Pushing Our Kids to be Just Like Us

As a parent of an almost teen I have a lot to learn and a lot of mistakes that I’m sure I’ll make. In fact, I’ve already started to find myself caught up in a sea of confusion, tears, fragility, moodiness, and anxiety that we are both going to have to learn to navigate through.

Introvert vs Extrovert

What compounds this even more is that my daughter is an introvert and I am very much an extrovert. I’m more reactionary and have an outward approach to my surrounding environment.  I get to the point quickly, have vast amounts of energy, like to try lots of new things, and like being surrounded by large groups of people. A person like me can easily fatigue an introvert. My daughter on the other hand is more pensive, a quiet observer of the world.  She is sensitive and her focus comes from within. She is thoughtful and makes logical decisions about the friends and activities that best suit her personality. She is one of the truest friends you could ever find and because of this she is happy with just a few friends otherwise her energy would be depleted. As I’m sure you can imagine the dichotomy between these two personality types can result in a mountain of frustration between us as she anticipates the wrath of the mom overlord and I anticipate a fragile broken winged butterfly dropping to the ground in a heap of defeat.

Getting it Wrong

Over the years I have tried to get my daughter to be an extrovert. When she was little I joined playgroups and worked at getting her to have a full social circle. In grade school and told her not to be shy and that she should raise her hand in class so the teacher would think she was an active participant. In middle school I recommended that she join clubs and team sports. When my introverted husband interjected and said the orchestra that she played violin in was a good team sport I rolled my eyes in exasperation. In junior high I found myself suggesting to her that she might want to explore hanging out with the extroverted girls who are socially advanced and already into boys because she might expand her circle of friends and have more fun. Did I really say that?   I had clearly forgotten that I once was an introvert who cowered by my parents at the playground, never wanted to be called on in class and was considered socially naive by the more experienced girls when I entered into High School.

Characteristics

I know I shouldn’t completely blame myself for pushing the qualities of an extrovert on my daughter. The reality is that our society sets it up in a way  that we appear to give more value to these characteristics. From our early years of school through to our later years of life we are taught how important it is to be popular, a team player and a leader to become a successful, well-rounded person. We learn that if we embody these characteristics we will have a greater impact on the world. Take a look at the characteristics of an extrovert:

  • Are social – they need other people
  • Demonstrate high energy and noise
  • Communicate with excitement and enthusiasm with almost anyone in the vicinity
  • Draw energy from people; love parties
  • Are lonely and restless when not with people
  • Establish multiple fluid relationships
  • Engage in lots of activities and have many interest areas
  • Have many best friends and talk to them for long periods of time
  • Are interested in external events not internal ones
  • Prefer face-to-face verbal communication rather than written communication
  • Share personal information easily
  • Respond quickly

Conversely the characteristics of the introvert listed below are often misconstrued  as having negative connotations such as shy, socially awkward and an inability to easily adapt.

  • Are happy to be alone – they can be lonely in a crowd
  • Become drained around large groups of people; dislike attending parties
  • Need time alone to recharge
  • Are territorial- desire private space and time
  • Prefer to work on own rather than do group work
  • Act cautiously in meeting people
  • Are reserved, quiet and deliberate
  • Do not enjoy being the center of attention
  • Do not share private thoughts with just anyone
  • Form a few deep attachments
  • Think carefully before speaking (practice in my head before I speak)
  • See reflection as very important
  • Concentrate well and deeply
  • Become absorbed in thoughts and ideas
  • Limit their interests but explore deeply
  • Communicate best one-on-one
  • Get agitated and irritated without enough time alone or undisturbed
  • Select activities carefully and thoughtfully

Admittedly I’ve distorted these characteristics in the past as they pertain to my daughter and it’s taken me the better part of twelve years to realize it. The reality is that she’s a well-adjusted, active and intelligent person that reacts to her environment differently than I do. Studies show that introverts brains are actually  wired differently than extroverts. They have more gray matter in the frontal lobe of the brain that is linked to abstract thought than extroverts and they also produce less dopamine because they don’t need as much stimulation.

What I’ve realized is that there’s no one size fits all when it comes to personality traits, and it’s a disservice to an individual with unique qualities and characteristics to try to mold them into something they are not. The risk that we run if we take this approach is alienation, withdrawal and a loss of open communication, and that is one thing that I don’t want to loose as I navigate these sometimes choppy waters with my soon to be teen.

(Characteristics from: Hirsh & Kummerow, 1989; Keirsey & Bates, 1984; Lawrence, 1985; Myers & Myers, 1980.)

The Wonderful World of Recess

recess

My daughter began attending a Buffalo Public School two years ago. She was in 5th grade and that very same year New York State mandated recess. My daughter came home the day it was announced and was barely able to speak because she was so excited. I cried. Literally. I had just completed a huge playground build at her previous school, and both of my children knew the importance I placed on play and physical activity. This was such an enormous win for districts in NYS.

The first day my daughter was in such deep anticipation of recess that she skipped orchestra practice to see what exciting things this new world would offer. I found out that she skipped and I gave her a somewhat stern lecture on why it wasn’t ok but inwardly I was chuckling and giving her high fives. I had done a good job of instilling in my daughter a strong belief about the necessity of play.

Cogs in a Machine        images-2

That day she came home despondent. Recess wasn’t all that after all. They had sat in a room while the teacher tried to figure out what to do with them. It was like leaving a hectic job behind and going on a vacation to a remote beach. You get there and have nothing but time and you can’t think of what to do next. The adaptation to a leisurely pace of doing nothing other than taking care of yourself and recharging seems uncomfortable and daunting and almost not worth the adjustment.

They only had twenty minutes but that was enough time to make them all uneasy. How do you fill it? What do you do when your only task is to move around a bit, recharge, and take a much-needed break? Honestly it was sad to me. In our district and I’m guessing in many of yours, we had moved so far away from recess that the sheer notion of it left us utterly confounded.

