It’s not your imagination, mama: today’s kids do know a lot more than we did at their age. Here’s how to balance their potential while still keeping them grounded in childhood
Children grow up so fast these days, and I’ll be the first one to admit that I was nowhere as smart as them when I was their age. On most days, I’m already struggling with grade 4 homework and the fact that the syllabus that tided me over my entire schooling years barely covers the middle school syllabus these days. And it’s not like you can just randomly dismiss what kids know and are talking about, because they are really smart both in class and out of class, absorbing everything like little sponges – be it the latest political snafu, global warming, soccer news, swear words or knowledge of body parts.
Fortunately (or unfortunately), I’m not the only one struggling to keep up with the younger generation – and usually finding myself on the losing side. And remember that old adage – when you can’t beat ’em, join ’em? Early exposure through technology – be it the TV, a smart phone or a computer – isn’t a passing fad, it’s here to stay.
So instead of fighting it, perhaps the more mature (and certainly less stressful) route would be to embrace this fundamental trend shift in growing up and reach mutually agreeable compromise for everyone involved? One teacher I spoke to at a leading international school says “Children today are growing up in a very different world to the one we knew as children. As parents and educators, we do not share the same background or experiences as our children. It is increasingly difficult to say, When I was a kid… because today’s child is not living in the same context. However, this is their reality and the world we need to learn to understand so that we can better support their growth.”
Sound advice, I think. So how do we successfully navigate this minefield as parents whilst simultaneously ensuring that our kids don’t rush growing up and still have a childhood? My wise advisor continues, “It’s important that there is balance in children’s lives, where they fully experience as much as possible while enjoying growing up. As they experience life, we need to construct an open dialogue between parent and child, where issues can be openly discussed and the child’s voice is heard.
“It is promising that we have a generation of children who are aware of the changes in the world and who want to understand the impacts and the consequences. They should be allowed to ask questions. Our job is to ensure that they discover the answers in a balanced and controlled way by developing rules together about technology use and then, as the adult, enforcing those rules because they domatter. Face to face communication is essential here, especially in a world where online chat is pervasive. These are all things we should be encouraging in our children – to be engaged, to participate. Our challenge is to try and help them navigate through an open, technology-based world that has limited points of reference to our own upbringing”.
Likewise, another experienced PYP-trained teacher in one of the most popular international schools told me, “Students are coming to school with a greater level of prior knowledge and experience than in the past by absorbing what they see online and on TV. As a teacher, I have noticed that the discussions possible with a class of 10-year-old students now is very different to what it was ten years ago. Even when introducing new concepts, many students are able to comprehend or at least make connections to those prior experiences, which is fantastic. The level of maturity in these discussions suggest that children are definitely growing up quicker than we did. Having said that, it is still important for children to be children”.
He goes on to say that parents and teachers have a responsibility to ensure children have unstructured play time, can engage in sport, can spend time with their friends and have the opportunity to make new friends. “All those things we did are still so important. It’s all about balance.”