Deconstructing Blackness


By Nicol Howard

MARCH 25, 2015

Recess was over, and my students rushed back to class in hopes of being the first to tell me what happened over their break. As we entered the room, I heard their rumblings and murmurs with the word “black” dispersed throughout. As an African American woman, I was more than curious to know what all the excitement was about. All I was ever taught growing up was that “black is beautiful.” And while that was my truth, I was about to be introduced to what being called “black” meant to my Latino/Latina students. They took me on a history lesson that I had not learned from my elementary textbook about the differences between white and black Latinos/Latinas.

Fifteen minutes passed and the board was covered with a circle map of every word that came to mind when my students heard the word “black.” Brainstorming about its meaning led us into an organic, deeper conversation in which my elementary students began to eloquently deconstruct that word. “Black is just a color,” said one student. “Black is more, I am black,” said my one African American student. The dialogue continued, and I simply facilitated it with questions like:

  • What if you were called a different color?
  • How does it make you feel when. . .?
  • How would you feel if. . .?

Thirty minutes later, I began to understand that the intangible ideas which historically plagued relationships between people within my own culture were prevalent in the lives of my students.

I truly felt heavy as we transitioned into the next lesson that I’d planned for the day. Coincidentally, this discussion occurred during the month of February — Black History Month. So I left our circle map on the board and carved out 15-20 minutes a day for reflections and the sharing of new thoughts. The natural segue into a meaningful, timely, and necessary discussion about blackness led me to consider a new approach to discussing race matters with my future students. Although I recognize that every classroom will contain a different racial and ethnic makeup, teachers must be unafraid to broach these uncomfortable conversations. Conversations about blackness and race do not have to be limited to the month of February, or to elementary classrooms. I’d like to offer four thoughts to ponder as you consider deconstructing blackness (or race) in your own K-16 classroom.

1. Accept What You Know

Be careful not to assume that you know what your students may be feeling or that your experiences are their experiences. Accept what you know about them based upon what they share with you, and be ready to learn more about them and yourself along the way. Remaining open to learning who your students are by the words that come from their mouths will establish an environment of trust in your classroom. Over time, they will become keenly aware that when they talk, you listen.

2. Allow Their Voices to Be Heard

Consider how your students may feel when they are not allowed to express their angst or disdain for something. Remember that allowing students to use their voices will establish trust and open the door for continual dialogue. Their voices belong to them (student voices aren’t ours to give back), so allow them to be heard, and offer multiple opportunities to pick up the conversation on a new day.

3. Let It Flow

Your classroom’s deconstruction of blackness (or race) may be written in your plans for the week, or you may encounter the unexpected as I did. Relax and embrace the organic occurrences of conversations related to race. Understand that your opening dialogue may lead to a meaningful project or lesson. Be flexible and let it flow. Remain thoughtful about next steps after your deconstruction process. Dr. Raina Leon, Assistant Professor at St. Mary’s Colleges of California, seeks to use poetry in teaching about race. It is important to consider your grade level and population of students when approaching the expected or unexpected conversations related to race.

4. Facilitate Thoughtfully

A circle map worked well for my third and fourth grade students, and this introductory approach may work well for your students, too. Regardless of the method you choose, keep in mind that there is not always a perfect answer to the many questions that may arise. Facilitating is an art that is not often mastered. However, refraining from one-liners, clichés, and repetitive statements often leads the discussion in a positive direction. Sometimes it is better to say, “I don’t have the answer,” than to quickly spew out a response for the sake of answering a student’s query. When saying, “I don’t know” does not seem appropriate, ask a question like “Why do you. . .?” or “How do you know. . .?” Or consider bringing in a guest speaker who may have a voice in dealing with issues of race.

Accepting what we know without making assumptions, listening to our students’ voices, remaining flexible when opportunities to discuss race arise, and facilitating thoughtful conversations are all steps in the right direction. After three years of deconstructing blackness with my students, the process is not always the same. Yet the beauty of it all is in the outcome — transparency, understanding, and a greater sense of unity among my students.


Playtime Isn’t Just for Preschoolers—Teenagers Need It, Too

Teenagers School
Getty Images

Hilary G. Conklin, Ph.D., is a fellow with the OpEd Project and an associate professor in the College of Education at DePaul University in Chicago.