The grumbling from teachers ensued almost immediately. Where do we have it? Who is going to supervise it? What does recess even mean? What kinds of activities are we supposed to be doing? Then simply, there’s no time for it. I heard all of this and I thought to myself, we have a deep-seated problem on our hands. Kids and teachers were functioning as cogs in a machine with no understanding of how to recharge. Everyone needed to step back, think about the school day in a way they weren’t used to, think outside the box about what really contributes to success in the classroom, and make a change. A healthy change, to which brain breaks, recess, and physical activity were integrated into each and every day.

Balls and Jump Ropes, and Games, Oh My!  images-3

As a parent I tried to help. I drafted an outline as to how we could create loosely structured playtime for the students. I recommended they survey the kids and find out what their idea of recess was. From that information I came up with the idea of creating a simple recess box filled with hula-hoops, chess sets, chalk, jacks sets, balls, art supplies, and books. These were all items that the kids associated with down time, play, and relaxation. Some were interested in the classic mum ball and even more were interested in Just Dance. One day my daughter told me that a classmate was so enthused while participating in Just Dance that he split his pants wide open. This seemed a minor complication from the incorporation of recess.

The Proof is in the Pudding CPAP_60_minutes

A lot of studies have been done that prove the importance of physical activity and the direct correlation to positive outcomes in the classroom. There are also findings that show that if a child’s schedule is changed to where they participate in a Phys Ed class one period prior to a class in which they struggle, they will improve markedly in that difficult class. At a workshop I attended we were told of a school that struggled with math scores. They changed schedules around and found that the students made up a year’s worth of material because of this change. Perhaps it wasn’t the easiest change to make but I am sure the positive end result far outweighed the difficulty of implementation. I have also heard of teachers who allow for brain breaks, little bursts of activity that the class partakes in for 1-2 minutes before each class. My younger daughter’s teacher uses the web site, go noodle daily to help the kids “get the wiggles out” and stimulate their brains. Regardless of age these breaks are important and there are lots of different activities to do.

http://www.qualityhealth.com/childrens-health-and-parenting-articles/kids-exercise-school-performance

https://www.gonoodle.com

http://www.actionforhealthykids.org/what-we-do/programs/game-on/about-game-on/get-involved/640-brain-breaks-and-energizers

Where are We Nowimages-4

The other day I attended a board meeting where I was asked to speak about the importance of recess and physical activity in our schools. But our district was already a glowing example of what’s being done right with recess and physical education, right? Wrong. There is something called “state mandated” and then there is something called being “in compliance”. Unfortunately in our district the majority of administrators have chosen the path of noncompliance. In the link below you can see NYS requirements. It might not be a bad idea to look into your state’s requirements and see if your district is meeting them.

http://www.p12.nysed.gov/ciai/pe/peqa.html

Why would administrators choose this path if they know the importance of physical activity as it directly correlates to success in the classroom? Three reasons; 1: They simply are not convinced that there is a correlation regardless of the endless studies that date back far more than a decade; 2: They are too bogged down in politics as usual and are blaming poor performance on large class sizes and lack of parent and student engagement, and 3: Money. At last week’s board meeting we were told that the 3 million we would need to hire the proper amount of Phys Ed teachers to get us into compliance just isn’t there and we’re probably not going to get it.

I don’t know a lot about school budgets but I am a firm believer in a mentality of “there’s got to be a way.” I’ve been told by people at City Hall who didn’t know I was a parent that there is surplus each year in every department and they end up scratching their heads as they try to determine how to spend it. It’s time to find the money and build a foundation of wellness that embraces whole child, whole school, whole community.

About Leelah

shutterstock_231600901

Yesterday was the most glorious sunny Sunday in Buffalo NY. The temp hit 30 after about 2 months of bone chilling weather and I walked outside with my daughter feeling happy to be alive. I had just written a blog entry about cyber bullying and my daughter and I were discussing the topic when I told her I wanted to share a story. It was about a girl named Leelah.

Leelah died recently after throwing herself in front of a truck on a lonely, dark stretch of road not far from her house. She did not feel happy to be alive. Leelah had been born, Josh Acorn, a boy, and since the age of 4 she had constantly struggled with gender identity issues.  Her biggest wish in life was to transition to a girl and be accepted as Leelah, a kind, artistic, and intelligent young woman.

Sadly, Leelah’s parents did not support her wish to transition. “We don’t support that, religiously,” is what her mother stated after her daughter was already dead. In an interview she continuously referred to Leelah as her son. No acceptance.

Initially it appears that Leelah found  support amongst her peers. In a school environment where often times it seems  kids are ridiculed for being different as opposed to celebrated for their uniqueness, this is to be commended. But the support waned as her parents cut her off from school, social media, and her friends, and Leelah became more and more isolated.

Had Leelah’s parents not cut her off from everything, would she have had access to a supportive LGBT group at her school, in her community? What resources were available to her? If you go to the school’s web site: (http://www.kingslocal.net/Schools/KHS/Pages/default.aspx), it appears they have a lot of different clubs: everything from ski, yearbook, and philanthropy clubs to film, anime, and self defense clubs. Do they have an LGBT club? Does your child’s school have one? I’d like to think that in the face of this tragedy they’ve begun an LGBT club at Leelah’s school. My daughter’s school has a gay straight alliance and they offer resources for transgender students as well. There is a high level of student involvement within this group.

We need to be doing a better job in our schools and our communities to support these kids. When they come out and live as the person they want to be they need to be fully supported and their commitment to diversity needs to be applauded.

http://www.glyswny.org

http://www.lgbtcenters.org

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Justice-for-Leelah-Alcorn/752262548182134