Jonathan Huge: Plan short-sighted

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I am one of a number of parents who are upset by the recent implementation of Soda Creek Elementary School’s “Hang Up and Hang Out” program. The aim of the program is to get parents to stop taking cell phone calls when they are with their children in order to promote responsible technology use. Students were required to participate in a mandatory assembly, were sent home with contracts for parents, and were told that they would get a button only if their parents signed the contracts. Parents felt that unless they complied, their children would feel excluded.

At the same time, those parents now contend with constant complaints and harassment from their kids whenever they must make a phone call in their presence. I am of the opinion that while it is important for parents to be available to their children as much as possible, there are times when the handling of outside responsibilities is required. I also think that handing a 6-year-old that kind of power in the household relationship is short-sighted and can only lead to conflicts in the home.

While the new program’s aim is to increase quality family time — which no one can argue with — the way that it was implemented was essentially mandatory (else a child is put in the awkward social situation of not getting a button) and was done without prior consultation from parents. Additionally, this parent at least is left with the impression that what was communicated to students was that if parents are talking on the phone then that somehow means that children are less important or being neglected.

Might there be other lessons a child might glean from a parent handling other responsibilities: the value of earning money and its relationship to the health of a household, and the example of a parent being responsible to parties outside the household? Aren’t parents best left to explain to their children that there are times that they must be available to other people, as well? Isn’t that an important realization for children to have — that parents are in fact separate people from them, and that they are loved regardless of whether a parent needs to take a call from a demanding boss or an important client?

The school system’s choice to implement this program without consideration for the practical realities that families face indicates to me a lack of perspective on what appropriate boundaries need to exist between the school system and the students and families it serves. Personally, I’d like to see a little more oversight and have a bit more say in what gets said to my child, especially with regards to what rules exist in my household.

Jonathan Huge

Steamboat Springs

Comments

Nikki Casteel 3 years, 10 months ago

It is my feeling that there is certainly a need for attention to be brought to the issue of over-zealous cell-phone/text usage, particularly in regards to how much time it can take away from the living, breathing people in our immediate surroundings. We have all experienced the disappointment of sharing space with someone who would rather bury their face and brain in their handheld device, television screen or video game than connecting one-on-one. It is very disappointing indeed. Reminders of this are important, particularly for people highly addicted to these devices. However, offering rewards to children whose parents choose to buy in to this program and refusing rewards to the children whose parents do not or possibly can not for business/family reasons, seems divisive, dangerous and unfeeling to me. Children are presented with many opportunities each day to socially segregate themselves from others, the last thing they need is for the administration to provide yet another.

I signed the form and sent it to school with my child because I did not want her in the awkward social situation of not receiving the same benefits as her friends: the button. Now, "some dumb button" may not seem like a great reward to adults, but to a 6-7 year-old I guarantee it is. You could pass out wadded up balls of used scotch tape and Kleenex and the children who didn't receive them would feel left out. And what about the children whose parents somehow did not receive the message about the program due to their children not bringing papers home, no ready access to email, etc? They did not receive "buttons" either. Is this right?

I feel this program, while honorable in its intent, is overreaching and invasive and that the school should spend more time, money and energy developing programs to enhance learning during school hours and less time attempting to influence what goes on at home. This presents a great opportunity for learning for both sides. By all means, send me an email reminder to "Hang Up and Hang Out" from time to time. No harm done. I can ignore it if I so choose. But, don't give rewards or punishments to my child based on my response, and give him/her the idea that if I speak on my cellphone or respond to an email I somehow do not value them. That won't be taken so lightly.

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exduffer 3 years, 10 months ago

They could have given the other kids "My Parents Don't Appreciate Me" buttons.

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Josh Kagan 3 years, 10 months ago

I believe one of the most important aspects of hang up and hang out was to promote family interaction and dialogue. I am fairly certain there was no intent to get in the way of adult responsibilities. If this past week caused some parents the need "to explain to their children that there are times that they must be available to other people, as well? Isn’t that an important realization for children to have — that parents are in fact separate people from them, and that they are loved regardless of whether a parent needs to take a call from a demanding boss or an important client", then what a great success. Who knows when/if that conversation would have happened without the program? At the very least it made me aware when i reached for my phone on the way to school - could i wait 10 minutes to make the call until after i hugged my kids good bye? Most of the time the answer was absolutely.

