Ways Students Are Different

By: Neil Mufson
Mr. Mufson shares some possible reasons for a shift in student behavior in recent years.
A parent recently shared with me an article he had seen online that was written by a pediatric occupational therapist. The provocative title “Why are our children so bored at school, cannot wait, get easily frustrated, and have no real friends?” drew me in. In fact, I shared its gist with our visitors on Grandparents and Special Friends Day last week. The author, Victoria Prooday, maintains that over the last ten years, she has noted “a decline in kids’ social, emotional, and academic functioning, as well as a sharp increase in learning disabilities and other diagnoses.” She asserts there are basically five key reasons for these trends:
  1. “Using technology as a free babysitting service,” which limits kids’ attention as well as their ability to delay gratification and attend to sources with low levels of stimulation (books, for instance). Prooday remarks that “compared to virtual reality, every day life is boring,” and that technology tends to “disconnect us emotionally from our children… [which] is the main nutrient for children’s brains.” 
  2. “Kids get everything they want the moment they want it.” By trying to keep our children happy (and ourselves less stressed), we inadvertently make them “less equipped to deal with even minor stressors, which eventually become huge obstacles to their success in life.”
  3. “Kids rule the world.” The author frequently hears parents report, “My son doesn’t want to try new foods” or “She doesn’t want to get dressed on her own” or “My kids refuse to help at all around the house.” By caving to kids’ demands that we know are not good for them, “they learn they can do what they want and not do what they don’t want.” The problem, of course, is that to achieve important goals, we often have to do things we don’t want to do.
  4. “We have created an artificial fun world for our children. There are no dull moments.”  Children need to learn to do the basic, monotonous work that is part of life. They have to learn to do and find things to think about that stave off boredom. They have to learn to entertain themselves. If they don’t, it’s no wonder they don’t persevere in school with things that are not intrinsically interesting and novel to them.
  5. Since most parents are so busy, “we give our kids digital gadgets and make them ‘busy,’ too… Kids used to play outside, where, in unstructured natural environments, they learned and practiced their social skills.” Now kids tend to get shuttled from one structured, adult-organized activity to another, without having significant time in which they have to figure things out for themselves.  
In next week’s piece I will outline what Prooday suggests parents do to counteract these trends.

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