Posts by Paul Costello1

Montgomery County executive unveils spending plan with no tax increase

By Steve Thompson  Washington Post March 15 2024 

Montgomery County property tax rates would hold steady while the county puts more money into schools, affordable housing and other priorities under a spending plan unveiled by County Executive Marc Elrich (D) on Thursday.

Higher tax bills from rising property values are projected to help support the roughly $400 million in increased spending baked into Elrich’s plan for the budget year that begins July 1, a $7.1 billion framework that he said marked a return to normalcy after navigating the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ve been able to manage this without increasing the rates to get this extra money,” Elrich said Thursday during a budget briefing.

That marks a departure from last year, when the county executive’s initial pitch included a 10 percent property tax increase to help pay for schools; the county council, which ultimately approves the budget, favored a 4.7 percent tax hike.

Nearly half of the county’s budget is devoted to the public school system, Maryland’s largest with about 160,000 students and more than 200 schools. The schools budget under Elrich’s proposal would total $3.3 billion, an increase of about $128 million, or 4.0 percent over this fiscal year.

Elrich’s budget proposal comes as the state continues to roll out the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a landmark law that funnels billions of local and state money toward public schools. Some county executives have expressed concerns to state leadership about the law centered on costs, and they have gone to the General Assembly to request changes to their tax codes to foot the bill.

Added expenses during the pandemic years brought budget-wide challenges, followed by new problems when federal aid began running out.

About $33 million of the school budget would pay for positions previously covered by federal coronavirus relief funds, according to the school system’s budget request. Those federal funds will expire for school systems across the country in the upcoming fiscal year. Montgomery County Public Schools plans to use the requested $33 million to cover the costs of about 100 positions, which include social workers and psychologists.Share this articleNo subscription required to readShare

The next biggest chunk of the proposed county budget, $755 million, or nearly 11 percent of the total, goes to public safety expenditures that include police, fire and correctional services. That is an increase from this fiscal year’s $701 million approved public safety budget.

Elrich said his budget proposal also includes “an unprecedented $65-million increase in affordable housing” money, bringing the total to more than $169 million to help finance the preservation and production of affordable units.

The county was short 24,590 units for residents who made less than 100 percent of the area median income, according to a report last year from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. It estimated that Montgomery’s existing stock of naturally occurring affordable housing could shrink by an additional 7,000 to 11,000 units before the close of the decade.

The county’s economic advisers are forecasting a possible slight recession later this calendar year, which could affect both this and next fiscal years’ budgets. “But everybody says it’s mild, it could be extremely mild,” Elrich said. “We hope it’s extremely mild.”

The county is expecting property valuations to increase 5.6 percent in the coming fiscal year.

Montgomery officials expect to end this fiscal year with $957 million in reserves, which represents 15 percent of adjusted governmental revenue, exceeding the county’s policy of holding at least 10 percent in reserve.

County Council President Andrew Friedson said the council appreciates Elrich’s work on the proposal.

“With unprecedented needs and finite resources, we must ensure every dollar is put to its best use to serve the greatest needs of Montgomery County residents,” Friedson (D-District 1) said in a statement. “We look forward to receiving the views of our community members during the budget process, so we can carefully balance the need for important County services with pressures on our taxpayers.”

The council is scheduled to hold public hearings on the budget before a June 1 deadline for final action.

Nicole Asbury contributed to this report.


Four Montgomery schools lose Title I money after change in poverty metric

By Nicole Asbury Washington Post March 31 2024

Nine-year-old Leo Kennedy used tostruggle with writing.

Then an enrichment teacher at Viers Mill Elementary School in Silver Spring, Md. — where Leo is a fourth-grader — started pushing him more, recounted his mom, Laurel Kennedy. After the teacher gave him C’s, itmotivated him to try harder. Leo started writing, and he loved it. Now, his dream is to become a reporter.F

But the program that helped Leo discover his love of writing is in jeopardy, now that Viers Millis losinga federal Title I grant that’s key in paying fortheenrichment teacherand other positions. Three other Montgomery County elementaryschools are in asimilar predicament.

