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The Scarlet & Black

Youth expert speaks at Grinnell High School

As part of its Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, Grinnell High School hosted a keynote address on Wednesday evening by Joe Cavanaugh, founder and CEO of the nonprofit organization Youth Frontiers.

During his keynote address, entitled “The Character Movement: Helping Kids Get an ‘A’ in Life,” Cavanaugh talked about how parents, by encouraging patient contemplation in their families, can counteract the alienation of kids from each other, especially in a society that has become        atomized by technology.

“Maybe one of the most critical roles of parents today is to get our families, once again, to step back and pause again, retreat, be with each other again and hit the pause button, so we can stop [and] reflect. Why? In part, because we’ve got to communicate to our kids because our kids are not learning how to stop, pause and unplug,” Cavanaugh said.

Photo by John Brady
Photo by John Brady

The Olweus Program first came to the Grinnell-Newburg School District in 2007 when the anti-bullying effort started at Grinnell Middle School, according to Heidi Durbin, Dean of Students at Grinnell High School and Coordinator of the Olweus Program. Before the event, Durbin described the dual goals of inviting Cavanaugh: educating parents and raising awareness about the Olweus Program.

National Youth Expert, Joe Cavanaugh, spoke to partents about raising children of character in his Wednesday presentation. Photo by John Brady
National Youth Expert, Joe Cavanaugh, spoke to partents about raising children of character in his Wednesday presentation. Photo by John Brady

“We want to inform our parents about the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, but we thought a whole night just saying, ‘Hey! Come learn about our Bullying Prevention Program,’ may not be quite as enticing as [saying] ‘Here’s information about our Bullying Prevention Program’ and also our connection that if we raise kids of good character, hopefully we will have fewer instances of bullying in our schools,” Durbin said.

In his presentation, Cavanaugh said that maintaining an attention towards others, undivided by technology, is now a widespread issue. To combat this problem, Cavanaugh encouraged parenting strategies of limiting technology usage in the household, such as establishing a tech-free day, having children budget their own screen time and prohibiting the use of computers in the bedroom. 

Renee Dietrich, parent and paraprofessional in Grinnell High School’s library, said she enjoyed this point about the tension between technology and good parenting. 

“I thought it brought up a lot of points that I think we’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis as far as technology becoming an integral part of our kids’ lives but also their inability to socialize with one another, or socialize with their families because of that. I think it’s a struggle as a parent to be able to initiate that balance,” Dietrich said. “We want [kids] to be tech-savvy because that’s the way that things are going, yet we don’t want to forget about the importance of kindness, respect and courage. I think it’s a real difficult fence to straddle.”

Cavanaugh, both personally and in his organization as a whole, does not shy away from a conversation about values.

“We talk about values unapologetically in schools,” Cavanaugh said, describing Youth Frontiers.

Lisa Spooner, a parent and paraeducator at Grinnell Middle School, said she liked the talk but expressed disappointment at what she said was a low turnout among the talk’s intended audience: parents.

“I thought [the presentation] was very encouraging. I wish more parents had been here to see it,” Spooner said. 

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