Less than a year before his untimely death, I was lucky enough to be in the audience at a presentation by Ojibway wordsmith Richard Wagamese . What I remember most about his talk was not only laughing a lot at his incisive humour, but also thinking deeply about what he said about the role of smartphones in the lives of our children. He said that we should not allow smartphones to satisfy the need our children had to gather around a fire to hear stories. He said we should build a new, alternative fire to gather our children so that they could hear from us the stories that would teach them who they were.
Does that fact shock you as much as it did me when I first heard about it? Are you surprised that millions of dollars are being spent to encourage parents to talk to their children? Given how reluctant most governments are to spend money on any kind of social program let alone one that benefits those too young to vote, the consequences of parents not talking to their children must be dire enough to warrant the spending.
California is not alone in taking action. The government of New Brunswick has also launched a campaign to encourage parents “to sing, talk and read to their children under five“. The Clinton Foundation also provides funds to organizations that will expect parents they support to take a pledge to spend time each day talking, singing and reading to their children. There are many other organizations, big and small, focused on the same project of ensuring that parents speak to their children so that they learn the words they’ll need to navigate the world.
Navigating iPad screens is an increasing popular skill among toddlers. Have you noticed how often screens are being used by harried parents to keep their children quiet for hours?
Do you worry like I do about the consequences for society when millions of toddlers grow up to be teens who do not know how to hold a conversation , who do not have the words to express how they feel but who are quite skilled at sending emojis?
This scary future may already be here. Recently primary teachers have been voicing concerns about kindergarteners not being able to manage their emotions and not being able to “use their words”. Perhaps it’s because they may not have enough words from which to choose.
What are the societal consequences of having children “be quiet” all the time? Will we lose the power of words to weave stories that show us who we are?
I’m very grateful that we have the First Peoples’ Principles of Learning to remind us what Indigenous Peoples have known about learning for millennia. The third of the First Peoples’ Principles of Learning states that learning involves recognizing the consequences of one’s actions. I wonder if we adults, who are the hosts to the children who have newly arrived on this planet, fully recognize the consequences of spending so little time talking to our children that we need to be reminded to do so through public service announcements?
Monday, 20th November is Children’s Day, the 58th celebration of the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. The United Nations hopes the anniversary will inspire people “to advocate, promote and celebrate children’s rights” and to begin “dialogues and actions that will build a better world for Children”. I have no doubt that there will be lots of money spent on encouraging such “dialogues” and “actions” but I also know that it would cost nothing at all if knowledgeable adults everywhere fully accepted, as per the fourth principle of learning, their roles and responsibilities, and put down their phones and instead picked up conversations with children.
If they did, the consequences will be priceless.