The four campuses are among 58 Montgomery schools participating in the Community Eligibility Provision,another federal program that gives free breakfast and lunch to all studentsat certain schools withhigh need. Through it, Montgomery County Public Schoolssays it is feeding more children than ever at no cost.

But schools participating in the program are no longer collecting applications for free and reduced meals, a metric that the Montgomery schools district has traditionally relied on to measure poverty at schools and dole out Title I money.

Now, there are concerns that the school system’s new methodology doesn’t fully capture how much need ison a campus, and schools that need additional federal funding may notget it. It also comes as the Montgomery County Public Schools is seeing a drop in Title I money overall as its demographics change.

Last school year, about 75 percent of Viers Mill students received free or reduced-price lunch, Montgomery County Public Schools spokesman Chris Cram said. But under the district’s new metric, the poverty level fell to about 65 percent. Under the new estimate, Viers Mill Elementary will lose its Title I status in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

During an October 2022 report, the Maryland Department of Education warned of an “inevitable disparity” for schools participating in the Community Eligibility Provision: “These CEP schools will then intrinsically have a lower FARMs rate than other schools who are not participating in CEP, even if the student population is identical.”

The state’s Department of Education saidat the time that it would work on an “alternative income eligibility form” that could capture some of the students that are missing in the data. But while the agency initially promised to create that formby 2023, it isn’t expected to roll out until the 2025-2026 school year.

Poverty calculations are vital to establish which schools qualify for Title I status, a designation that enables campuses toreceive extra federal aid. In the Montgomery school system —which has 45Title I schools in the 2023-2024 school year— the funding has helped establish summer programs and recruit staff.

Census data on an area’s poverty levels is used to determine how much Title I money is distributed to school divisions like Montgomery. The district receives a preliminary allocation of money from the state Department of Education in the spring, Cram said.

Last year, Montgomery received about $52 million to split among schools, but it has not received an estimate for the upcoming fiscal year. However, the school system typically will make its own estimate of potential Title I funding by reviewing census data. This year, with census datafrom 2022 indicating there were fewer students in poverty in Montgomery, school officials project the division will receive less Title I fundingin the coming school year.

With some schools no longer collecting the free and reduced meal applications, the school system used a different method to decide how to distribute its Title I money.The new “direct certification” process uses data from public benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to estimate the poverty level of a school — a method that follows guidance from the federal government, according to a document issued in February 2022. The district then ranked schools by amount of need.

That method “changed the ranking of the schools quite drastically,” Peggy Pugh, theMontgomerydistrict’s chief academic officer, saidduring a February school board meeting. “Some of the schools slipped [in the ranking]. Some of them moved up much faster than we anticipated.”

In addition to the changes at Viers Mill,Brookhaven Elementary School in Rockville, Md., went from 72 percent to 66 percent. At Oak View Elementary School in Silver Spring, the number dropped from about 74 percent to 65 percent. But the largest decrease was at Strathmore Elementary School, which went from 73 percent to about 60 percent. Each school lost between about $360,000 to $520,000 to pay for staff and other programs.Share this articleNo subscription required to readShare

On the flip side, sixnewschools were identified as Title I. Through the method, the poverty level atEast Silver Spring Elementary Schoolrose fromabout 62 percent to about 80 percent. Other schools showing higher need under the new method wereS. Christa McAuliffe Elementary School and Waters Landing Elementary School in Germantown, Md.; Benjamin Banneker Middle School in Burtonsville, Md.; Meadow Hall Elementary School in Rockville; and Strawberry Knoll Elementary School in Gaithersburg, Md.

In February, principals at the four schools losing their Title I status started notifying their parent-teacher associations of the change. A letter from Brookhaven Elementary School Principal Xavier Kimber explained that the school would be losing several important learning interventions, including summer school and key staff members.

“This loss brings about several significant implications for our school, staff, and most importantly, our students,” Kimber wrote in his letter.

