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Meadowbrook School Students Recognized In National French Competition

Le Grand Concours is a national competition sponsored by the American Association of Teachers of French. Students were evaluated for their written, oral and listening comprehension skills in French. More than 72,000 students in all 50 states competed in the 2019 event. Second-grade student, Juniper Oser, ranked in the 95th percentile nationally in the 84th annual event earning a gold medal. Fifth-grade students, Delaney Stout, and Gabriella Cordon ranked in the 90th percentile nationally earning silver medals. Sixth-grade student Nelson Cordon ranked in the 85th percentile nationally also earning a silver medal. Elizabeth Grohsman (4th grade), Peyton Abbott (3rd grade), and Lia Khoury (2nd grade) ranked in the 80th percentile nationally earning bronze medals according to Lisa Narug, National Director of Le Grand Concours.

AATF President Anne Jensen indicated: As the president of AATF, I would like to extend my special congratulations to those students who ranked nationally in Le Grand Concours.
They have shown a superior level of French language skills, cultural competence, and commitment to French. It is my hope that these students will continue their interest in French and pursue study and travel opportunities as future ambassadors of the French language and the many cultures it represents. I would also like to congratulate the teachers who prepared nationally ranked students because without their dedication and hard work these students would not have attained their ranking. Finally, I would like to express my appreciation to the parents who have supported and advocated for the French programs in their children’s schools. Our Association is grateful to the dedication and hard work of everyone who shares our passion for the promotion of French.

In the classroom or on the field, Meadowbrook students are good sports

This Friday, May 24th 2019, The Meadowbrook School will host their annual Field Day from 9am to 12 pm. A tradition started in 1926, Red and Gray teams have been battling it out in good fun on the Friday before Memorial Day for 91 years. The tradition and non-traditional races are guaranteed to delight the youngest students and fiercest competitors.

In this day and age of children tuning out, Meadowbrook students tune in to learn the Grande Parade of Flags and practice the proper procession for weeks. Farah Horgan ’19, the captain of the Red Team carries the 2018 flag in recognition of her team’s victory last year. Kennedy Hayward ’19, carries the 2016 as that was the last year that the Gray Team won Field Day. This tradition was started in 1988 by Red Team captain, Dave Sirota.

The excitement builds in anticipation for this wonderful day during PE classes with students vying for a role in “colors”, the baton color relay that puts the two fastest Red and Gray team runners from each class in a race around the field. Alumni are invited “home” to Meadowbrook to join in the 100 yard dash and tug ‘o war competition. In a dramatic fashion, the Walker Cup, named in honor of Rev. Walker, Meadowbrook’s first Headmaster, is presented by Michael Reardon, Meadowbrook’s current Head of School, to the team that has amassed the most points. This long standing tradition is a testament to the students’ character and ability to rise above their respective teams and celebrate collectively after a hard fought battle. Both the students and the spirit of competition is applauded on this special occasion.

Meadowbrook students are given the foundation to be life-long learners. When they leave Meadowbrook’s warm, loving campus, students take with them a solid knowledge of how to be a scholar, a self-starter, and a team player. These learned abilities make Meadowbrook graduates successful in all their future endeavors.

Second Grade Post Office

During our morning assembly, The Meadowbrook School had the honor of presenting Linda Barila a check for $150.00. For two weeks in February, the 2nd grade class at The Meadowbrook School worked tirelessly to sell stamps to our students, faculty and staff. Our community then had the opportunity to mail letters to one another within our school. Kelly Mosteller, 2nd grade teacher, took a class vote on where they would like to donate the money and ultimately decided on Stray Network Animal Rescue. Mrs. Barila spoke to the student body about the impact their contribution would make along with thanking them for their generosity and efforts to do something important for the community.

Christian Dougherty ’18 National Geographic Semifinalist

Abington Junior High School seventh-grader Christian Dougherty has been notified by the National Geographic Society that he is one of the semifinalists eligible to compete in the 2019 National Geographic GeoBee Pennsylvania State Competition. The contest will be held at the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg on Friday, March 29.

This is the second level of the National Geographic GeoBee competition, which is now in its 31st year. School GeoBees were held in schools with fourth- through eighth-grade students throughout the state to determine each school champion. Abington Junior High School’s school-level competition was held in the library on Jan. 23, with Dougherty placing first above peers Ethan Eienberg (second place) and Sam Erwine (third place).

