Thursday, October 20, 2011

"The Reluctant Roughhouser"

Lawrence J. Cohen and Anthony T. DeBenedet, authors of The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It (Quirk, 2011) wrote the following article, which appears in the most recent issue of Independent School. I share it with you because I think it is important and because it recalls pleasant memories of roughhousing with Emily, Louisa and Isaac. Here is the article in its entirety. Hope you enjoy it. Perhaps it will inspire you to roughhouse.

Some parents are ready to roughhouse at the drop of a hat (or the whack of a pillow!). They know that horseplay builds closer relationships, helps children feel more comfortable in their bodies, and increases their ability to handle competition. Other parents see that roughhousing could be tons of fun--for someone else. They might be scared of injuries, or they might avoid roughhousing because they think it stirs kids up.

If you are worried about roughhousing, we hope you will reconsider after you read our tips for keeping it fun, safe, and under control; our warm-up routine to help you over your reluctance; and some simple games to get started.

* Extra enthusiasm: Be loud, wild, outrageous, and exuberant.
* Improvisation: Follow the flow. You might start with a pillow fight, move on to playful wrestling, and end with a game of chase.
* Keep it light. Get silly, lose your dignity, and fall over a lot.
* Make contact: Physical contact is the name of the game, even if it's frequent high-fives during non-roughhousing games like checkers or catch.
* Tune in: Make eye contact with your child. Notice and read his or her facial expressions. Does he or she need things toned down or revved up?
* Take breaks: Pause frequently (we like to shout, "banana!" which means everyone freeze). Pause for upset feelings and injuries--even imaginary injuries--but go back to the roughhousing as soon as everyone is ready. Pause for reminders about the rules (no necklocks, punching or kicking!).
* Start earlier: Roughousing calms children, rather than escalating them, as long as you start early enough that they can wind down on their own timetable, well before bedtime.

Here's a warm-up routine you can do with your child, your spouse, or a fellow reluctant roughhouser. Try each move for a few minutes or until you get the hang of it. Notice your feelings as you complete this exercise.

1. Stand face-to-face a foot apart and take turns loudly shouting, "Ha!" This gets everyone giggling and loosened up.
2. Hold your hands in front of you, elbows bent, a few inches from the other person's hands. Start moving slowly in a circle, or back and forth in a line, trying to feel the "force field" between your hands so that it feels like you are pushing or being pushed, even though there is no actual contact. Flow between leading and following.
3. Now touch palms, Keep elbows bent. Gradually push harder and harder, but exactly match your strength to each other, so that neither person moves, or you both move in a slow circle.
4. Add elements of competition. Try to get the other person of the mat or out the door. Keep elbows bent and avoid sudden shoves. Make it as much a dance as a competition.
5. Get on the carpet or a mat, on hands and knees next to each other, facing the same direction, shoulder to shoulder. Start to interact in slow motion, bumping into one another, flowing above and below each other.
6. Add an element of competition, stepping things up. Try to get the other person flat on the ground. When you do this with a child, let them win most of the time.

Finally, here a few roughhousing games to get you started.

* In The Sock Game, everyone gets on the floor with shoes off and socks one. On the count of three, grab for the other people's socks while trying to keep your own socks on.
*This game can flow easily into Incoming, a wilder game where everyone has a pile of rolled up socks that they use as missiles, like a dry indoor water balloon fight. Make sure to ham it up with loud sound effects and dramatic death scenes.
* Chase and miss is a simple game where you chase your child with goofy boasts, then trip and fall at the last moment, missing them.
With Bodylock, grab your child, claiming that they will never get away from you, then somehow they manage to squirm away.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Shrinking Privacy and the Challenge of Social Media

A recent article in the Gaston Gazette (Monday, Oct. 3, 2011) highlights the challenges that social media poses for everyone, and certainly for schools. Before turning to the main points of the article, let me begin with some observations on how privacy has shrunk in my eleven years as Head at Gaston Day. Before the advent and expansion of social media, youthful indiscretions--the kind that are part and parcel of growing up as a teenager--transpired either completely away from adult view or, when they did come to the attention of supervising adults (parents, teachers or school administrators), disciplinary consequences were handled quietly and with a minimum of public exposure. Those days are gone. Now teenage mishaps and mistakes are routinely shared on Facebook and quickly become a matter of public discussion and, at times, controversy. There is also a really good chance that the episode will end up in the newspaper.