Helicopter parents and teachers, stand down. Kids of all ages need time to learn through play in school.

In classrooms across the country, the countdown to summer vacation has begun. The winter doldrums have always taken a toll, but in the era of test-dominated schooling and the controversial Common Core, it seems increasingly that it’s not until summer that teenagers have any prospect for having fun any more.

One of the casualties of current education reform efforts has been the erosion of play, creativity, and joy from teenagers’ classrooms and lives, with devastating effects. Researchers have documented a rise in mental health problems—such as anxiety and depression—among young people that has paralleled a decline in children’s opportunities to play. And while play has gotten deserved press in recent months for its role in fostering crucial social-emotional and cognitive skillsand cultivating creativity and imagination in the early childhood years, a critical group has been largely left out of these important conversations. Adolescents, too—not to mention adults, as shown through Google’s efforts —need time to play, and they need time to play in school.

Early childhood educators have known about and capitalized on the learning and developmental benefits of play for ages. My five-year-old daughter has daily opportunities to play dress-up in her preschool classroom, transforming into a stethoscope-wearing fairy princess and tending to the imaginary creatures in her care. Her work during “center time” has all the hallmarks of what experts like psychologistsDavid Elkind and Peter Gray define as play: she has choice in her pursuits, she self-directs her learning and exploration, she engages in imaginative creation, and she does all these things in a non-stressed state of interest and joy.

Happily, in recent research that I conducted, I found promising ways that middle school teachers are incorporating elements of play into their classrooms—with joyful results. In the classrooms I studied, sixth, seventh, and eighth graders developed governments for imaginary countries, researched and prepared “survival kits” for different climates, created board games to review social studies content they had learned, and “travelled to Afghanistan” in a game of physical geography on the playground. In each of these classroom exercises, students were allowed to make choices about what they wanted to learn, had opportunities to try on adult roles, were able to develop imaginative physical and mental creations, and importantly, enjoyed the process of learning.

Across the classrooms where teachers gave students these opportunities, the young adolescents I surveyed were happy and interested in their work. One said, “I have had one of the best school years because of this class.” Another seventh grader researched Ancient Egyptian mummification and showcased his learning in a creation he titled “Mummy monthly,” a clever magazine complete with cartoons and a reader quiz that asked, “Is your mommy a mummy?” His teacher explained to me, “this is a kid who we can hardly get to pick up a pencil.”

Similarly, in her study of high schools across the country, researcher Sarah Fine has shown the promise of what she terms “intellectual playfulness.” Amid the passive, rote, and dulling experiences that are all too common for adolescents, Fine found teachers like Ms. Hart, who gave students time to create “physics jamz,” songs they rewrote to review physics concepts and equations. Contrary to one high school administrator in Fine’s research who said, “You have to solve the problem of rigor before you can start to work on joy,” Ms. Hart’s physics jamz highlighted that students can find their work challenging and interesting, too.

Giving students occasions to learn through play not only fosters creative thinking, problem solving, independence, and perseverance, but also addresses teenagers’ developmental needs for greater independence and ownership in their learning, opportunities for physical activity and creative expression, and the ability to demonstrate competence. When classroom activities allow students to make choices relevant to their interests, direct their own learning, engage their imaginations, experiment with adult roles, and play physically, research shows that students become more motivated and interested, and they enjoy more positive school experiences.

To be sure, there are times to be serious in school. The complex study of genocide or racism in social studies classrooms, for example, warrant students’ thoughtful, ethical engagement, while crafting an evidence-based argument in support of a public policy calls upon another set of student skills and understandings. As with all good teaching, teachers must be deliberate about their aims. But, given that play allows for particular kinds of valuable learning and development, there should be room in school to cultivate all of these dimensions of adolescent potential.

Purposefully infusing play into middle and high school classrooms holds the potential for a more joyful, creative, and educative future for us all—a future in which kids have more interesting things to do in school than count down to summer break.

Overindulgent Parents May Breed Narcissistic Children


Kids who were told they were better than others came to believe it, researchers report

Overindulgent Parents May Breed Narcissistic Children

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, March 9, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Kids who think too highly of themselves likely developed their narcissism because their parents put them on a pedestal and doled out unearned praise, a new study claims.

