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  • Writer's pictureNicholas Moats

How The Anxious Generation Applies to our Family and Yirah School House

Jonathan Haidt’s book, ‘The Anxious Generation,’ really hits home with its deep dive into the mental health issues that kids started facing around 2010. It’s all about the big shifts in our culture and how they’re shaping the way our kids grow up. Haidt’s got some solid tips for parents, schools, and everyone else on how to tackle these challenges and make sure our kids get to enjoy being kids. I’m excited to share how his insights have changed the way we do things in my family and at Yirah School House, especially when it comes to parenting and teaching.

The key principles that we are applying to our family.

1. Embrace Risky Play. Children need to learn that some activities hold more risk than others, by learning about risk at a young age, children are better able to assess risk later in life. Our 20-month-old son, Lincoln, spends most of his day learning about how to judge risk. Activities like running through the trees to hid from mom, playing soccer with the big kids, and riding his bike off our couch all come with some degree of risk and he needs to learn how to judge that risk on his own.

2. More supervision online, and less in the real world. Since the 1990's the age in which children are allowed to play unsupervised has continued to rise, while the age children get unrestricted access to the internet and social media has continued to fall. The data presented in The Anxious Generation proves how reducing unsupervised play in the real world, and increasing access to social media and the internet have a negative impact on mental health and cognitive development.

3. Focus first on God. Jonathan Haidt describes another relationship between mental health and performing spiritual rituals and practices. Even though he is an Atheist, Jonathan cannot deny the data that shows that people who attend religious services, participate in communal worship, practice meditative prayer, and observe a sabbath have better mental health. This book doesn't differentiate between religions, but as it is said in Joshua 24:15, "as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord".

4. Collaborate with our community for the good of our kids. It takes a community to change social norms. If our community wants kids to grow up in the real world, rather than online, we have to work together. Parents have to talk with each other and decide when it is best for our children to gain new freedoms and responsibilities like access to phones, a car, social media, and other technologies that haven't been released yet. If we work together, our children will never feel left out because they don't have access to a specific technology and they will have the time and space to grow up in the real world.

The key principles that we are applying to Yirah School House.

1. More Time to Play. As the "importance" of standardized tests scores increased across the country, the amount of time children got to play decreased. This has not only had no effect on schools' test scores but has caused a decrease in the amount of time children get to learn how to engage with their peers. When children are less engaged with their peers and with nature, they tend to feel more lonely, anxious, depressed and express more disruptive and aggressive behavior in school. Schools that have done the opposite of the norm, increasing recess time instead of decreasing, have seen decreases in office referrals, classroom disruptions, and improvements to mental health and academic performance.

2. Less regulated Play. As a parent I want my son to grow up in be independent and capable of solving problems on their own. Recess and play time is the perfect opportunity for children to begin learning how to be independent, and how to solve problems. Independent play is also linked to greater self-regulation later in life.

3. Learning environment free from phone distractions. Kids need to spend time learning from each other, and with each other, in the real world. This can only happen if we put phones away and actually engage with the people around us.

Is all technology and social media bad? Absolutely not, but life takes place in the physical world and that is the world where children learn some of the most important things about life. As parents, schools, and communities we need to let our children grow up in nature, learn how to interact with others by doing just that, interacting with others. I strongly encourage every parent, teacher, and community leader to read this book and deeply consider how a childhood in the real world could lead to positive changes to children's mental health, sense of belonging, and ability to become independent.


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