Dougherty and other school champions throughout Pennsylvania then took an online qualifying test, which they submitted to the National Geographic Society. The National Geographic Society has invited up to 100 of the top-scoring students in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Department of Defense Dependents Schools and U.S. territories to compete in the State GeoBees.

This year, National Geographic increased the prize money for all State GeoBees. State champions will receive a medal, $1,000 in cash, and other prizes, as well as a trip to Washington, D.C., to represent their state in the National Championship to be held at National Geographic Society headquarters, May 19-22, 2019. Students that come in second and third place will receive cash awards of $300 and $100, respectively.

Each State Champion will advance to the National Championship and compete for cash awards and college scholarships. In 2019, the national champion will receive a $25,000 college scholarship, $1,000 in cash, a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society, and an all-expenses-paid Lindblad expedition to the Galápagos Islands aboard the National Geographic Endeavour ll; second place will receive at $10,000 college scholarship and $1,000 in cash; third place will receive a $5,000 college scholarship and $1,000 in cash; and seven runners-up will receive $1,000 in cash each. Visit www.natgeobee.org for more information on the National Geographic GeoBee.

How to help your child get and stay organized

Most kids generate a little chaos and disorganization. Yours might flit from one thing to the next — forgetting books at school, leaving towels on the floor, and failing to finish projects once started.

You’d like them to be more organized and to stay focused on tasks, such as homework. Is it possible?

Yes! A few kids seem naturally organized, but for the rest, organization is a skill learned over time. With help and some practice, kids can develop an effective approach to getting stuff done.

And you’re the perfect person to teach your child, even if you don’t feel all that organized yourself!

Easy as 1-2-3

For kids, all tasks can be broken down into a 1-2-3 process.

1. Getting organized means a kid gets where he or she needs to be and gathers the supplies needed to complete the task.

2. Staying focused means sticking with the task and learning to say “no” to distractions.

3. Getting it done means finishing up, checking your work, and putting on the finishing touches, like remembering to put a homework paper in the right folder and putting the folder inside the backpack so it’s ready for the next day.

Once kids know these steps — and how to apply them — they can start tackling tasks more independently. That means homework, chores, and other tasks will get done with increasing consistency and efficiency. Of course, kids will still need parental help and guidance, but you probably won’t have to nag as much.

Not only is it practical to teach these skills, but knowing how to get stuff done will help your child feel more competent and effective. Kids feel self-confident and proud when they’re able to accomplish their tasks and responsibilities. They’re also sure to be pleased when they find they have some extra free time to do what they’d like to do.

From Teeth Brushing to Book Reports

To get started, introduce the 1-2-3 method and help your child practice it in daily life. Even something as simple as brushing teeth requires this approach, so you might use this example when introducing the concept:

1. Getting organized: Go to the bathroom and get out your toothbrush and toothpaste. Turn on the water.
2. Staying focused: Dentists say to brush for 3 minutes, so that means keep brushing, even if you hear a really good song on the radio or you remember that you wanted to call your friend. Concentrate and remember what the dentist told you about brushing away from your gums.
3. Getting it done: If you do steps 1 and 2, step 3 almost takes care of itself. Hurray, your 3 minutes are up and your teeth are clean! Getting it done means finishing up and putting on the finishing touches. With teeth brushing, that would be stuff like turning off the water, putting away the toothbrush and paste, and making sure there’s no toothpaste foam on your face!

With a more complex task, like completing a book report, the steps would become more involved, but the basic elements remain the same.

Here’s how you might walk your child through the steps:

1. Getting Organized

Explain that this step is all about getting ready. It’s about figuring out what kids need to do and gathering any necessary items. For instance: “So you have a book report to write. What do you need to do to get started?” Help your child make a list of things like: Choose a book. Make sure the book is OK with the teacher. Write down the book and the author’s name. Check the book out of the library. Mark the due date on a calendar.

Then help your child think of the supplies needed: The book, some note cards, a pen for taking notes, the teacher’s list of questions to answer, and a report cover. Have your child gather the supplies where the work will take place.