Parents who “overvalue” their children — believing they are “God’s gift to man” — tend to raise youngsters with an overblown sense of their own superiority, researchers report in the March 9 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It comes pretty naturally,” said senior study author Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University. “Most parents think their children are special, and deserve better treatment. But when our children receive special treatment, they become narcissistic and come to believe they deserve more and are superior to others.”

On the other hand, simple parental warmth can provide a child with an appropriate level of self-esteem, but does not lead to narcissism, the researchers found.

“It’s good to be a warm parent and a loving parent, but it’s not OK to treat your children as if they are better than others,” Bushman concluded. “Everyone we meet is better than us at something, and the fact that we’re all human beings makes us equally valuable.”

In the study, researchers evaluated 565 children aged 7 to 11 from middle-class neighborhoods in the Netherlands, along with their parents.

Parents and children answered a series of questions designed to assess a child’s narcissism and self-esteem, as well as a parent’s warmth and overvaluation of their child. Researchers administered the questionnaires four times over a period of 18 months.

The research team found that parents who overvalued their children — reflected in statements such as “my child is more special than other children” — did end up with children who were overly convinced of their own importance.

“I honestly believe one of the most dangerous beliefs that a person can have is that they are [more] superior than others,” Bushman said. “When people think they are superior to others, they behave very badly. It’s much better to treat everybody like we are all part of the human family, and are all worthy of respect.”

However, parents who offered simple warmth — reflected in statements such as “I let my child know I love him/her” — raised kids who had good self-esteem but a more realistic understanding of their place in the world.

“Warmth doesn’t produce narcissism,” Bushman said. “It produces self-esteem, without the egotistical part.”

Interestingly, the researchers found no link between child narcissism and a lack of parental warmth. That’s inconsistent with what psychology experts have long believed, which is that children who have cold parents put themselves on a pedestal to try and obtain from others the approval they didn’t find at home.

Although this study only showed an association between parents putting a child on a pedestal and that child being narcissistic, Bushman said the study shows how parents do their children a disservice by providing too much praise.

“In America, we have it all backward. We assume if we boost our child’s self-esteem, they’ll behave well. We assume self-esteem is the panacea for every ill,” he said. “Rather than boost self-esteem and hope our kids act well, we should wait for good behavior and then give them a pat on the back for that.”

Parents should support their children and praise even failed efforts, but they must make their praise appropriate to the situation, Bushman said.

“Don’t issue blanket praise that’s not contingent on behavior,” he said. “Praise them for trying hard, and encourage them to persist and not give up in the face of failure. But make praise realistic.”

James Garbarino, senior faculty fellow at the Center for the Human Rights of Children at Loyola University Chicago, warned that parents who treat their children as though they walk on water are setting them up to sink like stones later in life.

“It’s a good investment to temper narcissism, because otherwise you are setting your kids up for a big fall later in life,” Garbarino said. “Eventually, life shows you that you’re not that special. You’ve heard the saying, ‘Time heals all wounds?’ In this case, ‘Time wounds all heels.’ ”

However, Garbarino also pointed out that these findings probably only apply to middle-class kids. Children from poor or lower-class families also can grow up to be narcissistic, but the cause may be different for them.

“Those kids did not end up in this study, so you have to be careful about interpreting it,” he said.

More information

For more on narcissistic personality disorder, visit the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

SOURCES: Brad Bushman, Ph.D., professor, communication and psychology, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio; James Garbarino, Ph.D., senior faculty fellow, Center for the Human Rights of Children at Loyola University, Chicago; March 9, 2015, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online

Can Attention Deficit Drugs ‘Normalize’ a Child’s Brain?

The New York Times


Recent research that says that A.D.H.D. pills like Adderall, above, can “normalize” a child’s brain over time has drawn criticism.
Recent research that says that A.D.H.D. pills like Adderall, above, can “normalize” a child’s brain over time has drawn criticism.Credit Elizabeth D. Herman for The New York Times

Dr. Mark Bertin is no A.D.H.D. pill-pusher.