Parents were perplexed by the switch-up. One of the schools losing funding, Oak View, serves only students in grades three through five. But its feeder school, New Hampshire Estates Elementary — which serves children in between prekindergarten and second grade — kept their Title I status.

“Our numbers haven’t just changed overnight,” said Danielle Ring, a parent of a fifth-grader at Strathmore Elementary School. “They are pretty consistent over what they’ve been for the past few years.” She added that the method the school system uses appears to cut out families who are undocumented, since it relies on public benefits.

Donna Gunning, an assistant state superintendent, said state officials are working on a method that would help districts with schools in the Community Eligibility Provision identify more students who may be in need.

Meanwhile, Montgomery County Public Schools has sought grants to pay for resources provided at the four schools losing their Title I status. “It goes without saying that our focus on equity remains no matter the Title I status of any school,” Cram said.

Parents and students at the schools are wanting to bring more attention to the issue.

This month, third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at Viers Mill Elementarywho arepart of a local Girl Scouts troop organized a walkout during the school day. The elementary school students called on the school system to keep their teachers and programs.Advertisement

Leo, the 9-year-old who used to be hesitant to write, decided to cover the rally as his first reporting assignment. The change will probably affect the accelerated math and enhanced reading classes he takes.

“I feel a bit sad that I’m not going to be able to get an education that I’m on level for and stuff, and that some teachers are going to lose their jobs and stuff,” Leo said. “I feel mad because, seriously, MCPS? What did we do?”Share163Comments

By Nicole AsburyNicole Asbury is a local reporter for The Washington Post covering education and K-12 schools in Maryland. Twitter


Fighting the phone-warping of Gen Z doesn’t require government intrusion

By George F. Will Columnist|Follow authorFollow

Children are like trees, only more trouble. Winds that bend young trees expand the tree’s roots on the windward side, firmly anchoring the tree. And winds strengthen the wood on the other side by compressing its cellular structure. This growth dynamic, called “stress wood,” is a metaphor for the intelligent rearing of children, who need wind — the stresses of pressure and risk-taking — to become strong and rooted in the social soil.

Jonathan Haidt says a social catastrophe has resulted from the intersection of two recent phenomena. One is the “safetyism” of paranoid parenting, which injures bubble-wrapped children by excessively protecting them from exaggerated “stranger danger” and other irrational anxieties about the real world. The other is parental neglect regarding the “rewiring” of young brains by extreme immersion in the virtual world. This has been enabled by the swift, ubiquitous acquisition of smartphones, granting children something that is not, Haidt argues, age-appropriate: unrestricted access to the internet.

With his just-published “The Anxious Generation,” Haidt hopes to demonstrate that Johannes Gutenberg’s legacy — movable type, mass literacy: books — still matters more than Steve Jobs’s devices. Haidt, a New York University social psychologist, encourages dismay about what has happened since, around 2010, smartphones became common accoutrements of children at vulnerable developmental ages. Haidt: “Children’s brains grow to 90 percent of full size by age five, but then take a long time to wire up and configure themselves.”

High-speed broadband arrived in the early 2000s; the iPhone debuted in 2007. Since about 2010, social media companies have designed “a firehose of addictive content” for Gen Zers (born after 1995) who are often socially insecure, swayed by peer pressure and hungry for social validation. Gen Z became the first generation “to go through puberty with a portal in their pockets that called them away from the people nearby and into an alternative universe.”

Phone-based childhood displaced play-based childhood and its unsupervised conversing, touching and negotiating the small-scale frictions and setbacks that prepare children for adulthood. Fearful parents, convinced the real world is comprehensively menacing (and worried about overbroad “child endangerment” laws), will not allow their children to walk alone to a nearby store. But they allow their children unrestricted wallowing in the internet, especially social media.

The results, Haidt says — sleep deprivation, socialization deprivation, attention fragmentation — produced “failure-to-launch” boys living protractedly with parents, and girls depressed by visual social comparisons and perfectionism. Soon, college campuses were awash with timid, bewildered late-adolescents. After their phone-based childhoods (Haidt calls social media “the most efficient conformity engines ever invented”), they begged for “safe spaces” to protect their fragile “emotional safety.”

