Taking the Long View:
Electronic Media in Childhood
It is the sincere goal of the teachers, administers and staff at GBRSS to work collaboratively with families to encourage a mutually supportive relationship between school and home. One area in which this is especially important concerns children’s use of electronic media. Together we can look closely at various media and technology and their effects on children, and find ways to develop and maintain strong parental boundaries for whether and when certain tools may become available as they grow. The pages that follow offer an overview of the topic and describe our media guidelines for children at different ages. By working in partnership—and engaging in an ongoing conversation—we can thoughtfully navigate these realities on behalf of the children.
In our work with children at the Great Barrington Rudolf Steiner School, we strive to create an environment that encourages flexible thinking, empathy and enthusiasm for life. We intentionally support these fundamental capacities in children so that they can grow to have the inner resources they will need to confidently meet whatever the future brings.
|‘Electronic media’ is a broad term, and what falls under it will need to be updated regularly. It includes television shows, movies, videos, video games, social media, texting and instant messaging, and is accessed through devices such as televisions, computers, cell phones, portable media players, tablets, and other devices, including electronic wristwatches with functionality beyond timekeeping.|
The faculty at GBRSS observe that children’s use of electronic media can work against the development of these capacities. This is why we have created guidelines concerning our students’ engagement with electronic media and technology.
While we recognize that technology can be a valuable tool when used properly and age-appropriately, we feel strongly that young children are best-served by interacting directly with the real world and people around them, not with screens or electronics. In the upper grades, a limited and supervised introduction to various forms of media and technology can help students learn how to work with these tools intelligently and ethically.
What does Waldorf Education Do?
Waldorf education engages students’ growing abilities at optimal times so that new expectations and subjects are introduced just when children are most open to absorbing them. This kind of developmentally sensitive education helps children become balanced in mind, body and spirit. This is the long view we take on childhood, and why our educators actively strive to foster the following qualities in children:
- Enthusiastic engagement in life and a “can do” attitude
- The ability to think creatively and deeply
- Task focus and follow through
- Appreciation for a rich sensory life
- Innovation and problem solving skills
- Empathy and care for others
- Appreciation for the natural world
- A lifelong sense of wonder and curiosity
Why Limit Media?
Educators within and beyond the world of Waldorf education, as well as researchers of brain and human development, increasingly support our outlook that limiting media in childhood fosters healthy development. The bibliography that follows suggests resources for further study and consideration. These educators and researchers have found that children’s use regular of electronic media and technology is linked with:
- Detrimental effects on the nervous system and brain function
- Anxiety, distractibility and poor listening skills
- A passive need to be entertained, listlessness
- Inability to engage in imaginative, interactive, real-world play
- Rigid thinking and decreased creativity
- Erosion of conversational and interpersonal skills
- Weakened eye muscles, compromised vision
- Physical weakness due to inactivity
- Aggression and impulsivity due to repressed energy
When children accept media figures as models for their own attitudes and actions, they begin to judge their own meaning, dignity and worth—and that of others—accordingly. Social networking and other developments have created new safety hazards for children. And the seemingly anonymous nature of social networking—for example, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—can lead to new forms of social exclusion and harassment when used among classmates. This can be particularly detrimental to the social fabric of a class.
Leading by Example
|it is up to us
to make more permeable
these screens that divide
Children are affected by adults’ media use, including cellphones and handhelds. In her research for the book, The Big Disconnect, Catherine Steiner-Adair asked children how their parents’ use of mobile devices made them feel. Children reported that they felt “sad, mad, angry, lonely, and ‘like I’m boring.’” Bringing more awareness to our own use of devices has the potential to preserve and strengthen the parent-child bond.
It is our hope that a shared exploration into the topic of electronic media use in childhood will have a positive effect on our school community.
Limits on media and technology help safeguard children’s highest capacities for thinking, feeling and willing. When these capacities are protected and nurtured in childhood, people are better able to realize their thoughts, dreams and potential. That is the long view we hold for our children.
Media Guidelines: Early Childhood through Grade 4
“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”
- The daily experience of the youngest children in our school—early childhood through grade four—should be free of interaction with electronic media and technology, including computers and cell phones or other handheld devices or screens.
- Providing a media-free environment for the youngest children will require a new level of awareness on the part of adults regarding when, where and for how long to use devices in the presence of children. While these devices are often necessary, thoughtful boundaries can guard not only our children’s early exposure to media, but also the quality of our relationships with them.
- We encourage parents in each class to work together to form agreements on media-free playdates and parties. Open parental discussion and shared exploration on this important topic are helpful, and our teachers and administrators can suggest resources for group study.
