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Bosque School
Bosque School

Bobcat Stories

The Hardest Part of Parenting 

The Hardest Part of Parenting 

As I write this, it is hard to believe we are days away from Bosque’s 24th commencement ceremony in honor of the class of 2024 on May 24 (and what an amazing set of numerical coincidences that is!). The past month has been a blur of joy and celebration as we navigated the infamous 100 days of May. As a few examples, we witnessed the confidence and competence of our seniors as they presented their year-long senior capstone original research projects at our Senior Colloquium;  an amazing year of athletics culminated with multiple state championships in track and field; three seniors signed athletic commitments to play collegiate sports in track and field, pickleball, and powerlifting; and we launched our third year of immersive courses, adding three new classes, The Rocks Tell Stories (a middle school geology immersive), 3M Cubed (a middle school art immersive focusing on mobiles, mandalas, mosaics, and mindfulness), Querencia (an upper school option focused on sense of place and the relationship between land and culture in New Mexico). Needless to say, the energy on campus is equally effusive and exhausted! 

In addition, this spring, we have followed along with educators and parents across the country as  Jonathan Haight’s book The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness has climbed to the top of the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list. I devoured this book and found the research regarding the confluence of cultural factors, including the shift away from a play-based childhood, at the same time as the arrival of the smartphone, and the evolutionary biology and developmental psychology connections to be incredibly resonant as a parent and educator. For years now, as the research body has grown regarding the impacts of smartphones, social media, and reduced face-to-face relationships on adolescent (and adult) mental health, academic outcomes, and relationships, I have felt a growing sense of impending doom that we will soon look back on the culture surrounding smartphone use as the cigarettes of our time. This has been an incredibly personal realization as my own mum succumbed to lung cancer at the age of 63 due to a lifetime addiction to nicotine that began at the age of 15, at a time when medical doctors were being used to market and encourage cigarette use. 

As a parent of two step-children (now twenty and twenty-three) who received their first smartphones in middle school, I can confidently state that managing their technology and the near-constant conflicts it created in our home was the absolute worst part of parenting. I deeply resented the distraction and mental health impacts smartphones had on my children, and yet I felt trapped by the cultural and societal norm that “everyone has one” and that we would be ruining their lives if we took them away. So, instead, we played the infuriating game of setting parental controls that our kids would promptly circumvent through quick Google searches and did our best to set what we thought were reasonable limits, taking the phones away during homework and bedtimes. Still, the cycle of conflict and apathy never ceased. When things got especially bad, we locked the smartphones in a safe and replaced them with a Gabb Wireless phone (a “dumb phone” that looks like a smartphone and has access to texting, calling, a camera, music, and even GPS tracking, but NO internet access). To be honest, one of the most significant gifts of my stepkids graduating high school and moving on to the college chapter was the immense relief that we no longer had to manage their technology. Needless to say, we have learned more since then, and we will do it differently with our nine-year-old. 

Some of the most compelling research I reviewed related to the neuroscience of smartphone use and how dopamine, our feel-good hormone (and a huge factor in motivation), is triggered by engagement with social media and the neuroscientific connections between drug and phone addictions. I imagine that any of us who have taken away a child’s access to their smartphone have experienced moments where their extreme reaction could be easily likened to withdrawal symptoms. It isn’t pretty, and over the years, I have experienced immense feelings of guilt and shame that we had, in effect, provided our children with access to a highly addictive drug but then were upset when their developing adolescent brains didn't have the self-control to responsibly manage its usage. 

As a school, we have always felt a responsibility to do our part regarding smartphone usage, and we have extensive policies and procedures in place to help reduce student distraction and encourage positive and meaningful face-to-face social interactions. Our middle school has long been a cell-phone-free zone with a policy that “middle school students may not use personal electronic devices, which include but are not limited to cell phones and smartwatches, during the school day.” In upper school, the policy reads, “Upper school students may use personal electronic devices, including but not limited to cell phones and smartwatches, during their free time; however, these devices may not be used in classrooms during class time unless approved by the teacher. Cell phones should be turned off and stored either in the school-provided cell phone holder case, hanging in each classroom for the duration of class, or in a student’s backpack.” There is policy, and then there's practice, and, as someone who frequently observes classes, I can attest that I constantly see students actively violating these policies, sneaking their phone onto their lap, watching TikTok videos while in classes, and a significant percentage of discipline cases have direct connections to smartphone use. This dynamic creates frequent and often impossible conflicts between students and teachers that work in opposition to our value of cultivating community. 

So, what do we do about this reality? This past academic year, our 6th-grade team piloted having students turn their cell phones into their advisor each morning to be safely locked and stored for the day and returned at the end of the day. The pilot was a huge success. Teachers reported that students interacted more meaningfully with each other, and there was a significant reduction in the number of discipline issues related to phones. The pilot confirmed to the 6th-grade team the scientific and anecdotal evidence that showed the benefits of phone-free learning environments.  In light of the success of this pilot, the program will be expanded throughout the whole middle school for the 24/25 academic year (as was communicated by Leslie O’Hanlon, middle school division head, in the weekly middle school bulletin on May 10). In addition, this summer, all of our school leaders, including administrators, deans, department leaders, and student support team members (along with any interested staffulty members), will collectively read The Anxious Generation and meet after the summer to discuss and explore additional efforts we may want to take as a school in support of our students mental health, academic success, relationships, and reducing discipline issues. I encourage each of you to join us in this summer reading. The book not only lays out very compelling research but also includes clear action steps (and resources) that parents, guardians, and schools can take to disrupt the current crisis of adolescent mental health. Some additional resources that you may find helpful to review include this Washington Post article about a middle school becoming cell phone-free, this article in Education Week regarding cell phone bans and anxiety reduction, data from Norway’s school ban on cell phonesand watching the movie The Social Dilemma (a great one to see and discuss with your child). Finally, if you are interested in exploring alternative communication options for your child, I encourage you to look into alternative smartphone options such Gabb Wireless phones and watches.

After years of feeling very helpless and hopeless as a front-row observer of the negative impacts of a digital childhood on our students and kids, I am suddenly feeling optimistic and hopeful and am grateful for the research and attention that is being brought to this very important issue. I would love to hear from you as you read this book, and we look forward to working in collaboration with our internal and external community in support of our students’ wellness. 

I wish you all a relaxing and restorative summer and am deeply grateful to be in community with each of you in support of this amazing school!

All the best,


Head of School