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Wednesday, 2 November 2016

And the real culprit is...overstimulation

Bleary eyed. Heads down on their desks. Yawns.

Why are these kids always so tired?

Everyday, my students walk into class looking exhausted. When I ask them how they're doing, invariably the response I get is, "I'm so tired." And increasingly, kids tell me that they feel anxious, overwhelmed, and stressed.

Parents and teachers tend to assume that the culprit is too much schoolwork. If we assign less homework, the kids will be fine. If we have fewer assessments, the stress will dissipate.

But I don't think that schoolwork is the primary culprit.

The primary culprit for rising levels of exhaustion, anxiety, and stress is overstimulation, something I've written about here. Students today have too much going on in their lives -- and between the floods of emails, digital notifications, pings on their phones, visual images, tweets, back-to-back enrichment activities, social engagements, assignments, deadlines, commitments, sugar binges, sports tournaments, and snapchat -- they're just so overstimulated that their bodies and minds can't actually handle it. (The same is true for many working adults as well, I think. We're just way too overstimulated.)

Call me old-fashioned, but I don't think that speed is always a good thing. And I'm not sure that "efficiency" and "productivity" (all words that describe machines and the mechanization of society) are the goals that we should be working towards. The fact is, we're not machines, and our job is not to "process" vast quantities of information and "perform" one task after another. If you ask me, human=machine is a destructive metaphor.

We're people. We're human. We're reflective, contemplative, emotional, irrational, and complex. And that's what makes us so interesting and creative.

And the reality is that our bodies and minds haven't yet caught up with the frenzied pace of an overstimulated digital and global world. And while we may think that "working like a machine" is a good thing in this age of machine-like multitasking, efficiency, and speed, the fact of the matter is that we're destroying ourselves by trying to be more machine-like, more overstimulated, more busy than we can actually handle.

So my goal for my own children is to lower the levels of stimulation that they encounter at home.
  • They don't need sugary snacks and lots of treats; they need vegetables.
  • They don't need social media; they need cuddles and real life, face-to-face conversations with their parents and grandparents.
  • They don't need a flood of bite-sized superficial bits of information, they need old-fashioned books, the longer the better.
  • They don't need back-to-back enrichment activities, they need time at home to read, daydream, play, and rest.
  • They don't need so much breadth -- so much exposure to so many, many different things all at once; they need depth in their lives. Let's do less, much less, but let's do it better.
  • They don't need to "work like machines" and "multi-task" and "be efficient." They need to work like humans -- slowly, reflectively, contemplatively, creatively. You know what? They need some time to daydream, imagine, and think. They need to slow down.

And here's the catch. If they have a little more time to get their homework done, slow and sustained academic work may actually help them feel more centred, more focused, and more calm. Like I said, I don't think that it's academic work that's the problem. It's all the other stuff .... the hyper-stimulated world that our kids live in.


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  2. I enjoyed reading your blog .Well said we areallworking like machines,and are leading stress ful life.no doubt our children are the most stressed ones.but in most of the schools teachers are equally stressed.