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March 4, 2009

How to disengage!

3004527244_13f77149d71Okay back up on my soap box……just read Marc Prensky’s piece on ‘Engage or Enrage Me’. Sounds like we are talking about a spoilt brat, or a well catered client at the very least. Challenging and thought provoking! Where do I start….today’s children seem constantly engaged, or maybe, occupied might be more apt, – so much so that they come to expect it – and don’t necessarily know how to deal with life when it is not so engaging. This is not always a good thing. Just ask any 9 year old to turn off all electronics on the weekend and go play. What about a power outage for more than several hours! Luckily we have rechargeable laptops, Nintendos, Cell phones, IPod players – or else we might be bored!     

Children today grow up in a world where the big media giants spend billions of dollars on marketing technology to…..well……to children.  In 2002 Nintendo invested 140 million in research and development alone while the US federal government spent less than half as much on research and innovation in education. Children today are consumers like never before.  We have affluent parents who think parenting is a contest and treat children like a client…….catering to every whim, looking for the competitive edge so they will stand out, making sure they have access to all the latest gadgets, constantly offering a barrage of scheduled activities to keep them occupied 24/7, never wanting for anything, instantly gratified, always ‘engaged’……..is this a good thing? I think not. Should we as educators be expected to do the same?

A kid can’t even go for a drive with the family and daydream out the window as there is a movie to watch and handheld on screen games to play so as they are ‘engaged.’ 

Many children have had piano lessons, tennis lessons, swimming lessons, the latest gadgets, (think Wii, Nintendo, Playstation), the list goes on,  long before the child ever wanted or asked for any of it. What does this lead to? Lack of motivation.  No passion.  Disengagement. But not boredom, they haven’t had time.  So we continue to rush around trying to ‘engage’ them. Are these the kids that Marc Prensky refers to as “tuned out”? They sit up the back, nothing excites them. As a teacher trying to engage these kids I would need to be a one man act, bring in the clowns; bells and whistles; swing from the chandelier and maybe they might take notice.  I have tried this approach and it feels like putting on a birthday party for 22 kids, repeat times 6 each day! We are not in the entertainment industry, we are educators, and while yes we do need education that is rich, authentic and real world experiences…there is a bottom line of what teachers can achieve in the restraints that we work within and what is actually good for us. Sometimes there is a lesson in itself by having to do an activity that is not ‘engaging’. Real life is full of these moments! Sure, the online world of gaming is a great escape from real life drudgery at times but it is an unrealistic expectation that every activity has to be’ engaging’ or we run the risk of enraging our students. This is setting ourselves up for failure and disappointment.  I think we need to look carefully at the environment we are exposing our children to from an early age. It is a ‘hurried’ childhood for many, they get to do it all and see it all and have it all and then what? What is there to look forward to? So they ‘disengage’.  Maybe we are doing children a disservice by constantly engaging them in all manner of activities from an early age? I say it is okay to be ‘bored’, out of boredom comes creativity (ask any parent that has strived for balance and turned off all electronics for more than thirty minutes – the kids are at first ‘bored’ and at a complete loss as to how they might occupy their time…..but hang in there….wait another 30 minutes and watch the creativity begin….conversations…..connections….with people in the same room. ) 

Carleton Kendrick Ed.M.,  LCSW says

So when you see your kid “doing nothing,” whether she’s sitting on the front steps, seeming to stare into space, or making a space colony under the dining room table, or re-reading a comic book for the 100th time, let her be. She’s just taking a little time out of her busy day to have a childhood.

So seemingly not engaged. No, just taking time out to be a child.

Okay this blog is all over the place, I am thinking out loud, drinking red wine, and now need to get to the point! Find a balance in life.  Engage children but also let children be bored. My mother called it benevolent neglect – she used to snib the back door and we were not allowed in until it was dark. It allowed me to develop creativity, enjoy my own company and daydream.  Probably didn’t look like I was always engaged, I was not enraged either. Sure, the big media giants can engage kids for endless hours. That’s not always a good thing. Educators don’t always engage kids in everything we do, and that’s not always a bad thing.

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4 Comments »

  1. Fantastic post, Amanda. Makes me think, both as a parent and a teacher.

    -Nadine

    Comment by dickinsonn — March 5, 2009 @ 6:58 am

  2. Video games, social networking and the Internet are not just engaging, they’re addictive. They are an easy way to keep kids occupied. Yes, they are engaging, but do they provide value to our kids. Like Amanda, I believe there needs to be a balance in the activities that kids choose. Too much of one thing is not good.

    Comment by hammerw — March 5, 2009 @ 1:49 pm

  3. You are right Wayne, addictive and engaging? Do we sometimes confuse the two? If a child spends endless hours playing a computer game are they engaged or addicted or both? It adds a whole new dimension to modern parenting and playdates. I have had children come to ‘play’ and watch them sit their communicating on two laptops and not a word was spoken, both on Nintendo’s and then computers. Is this healthy? Easy to manage as a parent but in our best interests? I am not sure. It felt like their was some weird social experiment going on, they did this for 3 hours. I let it go as I was fascinated. One of them left and the other one said, “okay bye” That was it! Didn’t really need to be present at all did they? Is this a novelty that will pass? Or is this some flaw in the way we are socialising children. By the time children in the US are 21 they will on average have spent 10000 hours playing video games, they will have sent 250000 texts or e-mails and 10000 hours on TV. (Will put the source link in here when I find out how….Youtube Shift Happens) But how many hours are spent in ‘live’ conversation – face to face? Who is keeping these records?
    On another occasion I was ranting about the need for parents to be physically active with children and later had a parent ask me for advice. The question being “What is the minimum amount of time I need to spend with my child?” Now that’s a whole other blog…… .

    Comment by pekina — March 5, 2009 @ 2:44 pm

  4. Amanda, I like your point of allowing time for children to “be bored.” Or, at least, having nothing planned. We have a take home toy here at preschool and the children fill in a journal with what they do with the take home toy over the weekend. Some entries have kids going to Kumon, ice skating, birthday party, swimming, playground, playing video games, yes, and more! I can’t believe the amount of activities all squashed in to one weekend! These are 3 and 4 year olds! I agree with you that unplanned time often fosters creativity. In addition, the kids need some down time just to rest. I have really only thought of the implications for the busy children in my class in the here and now, but your blog in conjunction with Prensky’s article sheds some light on the implications of these young “engaged/hurried children’s” lifestyles for the future.

    Comment by pelkeymatt — March 5, 2009 @ 2:54 pm


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