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No Phones Allowed? My Kids Were Practically In Tears

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Read Time: 3 minutes

Ezra Alexander is a teacher and administrator at NJIS, a private school in Jakarta that caters to many ex-pat kids, including his own. This year it introduced a Let Grow Play Club: the school stays open for mixed-age, unstructured free play in a no-phone-zone.

It’s that “no phones allowed” part that proved a challenge to Ezra himself, who told The Indonesia Expat newspaper:

My children happen to be enrolled at NJIS. After their school activities, they would usually head towards my office and spend time with their mobile devices. When I asked my children to participate in Let Grow Play Club, they were almost in tears because they would not be allowed to bring their mobile devices.

A kid tries to stay bored at Play Club.

During the first week, my son simply sat on a bench and read. Now, though, he enjoys participating in Let Grow Play Club by playing football and comes back drenched in sweat. The Club is also my daughter’s favourite after-school activity now. She made new friends from different grades, and the interactions between children of different ages got her really excited.

Why did Ezra start a Play Club? As he told the paper:

“I am a parent as well as a teacher. Upon reflecting on my childhood and what my children are doing now, I could totally see how sheltered our children are becoming. Thus, what can we do to retrieve our children’s independence – something I would also like to call “student’ agency”? And that is how Let Grow Play Club at NJIS started.

Bringing back a bit of childhood…

Ezra grew up in Canada, and remembers how he’d play outside, unsupervised, till suppertime. Of course there were no phones — it was an earlier time. He wanted to give that gift to his students and his own kids — the feeling of deciding what to do, and who to play with, and how to make things happen. The Play Club model was dramatically different from the usual adult-run after-school activities (and phones) because:

Whatever the activity might be – sports, dance class, Mandarin lessons, just to name a few – there is usually little input from the children. Even when they have free time, the children are often glued to the screen, be it either a television screen or a mobile device. I remember when I was my students’ age, I would be out of the door as soon as the sun was up and I would be back in at dinner time.”

Free play = 21st century skills.

“With Let Grow Play Club, we are teaching our students to become independent thinkers. We also want to model the 21st-century skills that we want them to develop. Yes, we could explicitly teach these skills and model the behaviours, but what is vital is for the students to learn by doing. Here at NJIS, we often emphasise mastery, autonomy and purpose. When children have that autonomy and purpose – or, the freedom to choose what they want to do – the resulting motivation and drive is so much greater.

Would you like to create a no phone zone where kids can party like it’s 1989? Ask your school to start a Play Club! Our implementation guide — here — is free!

Ezra Alexander Njis

Ezra Alexander

Comments

  1. CaryCary says:

    The entire school day, plus after-school activities on-campus, should be phone-free. The day the family telephone was unbolted from the kitchen wall and put in the pocket of every toddler, second-grader, and teenager was a disastrous day for childhood.

  2. MarkMark says:

    In most very other arena, LG pushes for kid’s independence, to be treated more like adults, to be able to make their own choices, to be equipped for freedom. Yet with smart phones, so far the opposite. How demonic they must be. Yet many adults I see out and about are commonly glued to their phones. To the extent they collide, knock me over if I’m unprepared, w/out means to protect myself, insufficiently nimble. I would highly resent such a dichotomy as a kid. Especially if it left me disconnected from most socializing of my peers. I miss out on much now because people, orgs figure I’ll be alerted by text. Be able to be alerted, verify by text, transact by text. Alas, a nerve disease keeps me from accessing, sending text. I don’t have the requisite motor skills, nor proper coordination of my eye muscles. I consequently have much problem accessing sites, including for medical services. Kids, IME, would be left utterly dependent on their parents to navigate, perform things we expect they are prepared for. Or want them to be. Including much homework, no? My recollection is that kids spending much time on landlines was demonized somewhat similarly when I was kid. Not in my household, but in many

    • SandraSandra says:

      I think this is a stellar point. We expect kids to engage in lots of activities outside of regular school hours, whether they be school-handled or not, and yet also to be free of the digital tether we adults carry around in our pockets (or in front of our noses). But we all live now in a society whose social infrastructure very much relies and sometimes even depends on the use of digital communication. I used to carry a city bus schedule in my pack wherever I went – you might recall, these were like mini magazines with a dozen or more pages for all the routes and timetables. I’d needed it in case I wanted to plan my route to a new place on the go. But in an increasingly digital world, these don’t seem to be on offer. Why use resources to print that out anymore when people can access PDFs on their devices, or use Google to plan their trip for them? Efficiency is great, but in this case it means I can’t expect my kids to be as informed as I was without a device – certainly, I can’t expect them to be as autonomous.
      As a brief aside, every notice about an upcoming school-offered extracurricular comes to me by email, and apparently none of them are communicated directly to my enrolled son.

    • JimJim says:

      Such a double standard, especially now that they’re promoting Jonathan Haidt’s aggressive anti-tech agenda and his new book on it. LG also supports delaying giving kids their first phone. They advocate for trusting kids and treating them more like adults in the real world but for restricting their tech use? They have a rational view on every risk except for tech where they toe the mainstream line. How are people handling the cognitive dissonance? It seems like Lenore and the LG people hold a romanticized ideal of childhood in the pre-internet era; it wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies back then either. I see no reason we can’t have the best of both worlds and see the outdoor freedom of the past and modern tech as complementary rather than in conflict. Unfortunately everyone is drinking Haidt’s line uncritically even though Peter Gray, another LG co-founder, came to a completely different conclusion from his review of the supposedly anti-tech research. Spoiler, he found the anti-tech evidence in the literature to be weak to non-existent. Haidt is doing some cherry picking and/or overstating very small effects.

  3. CandaceCandace says:

    Mark, read The Anxious Generation by Jonathan Haidt. You will see that people’s concern about children’s smart phone use is more than just the typical hand wringing that happens with new technology every generation. It’s research based.

    • JimJim says:

      No, it’s same hand wringing. Every generation tries to say the this time is different. It never has been since time immemorial. Haidt is cherry picking studies that support his anti-tech agenda and glossing over their flaws. Peter Gray came to the opposite conclusion in his review of the literature, that the research evidence for the anti-tech moral panic is weak to non-existent. My own googling would also seem to support Gray more than Haidt. The research on whether or not tech really has a negative impact on kids is inconclusive at best.

  4. BruceBruce says:

    Glad to see this issue getting some traction. It’s plain that smartphones are wrecking young people’s mental health. The jump in suicides among tweens/Gen Z is deeply troubling. I love how Jon says that today’s kids are “overprotected in the real world and underprotected in the virtual world.” I’m gonna do what I can to boost the signal on this via social media. People *really* need to wake up about this.

    • JimJim says:

      Fellow LG co-founder Peter Gray would disagree with Jon Haidt that tech is the reason the increase in youth suicides. Gray puts the blame on increase school pressures plus lack of real world freedom. He’s also written articles debunking claims that smartphones are wrecking young people’s mental health. It’s not plain at all if you look past the headlines and scaremongering. It’s interesting that LG’ers can assess risk rationally in every area except tech where the mainstream line is toed.

  5. JimJim says:

    I’ve always thought Let Grow had a weird double standard when it came to kids and tech, especially now that they’re promoting Jonathan Haidt’s aggressive anti-tech agenda and his new book on it. LG also supports delaying giving kids their first phone. They advocate for trusting kids and treating them more like adults in the real world but for restricting their tech use and activities the virtual world? They somehow have a rational view on every risk except for tech where they toe the mainstream line. How are people handling the cognitive dissonance? It seems like Lenore and the LG people hold a romanticized ideal of childhood in the pre-internet era; it wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies back then either and old school parenting had its share of flaws that I don’t think should be resurrected. I see no reason we can’t have the best of both worlds and see the outdoor freedom of the past and modern tech as complementary rather than in conflict. Unfortunately everyone is drinking Haidt’s line uncritically even though Peter Gray, another LG co-founder, came to a completely different conclusion from his review of the supposedly anti-youth tech use research. Spoiler, he found the anti-tech evidence in the literature to be weak to non-existent. Haidt is doing some cherry picking and/or overstating very small effects.

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