YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – There are professionals at your child’s school that have their finger on the pulse of what’s happening with students – it’s the school counselor.
It’s National School Counseling Week, and with that in mind, we wanted to find out from local school counselors what they are seeing in the classroom and what teachers wish parents knew when it comes to how they can help their child succeed at school and in life.
Teachers, counselors and staff at Valley schools are seeing a trend. It started well before COVID-19, but the problem persists, and it is coming from several fronts. Teachers know parents are their strongest allies, and there are things they want you to know that can help.
If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that kids have to adapt to a world of technology-driven education. It’s something they are doing pretty well, but there are many milestones that teachers are seeing that are being left in the dust.
Mary Jo Rowan and Wendy Butch, both counselors in the Poland School District, surveyed their teachers and staff and drew on their own experiences and knowledge to help us identify what teachers are seeing in their students post-pandemic and in the ever-growing impact of media on our children.
KIDS, SOCIAL SKILLS AND MAKING FRIENDS
More than 8 in 10 public schools have seen stunted behavioral and socioemotional development in their students because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Institute of Educational Sciences, with tardiness and classroom disruptions the most frequently cited behaviors that have increased since in-classroom instruction resumed.
“It almost like they [students] couldn’t cope. They couldn’t cope when things were hard,” Rowan said. “I’m noticing kids will just break down. They won’t know what to do, and they won’t have those resiliency skills to bounce back. So, I am noticing a change in their self-regulation and their social skills.”
Some milestones in development are falling behind. For instance, many preschoolers can bring up the latest app on a smartphone but can’t tie their shoes. Students in elementary and middle school struggle with self-regulation, eye contact and having conversations. There is just not enough time in school for these basic life skills to be taught, and if they are abandoned at home, the implications are profound, and many parents don’t even know there is a deficit.
“The teachers are the experts in the content areas, but parents can really help by making sure there are some good routines at home,” Butch said.
BAD HABITS FROM THE PANDEMIC
According to a 2019 report by Scholastic, kindergarten classrooms are more advanced and driven by preparation for standardized tests. The expectation of what children need to know is closer to what used to be expected in the first grade. So, there is no time to teach basic tasks like washing hands, tying shoes, brushing teeth or zipping jackets.
THE CYCLE OF INSTANT GRATIFICATION
But it’s not just in the primary grades, the challenges spread through middle school and into high school. The consensus is clear, screen time is playing a big role in these deficiencies, and parents need to be aware of their role and how they can intervene.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that on average, 8 to 10-year-olds spend nearly 8 hours a day with a variety of different media and teens spend about 11 hours. All of that is taking away from time spent with real human interaction and it shows in the classroom.
“Like with TikTok, it’s almost become an addiction. They are looking at their phone. They have to check the next video, the next thing and they are sitting together, but they don’t know how to socialize,” Rowan said.
A school nurse said that kids sometimes are sleeping in her office because they are up late looking at screens.
“They are so tired because they are up so late watching screens, and they are tired when they get here. Make sure that sleep environment is what it should be,” Rowan said.
That means 10 to 12 hours of sleep, which translates into an approximate 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. bedtime.
“Even as parents, that technology is addictive. You have it, you want to check it, You are looking at it, and then you are not speaking with your kid, and your child is learning from you,” Rowan said. “That lack of human connection leads to depression. You think you are connecting on your screen, you are not. You are not feeling that same feeling as you would if you are talking to someone face to face or in person.”
So, what can parents do? Local educators collaborated and come up with these suggestions that parents and their children can work through together:
- Using eye contact when speaking to people
- Telephone etiquette– saying hello and goodbye; not just waiting and not speaking
- Ask questions, not just making statements. (Example: “My water bottle is empty.” Instead, “Can I please refill my water bottle?”
- Tech-based instant gratification— lacking patience and the ability to wait
- Coping skills— don’t know how to deal with when things aren’t perfect. (Ex.: how to cope when you get hurt or feel hungry or your feelings get hurt).
- Sleep environment– many times, students are tired because they stay up too late on screens.
- Reading to your child to teach early literacy skills and love of reading/learning in place of watching videos on TV/YouTube.
- Social Skills— Speaking with your child and teaching social skills and problem-solving skills. A lot of times, students are lacking skills in how to even approach another peer to strike up a conversation and make a new friend, and the way they are going about it can sometimes be off-putting to other peers.
- Writing, painting, using stickers— just about anything fine motor to work on a pincer grasp.
- Playing board games and card games— practice turn-taking and different basic academics at the same time.
- Self-regulation— being able to handle hard things. Resiliency.
- Executive Functioning— organizing, color coding
Even before the pandemic, a 2019 study revealed that nearly 75% of high school graduates reported that they were not prepared for the “real world.” It also showed that the majority believed that their parents and grandparents were better prepared.
“Get the children involved. Let’s plan our meals together. What do we need to buy to be able to make this meal and then actually take them to the grocery store and have them help pick out the items, building in the budget,” Butch said. “Talk to them about money and being able to save money for their future, things they want to buy that maybe their parents can’t provide for them. I think there are a lot of good feelings that come from working toward something and earning it.”
Butch said it is never too early to help your child recognize what their interests are and try to develop a career path that supports those interests and abilities.
“Parents can partner with us definitely on that,” Butch said. “We have the same goal. We want our kids to be well prepared and feel good and confident going out into the world.”