The Over-Scheduled Child

A child, just like the rest of us, has 168 hours in a week. They typically spend about 56 of those hours asleep. Most spend around 30 hours a week in school with a further 8 hours getting ready for and travelling to and from school, with about 7 hours of homework thrown in for good measure. Those are hours when the child is under instructions, following a clear agenda set by others, under the control of strict discipline regimes.

Recent survey evidence has suggested that the average child is spending 60 hours a week engaged with screens; gaming, watching TV or using social networking. By my reckoning all of the above leaves them a paltry 7 hours for ‘growing up’, for the unstructured time to think, be themselves and develop their unique human consciousness. And that’s all assuming that they’re not among the rare children who still sit down to eat family meals, if they do, those might easily take out another 3 hours in the week.

When you think about a child’s time in this way it becomes even more startling to think that parents would be tempted to cram in to every child’s days a variety of ‘after school activities’ – tuitions 9to repeat the school learning, clubs, activities, organised sports etc.

Here’s an article recently written about what this means in the Indian context, but how growing numbers of Indian parents are thinking twice about what they’re doing by scheduling their children so heavily. The article does, honestly, hint at the fact that some of this over-scheduling is done in circumstances where parents are convincing themselves that the activities are for the child’s benefit, when at times it’s a convenient child-care facility to enable them to live their lives with all the choices that they’ve made about how they’re committing their time.

Scroll – Over-scheduled, under-slept children experience neural fatigue

I have a strong wish that the parents who are scheduling their children in this way would invest more time in learning about the latest thinking and knowledge about children, the development of the mind, positive psychology and the science of human potential. Along with this, they would benefit personally, as well as be better able to support their child if they learned more about the scientific awareness of the learning process. I’ve written it before, but i do believe, that as parents we have to ask ourselves some challenging questions when we’re prepared to invest time and effort in to the learning required for running a business or pursuing a profession or job role, but not invest any significant amount of time in to learning how to fulfil our life responsibilities as a parent.

One of the saddest ironies is that the over-scheduled approach has little to no chance of leading to a child achieving mastery of anything. Spreading oneself so thinly, going through so many activities is going through the motions. It doesn’t permit for passion, motivation or the focused practice that can lead to achieving any decent level of competence at something.

I’ve had occasions where I’ve been saddened as I stood with a parent whose child obediently agreed that they love doing all the different things they’re doing. This isn’t producing genius. if anything it’s more likely to destroy the potential for genius and worse, it plays on the child’s desire to please the parent – to be seen as an obedient and good child who will receive the recognition and praise of their parent. this is conditional parenting and a major cause of stunted lives in later adulthood.

Of course, on the scheduling of tuitions to extend beyond school learning, parents will claim that this is necessary to achieve the results they need because there is inadequate trust that the child and their school are achieving the levels of learning needed. I wish that parents would solve this by talking more with their child’s school and teachers – instead of subjecting the child to duplication through tuitions and other ‘driven’ learning approaches to extract more academic outcomes.

We can do so much better for our children, with the right information, the right learning and the right approaches. Parenting isn’t about quantity. We’re not going to enable our children by just doing more stuff to them. We must work with their interests and allow them the space and time to grow up, to become fully rounded people.

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Keep Kids’ Bedrooms Electronics Free

There are times as a parent when your intuition just feels so strong that you’re prepared to be the biggest killjoy on earth in the eyes of your child. Your child will readily tell you that every classmate has a TV in their bedroom, that they have an iPhone, that there’s also a PS4 or other games console in the bedroom.

“So, why can’t i have any of those things in my bedroom?” whiles the child, as though you are the cruelest, most heartless parent and you are condemning your child to a life little removed from that of Oliver Twist. Oh, the poor mite.

I once got very odd looks from a parent when I asked her to not to permit my 10 year old son to play computer games in her home that had ’18’ age ratings on them. her son of the same age was playing them for many hours a day. “Besides, I said, he has a daily limit of one hour screen time (1 1/2 at weekends) and so if he was playing these games he would exceed his daily limit.

back then, six years ago, scientific evidence on these matters was hard to come by, but my intuition was telling me in every sinew of my body that I had to protect my child to whatever extent i could in an environment where others were taking extreme risks with their children.

