How Well Do You Truly Know Your Kids?
Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
I had the pleasure of talking with middle school students in three groups: grade sixes; grade sevens; and grade eights. Each group had about 70 students. Their teachers and principal were present for the talk. The talk was actually a dialogue between me and students, asking about the issues they grapple with as students, issues that may at times interfere with their ability to concentrate in class.
All three grades identified bullying. A show of hand poll demonstrated about 90% of all students experienced some form of bullying. Interestingly, about 80% indicated they had bullied others. About 15% of students indicated that as a result of bullying, they had trouble concentrating at school. Virtually no one confronted their bully. About 3% of students would tell their parents about being bullied. Cyber bulling emerged as the greater form of bullying moving from grade six to eight.
Beyond bullying, students identified issues from home as contributing to problems concentrating at school. Some 80% of students identifying family issues as a concern. About 20% of these students had difficulty concentrating at school due to family issues. Few students spoke to anyone about these concerns, about 15% spoke with a friend and perhaps 2 or 3 % told their parents.
Approximately 40% of grade 6 students had a smart phone or tablet. That number rose to about 50% in grade seven and about 80 to 90% of students in grade eight had a smart phone or tablet.
The higher the grade the more likely the student slept with their smart phone or tablet next to them. The majority of students use their devises after their parents have gone to bed without their parents’ knowledge. The higher the grade, the less likely there were overt rules for the use of the devises in the late evening hours. The majority of students in grade eight identified fatigue or difficulty waking in the morning.
The grade seven and eight students identified popularity as a concern and the grade eight female students also identified challenges to maintain a certain appearance as defined in the media. On-line pornography figured into the mix of media.
In terms of lessons learned through talking with these students is the degree of their social isolation when under duress. Few students turn to their parents for support.
A teacher debriefed the talk with a group of students and asked why they don’t speak with their parents more about matters of concern. They identified:
- o Our problems are small compared to theirs;
- o It won’t matter anyway;
- o It is too embarrassing to discuss things with them;
- o Useless to report cyber bullying….it can be tracked anyway;
- o I don’t want to bother them;
- o Sometimes our parents are the problem;
- o I am often unsure what’s ‘significant’ to discuss;
The students were generally engaging in the dialogue. I shared strategies to address concerns raised and how to seek help and support.
Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW