How shutdown impacts self reliance in kids

Tonya Mead, PhD, MBA, M.Ed, School Psychologist, CHFI, CFE

To paraphrase Glenn and Nelson (1988), there are four critical factors involved that help parents to raise children and teens to become self reliant adults. We hear about resilience a lot which is defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.” But, what exactly is self reliance? Self reliance is defined as “reliant on one’s own powers and resources rather than those of others.” Here then are the critical factors parents need to emphasize when seeking to develop greater self reliance abilities in their kids in the wake of the current Coronavirus Pandemic.

  1. Solid networks versus frequent access to never-do-wellers and the apathetic.
  2. Meaningful contribution to society versus boredom rising from irrelevancy.
  3. Hands-on-involvement through active living versus over-indulgence in passive television, social media tweeting, video watching and game playing.
  4. Abundant nuclear and extended family resources versus less reliance upon one single individual.

But what if the present lockdown, shut down, stay at home quarantine orders do not facilitate but, in fact, work against the critical factors for which child practitioners and experts deem necessary for healthy child and teen development? To explain what I mean, let’s take a look at each of these four critical factors researchers in the field of psychology and child development deem vital to the development of self reliant skills.

Solid social networks

In the eastern part of the United States, the New Yorker and the New York Times have written extensively about the negative effects of social isolation. I guess we would need to strike the benefits one would receive from social networks off the list. To understand what I mean, take a look at this quote “state officials have ordered one in three Americans—living in New York, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut, Michigan, and Massachusetts—to remain indoors.” (Robin Wright, March 23, 2030).

What is it about isolation that scares psychologists, experts in child development, and sociologists? Science Direct, when reporting upon the findings of a recent research project wrote, “children who were socially isolated tended to have lower subsequent educational attainment, be in a less advantaged social class in adulthood, were more likely to be psychologically distressed across adulthood and were more likely to be obese and to smoke.” (December 2014).

Meaningful Contribution

With regards to the second item, meaningful contribution, journalists from the Los Angeles Times in the western states lament about the dismal jobs report brought about first by the Coronavirus Pandemic and next by the rush of states’ governors to shut to state economies. They write, “the U.S. experienced a “14.7 unemployment rate in April. How long before 20.5 million jobs come back?” (Don Lee, May 8, 2020). So our next critical factor, meaningful contribution, to aid children, teens and young adults toward a productive life as a self reliant adult must be stricken too.

While there are many ways in which one might contribute to society, there is no argument that gainful employment tops the list. The American Psychological Association, in discussing this concept posits that making a meaningful contribution to society refers to participating in “work that is important, worthwhile and valuable (e.g., Martela & Pessi, 2018; May, Gibson, & Harter, 2004; Pratt & Ashforth, 2003).

Hands on Involvement in Learning

Let’s turn to the examination of hands on involvement in learning, the third critical factor necessary to ensure the healthy development of self reliance within teens and young adults. According to a prominent Quaker education website which touts the success of its educational programming as early as 1845, “hands on learning is a form of education in which children learn by doing. Instead of simply listening to a teacher or instructor lecture about a given subject, the student engages with the subject matter to solve a problem or create something.” Mmmm, let’s think for a minute here. At the height of the Coronavirus Pandemic beginning in mid-March, the public k-12 schools of 48 states and the District of Columbia closed as well as schools in all five US territories — American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands. A majority of the schools within the educational system have remained closed for the rest of the school year. With these closures, announcements petered out that students would utilize remote learning and home school to acquire knowledge and master new information.

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Will this transition from in-person classroom instruction to online and remote learning bode well with the students at the k-12 level and those attending college? The Harvard Kennedy School Schorenstein Center on Media, Public Policy and Politics may have an answer. It reported upon research which concluded that “a growing number of studies show a negative impact on student achievement when K-12 students move to online formats compared to their usual in-school experience.” While the benefits of an online education are numerous, one disadvantage for which many can agree is that online instruction is not conducive to hands-on training to better understand material. Hands on involvement in learning then is another strike out.

Abundant nuclear and Extended Resources

The final critical factor up for discussion is abundant nuclear and extended resources. It may go without saying that the continuation of the lockdown measures, quarantines, and stay at home orders do not facilitate access to abundant resources; nuclear or extended. Shutdown initiatives have made public libraries, parks, gyms, museums, recreational facilities, community centers, after school and most likely summer school programs inaccessible. In the paper, “The Extended Family and Children’s Educational Success” published in the American Sociological Review, Mads Meier Jaeger found that resources in the extended family compensate for lacking resources in low-SES [socio economic status] families, which in turn promote children’s educational success. As stay at home orders mandate social distancing, congregation with and support from ones’ grandparents’, aunts’, and uncles’ means that we would need to strike the benefits gained from abundant nuclear families from our critical factors list.

So considering this highly restrictive and oppressive environment in which we find ourselves, what must we do to advance learning? Did you notice that the all of the critical factors listed above were either externally and/or environmentally driven? What if we focused within or internally to build our strength, to develop our self reliance skills and learn new things? If we were to do so, on what should we concentrate our efforts? Let’s turn to the Magnificent Seven.

The Magnificent Seven

In addition to the four critical factors to build self reliance skills, Glenn and Nelson argued about 30 years ago, that children lacking in the ‘significant seven’ skills identified below, heavily populated the criminal justice, human services and social welfare systems. The magnificent seven skills and abilities include:

  1. personal capabilities,
  2. personal significance,
  3. personal power over one’s life,
  4. interpersonal skills,
  5. intrapersonal abilities,
  6. systemic understanding cause and effect, and
  7. judgmental skills.

This article will be continued in the coming days. Thanks for visiting this site. Please share with your friends and family.

Dr. Mead, PhD, MBA, MA is a consultant specializing in human behavior, school and social psychology. She can be contacted at: tonya dot ishareknowledge dot com