As the project progresses, show your child how to use the list to check off what’s already done and get ready for what’s next. Demonstrate how to add to the list, too. Coach your child to think, “OK, I did these things. Now, what’s next? Oh yeah, start reading the book” and to add things to the list like finish the book, read over my teacher’s directions, start writing the report.

2. Staying Focused

Explain that this part is about doing it and sticking with the job. Tell kids this means doing what you’re supposed to do, following what’s on the list, and sticking with it.

It also means focusing when there’s something else your child would rather be doing — the hardest part of all! Help kids learn how to handle and resist these inevitable temptations. While working on the report, a competing idea might pop into your child’s head: “I feel like shooting some hoops now.” Teach kids to challenge that impulse by asking themselves “Is that what I’m supposed to be doing?”

Explain that a tiny break to stretch a little and then get right back to the task at hand is OK. Then kids can make a plan to shoot hoops after the work is done. Let them know that staying focused is tough sometimes, but it gets easier with practice.

3. Getting it Done

Explain that this is the part when kids will be finishing up the job. Talk about things like copying work neatly and asking a parent to read it over to help find any mistakes.

Coach your child to take those important final steps: putting his or her name on the report, placing it in a report cover, putting the report in the correct school folder, and putting the folder in the backpack so it’s ready to be turned in.

How to Start

Here are some tips on how to begin teaching the 1-2-3 process:

Introduce the Idea

Start the conversation by using the examples above.  Will it be easy or hard? Is he or she already doing some of it? Is there something he or she would like to get better at?

Get Buy-In

Brainstorm about what might be easier or better if your child was more organized and focused. Maybe homework would get done faster, there would be more play time, and there would be less nagging about chores. Then there’s the added bonus of your child feeling proud and you being proud, too.

Set Expectations

Be clear, in a kind way, that you expect your kids to work on these skills and that you’ll be there to help along the way.

Make a Plan

Decide on one thing to focus on first. You can come up with three things and let your child choose one. Or if homework or a particular chore has been a problem, that’s the natural place to begin.

Get Comfortable in Your Role

For the best results, you’ll want to be a low-key coach. You can ask questions that will help kids get on track and stay there. But use these questions to prompt their thought process about what needs to be done. Praise progress, but don’t go overboard. The self-satisfaction kids will feel will be a more powerful motivator. Also, be sure to ask your child’s opinion of how things are going so far.

Start Thinking in Questions

Though you might not realize it, every time you take on a task, you ask yourself questions and then answer them with thoughts and actions. If you want to unload groceries from the car, you ask yourself:
•Q: Did I get them all out of the trunk?
A: No. I’ll go get the rest.
•Q: Did I close the trunk?
A: Yes.
•Q: Where’s the milk and ice cream? I need to put them away first.
A: Done. Now, what’s next?

Encourage kids to start seeing tasks as a series of questions and answers. Suggest that they ask these questions out loud and then answer them. These questions are the ones you hope will eventually live inside a child’s head. And with practice, they’ll learn to ask them without being prompted.

Work together to come up with questions that need to be asked so the chosen task can be completed. You might even jot them down on index cards. Start by asking the questions and having your child answer. Later, transfer responsibility for the questions from you to your child.

Things to Remember

It will take time to teach kids how to break down tasks into steps. It also will take time for them to learn how to apply these skills to what needs to be done. Sometimes, it will seem simpler just to do it for them. It certainly would take less time.

But the trouble is that kids don’t learn how to be independent and successful if their parents swoop in every time a situation is challenging or complex.

Here’s why it’s worth your time and effort:
•Kids learn new skills that they’ll need — how to pour a bowl of cereal, tie shoes, match clothes, complete a homework assignment.
•They’ll develop a sense of independence. Kids who dress themselves at age 4 feel like big kids. It’s a good feeling that will deepen over time as they learn to do even more without help. From these good feelings, kids begin to form a belief about themselves — “I can do it.”
•Your firm but kind expectations that your kids should start tackling certain jobs on their own send a strong message. You reinforce their independence and encourage them to accept a certain level of responsibility. Kids learn that others will set expectations and that they can meet them.
•This kind of teaching can be a very loving gesture. You’re taking the time to show your kids how to do something — with interest, patience, love, kindness, and their best interests at heart. This will make kids feel cared for and loved. Think of it as filling up a child’s toolbox with crucial life tools.