The Pleasantville, N.Y., developmental pediatrician won’t allow drug marketers in his office, and says he doesn’t always prescribe medication for children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Yet Dr. Bertin has recently changed the way he talks about medication, offering parents a powerful argument. Recent research, he says, suggests the pills may “normalize” the child’s brain over time, rewiring neural connections so that a child would feel more focused and in control, long after the last pill was taken.

“There might be quite a profound neurological benefit,” he said in an interview.

A growing number of doctors who treat the estimated 6.4 million American children diagnosed with A.D.H.D. are hearing that stimulant medications not only help treat the disorder but may actually be good for their patients’ brains. In an interview last spring with Psych Congress Network, an Internet news site for mental health professionals, Dr. Timothy Wilens, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, said “we have enough data to say they’re actually neuroprotective.” The pills, he said, help “normalize” the function and structure of brains in children with A.D.H.D., so that, “over years, they turn out to look more like non-A.D.H.D. kids.”

Medication is already by far the most common treatment for A.D.H.D., with roughly 4 million American children taking the pills — mostly stimulants, such as amphetamines and methylphenidate. Yet the decision can be anguishing for parents who worry about both short-term and long-term side effects. If the pills can truly produce long-lasting benefits, more parents might be encouraged to start their children on these medications early and continue them for longer.

Leading A.D.H.D. experts, however, warn the jury is still out.

“Sometimes wishful thinking gives us hope that the impressive short-term relative benefits of medication over other treatments will persist beyond childhood, but I haven’t seen it,” said James Swanson, director of the Child Development Center at the University of California at Irvine. Dr. Swanson, a co-author of a landmark federally funded study, the Multimodal Treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, said that follow-up research found overall improvement but no greater long-term benefits after three years for children who were treated with medication compared to those who weren’t. One possible reason, as the report noted, was that many children refuse to continue taking medication after a year or so, something most parents of such children well know.

Research has shown that the brains of people with A.D.H.D. on average look and function differently than those who don’t have the disorder, particularly when it comes to processing two important neurotransmitters: dopamine and norepinephrine. For most people with A.D.H.D., stimulants can temporarily boost focus, motivation and self-control by increasing the availability of these chemical messengers. The question is whether these effects can last once the drugs have left the bloodstream.

In arguing for “normalization,” Dr. Wilens cited a major review in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry in late 2013, which looked at 29 brain-scan studies. Although the studies had different methods and goals, the authors said that, together, they suggested that stimulants “are associated with attenuation of abnormalities in brain structure, function, and biochemistry in subjects with A.D.H.D.”

But other A.D.H.D. experts challenge this conclusion. Dr. F. Xavier Castellanos, director of research at the New York University Child Study Center, called assertions that stimulants are neuroprotective “exaggerated,” adding: “The best inference is that there is no evidence of harm from medications – normalization is a possibility, but far from demonstrated.”

A.D.H.D. is an exceptionally controversial diagnosis, with particular controversy zeroing in on researchers, including Dr. Wilens himself and some of the authors of the 2013 report he cited who have received financial support from pharmaceutical firms. In an email, Dr. Wilens said he had not received “any personal income” from the pharmaceutical industry since 2009.

As several experts noted, a major impediment to determining the long-term impacts of A.D.H.D. medication is that a “gold-standard” study would require researchers to assign children randomly to groups that either received medication or didn’t. Such a practice has been deemed unethical due to the widespread belief that the medication can help struggling children, at least in the short-term.

And other research has raised new concerns. One peer-reviewed 2013 study co-authored by Dr. Swanson suggested that the stimulants may change the brain over time so as to undermine the long-term response to the medication and even exacerbate symptoms when people aren’t taking them.

Dr. Peter Jensen, the former associate director of child and adolescent research at the National Institute of Mental Health, cautioned that parents should not try to force children with A.D.H.D. to take medication when they don’t want to, adding that “most kids don’t want to.”

Dr. Jensen, who now heads the REACH Institute, a national nonprofit organization concerned with children’s mental health, once surveyed 100 parents of sons and daughters in their 20s who had been diagnosed with A.D.H.D., asking what made the most difference.

“Eighty percent of them said ‘Love your child. Help him or her advocate for themselves, and find a doc who’ll work with you through thick or thin whether you medicate or not,” Dr. Jensen said. “Only a minority of these parents mentioned medication.”

