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Heads Up: Building Independence and Resilience in Our Children

A Lower School student presents a Book Buzz during All-School Meeting.

The following message from Head of School Ben Kennedy appeared in this weekend’s Heads Up, a weekly email for Friends Academy families.

Much has been written in the last few years about rates of anxiety amongst children. The Surgeon General has described the declining mental health of children as the “crisis of our time.” It is indeed a troubling trend and one that requires our attention as adults committed to raising healthy young people who can thrive in the world.

Earlier this week, a guest essay in The New York Times caught my eye. The piece, “This Simple Fix Could Help Anxious Kids,” explores what may be an interesting relationship between freedom and anxiety. In other words, as we seek to protect our children from what we perceive to be a dangerous world, our fears – and by extension our protection – may well be fueling anxiety in our children. Alternatively, by “letting them do more things on their own,” we give them opportunities to build the resilience that they need.

This is why I smile when I see some of our youngest students hop out of the car with their belongings in the morning and shout “I love you” over their shoulder as they run to their friends and their teachers. It is why I marvel at our Lower School students sharing in front of hundreds of people at All-School Meeting (the first one is next week on Wednesday, Sept. 20). It is why I appreciate Middle School students bravely tackling Outside the Classroom experiences, whether that’s the challenge of a ropes course or the discomfort of sleeping away from home in an unfamiliar place. All of these opportunities demonstrate our willingness as adults to give our children real opportunities to do more things on their own. They also communicate to children that we trust them and that they can believe in themselves.

As a parent, I know how difficult it can be to balance safety with independence. My spouse and I wrestle with this when we let them walk to get ice cream by themselves, or read a trail map to meet up with us later on a mountain bike ride, or when we say goodbye to them at sleepaway camp each June. We love our children, and we have a duty to care for them. We recognize, however, that part of this duty of care is also knowing when and how to give our children meaningful and age-appropriate opportunities to step out and navigate the world.

Thank you to our parents and guardians for working together with us to strike this balance and for extending their trust – not just to FA, but to their children. With each opportunity to have agency in their own lives and take responsibility for themselves, we are working toward (in the words of our mission) cultivating a “sense of well-being needed for a lifetime of learning and personal growth.”

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