By ANTHONY VARNI
Principal, Dent Elementary School
Being a kid is hard these days! The challenges of being “up” on all the hype surrounding the newest video game, YouTube sensation, style, and/or fill in the blank trend, is difficult for our youth to navigate. Wanting to be able to provide their children the “latest and greatest” can cause stressors for our families as well. Of all of these new stressors listed, did you notice the common denominator? Most are “screen based,” meaning our students need access to some sort of device or screen to access the preferred fad.
This dilemma is one that affects all of our students, Kindergarten through high school!
Today’s students crave video games, cell phones, Wi-Fi access, in effect, they’re looking for instant gratification. As an elementary school principal, part of my job is to ensure that I am up to date about the many things competing for our student’s attention.
I’ll never forget how old I felt when I literally had to look up what “Minecraft” was, and more recently Googling why “Fortnite” was so popular with today’s students. I’ll be honest, I was shocked! The games themselves didn’t shock me too much, after all, I grew up with Mortal Combat and Double Dragon.
Violence has always and will always have some sense of intrigue for kids. What did shock and continues to disturb me, is the language of how kids talk to one another with no regard. The fear of consequence does not exist! I’m not saying that kids didn’t use profanity “back in the day,” but I would argue it has never been more prevalent than it is now that you can have live chats and conversations as you navigate and play these games of violence and strategy.
It is no surprise that in our school yards today we continue to fight the good fight against profanity, name calling, and vulgar language in our youngest grade levels. Parents are always shocked when they are on the other end of the phone call hearing that their son or daughter called so and so, “fill in the blanks.” There is often deflection, followed by disbelief, and the occasional denial. How could that have happened?
Nine out of ten times our students tell the truth, and when asked why the common response is, “It just came out!” or “I don’t know.” Explaining to a student why using a four-letter swear word is not appropriate is disheartening to say the least, especially if the student is a four- or five-year-old.
Please do not misinterpret this article of being “anti-video game,” or anti-technology. That is not my intent. I am all for technology and for improving connectivity amongst our families and friends. I remember earning my video game time (30 minutes a day once homework and chores were completed and approved by mom) and how much fun my brothers and I had playing Tecmo Bowl and Mario Brothers. Being able to Facetime family members with my own daughters is one of my favorite things to do, especially at this time of year! However, at times this “facetime” and/or screen time that is being logged, is detouring the most important thing that our students need the most in life: real life human interactions!
During this time of reflection and celebration, we reflect on what we have and also what we had. I remember with great fondness how simple being a kid was. Going outside playing football, catch, basketball, riding bikes in the orchard, having a good, old fashioned “walnut fight” (literally throwing walnuts at my siblings during harvest) were where we were the most creative and had the most fun as kids. These weren’t always the smartest ideas but that’s what we made up as kids, games and activities to pass the time.
Social media, video game violence, and bandwidth were simply things we didn’t have to worry about.
Looking back on the family meals that I shared with my parents and younger siblings, I didn’t realize the importance of these rare opportunities. Today, I find my own family struggling to remember the importance of getting together, saying grace, and then enjoying our dinner, and actually talking about our day. I find myself thinking about how much easier it is to put my own kids in front of the television or allow them to “watch something on the phone.” It would be easier but as I know, just because it is easy, does not mean it’s right. So I too, as a parent, am tasked to practice what I preach; I feel our family is better because of it.
Carrying on a proper conversation, looking at someone in the eye, not interrupting when others are talking, talking about one’s emotions and how their day was are important: our society should not allow these ideals to be known as “in my day-isms.” Instead, we need to challenge ourselves as adults, parents, and grandparents to instill in our students how to show respect to one another, how to be responsible for our actions, and being ready for the real world that involves positive face to face interactions. If this means that we need to “unplug” to do so, then so be it. Our students will not appreciate or even like this change in direction but when they are old enough to reflect properly and gain that perspective, they’ll appreciate and remember all their parents and grandparents did to make them the successful person they are.
Now more than ever, our schools need to work together with our parents and community in addressing and educating our youth with proper core values and beliefs. It all starts with starting a dialogue and making sure our students know that we love and care for their futures. I hope everyone has a blessed and thankful holiday season and I look forward to carrying forth our mission of providing CARE (Create Active Responsible Educated Students) for all kids.
Principally Speaking is a monthly article, contributed by principals from Escalon Unified School District sites, throughout the school year. It is designed to update the community on school events and activities.