Our students are growing up in one of the safest times in human history, and yet our world feels less safe. Educators and parents alike need not look too far to find a cautionary tale or article on all the things that could go wrong that will set a child up for failure in the future. In response, we structure, order, and arrange to ensure the best possible outcomes for students. At the same time, anxiety and depression among students appear to have risen dramatically within the last 10 years. How is it that at the safest time in history, students report more anxiety than ever before?
Some research points to children’s lack of independence and control over much of their lives as strong contributors to the rise in anxiety. The level of responsibility and independence required of students 50 years ago and today looks quite different. Today’s students have more planned activities, less unstructured play, fewer hours of sleep, and markedly increased amounts of screen time–all of which contribute to feelings of being out of control. The problems are complex with many contributing factors, but one key factor is less autonomy in their lives.
As I wrestled with questions on how to support my children in developing healthy independence, I came across Let Grow. The project aims to support students at home and school in growing their sense of independence and willingness to try new things in the hopes of seeing a decrease in stress and anxiety. The idea is simple: Go home and do something new and different on your own, without parent or adult help. For a younger student, it might be something like preparing part of a meal independently. For an older student, it might be scheduling a medical appointment on their own. It might be learning a new skill in an area of interest. After the independent activity, reflect together on what was hard. What was fun or easy? What did they learn about themselves?
This quarter we have been emphasizing our flagship of Citizenship. Many elements of this flagship require our students to practice and make mistakes as they grow into the responsible citizens God created them to be. With more free time approaching during the Christmas holidays, I would like to challenge our community with the principles from the Let Grow project. Where can you give students greater autonomy? What unique interests might they like to explore? During this break, I am going to challenge my own children and step back to watch them try something new. Let’s work together to encourage our students’ personal growth and autonomy one task at a time and see where that takes them.