Katherine Ellison is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former foreign correspondent and author and co-author of seven books, including the forthcoming “What Everyone Needs to Know about A.D.H.D.” (Oxford University Press), co-authored with Stephen Hinshaw, Vice-Chair for Psychology, Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco.

Katherine Ellison is an author or co-author of four books about A.D.H.D. and education, including “Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention.”

Bridging the ADHD Gap


According to the National Education Association, educational equity means that education should be accessible and fair to any child who wants it. In principle, it’s based on the 14th Amendment and the 1954 school desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education. The aim of that court decision was to fix the ills of an educational system based on segregation and inequity in the funding of schools as it pertained to minority students.

The decision did improve educational equity for children with disabilities. As a result of the decision, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (that includes IDEA, Section 504, and ADA), signed into law in 1975, paved the way for students with disabilities and made it easier to secure services.

DSM-5 defines attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as a developmental disorder, and the Americans with Disabilities Act considers it a disability. But getting a 504 accommodation or special services based solely on an ADHD diagnosis is difficult. Rulings laid out by the U.S. Board of Education are stringent, and unless students manifest “one or more specified physical or mental impairments,” they won’t be eligible.

Without these accommodations, many students with ADHD don’t thrive in the classroom. Betrayed by their bodies, these kids struggle with peer relationships, feel like failures, and are stigmatized. In 2012, the CDC reported that 33 percent of all students with ADHD who didn’t have a comprehensive therapeutic/educational plan failed out of high school.

These kids are caught in the middle. Not necessarily minority, they’re not part of the educational equity debate. Not necessarily disabled, they’re ineligible for services.

As teachers, despite being a part of an embattled profession, we do hold tremendous power. We can help flailing learners believe in themselves. Even without a 504 accommodation, we can with some ingenuity create a more effective learning environment for children with ADHD. Here are five possible approaches.

1. Make learning child-centered.

Child- or student-centered learning presumes that students who are drivers in their own learning will be more invested and motivated. It’s a tenet of the Constructivist Learning Theory first proposed by Piaget, and it considers the learning styles, preferences, and interests of the student. It’s also a way to accommodate a child with ADHD. The teacher must map out goals and resources, and assumes the facilitator role. Gaming, MOOCs, hands-on activities, webquests, and mini-lessons can all be integrated as resources.

2. Differentiate learning and encourage mastery.

This is the basis of the Montessori Method. Assess each child’s learning style and design an individualized learning plan to accommodate that child. It’s student-centered learning at its best, facilitated by the teacher and encouraging mastery, confidence, and enthusiasm — and students with disabilities do well with this method. In What Works for Differentiating Instruction in Elementary Schools, Grace Rubenstein shows how this modification can be put into place.

3. Integrate movement breaks and mini-mindfulness meditation sessions.

Children with ADHD are statistically quite bright. Unfortunately, their symptoms of ADHD — distractibility, hyperactivity, clumsiness, impulsivity, nervousness, and poor focus and concentration — can undermine learning. To help them “blow off steam” and refocus, schedule some short movement sessions such as yoga, tai chi, Zumba, or a quick power walk. The exercise causes the brain to release endorphins, the “happy”” hormones.

Mindfulness meditation is another activity gaining in popularity. Scientific American, in a recent article, reports that after an eight-week course of mindfulness meditation, MRI scans showed the amygdala, the brain’s “fight-or-flight” center, shrank. It also showed that the prefrontal cortex, the area associated with executive function (concentration and decision-making) became thicker. A recent report in Clinical Neurophysiology concurs with the benefits of mindfulness meditation in the treatment of ADHD. In one study, adults with ADHD showed marked improvements in mental performance, a decrease in impulsivity, and greater self-awareness after participating in a series of mindfulness meditation sessions.

Video on treating ADHD with meditation

4. Create a positive, supportive learning environment.

There are common practices that teachers use to reduce classroom distractions. Seating the child in the front row, away from doors and windows, is just one approach. Jane Milrod, Director of Princeton C.H.A.D.D. and an ADHD/Executive Function coach, strongly recommends mentoring programs. Her approach is the “study buddy,” a fellow classmate who shows another classmate with ADHD “the ropes.” Knowing that one person is there to help him or her can empower a student with ADHD. School becomes a less hostile environment. Another program through Eye-to-Eye, a national mentoring organization, places high school and college students with similar labels into the schools to help students with ADHD develop their homework, study, communication, and peer interaction skills.