Haidt recommends “more unsupervised play and childhood independence,” “no smartphones before high school” and “no social media before 16.” There is, however, a “collective action” problem: It is difficult for a few scattered parents to resist the new technology’s tidal pull on most of their children’s peers.

Techno-pessimists should avoid the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy: The rooster crows, then the sun rises, so the crowing caused the sunrise. If smartphones vanished, schoolchildren would still be spoon-fed anxiety and depression about (if they are White) their complicity in their rotten country’s systemic racism, and (if they are not White) their grinding victimhood, until we all perish from climate change.

Haidt’s data demonstrating a correlation (the arrivals of smartphones and of increased mental disorders) suggest causation, but remember: Moral panics about new cultural phenomena — from automobiles (sex in the back seats) to comic books (really) to television to video games to the internet — are features of this excitable age.

Although Haidt is always humane and mostly convincing, his argument does not constitute a case for government trying to do what parents and schools can do. They can emulate Shane Voss.

In Durango, a city in southwest Colorado, Voss, head of Mountain Middle School, acted early, and decisively. In 2012, he banned access to smartphones during the school day. The results, Haidt writes, were “transformative”:

“Students no longer sat next to each other, scrolling while waiting for homeroom or class to start. They talked to each other or the teacher. Voss says that when he walks into a school without a phone ban, ‘It’s kind of like the zombie apocalypse and you have all these kids on the hallways not talking to each other.’”

Soon Voss’s school reached Colorado’s highest academic rating. This local experience constitutes a recommendation to the nation. Recognize the potentially constructive power of negation: Just say no.

Opinion by George F. WillGeorge F. Will writes a twice-weekly column on politics and domestic and foreign affairs. He began his column with The Post in 1974, and he received the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1977. His latest book, “American Happiness and Discontents,” was released in September 2021. Twitter


Here’s why Americans under 40 are so disillusioned with capitalism

By Heather Long Editorial writer and columnist Washington Post April 2 2024

I was at an event recently where several top business executives were perplexed about whyAmericans under 40 are so disillusioned with capitalism. What could they do to restore trust in our economic system?

My suggestion was simple: Treat workers better. This wasn’t the answer they wanted. Many rushed to tell me how generous their pay raises have been, how easy it is to go from an entry-level job to management at their company, and how they have diversified their workforce. These are all welcome efforts, but they miss the bigger picture. Young people in America have come of age during the Great Recession, the sluggish recovery that followed and then the coronavirus pandemic. Unemployment has been 10 percent or higher twice in the past 15 years. Young workers have seen how expendable they are to companies and how quickly financial security can evaporate.

Millennials have had such a tumultuous start in the workforce, they have been nicknamed the “unluckiest generation.” Theyare struggling to navigate the most unaffordable housing market since the early 1980s. And that’s before anyone talks about the larger challenges of climate change, wars and political partisanship and paralysis.

No one expects business leaders to solve all these problems. But they need to start acknowledging how dramatically the relationship between workers and employers has changed in the past half-century. People no longer work for the same company for the bulk of their careers. There are benefits to job-switching: It usually leads to bigger pay raises. But it has made many other aspects of people’s financial lives more complicated and less secure. Each new job has a unique, complex benefit package. Workers are now largely on their own to figure out — and fund — their retirement, plus a growing share of their health care and educational training. It is even more complicated for the millions of people in gig, freelance or contract jobs who are entirely on their own.

“The shift from defined benefit to defined contribution has been, for most people, a shift from financial certainty to financial uncertainty,” BlackRock chief executive Larry Fink wrote in his annual letter published last week.

Many Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement on their own in 401(k)s and other individual plans. And when they do retire, they struggle to know how much to spend, because no one knows whether they will need their nest egg for a few more years — or decades. Pension plans took care of this uncertainty by guaranteeing a monthly payment for as long as someone lived. The risks were on the company.