Reviewed by: D’Arcy Lyness, PhD

French Competition

By:  Suzanne Cordon

Bonjour!

Le Grand Concours is a national competition sponsored by the American Association of Teachers of French.  Students were evaluated for their listening and oral comprehension skills in French.   More than 85,000 students in all 50 states compete in this event. This year, Meadowbrook had nineteen students participate in the contest.

Zara Clark-Schecter of {Meadowbrook School} has ranked in the 95th percentile nationally again this year in the 83rd annual event earning another gold medal. Zara is a fifth grader at Meadowbrook and has been participating in the National French Contest since first grade.  After achieving a superior score on the listening exam this year, she was invited to participate in the oral interview portion of the National French Contest.  Felicitations Zara!

Juniper Oser of {Meadowbrook School} also ranked in the 95th percentile nationally earning a gold medal. Juniper is in first grade and this was her first time participating! Juniper also completed the oral interview! Excellent Juniper!

Gabriella Cordón of {Meadowbrook School} ranked in the 85th percentile nationally earning a silver medal again this year! Gabriella is a third grader and has been participating in the contest since first grade.  Gabriella also participated in the oral interview portion of the contest. Très bien Gabby!

Elizabeth Grohsman (third grade)  Nadia Russell (third grade), Allie Bernert (second grade), and Karleigh Sowden (first grade) of {Meadowbrook School} earned scores of higher than eighty-five percent on the listening exam and will be pinned and awarded with Honneur by the American Association of Teachers of French.

 Lia Khoury (first grade), Delaney Stout (third grade), Darbee Stout (first grade), and Ethan Sweigard (first grade) earned a score of eighty percent on the listening exam and will receive a special recognition from Meadowbrook for their accomplishments.

I am extremely proud of each student that participated in the contest.  The listening exam is given in a standardized test format.  The speakers are native and speak at a natural pace.  The time is limited and all of our students did an exceptional job with this!  I love that they are provided with this experience early on that will help to prepare them to be more willing and confident to partake in these endeavors in the future.  I have also attached the TOP-TEN Philadelphia ranks for the high school students.  Samuel Berger ’16 and William Stutman “16 are former Meadowbrook students who began taking the National French Contest here as young students. How exciting that they earned a chapter Philadelphia rank of 1 and national rank of 2.

Thank you to all who were a part of French Club and French Contest! I truly hope you will consider it again next year! Please join us for the annual Distribution des Prix ceremony (the 41st!) on Tuesday, May 15, at Chestnut Hill College from 7:00-8:00 p.m. in Sorgenti arena. We will also celebrate with a special assembly at Meadowbrook on Monday, May 21st at 8:30 am where everyone who participated will earn his or her certificate. I am looking forward to seeing you there!

Teacher Spotlight: Mrs. Kristen Haugen

1. What is one item on your bucket list?
I would love to go to Egypt. I would definitely cruise up the Nile, visit the pyramids in the Valley of the Kings, ride a camel, and see Alexandria.

2. What book are you currently reading?
I love to read. I currently have three books sitting on my nightstand- Pendragon Book Five: Black Water by D.J. MacHale, The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill, and The Titan’s Curse in the Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan.

3. Who is your mentor? Why?
My mentor was Dr. Ruth Reed. She was my biochemistry professor at Juniata College. She taught me to stand up for myself. She also went above and beyond with her support after I left college. She regularly sent me care packages when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Papua New Guinea. I actually brought home two of my favorite books from her care packages: Personal History by Katherine Graham and The Secret History by Donna Tartt. She also transcribed my hand written letters and circulated them via e-mail.

4. What would your superpower be?
My superpower would be the ability to read minds to be able to anticipate how I can be of service.

5. Where is the best place you have traveled to and why?
I travel a lot. During the school year, we have a six time zone rule. We can’t travel anywhere that is more than six time zones away. My husband is always one to push limits so he has found that he can still get us on an 11 hour flight by simply going south. We have traveled through a lot of South and Central America as a result. I loved Argentina. We spent Christmas there a number of years ago. The sun was up until midnight. The country offered so much diversity. We got to swim in the desert, hike on glaciers, and visit penguin rookeries on the windy Trelew peninsula. The food was also amazing. Out at the Trelew peninsula we ate at this little restaurant where they cooked table side on a mini charcoal grill. The lamb was lovely. The seafood on the coast was outstanding, too!

