Day three of the Wilderness Orientation and pre-season sports camps and I can’t help but reflect on an article read earlier this morning in the New York Times: It’s 10P.M. Do You Know What Apps Your Children Are Using? For our students in the Pemi Wilderness on their Wilderness Orientation the question is easy to answer. Their App is an MSR stove, a fire, a chicken noodle Cup of Soup. Their connection is a connection of shared experiences standing under a rain fly waiting out a rain squall, sharing stories around a hot meal, collectively whooping when the sun peeks out. Theirs is a personal connection, the best kind of connection, the connections that cannot be replicated on line.
What the article shares is a landscape that continues to shift beyond the relatively known apps of Snapchat and Instagram. Yes, these apps are still widely used and popular (75% of teens use Snapchat according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research), but what continues to evolve and shift are the apps that push into new territories of video messaging (Marco Polo), or the “dating” apps (Yellow), or the new anonymous apps that allow the tracks of a digital footprint to be brushed away (After School). None of this bodes well for the teeneager who slips into the pull of the social media vortex to experience the false thrills and the very real anxiety. Reading the NYT piece as a parent can’t help but trigger deepening dismay when we know all students are susceptible to the social milieu where technology places such an outsized role.
How do we right size the role? Proctor has experiences like Mountain Classroom or Ocean Classroom that are nearly devoid of technology, and we find students thrive in and love their tech-free time. Anxiety decreases. Friendships blossom. Learning happens unfettered by cell phones and apps. But these programs end just as wilderness orientation will end. The dopamine triggering technology will once again exert its gravitational pull. So right sizing must be found in our determination to create and have students spend enough time in landscapes that value human interaction over the click-swipe interaction that they have strength to resist that gravitational pull. It’s one-on-one time with advisors, the experience of students collaborating in the classroom, the athletic teams or theater productions. It’s sharing a hot mug of Swiss Miss at the Ethan Pond shelter as a curtain of rain drops down.
We start this year, as we start every year, by immersing new students in a tech-free zone to help guide them to right-sizing technology. The added benefit? They also come back knowing the value of the well set-up tarp and hot soup!
Mike Henriques P'11, P'15
Proctor Academy Head of School