Fink was refreshingly blunt that it’s not hard to figure out why millennials and Gen Z workers are economically anxious. “They believe my generation — the Baby Boomers — have focused on their own financial well-being to the detriment of who comes next. And in the case of retirement, they’re right,” he said.

While Fink correctly identified a key problem, his proposed solution wasn’t to bring back pension plans. It was a new BlackRock product that helps people better manage their retirement spending. In other words, it’s a way for BlackRock to likely make more money.

It’s a shame that Fink didn’t use his bullhorn to call on business and political leaders to shore up Social Security. It’s hugely popular and the country’s most successful policy to keep people out of poverty. Young people have seen the headlines that, if nothing changes, Social Security will start having to reduce benefits in 2034. It’s another reason to worry. Fink calls for raising the retirement age. That’s probably part of the solution. But a better way to ensure that Social Security will be there for younger generations is to raise taxes slightly on corporations and the wealthy. It wouldn’t take much to restore this critical source of financial security for millennials and Gen Z.

Another way to look at how much less workers are getting from companies is a metric known as labor’s share of national income. What executives don’t like to talk about is that while pay has increased a lot in the rebound from the pandemic, corporate profits have soared even more. The share of the economic pie that goes to worker pay remains well below historic norms, as even Goldman Sachs has pointed out. It’s one more way that today’s employees are losing ground compared with prior generations.

Young Americans have had a harsh introduction to capitalism. Even as the economy is back on strong footing, many remain deeply anxious. If business leaders want to change that, a wise place to start would be to give workers a secure retirement again, starting with Social Security.Share5593Comments

Opinion by Heather Long

Heather Long is a columnist and member of The Washington Post’s Editorial Board. She was U.S. economics correspondent from 2017 to 2021. Before The Post, she was a senior economics reporter at CNN and a columnist and deputy editor at the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. She also worked at an investment firm in London and was a Rhodes Scholar


Trying to decipher a man’s mind? Now there’s a name for that.

By Nick Roberts March 27, 2024 at 8:02 a.m. EDT Washington Post

When Ellie Anderson, an assistant professor of philosophy at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., had coffee with female friends, she noticed the conversation often involved dissecting the meaning of comments or texts from their male romantic partners.

Together, they’d talk through an argument with a boyfriend, or try to interpret a vague text message from the night before. They’d game out the next step, deciding when, if at all, to bring up the issue, and then carefully prepare what they’d say or draft a text message in response.

Anderson says many of the women she knows “spend what seems to be an inordinate amount of time interpreting the pretty opaque cues of men they’re dating.”

Anderson felt she was observinga form of “emotional labor,” a term first defined by sociologist Arlie Hochschild to describe how certain workers — typically women — have to suppress emotions, such as flight attendants who deal with unruly passengers.

But what to call the mental work women were doing in deciphering cryptic conversations and texts? In a paper published last year, Anderson penned a new term: “hermeneutic labor.”

Hermeneutics refers to the interpretation of language. Hermeneutic labor, Anderson says, encompasses three phases of emotional work:

  • Interpreting the feelings of others.
  • Determining when and whether to bring difficult, emotional conversations up.
  • Interpreting your own feelings.

Anderson argues that hermeneutic labor is largely performed by women who are forced to interpret the emotions and motives of male partners who lack the emotional vocabulary to explain themselves.

The men, Anderson says, “are often really taken aback and are like, ‘Oh, why are you causing a problem?’”

She argues this dynamic can have a particularly negative effect on women in heterosexual couples because their work to maintain the relationship is often met with disbelief, accusations of overreacting or fixating on problems their partner claims don’t exist. This, Anderson says, has the effect of punishing women for attempting to maintain their relationships.

It starts in childhood

Amy Warren, a licensed mental health counselor in Sarasota, Fla. has seen the pattern Anderson describes again and again over the course of her 29 year career. More often than not, it’s the woman in a heterosexual relationship who pushes the couple to seek counseling.

“Oftentimes, the man’s blindsided,” Warren says. “Men are unhappy in the relationship because a woman’s unhappy, and the woman’s unhappy because a man’s emotionally disconnected.”

