Over the past few years, I’ve listened to adults label and generalize today’s children as people who are overly dependent on technology and are not developing the social skills of previous generations because of this. I too have had some concerns about the overuse of technology, but my concerns are not limited to Generation Z, and they are not generalized to all children.
I thought about this while I was on a recent study trip with our Grade 8 students. We went to Port Isobel Island, Virginia for three days and two nights to learn about and study the Chesapeake Bay. The students had absolutely no access to technology throughout the entire trip, and interestingly enough, they never mentioned it. Now our hosts, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, had activities scheduled from sun up to sun down, so the students did not have much downtime. The downtime they did have was spent outdoors playing football, playing a variation of tag, fishing, etc. No one sulked and no one complained.
I realize that this trip is an anomaly, but I think it speaks to possibilities. It is possible for children to socially function at high levels without the use of technology. It is possible for students to have an absolute blast without the use of technology. And, it is possible to tell children that no, they will not have their phones or computers for three days and everything will be fine.
Towards the end of the trip, I asked many of the students to share with me their favorite Thanksgiving memories. They shared simple things, like helping grandma make pierogies or playing charades and monopoly with family members. Not one child mentioned that their favorite memory was playing video games or texting with friends.
When I think about the Chesapeake Bay Study Trip and I think about most families’ Thanksgivings, one thing they have in common is that the adults are extremely present and interactive with the children. I know that we are very busy and we can’t, nor should we, schedule every minute of our children’s lives. But, if we studied this phenomenon, I wonder if we would see a strong connection between adults’ active engagement with children and children’s decrease of screen time. I believe that children, despite some of their protestations, really do want to spend time with adults and would be happy to put down their devices to do so.