Parents and Teachers Working Together for Teens

          I’m having the pleasure of working with the School Council (PTA) of Central Technical School to develop a “Discussion Guide for Parents” for Teens Gone Wired: Are You Ready?  Joy Brickell, a Central Tech Parent and past chair of the School Council, is coordinating this project with me. Joy explains that they introduced book talks to their meetings last year. “We decided that the books should be current, ideally Canadian, deal with helping our children through their high school education, and/or raising our children through their teen years. We have done fiction (Life on the Refrigerator Door), biography (The Film Club), and a few how-to books (How to Talk so Teens will Listen How to Listen so Teens will Talk and Yes, Your Teen is Crazy).” I’m delighted that Teens Gone Wired  is in such good company. Last week, the School Council organized an exam prep night where the school admin team and department reps offered ideas/tips on how parents and students could work together to prepare for the upcoming exams. It’s impressive to see teachers and parents collaborating like this to support our children. Expect our "Discussion Guide for Parents" shortly!



Art Matters

           Teens Gone Wired and You Could Live a Long Time both emphasize the power of art and creativity. In his book Five Minds for the Future, developmental psychologist Howard Gardner identified the creating mind as one of the cognitive abilities
that will be critical for success. “Because almost anything that can be formulated as rules will be done well by computers,” he says, “rewards will go to creators – those who have constructed a box but can think outside it.” Teens benefit in a myriad of ways from creative pursuits. They can expand their networks, make new friends and practice offline social skills. Artistic activities require discipline and focus which calm multi-tasking minds over-stimulated by incessant digital demands. The arts can open young minds to the realities of others and help develop the ethical mind and the respectful mind - two other capacities highlighted by Gardner.

            In later years, creative arts offer similar potential for growth and fun. The photo above shows Art Fidler with the cast of Original Kids Theatre Company on the opening night of their production of Les Miserables. Art was my high school English teacher. About 15 years ago he retired from a lifetime of inspiring students to embark on a second career as Artistic Director and then Director of Marketing for OKTC. Located in London, Ontario, OKTC has an ensemble of over 300 young people between the ages of 8 and 18. They produce up to 22 productions a year and run summer theatre camps. Volunteers are the lifeblood of OKTC and they do everything from making costumes and props to helping with stage management and box office.

Here’s how Art describes the OKTC experience:

“I'm lucky in not only having all these great kids around, but also all these great adults as volunteers too. One of the healthy things about an organization like ours is the building of friendship through interacting in person with all ages and working together to create something as beautiful as you possibly can, and then giving it away with love to others. A real living social network!”

Here’s the pleasure Joanne King “OKTC Grandma” derives from volunteering.

 “I can't tell you how much I love being part of Original Kids. What it has done for my grandson and so many other kids is just amazing. Working backstage is great. I love the energy and the excitement that fills the green room on all the shows.”


Intergenerational Joy

There are some thought-provoking points of intersection between You Could Live a Long Time and Teens Gone WiredGenerativity is one overlap that I’ve been pondering. The psychologist Erik Erikson coined the term and, at age 87, had this to say.

"The only thing that can save us as a species is seeing how 
we're not thinking about future generations in the way we live.  
What's lacking is generativity, a generativity that will promote 
positive values in the lives of the next generation.  Unfortunately, 
we set the example of greed, wanting a bigger and better everything, 
with no thought of what will make it a better world for our great-grandchildren."  

Teens Gone Wired talks about the importance to our young people of having loving, meaningful relationships with adults other than their parents. For some teens, grandparents and great-grandparents provide that positive force in their lives. For the author Mary Piper, it was the time she spent with her grandmothers that saved her when she was going through periods of hating her body, her town and her school. On the flip side, You Could Live a Long Time recommends hanging out with young people. Ninety-year-old role model, Betty, is passionate about spending time with people much younger – especially her grandchildren and their friends. “I get a lot of inner happiness when I see young people and I’m always learning something current.”

But you don’t have to be related to get the benefits of generativity. The New Horizons for Seniors Program has funded a number of projects across the country that connect seniors and young people. One of my favourites is “A Walk on the Wild Side” where the seniors in the Sherbrooke Community Centre in Saskatoon have created eco-trails and insect/butterfly gardens in collaboration with grade five and six students. According to the master gardener, “The seniors have taught the kids to slow down, listen, reflect and appreciate the natural environment.”


Far-Flung Readers

It would be great fun if books included GPS locators so we could see the wonderful voyages they make. I’ve gotten a sense of the journeys from the messages I’ve received from people reading You Could Live a Long Time: Are You Ready? in far flung places.

Karen visiting Israel: “My sister who lives in Israel showed me this great book she is reading - You Could Live a Long Time - SHE LOVES IT! So I finally bought it, and it is superb. I am giving it as a gift to my other sister for her birthday. And will continue to do so with other friends. Really inspired. A great contribution.”

Margaret from Trinidad and Tobago: “WOW what a fantastic book! I have read it - treasured it - over time. Savouring it. I believe I've made tiny stars on just about every page, meaning points to remember and return to read again. I was really impressed.”

Yolanda from Mexico: “I want to thank you for your “gorgeous” book. I must say, it’s a great lesson for people who want to reach elderly age with pride and dignity, with health in all the senses, and wisdom. Life doesn’t end when we get old, it begins in another way, and we must be prepared to face it with happiness. As we say in Mexico “Viejos los cerros y reverdecen.” Such is life.”


Camaraderie and Commitment at The Arts and Letters Club

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at the Literary Luncheon of The Arts and Letters Club of Toronto about You Could Live a Long Time: Are You Ready? The Club was founded over a century ago for people who love the arts and provides a strong emotional circle for many of its members. Events range from musical/dramatic productions and art exhibitions to improv and alternative performances. Good conversation and camaraderie are long-standing club traditions, as was clearly evident from the discussion after my talk. Here are a few snippets from the thought-provoking exchange of ideas. One man told us about the striking quality that had helped his mother age well: her genuine curiosity about life and other people. He finds it frustrating to watch her now as she faces increasing isolation with a mind that remains active and a body that is failing. A woman told us about her group of some two dozen friends who started out 20 years ago meeting regularly for Scottish country dancing. When they realized they “couldn’t keep the dancing up forever”,  they switched their focus to theatrical outings - first in the evenings and now at the matinees. Because the group has been adjusting their focus as they age, they’re still going strong. A former widower told us his story. He and his wife had retired to Prince Edward County but after 10 years enjoying life together there, she had died. His friends invited him on a cruise and, among the fellow passengers, he met his new love. His sweetheart explained that her life included The Arts and Letters Club and they were a package deal. By accepting the challenge he says he was doubly blessed. He found both his new partner and the Club and they rest in his affections – in that order.

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