6. If you could do any job for just one day what would it be?
I would work in the kitchen at El Bulli under Ferran Adria. El Bulli is located in Spain and is known as one of the most experimental restaurants in the world. I would need to work on my Spanish and my knife skills!

7. Tell us something that might surprise us about you.
I swam competitively through college. My specialties were backstroke and distance. I was the crazy one swimming back to back events. Luckily, both my high school and college teams ran concurrent boys’ and girls’ meets so I had a boy’s event in between the 500 free and the 100 back.

8. What is your favorite thing about Meadowbrook?
My favorite thing about Meadowbrook is the people. The students are full of energy. The staff is very caring.

7 Myths About Independent Schools

Seven Myths About Independent Schools

Myth #1: Independent schools are only for the rich.

Fact: While it’s true that independent schools are chosen more often by families from higher income brackets, it’s also true that a significant proportion of independent schools’ population is comprised of the three lowest socioeconomic quintiles (students who often receive financial aid) and the fourth quintile, the middle to upper middle class families who find a way (including grandparent contributions) to afford a quality education for their children, seeing it as the best investment they can make in their children’s future, whatever the cost and sacrifice.

Myth #2: Independent Schools are “not the real world.”

Fact: Of course they are not, thank God. The real world is, sad to say, unsafe, unstructured, and — worse than values-neutral — values bereft. The independent school culture is, ironically, counter-cultural in the sense of establishing a values matrix that runs counter to the child-toxic values of the popular culture and amorality and immorality that surrounds us.

While independent schools are “not the real world” themselves, they prepare students exceedingly well for the real world(s) of college, the workplace, and life in general, as the National Education Longitudinal Study from NCES demonstrates: independent school graduates in disproportionate numbers earn college and graduate degrees, report high career satisfaction, vote and engage in civic activities, exercise, and generally contribute to make the real world a better place.

Myth #3: Independent schools are unaffordable.

Fact: Independent schools are expensive but not unaffordable. It’s expensive to hire and support high quality teachers, maintain relatively small classes, offer intimate advisor/advisee counseling groups, provide a full-range of sports and arts programs and activities (and expect everyone to participate, unlike large public schools where only elite athletes and artists are served). With our Variable Tuition package, the “sticker price” is discounted for a significant proportion of families so that they can afford to send their children to a high quality independent school. Families of even relatively high incomes often qualify for some Financial Aid/ Variable Tuition

Myth #4: Independent schools lack diversity.

Fact: To belong to NAIS, an independent school must agree to abide by “Principles of Good Practice,” one of which is related to “equity and justice” practices to assure that NAIS schools commit resources and energy to advancing inclusivity and diversity of all kinds in our schools. These principles are grounded in the knowledge that all students benefit from more diverse environments and that, once they leave school for college and the workplace thereafter, the comfort students have with diversity will serve them well. Because public schools are tied to specific neighborhoods and independent schools are not, the facts believe this myth: Most independent schools tend to be more, rather than less, diverse than local public schools, since too often residential housing patterns remain largely segregated by race and ethnicity.

Myth #5: Independent schools (especially boarding schools) are for kids with social problems.

Fact: In large urban areas throughout the United States and on the East and West Coasts, there are large concentrations of families that send their children to independent day schools or boarding schools, so the practice is seen as normal. For more suburban areas and throughout the Midwest and Southwest, however, there is far less density of independent schools (though this is changing as new schools emerge). Sometimes those not familiar with independent schools assume “something is wrong” if a family chooses anything other than the local public schools. While there are very good private therapeutic schools for students with very serious problems (schools that serve that specific population well), none of those schools belong to NAIS, because our schools are all “college-prep” (even the elementary schools, since all families see them as the first step in the journey to being well-prepared for college).

Myth #6: Independent schools are only for really smart kids.