- We ask that parents not let children use an adult’s cell phone or iPad to distract them during trips to the grocery store, restaurants, while waiting for an appointment, during car rides, etc., since this practice creates dependence on devices from an early age. Instead, we suggest putting together a “to go” bag of simple activities and small toys to bring along when needed. Children can also be encouraged to be curious about what is happening around them, giving them the chance to observe and wonder about the world, develop skills for waiting and traveling that don’t rely on electronics, and gain practice and comfort in participating in social life.
- We understand that children will occasionally—at family gatherings and community events, for example—be exposed to electronic media you might not have chosen. Acknowledging this, please keep your child’s regular home life, play dates, and rhythms media free—and do your best to work with relatives and friends to support our media guidelines. If this admittedly sticky issue is approached with tact and grace, loved ones opposed to this view may soften their stance when they begin to notice how engaged, creative and resourceful children are without electronic media and technology.
For Students Grades 5 and Up
Children in the upper elementary grades may begin to have some occasional and carefully considered exposure to media. Older middle school students—reflective of the Waldorf curriculum—are ready to consider the ethics and impact of various technological tools. In this spirit, a new media awareness program about digital literacy and citizenship, CyberCivics, has been introduced for our seventh and eighth graders. This resource, based on published academic research, provides our teachers with developmentally appropriate questions and discussion points for educating students about media use and its associated implications (responsibility, reliability of information, cyberbullying, “digital drama,” addiction, etc.)
Media guidelines for grades 5 through 8 are as follows:
- It remains important for media use to remain limited. This will take commitment and resolve on the part of parents, who must take extra steps to remain aware of the content and source of media that may be introduced into the child’s life. We continue to expect that the daily life of the student does not include regular access to electronic media and content. Please monitor access. If a middle school child very occasionally uses the computer at home for an agreed-upon purpose, please have her work in a visible family space.
- Limited viewing of carefully selected and supervised TV shows, videos or films may take place on an occasional weekend (not on school nights, including Sundays). Again, please be aware of content.
- School research assignments will be based on library research or sources provided by the teacher. Learning generally takes place in direct, hands-on ways. If there is any exception—as occasionally occurs for middle school students—the teacher will provide clear directions and parameters on what is permitted. If a teacher considers an online search necessary for a particular topic, students will receive specific guidance from the teacher on how to engage in responsible internet-based research and teachers will communicate this exception to parents.
- We expect that all of our students do not engage in online gaming or video games.
Cell Phones and Handheld Devices
- Children should not be provided with smart phones or personal audio/video devices.
- If on occasion a cell phone may be needed for a child’s parental communication, please notify the class teacher in advance.
- If a teacher gives a student permission to have a cell phone at school, it must be turned off and kept in a backpack.
- Cell phone use is not permitted on campus, at school events or trips, or on school buses without a teacher’s permission.
- Cell phones should be used only as phones and not for texting, messaging, as cameras, or for internet access, etc. If you feel your child must have a cell phone for communication purposes, please keep the device simple—such as a flip phone, not a smart phone—and disable access to additional features.
- To model awareness and boundaries around media use, we ask that adults also refrain from using cell phones, texting or using other electronic devices while moving through the school buildings, walking on campus grounds, and while in the process of dropping off and picking up children.
- As recommended by Robin Berman, MD, in her excellent book, Permission to Parent, (2013), we suggest that families have a shared land line at home rather than individual cell phones. For further explanation, please see Permission to Parent.
- Our students should not use electronic social networking sites (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.). These not only pose safety threats, but the removed quality of these interactions also hampers students’ ability to interact with their peers in socially healthy ways.
- So that they can cultivate empathetic and genuine interpersonal skills, students should not interact through email and texting. If a group email needs to go out to a class regarding a party, practice, etc., it should be sent directly to parents, not to students.
Consequences of Media and Technology Misuse
For the well-being of individual children and all students in our school, students misusing electronic media and technology will meet the following consequences:
- Misused cell phones will be confiscated and parents will be contacted.
- Personal audio or visual devices used at school will be confiscated and parents contacted.
- If a teacher observes a negative impact on a child’s individual or social behavior or on academic performance due to media use, he or she will invite the parents to attend a meeting. Together the teacher, parents and faculty administrator will determine a solution.
If you are struggling to follow the media guidelines and would like support, please contact your class teacher. Many families in our community have met similar challenges and can offer helpful, realistic suggestions. New after-school activities and offerings at GBRSS help children stay active and engaged after the school day, and we encourage parents to consider what media-free rhythms at home make sense as the children grow. Many classes have created study and discussion groups on this topic, and our school library contains relevant books and articles. The GBRSS Parent Association, school administration and faculty will keep you updated about opportunities such as informative speakers, thought-provoking documentaries on children’s media use and new study-groups. We are committed to working with you!