5. Document as much as possible.

District policies do change. With change, students with ADHD may be eligible for accommodation and special services. Document whenever possible, and involve the parents in your strategies. Note any modifications made in the classroom and their effectiveness, and make recommendations toward creating educational equity when strategies that don’t include special education are insufficient.

Most importantly, consider these strategies as fresh ideas. Teaching a child with ADHD is challenging, frustrating, and exhausting. New ideas can generate new energy. And that new energy can revitalize and bring hope to a child with ADHD. It can also help to bridge the gap between educational equity and the children without it.

A New Kind of Social Anxiety in the Classroom

The Atlantic

Kids who constantly use phones and computers tend to be more nervous in face-to-face conversations. What can teachers do to help?

Giuseppe Milo/Flickr

Stress about a meeting that is still a week away, handwringing before talking to the cashier in the grocery line, worrying about seeing an acquaintance on the street—for people with social anxiety disorder, even the simplest task can prove challenging. The symptoms of social anxiety often set in around adolescence, when people place a new emphasis on social interactions and their place in their peer groups. But some academics fear that greater access to technology could exacerbate social anxiety among teens, particularly as smartphones, tablets, and computers become omnipresent in and out of the classroom. And even though teachers are increasingly exploiting the devices as learning tools, they also play an integral role in stemming the tide of social anxiety.

“If we are glued to technology 24/7, it’s going to have an effect on social skills—it’s just natural,” said Tamyra Pierce, a journalism professor at California State University, Fresno. The clear link between technology and social behavior makes it all the more important that teachers who embrace these devices need to keep students’ social skills in mind.

An estimated 15 million Americans have social anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and symptoms usually start around age 13. More than just shyness, social anxiety causes people to fear the judgment and scrutiny of those around them. People with social anxiety often have concurrent disorders like depression. The disorder can affect every aspect of a person’s life, from academic performance to self esteem; in severe cases, social anxiety can be debilitating, keeping sufferers in bed and out of public places to avoid confrontation. But almost everyone suffers from at least a little social anxiety, says Thomas Rodebaugh, a psychology professor at Washington University in St. Louis. “We’d be worried about someone who never experiences any social anxiety,” he said.

Social anxiety differs between individuals, so it makes sense that the relationship between technology and social anxiety is murky and is often varies case to case. For some sufferers, technology can increase social interaction. One 2012 studyfound that people with low self-esteem who may be reluctant to talk about themselves with peers face-to-face feel more comfortable sharing personal information on Facebook. Researchers who conducted another 2006 studyconcluded that social media can “strengthen community engagement and attachment” in some people. Pierce recalls teens with disabilities that, in spite of their apprehension about talking with the opposite sex, were able to approach their crushes through technology. “Once they felt like they were doing okay [online], then they could continue the conversation face-to-face in a more comfortable state,” Pierce said. “The anxiety was lessened by using technology, but that’s more the exception than the rule.”

Pierce says it’s the exception because she has personally seen an increase in social anxiety among her plugged-in students over the years she has been teaching. “Now young people can’t look you in the eye, they get antsy talking to you in person,” she said.

So, in 2009, Pierce conducted a study to test the relationship between technology and social anxiety. She asked teenagers how often they use “socially interactive technologies,” like instant messages and texts, and then assessed how comfortable they felt talking to people face-to-face. Pierce found that the more the students spent using online communication methods, the more likely they were to show symptoms of anxiety about communicating face-to-face. What’s more, teenage girls showed much more anxiety than did their male peers.

These conclusions left Pierce with a chicken-and-egg problem: “Was it the use of technology that has created a heightened sense of anxiety about talking to someone face to face, or did it start with social anxiety that led to increased use of social media?” Either way, though, she hypothesizes that teens are using social media as a crutch, a replacement for the in-person interactions that help them develop socially. “It’s going to take a lot more research because, as I’ve seen in my other research about social media, due to excessive use of cell phones, teens and young people alike are not talking face to face. It’s hampering their social skills,” she said.

