There is little doubt in the modern world that the word ‘connected’ dominates our lives as it mostly indicates whether we can indeed use the ubiquitous technology of our daily existence in an active way. However, there is an unavoidable irony for those of us who spend our lives strategizing about young people and studying their growth and development. Technology is connecting us but all too often to vicarious lives, to characters or experiences that may or may not be real. Sadly, the Internet is alive with predators, charlatans and general pretense of a worrying sort. Young minds can be subjected to a bewildering array of options for sensory stimulation, but so much of it is mere fantasy. What’s the problem with that, some may well ask? Well, the problem is the same one as in so many aspects of our lives and it is that of balance. A little escape from reality has always been attractive to people throughout the ages, from the ‘suspension of disbelief’ at the heart of Greek Tragedy to the world of Tolkien or JK Rowling, but the ease with which young people can access large volumes of technological escapism makes balance more elusive than ever.
“Connected but Alone” could be the title for a book to be written about the pitfalls of a life with a plethora of debatable Facebook “friends” or ‘Chat Room’ buddies but without meaningful, real relationships with caring, human beings. Gordon Neufeld, an authority on child development, captures it this way, “In every area of life, the research tells us that it is the relationship that matters: between parents and children, between teachers and students.” Shawnigan is a school built on relationships and it always has been. Not surprisingly, we believe vehemently in the relationship being at the heart of great teaching and learning, beginning long before Plato and Socrates and continuing through countless, inspiring encounters, some of them indeed captured in the pages of this publication. Meaningful relationships are firmly rooted in caring and, of course, that emotion is fundamental to the security and the sense of self-worth that are intrinsic to our most basic human needs. It is essential for the contented, fulfilled life that we feel the sense of belonging that comes from being appreciated or needed by someone. Schools which have abrogated their responsibility for everything other than some debatable, academic results have completely missed the point of the teaching profession in general and perhaps of their place in our familiar social structures in particular. Rarely in modern history has society needed good schools more than it does right now.
“Well connected” is in fact closer to “well adjusted” nowadays and it should be a laudable goal for all parents and their children. Of course you can survive the adolescent journey on your native wit and instinct, much like the Walkabout ritual of the Australian aborigine, but, although a stint in the wilderness can surely involve life-threatening challenges, the 21st century life of affluent society actually abounds with more dangers than the Outback. A young person cast adrift from the reassurance of meaningful adult connection will resort instead to the guidance and approval of peers, to what Robert Bly terms ‘The Sibling Society’ in his book of that name. The resultant “blind leading the blind” situation can be fraught with misadventure, though not half as much as its companion, “devious leading the blind”. It is my firm belief that the need for independence is part of the adolescent journey and indeed perhaps the most challenging part for most parents. In their enthusiasm to do the best job of parenting that they possibly can, there are as many of today’s parents who will over-protect and over-guide as there are those who will be too indulgent with access to technology. Both approaches are flawed. The answer lies, as it always does, in the middle. The balance is what yields the greatest chance of success just as it does with everything in our lives. Indulge without gorging, consume without devouring, protect without smothering, and connect without dominating – those could be our watchwords.
Good schools have a concise approach to the guidance needed sometimes by our young charges when it comes to some aspect of behavior or deportment: ”collect, connect, correct” should be our sequence of actions. That same pattern could be followed by adults in general in their dealings with children although, given what we learn from our young people when we really listen to them, we would probably have to add the phrase, “or be corrected ”! Either way, the crucial part is the establishing of an interaction that could just become the foundation for a meaningful attachment. That attachment would not need a particular program to open it, but it would become part of a veritable network of meaningful relationships, all grounded in the valid, human transaction that is the connected life. As Catherine Steiner-Adair remarks in her important work, ‘The Big Disconnect’, “It’s never too late to put down the iPad and come to the dinner table.” Long may we prize the connections formed through breaking bread together and have cause to celebrate being a part of something larger than ourselves, a larger family.