Ken James Headmaster at Red House School

As a child of the 70s, computing for me during my school days amounted to a few BBC computers which we could use at lunchtime. Programming amounted to merely scrolling words across a screen and the World Wide Web would have seemed like something from a science fiction novel.

The children of today live in a world full of technology.  There are, of course, huge advantages and we must embrace it. Technology is not going away but we must encourage the children to be responsible digital citizens. Recently at Red House, all the children undertook training in this and we also held information sessions for parents.

Technology has ensured that children today are the most connected they have ever been: with the wider world, with their friends and with their parents. Eton announced recently that it is removing phones from 13 year olds each evening so that the children do not continually connect on social media. Rather than riot at this decision, the children have embraced it and reportedly stated they are relieved they will not be required to respond instantaneously.

Parents are also more connected to their children than ever before. But is this healthy? Should parents be encouraged to ‘helicopter in’ and troubleshoot or should we empower the children to resolve problems themselves?

When teaching in a residential outdoor education centre in Kangaroo Valley in Australia, the children were not allowed mobile phones.  Once a week, at the end of a two or three day hike, the boys (it was a single sex school) could send an email home and receive emails too. Initially, this was vitally important for the 13 year olds who had been ‘forced’ from the bosoms of their families in suburban Sydney. By the end of their six months in the bush, the boys cared far less about their weekly interchange. They did not, of course, care any less for their family back home.   They realised if there was a problem we’d have alerted them to this and they were enjoying their time with their friends.

The art of letter writing was also practised. The boys loved to send letters and enjoyed receiving them even more. They learned to deal with not being in constant contact with home and they learned to appreciate the depth of the relationship they had with their parents. What it taught the children most, however, was the ability to deal with problems themselves. If the boys fell out with each other we helped the children resolve their difficulties. The cause of the problem had been identified and the issues resolved before the boys ever spoke to their parents.

Children often look to their parents to deal with issues in schools. The use of technology can often mean parents are alerted to problems before schools even know they exist. Quite rightly, loving parents feel the urge to troubleshoot the problem. However, what we were able to teach the children in the Aussie bush was that they had the emotional intelligent to resolve issues, with guidance from staff. We instilled in them the belief that they were mature enough to discuss problems and resolve difficulties.

Of course, removing the children from Syndey and their home comforts was not a punishment. It wasn’t designed to increase separation anxiety – for both children and parents – but it was designed to build resilience in the boys. Perhaps it is possible to practise this without the need to leave home? Perhaps we can encourage children to solve problems themselves with the support and guidance of their parents.

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