Fact: It’s true that “really smart” kids graduate from independent schools, but they don’t all come to us that way, and even the ones that do have much “value added” from their experience. Fundamentally, NAIS schools believe in the “growth mindset” research that indicates that success comes largely from hard work and optimal conditions; and that emphasizing one’s “native intelligence” is often counter-productive. So independent schools create the optimal conditions for what Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, describes as formative for highly successful people: they have the capacity for hard work and find themselves in situations that demand hard work. Truth be known, the typical independent school student has average-to-above-average ability, but becomes exceptional from hard work and opportunities to develop multiple intelligences, not just academic and intellectual ones. Truth be known, there is a segment of students with learning differences in many independent schools (and some independent schools whose mission is to specifically serve LD children): LD kids in independent schools are virtually all college-bound.

Myth #7: Independent schools are not part of the community.

Fact: Independent schools are very conscious of “community impact” issues and opportunities, especially given the commitment as charitable enterprises to demonstrate “the public purpose of private education.” On the most obvious surface level, independent schools have multi-million dollar budgets and employ local citizens, so the multiplier effect is a significant contributor to the local economy. On a programmatic level, virtually every independent school’s programming includes community service, where students and faculty contribute “sweat equity” in the local community, tutoring in schools, assisting at hospitals and nursing homes, cleaning up parks and rivers, and the like. These programs tend to have a “service learning” dimension where the work in the field becomes the subject of classroom research and discussion towards the end of producing lifelong civic engagement. Finally, independent schools are defining being “part of the community” very broadly, seeking to address global challenges by implementing local solutions.

Spotlight on Meadowbrook’s “Design Thinking” Program

“Design Thinking at Meadowbrook is about synergy, ingenuity, and stick-to-itiveness,” explains academic-advancement director Kristen Haugen. “We’re encouraging our students to tackle big ideas with big integrative solutions and to take bold action instead of holding back. To fail fast and try, try again. Also to seek out feedback that makes the product better. Basically how to be global learners in our modern, global society.”

WP_20170302_004For art teacher Becky Blumenthal, Meadowbrook’s Makerspace Studio is a launchpad for hands-on projects that bring classroom lessons to life. When her 6th-grade students were studying Roman culture in their social-studies class, Mrs. Blumenthal had them build columns with dixie cups and find out how many such columns it would take to balance trays that would successfully support a student’s weight. For Egyptian culture, the class’s task was to replicate cave paintings using dirt, clay, charcoal, and berries—as well as to mummify a hot dog! Younger grades made compasses for orienteering; minted coins using plaster and clay; created maps of imaginary islands using found objects; wove textiles with recycled fabric; and made their own paper.

“Seeing students get so excited and so focused on their Makerspace creations is what being a Design Thinking teacher is all about,” Mrs. Blumenthal says. “We start with an open-ended problem, we embrace new ways of thinking about the problem, and then we test and rework to solve it. This kind of inventive problem-solving is preparing our kids for the jobs of the future. Makerspace shows them how to adapt and be fluid thinkers.”

Over in the Science Room, science teacher Janice Mockaitis also teaches through the lens of a multidisciplinary, Design Thinking framework. Mrs. Mockaitis is on the cutting edge of the garden-to-table movement, with an ample vegetable garden where students prepare the soil; plant seeds; tend to the growing plants; harvest carrots, watermelons, pumpkins, etc.; and enjoy eating their produce while simultaneously studying its nutritional value. Additionally, she garden to table spinachis expertly trained in the curriculum of Engineering is Elementary (EiE), which fosters engineering and technological literacy with an emphasis on math skills. And Mrs. Mockaitis collaborates with the renowned Fox Chase Cancer Center’s “Immersion Science Program” to bring real-world medicine into the classroom. “Our students draw on all the components of STEM/STEAM to investigate the world around them, whether that be inside school, out in the garden, throughout our 16-acre property and beyond,” Mrs. Mockaitis says. “We are constantly analyzing how science connects to other academic subjects and to the world at large. I feel proud of how far Meadowbrook’s Design Thinking program has come and how many exciting developments still lie ahead of us.”