But Rodebaugh, the psychologist, is skeptical that technology is to blame for social anxiety among teens. “What we’ve seen from some of my students’ studies is, if you’re the sort of person who is going on Facebook to interact with people you expect to see sometime in the future, you’re going to interact with them in the real world,” he said. There’s no evidence that using technology that way has a negative effect, he added. But he agrees that adolescence is a pivotal time in a person’s social development and, as future studies probe the relationship between social anxiety and technology, “[adolescence] is a good place to look for it.”

In the years since Pierce’s study, digital communication has become even more common. Between 2011 and 2013, the percentage of teens who had smartphonesincreased from 23 percent to 37 percent. In 2012, 81 percent of teens used some form of social media.

Anecdotally, both Pierce and Rodebaugh have seen more laptops and cell phones in the classroom. Constant pings of texts and Facebook notifications can sometimes distract students, pulling them away from their face-to-face interactions and into the virtual world of digital communication. One 2013 studyfound that the average person unlocked his or her cell phone more than 100 times per day. “It’s much easier to look at a phone than to look someone in the eye,” said parenting blogger Vanessa Van Petten in a 2013 Washington Postarticle.

Technology is increasingly a primary means for socializing among teens. But it’s not clear whether this has had an effect on the number of people with social anxiety. “We don’t have data that is that intensive [about social anxiety] over the past five years,” Rodebaugh said. Even though social anxiety is one of the most common anxiety disorders (about12 percent of adults will have it at some point in their lives), researchers aren’t yet able to determine how its prevalence has changed over time; there’s still little consensus on the causes of the disorder. So there’s no proof that an increased use of technology over the past five years has led to a greater prevalence of social anxiety. Pierce plans to conduct an updated version of her 2009 study in the near future, which may shed some light on the issue.

Regardless, even if the link between technology and social anxiety were clearer, banning it in the classroom seems increasingly unlikely. Teachers from kindergarten onward are embracing laptops, iPads, and video games as educational tools, using them to help students visualize complex topics in a whole new way, despite the distraction caused by texts and social media. “Unless there were some sort of attempt to ban technology from the classroom, [that technology] will be there when most people want it to,” Rodebaugh said. “I haven’t yet made a particular policy [restricting the use of technology in the classroom]. But I’ve considered it, and I assume at some point I’ll have to.”

Pierce doesn’t think that’s the solution, though. “It’s not a matter of use or no use, it’s what kind of use,” she said. “When we take away all face-to-face communication and our young people stay in their rooms and stare at their screens, we do them a disservice.” A good comparison, she says, is how people view tests—some prefer multiple-choice while others want only open-ended questions. Using technology in the right way means giving students a balance and options with their devices, both academically and socially. “We can’t lose the social skills, we can’t lose the technology—we have to have both. We have to go back to that balance,” Pierce said.

For teens that feel socially anxious, Pierce suggests that they use technology less at home (especially for those who let it disrupt their sleep). Rodebaugh added that there are a number of treatments for social anxiety, which involve medication or therapy. “People don’t have to continue to suffer if they don’t want to,” he said.

Dear Parent: About THAT Kid

Huffington Post

Posted: 11/17/2014 

Dear Parent:

I know. You’re worried. Every day, your child comes home with a story about THAT kid. The one who is always hitting/shoving/pinching/scratching/maybe even biting other children. The one who always has to hold my hand in the hallway. The one who has a special spot at the carpet, and sometimes sits on a chair rather than the floor. The one who had to leave the block center because blocks are not for throwing. The one who climbed over the playground fence right exactly as I was telling her to stop. The one who poured his neighbor’s milk onto the floor in a fit of anger. On purpose. While I was watching. And then, when I asked him to clean it up, emptied the ENTIRE paper towel dispenser. On purpose. While I was watching. The one who dropped the REAL ACTUAL F-word in gym class.

You’re worried that THAT child is detracting from your child’s learning experience. You’re worried that he takes up too much of my time and energy, and that your child won’t get his fair share. You’re worried that she is really going to hurt someone someday. You’re worried that “someone” might be your child. You’re worried that your child is going to start using aggression to get what she wants. You’re worried your child is going to fall behind academically because I might not notice that he is struggling to hold a pencil. I know.

