I am extending a conversation started by Lisa Noble on her blog and a response by Doug Peterson on his blog.  Both posts have further comments and responses that extend this “not in Kansas anymore” theme.  I think the conversation is a good one in light of the many on-going discussions about “kids these days” and the concerns about their resilience, independence, and mental health.

Lisa, through her post, reflects on past experiences and travels away from family and compares them to the context of today with technology impacting those experiences and the connections made with others.  Her “not in Kansas anymore” experience (I will refer to it as NIKA from here on in) was a continent away from her family.  Doug’s “NIKA” experience was his time away at university.

I think many of us can recall our own “NIKA” moment:

From Lisa’s post,

That “out here on my own” thing we were all experiencing together, with no opportunity for helicopter parenting – no cell phones, no e-mail, no Skype or FaceTime. I sent a couple of postcards, but my parents were very far away – literally and metaphorically.”

Lisa’s questions:

What was that defining experience for you – when you knew that you weren’t in Kansas anymore, and that you were okay with that? Who were the people you shared it with? Are they still part of your world?”

And also,

Do those opportunities still exist for our students and our children in this ultra-connected world? Do we encourage our students and kids to take them, and then get out of the way? How might the technology that enriches our lives be getting in the way of this kind of adventure? How do we help our parent/teacher selves let go?”

Doug shared about two NIKA experiences in his post — away at university and later returning to his home that had changed.  This part made me giggle, but well said,

No matter how tired and tough the day was, we had to cook and clean or go without.  How can people live like this?  And raise kids?  My parents were saints.”

Doug answered the rest of Lisa’s questions on his post with references to current issues of travel and added this point about technology,

Why wouldn’t we use the available technology to ensure a certain level of safety or, in this day of the selfie, fully document the experience?”

It all got me reflecting on my past and now my children’s lives.  I will extend the discussion to a parent perspective as well.

I had a few school trips away from my parents:  3 nights in a cabin for outdoor education in Gr. 6, a trip to Toronto in Gr. 8, and a trip to BC for about a week in Gr. 11.  I have no idea what my parents worried about, but I am sure they did.  I don’t recall having much worry or apprehension about the trips and I only have memories of the fun.  Maybe such shorter trips also help parents prepare for even more natural separation that will occur as their children grow and mature.  I am trying to imagine what it would have been like for my parents — there would be no contact from me and if there was, it would be an emergency or for a serious reason.  As a parent now, I haven’t had to go through that with my own children.  They haven’t had that many trips away, but texting easily provided assurance and helped put worries aside for all.  But do we come to rely on that too much?

Like Doug, my own NIKA defining moment would have been going to a different city for university.  I don’t think I thanked my parents enough for driving 2 full days to drop off their youngest in a city they had never been to (not to mention their drive back to an empty nest).  I was eager and felt ready for the experience (did Gr. 13/being 19 help?), so I don’t recall too much sadness on my part.  My contact ahead with my parents would be letters in the mail and usually a phone call on Sunday nights (cheaper after 6 pm 🙂 )  I did get a landline in my residence room and my phone cord would stretch into my closet to get some privacy from my roommate.

And so, for Lisa’s question, I was okay with this defining experience — no regrets.  As for people who I shared it with, some connections have faded away.  Two close friends from my program travelled to my northern hometown for my wedding a few years after graduation.  Unfortunately, I have kept contact with only one of them over the years (Christmas cards, Facebook.)

Fast forward 30+ years to the experiences of my own grown children away for school in other cities.  We often have discussions about the impacts of communication technologies and the many differences of life experiences — then and now.  The capacity now to stay in touch is great, but it can also feel like “too much” at times.  It also sets us up in a way, as now when a check in or confirmation isn’t received by text, it can be easy to worry the worst.  The convenience of technology to stay in touch can ease worries and create them!

I believe that the some NIKA experiences can help independence, maturity, and confidence.  Families will “scaffold” supports in different ways for each child, with or without technology.  Ideally, I think it would be good to have a few NIKA experiences during a time when one knows that they can return to “Kansas” as they knew it.  Life and hometowns can change fast.  Similar to Doug, I recall how I struggled with my parents selling our family home while I was away for my 4th year of university.

I haven’t really come up with any definitive opinions about “today’s” NIKA experiences vs. the past, but I suppose there are many ways to nudge the independence of children, teens, and young adults.  The process will have its discomforts for parents as well, but the confidence building and letting go can go both ways.

Whenever I came to write a bit more on this topic, I would find myself humming the song by Melanie called Kansas.  I found a cool video created for the song.  As the description says, “Trippy little rocker…”.