My oldest son just turned thirteen last week, and this is new territory we are navigating. There is so much about middle school and becoming a teenager that is hard. To be honest it has been hard to write about, because I wanted to find a balance that I was ok with and that my son was also ok with. So everything I share here, is by his approval.
Before I dive in though, let me share some back story.
In fifth grade, his whole elementary school was given either a tablet or a Chromebook for school work. His school was a pilot school for a larger program that was going to be implemented over the entire school district over the next four years. So basically: a guinea pig. Let’s just say it didn’t go well for my son or for many other kids. Because not only did they get these devises to do the majority of their learning and work on, they also had their classrooms rearranged and redone. So instead of regular school desks there was one family table, bean bags, rugs, couches, soft chairs, and a few kitchen chairs. Many students didn’t have an actual chair to sit in during instruction time. This was a foreign concept to me, but I was willing to give it a chance because these people are education professionals after all.
To summarize that school year, my son struggled. He struggled with the temptations to play games instead of working, he struggled with the new learning modules that he had to be responsible for, instead of having teacher led instruction, and most of all he started struggling with listening and behaving. We were all navigating new territory and so he was given more grace then normal, which was a huge blessing.
At the beginning of sixth grade, we found out that he would not have a device because his middle school wasn’t implementing the program until the following year. This was great news. This helped us start the school year off on a good note. We did continue trying to educate ourselves on how to process and navigate the technology with learning curriculum. We talked to his pediatrician. We talked to other teachers. We talked with leaders in other school districts. What we learned wasn’t exactly positive. The consensus seemed to be that this caused more behavioral issues, it caused kids to be more distracted, and worst of all it put our kids in a venerable situation because there was no way to completely safeguard them from internet predators or block all inappropriate content. One of the most disturbing things was at the end of fifth grade when the principal told me that they expected these kids to be responsible for their internet use, and it wasn’t the school districts responsibility to safeguard them. I told her that when I worked in banking their were firewalls blocking Facebook and almost every other social media, youtube and any inappropriate content. She didn’t have an answer for me as to why they were trying to force fifth graders to be more responsible than adult professionals.
During this same time, I started taking some college courses at Missouri State University. And upon my first week of classes I learned from all of my professors, that they didn’t allow phones, laptops, or tablets to be out in their classes AT ALL. That is strange…so my fifth grader was on a laptop all day to get his work done, but I am at a large, public university and it’s not allowed? That seems odd. What I learned was that more and more studies were being done about college students and their use of technology and a correlation between a drop in grades and the use of technology. One of the biggest correlations was that of physically writing things down with a pencil or pen, and retaining that information. As it turns out, you are less likely to remember something if you type it.
Having a middle schooler and having this knowledge, we were cautious. We tried to set boundaries, and we prayed that the school system had worked out some of the kinks by the time our son entered seventh grade.
Things started out well, but as the Fall semester progressed he started having trouble focusing, being respectful, and getting his work done. He seemed to not care about his work, passing his classes, or being a good student.
This pattern continued throughout the school year. I wish I had done it sooner, but I finally went and bought a book that a friend had recommended to me all the way back when he was in fifth grade. The book is called Boys Adrift by Dr. Leonard Sax. I am only five chapters in, and already so many puzzle pieces are coming together for what my son has been going through.
If you have a almost middle schooler, or a middle schooler I HIGHLY recommend reading this book. It has given me so many tools and resources about how to help him, and the why behind his behavior and the disconnect he has had with school. Here are a few points to help you understand what the book is about:
- There are five factors driving the growing epidemic of unmotivated boys and underachieving young men.
- The changes in our society has resulted in a change in the way we educate our children. This change has drastically negative effects for boys, because of the way their brains develop and the ways that they learn.
- Violent video games have a direct correlation to changes in boys personalities and diminishing their understanding of humanity.
I hope that you will find some good information if you are struggling to navigate middle school like we are.