Social media has made school culture and administrative decisions more transparent. Many parents welcome this transparency--until and unless the incident involves one of their own children. Personally, I regret the way in which social media has the potential to turn every adolescent mistake into a public embarrassment. Obviously, at one level, I also regret that every school crisis or misbehavior becomes a public black eye for Gaston Day School. But that's the way it is these days for every school. School administrators live with the sure and certain knowledge that social media will sooner or later bring some private transgression involving his or her school before the public. When times are good and our schools are calm and well behaved, we know it will not last forever. When someone makes a mistake--student, teacher, administrator--educators must quickly and correctly repond to the ensuing public debate, balance public demands and private considerations, and ride out the storm of controversy. Resilency has become a hallmark of educational administration. How quickly can a school bounce back from one Facebook controversy and resume a more stable learning environment? How many public controversies will surface this year?

If the loss of privacy as a result of social media only affected school administrators, then perhaps we could accept it as the cost of doing business. Unfortunately, it sometimes has terribly damaging consequences for our students and children. This brings me back to the Gazette article: "Experts: Sexting, Facebook can put students in danger." In that article, Sameer Hinduja, the co-director of Florida Atlantic University's Cyberbullying Research Center, states: "Many [young people] haven't set secure privacy settings on their profiles, and may not realize how easy it is for a Facebook friend to spread embarrassing content from a private profile. Add in impulsivity, multitasking and the ability to instantly post or text from a mobile device, and the results can be disastrous." According to Hinduja, "13% of children 11 to 18 [have] received a naked or semi-naked photo of someone from their school Nearly 8% admit sending a photo." When an embarrassing photo is shared on Facebook with nearly everyone who knows a teenager, the personal humiliation can be overwhelming to the point of desperation.

What can we do to protect our children from misusing social media? Here is a list of tips for safe online usage printed in the same Gazette article:

* Learn about and use the privacy and security settings on social networks. Consider restricting access to your page to a select group of people. For example, your friends from school, your club, your team, your community groups, or your family.
* Think twice before posting pictures you wouldn't want your parents or future employers to see.
* Be cautious about how much personal information you provide on social networking sites. The more information you post, the easier it may be for a hacker, thief of stalker to commit a crime.
* Install a security suite (antivirus, antispyware and firewall) that is set to update automatically.
* Use tools to manage the information you share with friends in different groups. If you're trying to create a public persona as a blogger or expert, create an open profile or a "fan" page that encourages broad participation and limits personal information. Use your personal profile for trusted friends.
* Let a friend know if he or she posts information about you that makes you uncomfortable.
* If someone is harrassing or threatening you, remove the person from your friends list, block the person, and report the incident to the site administrator.
* Make sure that your password is long, complex and combines letters, numerals and symbols. Ideally, you should use a different password for every online account you have.
* Be cautious about messages you receive on social networking sites that contain links. Even links that look like they come from friends can sometimes contain malware or be part of a phishing attack.
* Be aware people you meet online may be nothing like they describe themselves, and may not even be the gender they claim.
* Flirting with strangers online could have serious consequences. Because some people lie about who they really are, you never really know who you're dealing with.
                                                                                                        Source: Florida Atlantic University

Social media is here to stay and has so many positive features. Even so, there is also a risky, darker side. Parents should seriously discuss the responsible use of social media with their children. Parents also need to remain vigilant and supervise their childrens' use of social media to ensure safety. I hope the tips above are useful.