Educational Paradigm Shift
I first taught in a classroom, 1st grade, in 1992. I’d already been working with kids since I was basically a kid myself. I started babysitting at 10, was running the nursery alone at my church at 14, and worked at a camp for emotionally disturbed children by 15. Working with young people has always been a central part of who I am and after almost 40 years, I consider myself an unofficial expert on young people. They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert on anything, and I’m sure I exceeded that number by the mid-90’s. :) And have continued to work with children and youth ever since!
I know that humans are extremely resilient. And that children are remarkably so. But I also am seeing changes in them, that we, as their collective guiding culture, MUST be looking at.
Last Child in the Woods was written in 2005, about the loss of young people’s connection with nature and how this impacts them. I was lucky enough to be brought up in very rural Vermont, with no tv or radio, on a dirt road surrounded by farms and forests. It was about as “unplugged” as was available in the 70’s, and of course long before our children were so plugged in to electronics that we coined a term for it.
I’m also adopted so I believe I am a very good case study for nature vs. nurture. My “nature” is hyperactive, risk taking, and relentless. Much of my early “nurture” valued calm, reflection, and intentional personal growth.
We all know that what humans need most ~ right after the food, water, and sleep that keep us physically alive ~ is Connection. Connection to others and connection to self. We may well be the only organism that is able to think about what we think about. And the more we can have our thoughts, words, beliefs, and actions be aligned, make us feel connected, the healthier and more capable we feel to handle anything that comes our way.
But are we teaching our young people the invaluable skill of neutrally observing their emotions or understanding that they can “choose” their feelings to a large degree? Or that infinite power already lies within them?
I know, I know, for starters, where is the time? We are teaching them new math, piling more homework on them than ever, pulling music and the arts, many schools require extracurriculars, and most are on computer screens for inordinate hours daily. Not to mention that now the vast majority of them have Smartphones in their hands, these small devices that are literally changing the way that they interact with the world. And themselves.
According to the Pew Research Center on Internet and Technology, “smartphone ownership has become a nearly ubiquitous element of teen life: 95% of teens now report they have a smartphone or access to one. These mobile connections are in turn fueling more-persistent online activities: 45% of teens now say they are online on a near-constant basis.” Most statistics put cellphone usage averages at about 9 hours daily for teens, and 6 hours daily for tweens, kids aged 8-12. Those numbers, to me, are staggering.
In correlation, the numbers of teen and youth with anxiety disorders and depression are rapidly increasing. Nearly a third of all adolescents ages 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder during their lifetime, according to the National Institutes of Health. Again, those numbers are staggering. What can we do to shift this paradigm and help our young people avoid these sometimes lifelong disorders?
I’m sure you know that even a toddler is affected by overstimulation. That it is better to have less toys than more toys. Our culture is so consumptive, on every level, but in truth our young people are happier with fewer things and more real life experiences.
Young people are crying out for meaningful connections, while developing their own independence ~ a challenging balance for anyone, let alone people with underdeveloped amygdalae!
We are here to calm them down, to quiet and make sense of the chaos of the world, and to give young people the tools to develop authentic and deeply rooted emotional intelligence and peaceful practices.
Research is in the early stages of scientifically quantifying the effects of learning meditation, yoga, and mindfulness at a young age, but there is certainly a great deal of anecdotal information to support their many benefits. In most schools or programs where they have begun to implement such programming, they can clearly see increased attention, raises in grades and attendance, better mental health, increased self awareness and self regulation, all resulting in fewer disciplinary actions. Kids are generally happier, more engaged, and less aggressive.
We can see, from our own experiences working as a mindfulness and meditation team, how much young people respond, how much they want to find more peace and genuine connection with their inner selves and others.
And me, the 40 year amateur youth sociologist, :) I can clearly see that our young people need this calm, this inner resourcing, this guidance, more than ever.
Join us, won’t you? It takes a mindful world village but we CAN do this work of changing lives. One mindful kid at a time…