small links between moderately higher screen use and the children’s good moods. The researchers concluded that caregivers, and their doctors, should do a cost-benefit analysis before “setting firm limits.
This article was shared recently by the National Association of Independent School (NAIS) Berkshire Country Day School is a member of NAIS.