As far as the buttons perhaps there could have been a better or different way to raise awareness for folks to pay attnention to the amount of time they use their cell phones during family time (judging by the reaction - maybe not). However, if anyone thought the plan was too intrusive into their lives to participate I am fairly certain they could have simply asked for a button if their child felt left out. Perhaps it would have been a mild inconvenience to write a note to a child's teacher asking for a button, but nothing more. Just a heads up - this week is winter carnival most of the kids in school will be wearing winter carnival buttons that promote winter carnival and support a great cause.

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Jeff_Kibler 3 years, 10 months ago

Jonathan Huge:

Excellent letter. It's obvious that some deem it in their purview to raise your children as they see fit. It should be your kids, your rules.

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Jonathan Huge 3 years, 10 months ago

Josh, I appreciate your response, and for the most part, I agree with you that the school’s “intent” was not to disrupt normal adult responsibilities (the effect may be something else). I also agree that having candid conversations with our children about a whole host of issues, including technology usage, is vital to healthy family outcomes (and in my household we do this regularly). My objections are by no means intended to defend egregious use of cell phones, television, computers, or any of the myriad other distractions which are too often within reach these days. And no, a reminder that we can wait ten minutes to see our little ones off with a hug and a kiss before returning a phone call is not a problem for me – and I’m glad that you found meaning in the program.

My point here was to raise objections and serious concerns about the way the program was implemented as evidenced by the reward system (and thereby ‘punishment’ system)- which I think is blatantly flawed, and by the lack of parental input solicited for something that is so obviously a ‘home’ issue. I think the larger question though (which maybe you didn’t catch) – is this something schools should even be doing? But lets address your comments first.

If the aim of the program was to create family dialogue, why not have blank spaces on the contract whereby kids and parents can discuss and decide their own terms as to what is ‘appropriate’ for their households with regards to cell phone usage? That to me, is healthy discourse- and a strategy far more likely to have a longer lasting positive impact on familial habits.

Unfortunately the terms of the ‘experiment’ were dictated to us, and I can’t help but wonder if the criteria of the program may have been influenced more by the sound of the slogan than by best practice for family communication strategies. “Hang-Up and Hang-Out” doesn’t have an “unless…” afterward – which is why so many parents in town found themselves on the sharp end of the 6-7-8 year-old kid’s-complaint stick this week (regardless of whether they were answering a call from a long-distance relative, the babysitter with whom they are about to meet, or the President). The terms of the contract were yes or no (not a lot of room for discussion there) and besides – what 1st, 2nd, 3rd, grader understands the fine print of “try” to not use a cell phone for the upcoming week? The net result is, “Hmmn… I’ve got something to hold over mom and dad’s head.”

Cont'd...

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Jonathan Huge 3 years, 10 months ago

One more thing I’d like to remind- and I’m a little surprised to not have heard more upset about this in comments - someone decided to initiate review of the parameters of this program with your kids without you – and you weren’t told about it until it had already happened. The contract terms weren’t asking for your discussion, they were telling your children what to think. Someone decided to assign to all kids in the school the task of writing a letter to their parents giving reasons why you should do this program. Button or no button – your kid was told what the answer should be.

By the time you came into the picture, there wasn’t a good choice remaining other than to have a conversation with a 6 year old that maybe this program isn’t such a great idea. The issue is more than just the valid concern that a 6 year old might feel left out of a school activity, that they might not get some privilege that other students get… it’s that the school has determined the parameters and already ‘sold’ the kids on their merits. What say do you have left? You’re either the bad guy for saying ‘no’, the conformist heel for saying ‘yes’ just to keep the peace, or you drank the Kool-Aid (interestingly enough, mine felt that not giving buttons to the kids whose parents didn’t sign was ‘really unfair’ – smart kid that she is- thought the whole thing was a bad idea – FYI, we did sign – I fall into ‘conformist heel’ category, but I’m trying to atone here).

The button’s not the point (though it’s an example of a poorly thought-out plan). I expect a public school system to have the foresight to not put myself, or my child in that position at all.

I still hold that it’s not the school’s place to institute a program directly to children during regular school hours that regulates non-education-related home life behavior.

To me this is a primary issue, and it deserves a far more rigorous response than your suggested, “… note to a teacher requesting a button”. It’s part of why I was so surprised when I learned of this program. It makes me want to ask a lot of questions. What business do they have deciding what values are right for me and my family? Who regulates that? Who decides? What educational precedent exists that supports this sort of action? Has this program been tried before in other settings? How could they possibly present any potential home-life-related program format that would in-fact be right for all families whose children are being presented to?