But rather than blaming men for their emotional disconnection, Warren faults how men are raised.

“So many men think of their role in a relationship as the provider, the father, sometimes the protector,” Warren says. “That’s because they’ve been groomed to believe that is their role. Not really because they chose it.”

Warren, who is also a psychotherapist, says this lack of emotional expressivity arises from what she calls “little T traumas” in early childhood.

“When you tell a child, ‘Don’t cry; don’t be a baby; grow up; be a big boy,’ that’s definitely a little T trauma, because it teaches them to shut down their emotions,” Warren says.

The toll of masculine norms

Psychology professor Ronald Levant says he frequently starts lectures by asking the audience if they know a man who has trouble verbally expressing his emotions. The result has almost always been the same.

“Almost everybody raises their hand,” Levant says.Share this articleNo subscription required to readShare

Levant, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Akron and a former president of the American Psychological Association, has been studying emotionally inexpressive men for more than four decades.

While it’s true that many women and nonbinary individuals also have trouble expressing emotions, the stereotype of the emotionally inexpressive man persists. The reason, experts say, is because so-called masculine norms still dominate many cultures.

Levant’s research focuses on these masculine norms, which include dominance, toughness, self-reliance, a strong interest in sex, disdain for all things feminine, gay or bisexual, and restricting the expression of emotions. The result of these norms, Levant and other experts say, is that boys often are socialized to suppress the expression of vulnerable and caring emotions.

This inability to identify emotions with words also has a name — “normative male alexithymia.” The condition, Levant stresses, is “normative” not because it is common enough to be considered normal, but because it arises out of social norms associated with traditional masculinity.

2012 study co-authored by Levant found the condition was associated with higher rates of fear of intimacy and lower rates of relationship satisfaction and communication quality.

“If a boy is essentially punished for showing affection or crying,” Levant says, “he’s going to kind of not allow this emotion to come out.”

How to improve communication

When one partner struggles to put their emotions into words, it requires both parties to improve how they communicate. Here’s some advice.

Take turns being upset. Amir Levine, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at Columbia University, has a rule for couples that come to his practice: Only one person is allowed to be upset at a time.

Levine, who also co-wrote the popular book “Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find — and Keep — Love,” says that in relationships, one person’s mood — whether it’s miserable or happy — affects the mood of the partner. The person who is upset first should be the one who is allowed to be upset.

“You have to put your upset aside and find a way to make them not upset because that’s your job,” Levine says. “That’s kind of what relationships are all about.”

Reflect back the words. Reflecting back what your partner says has the effect of showing them you’re listening to them, and invites the opportunity to clarify what’s upsetting them.

Warren says it’s important “to say back to the person what you think you heard them say, so the speaker can then clarify.You get the whole picture, and you can respond accordingly rather than getting reactive and defensive.”

Let your partner know what you want. Warren says it’s imperative for intimate partners to let each other know what they want in their relationships, and “stand firm” that you won’t tolerate certain behaviors.

Warren notes that many people wrongly believe that their partners should intuitively know their needs without being told.

“It’s up to us to let them know in a gentle, loving way what we want,” Warren says.


My 16-year-old twins’ attitudes are a ‘full-blown problem.’ What can I do?

Dear Meghan: I’m the parent of twin 16-year-old girls. They have always been high performing in school and extracurriculars. Because of the demands on them, I have been permissive of their sometimes exaggerated personas. When they are happy, they can be very happy, but more often when they are tired, hungry or down, they can be loud, mean and rude. This is confined to our immediate family, for the most part.

Outside of modeling positive behavior and doing what I can to plan ahead with snacks, sleep, etc., I have done little to help them regulate their emotions. I do make occasional comments when I think they might be receptive and start conversations. Mostly I had hoped maturity would get them there. But it hasn’t. Seems like a full-blown problem now. Help!