Your child, this year, in this classroom, at this age, is not THAT child. Your child is not perfect, but she generally follows rules. He is able to share toys peaceably. She does not throw furniture. He raises his hand to speak. She works when it is time to work, and plays when it is time to play. He can be trusted to go straight to the bathroom and straight back again with no shenanigans. She thinks that the S-word is “stupid” and the C-word is “crap.” I know.

I know, and I am worried, too.

You see, I worry all the time. About ALL of them. I worry about your child’s pencil grip, and another child’s letter sounds, and that little tiny one’s shyness, and that other one’s chronically empty lunch box. I worry that Gavin’s coat is not warm enough, and that Talitha’s dad yells at her for printing the letter “B” backwards. Most of my car rides and showers are consumed with the worrying.


But I know, you want to talk about THAT child. Because Talitha’s backward “B”s are not going to give your child a black eye.

I want to talk about THAT child, too, but there are so many things I can’t tell you.

I can’t tell you that she was adopted from an orphanage at 18 months.

I can’t tell you that he is on an elimination diet for possible food allergies, and that he is therefore hungry ALL. THE. TIME.

I can’t tell you that her parents are in the middle of a horrendous divorce, and she has been staying with her grandma.

I can’t tell you that I’m starting to worry that grandma drinks…

I can’t tell you that his asthma medication makes him agitated.

I can’t tell you that her mom is a single parent, and so she (the child) is at school from the moment before-care opens, until the moment after-care closes, and then the drive between home and school takes 40 minutes, and so she (the child) is getting less sleep than most adults.

I can’t tell you that he has been a witness to domestic violence.

That’s OK, you say. You understand I can’t share personal or family information. You just want to know what I am DOING about That Child’s behavior.

I would love to tell you. But I can’t.

I can’t tell you that she receives speech-language services, that an assessment showed a severe language delay, and that the therapist feels the aggression is linked to frustration about being unable to communicate.

I can’t tell you that I meet with his parents EVERY week, and that both of them usually cry at those meetings.

I can’t tell you that the child and I have a secret hand signal to tell me when she needs to sit by herself for a while.

I can’t tell you that he spends rest time curled in my lap because “it makes me feel better to hear your heart, Teacher.”

I can’t tell you that I have been meticulously tracking her aggressive incidents for three months, and that she has dropped from five incidents a day, to five incidents a week.

I can’t tell you that the school secretary has agreed that I can send him to the office to “help” when I can tell he needs a change of scenery.

I can’t tell you that I have stood up in a staff meeting and, with tears in my eyes, BEGGED my colleagues to keep an extra close eye on her, to be kind to her even when they are frustrated that she just punched someone AGAIN, and this time, RIGHT IN FRONT OF A TEACHER.

The thing is, there are SO MANY THINGS I can’t tell you about That Child. I can’t even tell you the good stuff.

I can’t tell you that his classroom job is to water the plants, and that he cried with heartbreak when one of the plants died over winter break.

I can’t tell you that she kisses her baby sister goodbye every morning, and whispers “You are my sunshine” before mom pushes the stroller away.

I can’t tell you that he knows more about thunderstorms than most meteorologists.

I can’t tell you that she often asks to help sharpen the pencils during playtime.

I can’t tell you that she strokes her best friend’s hair at rest time.

I can’t tell you that when a classmate is crying, he rushes over with his favorite stuffy from the story corner.

The thing is, dear parent, that I can only talk to you about YOUR child. So, what I can tell you is this:

If ever, at any point, YOUR child, or any of your children, becomes THAT child…

I will not share your personal family business with other parents in the classroom.

I will communicate with you frequently, clearly, and kindly.

I will make sure there are tissues nearby at all our meetings, and if you let me, I will hold your hand when you cry.

I will advocate for your child and family to receive the highest quality of specialist services, and I will cooperate with those professionals to the fullest possible extent.

I will make sure your child gets extra love and affection when she needs it most.

I will be a voice for your child in our school community.

I will, no matter what happens, continue to look for, and to find, the good, amazing, special, and wonderful things about your child.

I will remind him and YOU of those good, amazing, special, wonderful things, over and over again.

And when another parent comes to me, with concerns about YOUR child…

I will tell them all of this, all over again.

With so much love,