Hour of code projectSpeaking of the path forward, let’s turn to Meadowbrook’s Computer Lab where 5th graders and 3rd graders are discovering the brave new world of robotics and coding through their very own Ozobots. Mrs. Haugen leads the older group in development of an addition-fact game (ultimately to be played by 1st graders), while the younger level creates a Halloween-inspired haunted path and then narrates the story to go with it. “Coding with bots is a perfect activity for our Design Thinking program,” Mrs. Haugen says. “It links the hands-on, real-world application of technology with the critical human value of empathy. Our kids are designing for others and putting themselves in the shoes of the end user. They’re coding for humanity—and having a blast. So are we as educators!”

written by Khyber Oser

Smartphones and the abdication of parental responsibility

By: Ira Wells

Like most kids who have recently been given their first cellphones, Andrea’s 12-year-old daughter is pretty nonchalant about the whole thing. When asked what she likes best about her new iPhone, she shrugs. “Feeling responsible,” she says. Besides, since her friends mostly interact over Snapchat and Instagram, the phone is a crucial way to keep in touch. Sure, she’s heard about kids “writing rude things” on social media, and sneaking off to the school bathroom to check their notifications. But over all, she’s not worried.

“Worried,” however, hardly begins to describe the deep apprehension that Andrea feels toward her daughter’s phone. Andrea’s concern, or one of them, is that as the phone replaces face-to-face interactions, her daughter “won’t be able to communicate or develop deeper, meaningful friendships. And it’s easy enough for a grownup to fall into the trap of valuing yourself for your ‘likes.’ How is a hormonal teenager going to handle that?”

Among the infinite sources of anxiety involved in childrearing today, few fill parents’ hearts with icy dread quite like the question of when kids should get their first smartphones. For modern parents, members of the last generation to grow up prior to ubiquitous internet access, equipping kids with their first phone often feels like a momentous decision – one that could impact children’s social development, influence their sense of self, shape their first romantic experiences and even condition their experience of “reality.”

And yet, despite their often-profound misgivings, most parents today act as though the smartphone is simply an unavoidable fixture of adolescence. That is an interesting reversal of expectations. Pop psychology tells us that today’s parents are mollycoddling, hyper-protective control freaks. Yet, when it comes to the signature parenting issue of our generation – the effect of smartphones on children – we have ceded control to the kids themselves, or to the marketing departments of Silicon Valley corporations. Kids are going to “need” those phones, according to the dominant cultural narrative, because the future. Or connection. Or something.

While parents endlessly discuss when kids should get their first phones, there’s no debating that children are getting phones earlier than ever. In the United States, where statistics are more readily available, the average child gets his or her own smartphone at 10.3 years of age, down from 12 just a few years ago, according to the marketing firm Influence Central. In this country, more than one-quarter of Grade 4 students have their own phone, according to a 2015 report by MediaSmarts, a digital literacy non-profit. That number rises each year until Grade 11, when 85 per cent report owning a phone. Of course, simply having a phone does not guarantee participation in social media, but let’s be real. One-third of Canadian children in Grades 4 to 6 have Facebook accounts, even though the site is technically prohibited to those under 13, according to MediaSmarts.

Most parents, educators and experts agree that there is no universal “right” age at which to give kids their first phones. For Alex Russell, a clinical psychologist who works with children and teenagers and author of Drop the Worry Ball: How to Parent in the Age of Entitlement, the decision must be situated within an understanding of the overall maturation of individual children on their path to autonomy.

“Parents are understandably anxious over their children’s online activities,” Dr. Russell said over the phone. “But a healthy development process will involve children taking on some of that anxiety for themselves. We want kids to be playful, but appropriately wary.” In Dr. Russell’s experience, parents tend to get hung up on the alarming (violent or sexual) content of digital media, where they should really be concerned about the form: that is, how digital media can prevent the uninterrupted experience of our own private interiority.

But just how harmful is this new media, really? Few authorities suggest prohibiting smartphones; even the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) suggests that moderation is key, counselling parents to set limits on smartphone usage and “unplug” at least an hour before bedtime, given the melatonin-suppressing effects of cellular devices – although the CPS also acknowledges that the digital landscape is evolving faster than research can measure the effects on children.