I get no satisfaction, no desire to scream, “I told you so,” when I read articles like the one linked below;

UPI – Health News – Children Suffer With TV, Video Games in the Bedroom
(click on the link above to read the article)

This article shares evidence from extensive scientific research that gathers irrefutable evidence of the harm being done. We have to remember to be scientific in how we read such articles. It’s no good if someone tells you that their child had these gadgets and has ‘turned out fine.’ Firstly, the full implications might not yet be obvious for that child and you cannot go back and know what they might have achieved/ done/ been if they hadn’t had all that exposure. But, more than that, this is not saying that every child will be adversely impacted. However, the statistical risk is high enough that parents shouldn’t be willing to take these risks.

The figure of 60 hours a week now being spent by many children engaging with screens is a stark and shocking one that should make us all think. I can’t help but think that if any adult today is asked to do anything for 60 hours in a week (e.g. work), many will scream in outrage that it’s an abuse to ask them to exert themselves in such a way.

Yet, we live in a world where the same people will engage in endless conversations about the poor state of the economy, society and the world today. They, of course, were all way too busy to get involved or do more than talk about it (reproducing whatever arguments they received through the media!)

Children are even more vulnerable. We know that in their teen years their fully formed limbic system in their brain is ready to lap up every dose of endorphines, with less restraining influence from the pre frontal cortex as the connections are still not fully formed. Anything that has the propensity to be addictive to adults (drugs, mobile phones etc.) is way more addictive to children in these years. We should be doing more, not less, to limit and insulate them from these potentially dangerous influences

A funny old world, innit!

Being Likable

If you bring together two of my current favourite writers for a discussion, you’re going to have my immediate attention.

Adam Grant, Wharton Professor, came to my attention first for articles and a subsequent book on the personal benefits of being a ‘go-giver’. He’s followed up with work related to creativity, success and most recently has published a book with Sheryl Sandberg about how to bounce back when things go wrong. She, of course, was uniquely placed to co-write that particular book having lost her husband very suddenly and publicly, leaving her with young children and a high pressure silicon valley career to manage. That book sits on my shelf as a recent acquisition waiting to be read.

Like many people, I first came across Simon Sinek because of his famous TED talk (still well worth a view, whether you’ve seen it before or not). Then I followed his work talking about millennials, especially how best to lead them, manage them in the workplace and even inspire them to be engaged, committed and passionate employees who do meaningful work. As far as his books, I’ve gone the wrong way round. I’ve recently finished reading ‘Leaders Eat last’ – his most recent book and have waiting on the shelf still to be read his earlier – Start With Why.

The discussion went on for about an hour, led by Katie Couric, the international journalist. It took place at the Aspen Ideas Festival – and it’s a real gem. You could just read the article, but i’d really recommend the video embedded on the page as worth an hour of anyone’s time.

During the discussion there are some interesting insights in to types of popularity and the risks of ‘the wrong type’. They talk about the perils of device and social media addiction and the need for occasional detoxes. There’s an interesting discussion of the skills needed to be likable and the risks in society because people are not getting as many opportunities to practice those skills. The comments about how willpower is an inadequate tool to overcome addiction, or addictive behaviour was a useful reminder.

So, here’s the link:

Heleo – Conversation – How to be likable – no Facebook Required

If you open the page, you’ll see the video some way down the page. I really recommend that it’s worth the time to listen to the whole thing. For educators, or parents, there’s much to ponder on here about how we work most effectively with young people today.

Bold Leadership

Of all industries, education needs bold leadership.

Of all industries, education has lacked bold leadership in the past. Where will the bold leadership come from if there is inadequate attention to leadership in the profession. Education is no more guilty than many other professions that it takes some of its best practitioners (teachers) and promotes them in to roles that require a completely different set of skills and competencies – with no certainty that they have those skills and competencies, are ready and able to develop them or real, cohesive support to acquire them.