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Jonathan Huge 3 years, 10 months ago

What’s next? To use a hypothetical- should we expect to see a contract coming home for “Vegetarian Week”? Sure, plenty of studies show that it’s probably healthier, better for the environment, and certainly more humane to go veggie- but when a public institution has an assembly about the subject; passes out ‘Meat is Murder’ buttons during school hours, sends my kid home from school with a contract for my family to eat Tofu all week and asks, “Daddy, why are you killing all the animals?” someone has to cry foul… preferably sooner than later. It’s an exaggeration, but the comparison holds true.

And really, that’s my point here. I, and a lot of other people I know, don’t want to go through this again on the next thing. Send information home, great. I’ll read it. Offer suggestions, wonderful – I might take them. Provide programs like “Hang Up and Hang Out” in an after-school setting, send a worksheet home to help facilitate my child and I having our own family discussion, never hear a peep out of me. Present untested pet projects and programs that affect my household to my 6 year-old instead of class time without my consent, comment, or prior notification? Nope. What were you thinking?

And please don’t misunderstand – we do have wonderful school systems here. I have been consistently impressed and adore my child’s teachers and other staff members I’ve met. I don’t hold them responsible for any of this. I have, and continue to solicit from them any and all information, ideas, suggestions or strategies for raising a happy, healthy, and successful child – however, for my kid, I insist that it’s my responsibility to decide which of those to implement and how. That’s MY job.

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papafu 3 years, 10 months ago

Just wondering if Mr. Huge went directly to the school to voice his concerns before he felt it appropriate to write his letter.

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greenwash 3 years, 10 months ago

Very well said Jonathon . I couldnt agree more . FYI Our family chose not to participate in this program .

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director 3 years, 10 months ago

I liked the presentation "Building Peaceful Homes" that the school district offered followed by the "Hang up, Hang out" week as ways to build awareness on issues of increasing concern among pedagogues. The research is out for anyone to read.

Teachers and school administrators are granted the feat of educating and managing our children for 35 hours a week. Over the years, they have spent a greater portion of that time "managing" our children because they bring a plethora of behavioral issues from home into the classroom - a direct result of overstimulation of the amygdala.

I choose to interpret the school's initiative as a "cry for help", a noble attempt. It messes with our egos, shakes shame, stirs guilt and creates discomforts. A great start to sincere dialogue... Thank you all for paying attention and expressing yourselves.

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Kenny Reisman 3 years, 10 months ago

On behalf of Mindful Life, thank you for these comments. Our intent with Hang Up & Hang Out and our partnership with local schools and non-profits has been to engage and raise awareness, rather than to feel intrusive. As some of our mechanisms for carrying out the program clearly did the latter, we will be evaluating our approach to make sure it is as seamless as possible as we progress. We thank everyone in the community who has given us their feedback, not just on these blogs. We feel the common thread of mindful parenting is at the heart of these discussions, and we appreciate the people of Steamboat Springs' willingness to engage in this fruitful dialogue.

If anyone has any more comments about this, feel free to contact me directly at kenny@hangupandhangout.com , or call at 846-5101. If I don't answer, you'll know why :)

Thanks Kenny

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addlip2U 3 years, 10 months ago

Mr. Jonathan Huge, I could have not said my feelings on this issue any better. Thank you for expressing concern of many. When we as parents are dictated as to how we raise our children, we no longer live in a free country.

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Rob Douglas 3 years, 10 months ago

I certainly hope that in these times of tight budgets, not a single penny was spent on this program - a program that has absolutely nothing to do with the education of children. Rather, it is just more feel good nonsense and government social engineering that improperly encroaches on the parent/child relationship. Thank you Mr. Huge for speaking out. If there were more folks like you willing to stand up to government interference with the rights that belong to the people, we could kick the Nanny State disease that is breaking the back of this country to the curb where it belongs.

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heboprotagonist 3 years, 10 months ago

Sounds to me like a bunch of parents got called out on their less than ideal behaviors and didn't like it. My suggestion to parents who don't like their kids being instructed on how to act in polite society: Home school 'em. That way you can brainwash them all you want with your entitled psuedo christian b.s. Oh wait, you don't have the time/money for home school? Well, I guess you need to get your priorities straight. This is what you get for "outsourcing".

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Jonathan Huge 3 years, 10 months ago

I think you hopped on the wrong side of the fence here "hebo"... especially if you're against the 'brainwash' part.

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Jeff_Kibler 3 years, 10 months ago

My suggestion to hebo: choice and competition in education, AKA vouchers. Brainwashing is the tenet of public education. BTW, I'm an atheist.