That research, however, is starting to catch up – and the results are unsettling. In an article this month in Clinical Psychological Science, the American psychologist Jean Twenge and three co-authors highlight the connection between the recent spike in mental health issues among adolescents and the concomitant rise in electronic device usage. Their study found that four suicide-related outcomes – feeling sad or hopeless, seriously considering suicide, making a suicide plan or attempting suicide – were “significantly correlated” with new media screen time. “The results,” the authors conclude, “show a clear pattern linking screen activities with higher levels of depressive symptoms/suicide-related outcomes and non-screen activities with lower levels.” The negative psychological outcomes were particularly pronounced among young women, who use social media more heavily and are more frequently the victims of cyberbullying than their male peers.

While the connection between depression and the new media is certainly alarming, it also confirms what many parents have long suspected: our kids’ sense of self-worth is often hopelessly entwined with the “like-driven” economy that governs social media. Children have difficulty negotiating technologies that have been engineered, in the words of Tristan Harris, a former Google Design Ethicist, to “exploit our minds’ weaknesses” through supplying intermittent variable rewards (such as notifications, matches and so on), which operate according to the logic of slot machines to maximize addiction. And kids’ induction into these technologies comes at a tumultuous life-stage of social and intellectual development. “Imagine trying to focus on quadratic equations with your cellphone constantly buzzing in your pocket,” says Lesley McLean, a Grade 11 History and English teacher. Schools are facing a constant stream of issues, she says, from naked pictures to bullying, and no one knows how to cope.

It is a bitter irony that today’s parents – who micromanage every facet of their children’s lives, from their diet and vaccinations to their cultural consumption and education – have nonetheless passively accepted this potentially noxious technology as an inevitable part of their kids’ future. Many parents of teens and preteens are openly thankful that we didn’t have to contend with new media when we were growing up – thank God that our every social feud, silly picture, or foolish remark was not catalogued for posterity online. And yet, when it comes to our children, we quietly relinquish our parental responsibility to U.S. tech companies, whose directives to “innovate” and “connect” now resonate so deeply that, apart from fusty appeals to nostalgia or neo-Luddism, we cannot even conceive of breaking from the narrative. We recognize that social media may be destroying democracy, but presume that its effects upon our teenagers will be nugatory.

That may be starting to change. In a recent talk at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Chamath Palihapitiya, former vice-president of user growth for Facebook, openly advocated for people to take a “hard break” from social media, which he claimed is “ripping apart the social fabric.” “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops – hearts, likes, thumbs-up – are destroying how society works. … There is no civil discourse, no co-operation, misinformation, mistruth.” His own children, he said, aren’t allowed to use social media.

If a former vice-president of Facebook has prohibited his own kids from social media, why does it strike us as inconceivable that we should do the same?

The trouble starts when we tell ourselves that smartphones will make our children safer, that these devices will enable us to monitor their movements at a time when many are starting to walk to school or take the subway on their own. Kids, of course, want the phones for their own reasons, to be able to connect with their peers through social media. We then tell ourselves that it would be cruel to bar kids from doing so; that it might even be socially ostracizing. What parents may fail to appreciate is the severity of the ostracization and exclusion that occurs within the social networks they fear their children may be excluded from.

Parents always begin with the assumption that “their kids will use their phones in a limited way,” Dr. Twenge, author of iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, wrote in an e-mail. Or they “assume that if they spend lots of time on the phone it’s harmless – after all, parents use social media themselves and are ‘fine.’ It’s easy to be optimistic and not expect your kid to be the one who suffers the consequences.”

But kids may, in fact, suffer the consequences. As we learn more about the link between new media and mental illness, about the ways in which such media has been engineered to addict, parents should remind ourselves that smartphones are a consumer choice subject to parental discretion, not a harbinger of some preordained digital future. We should recognize the distinction between “convenience” and “safety.” We should no longer pretend that the smartphone is merely a tool, that what matters is how it is used – while ignoring the ways in which we are in turn programmed by the devices themselves, the ways that they use us. And we could stand to take ourselves more seriously: If we are thankful for our own unmediated childhoods, why sentence our kids to psychic lives of distraction?

Above all, however, we must no longer passively accept the logic of technological determinism – that our own parenting decisions and values must adapt to serve the economic interests of tech companies. Every technological innovation, Marshall McLuhan once observed, brings about a corresponding amputation. It is the right of every parent to decide not only when those amputations should come, but if they should come at all.