The last point may be the real issue. In the same way that there is all too often a hangover from past views of collegiality that suggest that how a teacher taught was his/ her own business, so the prevalence of idiosyncratic leadership styles and methods is almost part of the folklore in the education profession. If we are really serious about change in education, then we have to pay serious attention to the leadership skills of our leaders at all levels in our schools.

Here is a really interesting webinar recording from Zenger Folkman. They have a history of gathering vast amounts of data and evidence through 360 degree feedback processes and then analysing it for the lessons that can be drawn about all aspects of what makes leadership most effective – and especially what leaders need to do more of/ less of;

Zenger Folkman – Webinar – Bold Leadership

As well as the webinar, the page also has a number of other links to very useful and worthwhile materials.

Until we really address these issues of leadership, we are going to see schools vulnerable too often to issues in the leadership. This is especially important in the light of some research I saw a few years ago that suggested that, by some margin, the impact of good or great leadership in schools was of greater significance than differences in leadership in other types of organisation or company. In other words, when our leaders lack some of the fundamental skills of leadership the negative impact is greater.

And yet, as a profession, do we really pay adequate attention to the development of leadership skills. In my experience, when you look at the professional development made available for educational leaders, too much of it is focused on educational pedagogy and practices than on their leadership skills, reflective awareness and continuous development in this area.

Maybe one good piece of news coming out of the Zenger Folkman research is that women in leadership score higher on key aspects of bold leadership than men, considering the educational field has a higher than normal level of females in leadership. However, this is still leaving way too much to chance.

One of the issues that I see standing out way too often is the ‘one size fits all’ approaches to leadership – Principals and senior school leaders who have a limited range of responses to situations that they wheel out in response to all the situations they deal with. Schools are busy and hectic places and when things are happening rapidly leaders often don’t have much time in the moment to stop and reflect. therefore, they ‘act’ often very intuitively. This is not a problem if, at other times, the habits have been built to have a broader variety of tools in the toolkit. Then, intuition leads to the selection of the right tools to fit the situation more often.

With this in mind, I was reminded, this weekend, by the values of the Ken Blanchard Situational leadership model, as a result of seeing this excellent webinar recording;

Ken Blanchard Companies – Webinar – Creating an Effective Leadership Development Curriculum

Education has an inclination to be summative – to focus on the outcomes that we want (exam results, how students turn out etc.) Along the way, we need to put far more emphasis on the processes by which goals are achieved. This is where leadership development becomes so very critical. We need to be sure that leadership will happen in ways that are most effective to deal with any particular set of circumstances. We need to put considerable stress on developing good coaching and mentoring skills, whilst acknowledging that this is not simply meant to replace one always used leadership style with another. There are times when it’s right and times when it’s wrong to coach.

Better leadership leads to more engaged employees, which leads to better learning experiences for children and better parent relationships. These, ultimately, are the best ways to ensure long term and consistent achievement of strong student learning outcomes, development of strong and enduring school cultures and schools that learn and enable learning.

Appreciating Teachers

A client walks in to a lawyer’s office, approaching the receptionist’s desk, “I’ve come to bring a gift for Ms X, my lawyer.”

It doesn’t happen. So, why do teachers think that they’re a different profession worthy of receiving gifts in gratitude? In my view there’s only one real significant benefit in giving a gift to a teacher – and that is as part of a family educating their children about giving, gifting and appreciation as part of development of values.

In other words, it’s really about the benefit to the giver rather than the recipient.

many years ago i worked in private banking. over a couple of years, we placed a big emphasis on raising our levels of customer service, sensitivity to the needs of our customers and empathy skills. The training included, among other things, Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). There were many bi-products. Attrition/ turnover of clients dropped significantly. Clients spent more money with us, placing a bigger proportion of their investable assets in our care. As a result, our profits went up appreciably and we were well rewarded in salary increases and bonuses. But, we started to run up against an interesting problem. More and more elderly clients were leaving legacies to their account officers in their wills. Mostly, they were token amounts, but i had one client who was adamant that she was going to leave me over 10,000 pounds (a lot of money back then!). maybe it was for the best that she passed away the day before she was due to meet the lawyer to revise her will. Because, the truth was I was uncomfortable with her leaving me money for what I had done. My belief was I’d done my job and been a decent human being in my relationships with her and other clients.