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Jonathan Huge 3 years, 10 months ago

Likewise am I (well agnostic anyway)... and as I indicated in my comments: call ME out on my less than ideal behaviors at will. I welcome it. We can all use reminders. Don't do it through my kid. And don't do it like THAT. Like I said - had this been a program where families talk about technology together and decide appropriate methods to use it, I wouldn't have had a problem with it. The school deciding what's right for my family without talking to me about it? That's an issue.

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Jeff_Kibler 3 years, 10 months ago

Agnostic or atheist, I'm ambivalent either way. Just don't get yourself in the middle of an argument between Mike Auldridge and Jim Heffernan.

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mavis 3 years, 10 months ago

I understand both sides of this debate and I am so glad to see this being put out there. I agree with it to a certain extent. With that being said if I would have given that information to my parents they would have flipped on me, especially in this economy. Life is life and if your income and survival depends on how you are responsive to your clients ... YOU ANSWER THE PHONE and deliver the service. It is life. When done properly your kids learn how to WORK for a living and that is somewhat LOST within our current society. Children need to learn to Buck up and Deal so they are NOT reaching for the handouts when they are older. Is it important to talk with your child and try for balance? YES... does that mean putting this control in your 6year old?? NO.. Are there times when you are acting as a single parent because the other one is at work and you have to multi task??? Yes...

Bottom line... There was a good intent with this theory but it set parents up to be defensive and rightly so. Maybe a solution would be to allow parents set realistic goals WITH their kids of when there would be "cell free" times in their house.

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Kerrie Cooper 3 years, 10 months ago

How sad that programs have to gently guide parents to do the thing they should know and do on their own, but don't. Kids which should be the most important aspect in a parents lives' have become 2nd, 3rd and forth to jobs, technology, socializing, and everything else and now are being raised in solitary homes-despite the parents physical presence since their time & energy are spent on cell phones & everything else taking away the little precious time they have with their kids.

Parents wake up, the child in front of you IS the most important person and the voice on the line, can wait for a time your child doesn't need you...even to just listen to what they learned in school that day. You only have ONE chance with each child, then they are gone!

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Jonathan Huge 3 years, 10 months ago

"lovestoread" I couldn't agree more. It is sad, and it's a serious issue. However, I think it is dangerous to allow public institutions to exceed their mandate. This issue or another one, we trust school systems with our most precious cargo. Whether or not we agree with the principle's of the program, and regardless of its intentions, its content was subjective and parents weren't given a choice as to whether (or more importantly, "how") their child was going to be 'given the pitch'. As important as quality time with children is, as a society I believe that it would be irresponsible to allow the warm-and-fuzzy to cloud our judgement as to what challenges are appropriate for a school system to try to tackle, and what methods are acceptable for the them to employ in doing so.

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runnerbikerdriver44 3 years, 10 months ago

Jeff-Voucher system? You have to be kidding me... Maybe it isn't evident in Steamboat, as we are fortunate to have great schools, no matter where you chose to enroll your kids. In other parts of the country, the voucher system does nothing but create an elitist society, and further separate the classes. It is a horrible system, that keeps lower classes stuck in schools that are under performing because they have no way of getting to "better" schools. While these schools continue to underperform, their budgets get cut, due to the brilliance of tying standardized testing to school funding, and the kids who have no choice but to stay there will continue to have a poor education. All of this goes one while parents who can afford to bus their kids will move them to another school, sometimes another district, thereby dropping enrollment numbers, forcing schools to close, and increasing the number of crammed classroom sizes. Vouchers...

At this point in time, the government should just admit what they're doing with all of the cuts in funding-they are trying to privatize education so they no longer have to foot the bill.

Your points about parenting and school involvement were fine, but vouchers? Seriously? Vouchers?

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hcciii 3 years, 10 months ago

I agree with Jonathan's outlook on this issue, but worry even more about the "unintended consequences" of initiating a program like this without prior parental notification, approval, or ability to opt-out. While I have no doubt that the organizers intentions were good, my career long exposure to some of the less savory aspects of society, including child abuse, makes me worry when wide implementation of untested programs occur. How do we know that little Johnny didn't go home, comment about his mom's cell phone use, and get beaten for it. Or little Suzie, who is now stressed in class, because she was afraid to even mention the program to her dad, and thinks she will be teased because the forms didn't get signed. I don't know that any of this occurred, but neither do the organizers.

I hope in the future that better communication with the parents occur prior to this kind of program being initiated.

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