In all my years as an educator I also feel I would have felt genuinely uncomfortable if a parent had ever given me a gift of any value. I also often felt uncomfortable when students gave all the praise for their examination achievements to the teachers, parents and tutors – as though they had simply made themselves passive recipients of knowledge and allowed the gurus to put the learning in to them. To be a true lifelong learner, the individual must see their educators as mere facilitators who assist them to acquire the skills to learn, lead them to the sources of knowledge and support them on the initial stages of the journey.

I loved receiving cards, drawings or letters from students and have often kept these as special memories. They frequently represented very spontaneous and open heartfelt messages from children. If parents were appreciative or thankful for how the school ran, face to face or through emails and cards – that was more than enough thanks. In the same way that one doesn’t give to receive, I believe true educators don’t give of themselves, their professional skills and efforts in the expectation of receiving something back other than the knowledge and evidence that children have been given the opportunities to begin their journey enthusiastically and with solid foundations as lifelong learners.

The Guardian – Secret Teacher – We Don’t Need Gifts – A Thank You Will do

Theory of Mind and Other People’s Shoes

Compassion is a key part of empathy. I believe any person’s ability to be compassionate or to practice empathy is completely dependent on one’s ability to step in to another’s shoes, or even beyond. In a lot of communication training, especially associated with Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), this is translated in to first, second and third positions adopted. First position is where I see a situation or perceive through my own eyes, my own experience and beliefs. Second position entails the ability to put myself in to the other person’s shoes – for example in an argument or disagreement. Third position goes even further and entails the ability to float above the situation and both me and you’ to see the situation, to hear the communication and perceive the surface and deep level emotions on all sides from the position of a third party – a person who can see the situation without direct emotions related to it, the archetypal fly on the wall’.

One of the things that has been clear from research for some time is that not every person grows up with the same levels of empathy. Secondly, there is a growing body of evidence that empathy can be taught and a belief that ultimately we will prepare people for a better future (and maybe even contribute to a better world for all). I find that, all too often, one meets leaders (let alone others) who lack the ability to move to second position, let alone third position. Some may have lost the ability out of habit and some might never have really had it. Some seem to fear that taking anything other than first position will lead to them being perceived as weak, vulnerable in their leadership. The truth is really quite the reverse. The most effective leader is a listener, has the humility to admit when wrong and to adopt another’s position. Also, if we are unable or unwilling to step in to second position we will always struggle to understand the acceptability or otherwise of decisions we make.

As I’ve touched on in a number of other articles, we’ve seen some fascinating and intriguing discoveries over the last few years as a result of MRI scanning technology and the ability to understand what is happening in the developing human brain. As the following article explains, we now know what is happening in the brain of a young child at the time that they are developing a sense of ‘other-ness’, the sense that leads to the ability to see the perspective of others and to empathise. In time, I hope that this will lead to greater refinement of our understanding about how and when to teach empathy, to increase the level of social emotional skills of more children. However, I also believe that we will likely learn in time that there are some negative impacts and influences to be avoided or minimised, as well as positive habits and skills to be taught if we are to enhance the empathy levels of children.

Greater Good – Berkeley – What Happens in a Child’s Brain When They Learn to Empathize?

This is certainly a fascinating field of study to be followed in the future.

Understanding Differentness

This is a superb video that very sensitively helps children (and others) to gain insights in to autism, its impacts on those who have it and in a broader sense helps them to develop their sense of otherness, differentness and empathy. it's only as we develop the ability to step in to another's shoes that we truly can be empathic and welcome differentness.