— Calm in a storm

Calm in a storm: Thank you for writing in; I appreciate the courage that is required to raise the white flag and cry, “help!” Raising twins is a lot of work, period. From the jump, you are outmanned, and if you tend toward permissiveness, parenting twins can wear you down quickly. Generally speaking, rude children aren’t born, they are made, but that doesn’t make you the villain. Not having strong boundaries, consequences or expectations for your children over years and years gets you to today: a full-blown problem.

It is never too late to make changes, but I want to be honest with you: It’s not going to be easy. Once you realize that your permissiveness has created a monster (monsters), you may be tempted to course-correct and put the hammer down, but small and consistent changes are your best bet here.S

Meghan Leahy is a parenting coach and the author of “Parenting Outside the Lines.” She has given advice about toddler tantrums, teens and mental health and co-parenting.A

You need to ask yourself what support you need to make changes in your family. From reading books to joining online (paid and free) parenting groups to finding a good therapist or parenting coach, investigate why you have permitted the twins’ behavior and how to find your voice. Humans tend to overcorrect when making changes, but you can absolutely maintain your unique sensibilities while strengthening your boundaries. Establishing your authority is more about tone than action, but this can be challenging work. It will take courage to use boundaries, and it will take even more courage to weather the backlash they can bring. If you are co-parenting with someone, let them know your intentions and what you need. So often, I see parents try to make changes in a silo, and that just isn’t going to work.

Next, you are going to begin holding family meetings. I know most people think that these are for little kids, but family meetings are simply the most efficient way to communicate information. I don’t recommend you call a meeting and say, “I have raised a bunch of brats and will now no longer be catering to your bad attitudes and abuse.” Rather, you will be a bit more politic. Say: “I have noticed that you both work hard, and I am proud of you. When you come home, you are starving and very cranky. What can we do so you eat right away?” They may just stare at you because they are accustomed to you giving in, but you are going to wait, pen and paper in hand.

Family meetings work when the parent uses compassionate listening, so don’t be afraid to ask thoughtful questions and listen carefully. For instance, the twins may whine about not having food when and where they want it, but you also may realize that you have never taught them how to cook for themselves. We won’t use this information to blame or shame you or the kids; it’s just data, and you can work with them to teach them three simple meals.Share this articleShare

As you problem solve with them and assist them in their independence, be sure to also communicate new rules and expectations of them. Let them know that three nights a week, for instance, they’re responsible for feeding themselves and then make yourself scarce. On top of these new rules, set new consequences, too. For example, you will not make them dinner if they were expected to cook for themselves or won’t drive them to a friend’s house if they haven’t done their laundry. If you discuss these boundaries ahead of time, the twins won’t feel totally blindsided, but they probably still won’t be well-received (meaning, the twins may throw fits as if they are toddlers). The more you stick to what you have all decided, the faster the twins will learn that the family meetings are real.

You can also use these meetings to make it clear that while it is lovely they are skilled in their academics, part of leaving home for whatever is next is making sure they can take care of themselves. This includes, food, chores, laundry, snacks, cleaning their spaces and being a useful part of the family and community. And, by the way, everyone is allowed to have a bad day. We aren’t talking about punishing big emotions or valid upsets; you will place a boundary when the teen is verbally abusive, rude or demanding of you in a way that goes against the family values.

It has taken you 16 years to get into this pickle, so change will not happen overnight. But remember: Almost every human wants to be good needed, and competent, including your teens. It will be rocky as they test your boundaries, but with the right support, some consistency and a healthy sense of humor, you will be doing the family, the teens and the world a huge favor. Good luck.

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By Meghan LeahyMeghan is the mother of three daughters and the author of “Parenting Outside the Lines.” She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and secondary education and a master’s degree in school counseling and is a certified parent coach. Send a question about parenting to onparenting@washpost.com, and it may show up in a future column. Twitter


Screens Are Everywhere in Schools. Do They Actually Help Kids Learn?

An illustration of a young student holding a pen and a digital device while looking at school lessons on the screens of several other digital devices.

By Jessica Grose Opinion Writer New York Times March 31st 2024

A few weeks ago, a parent who lives in Texas asked me how much my kids were using screens to do schoolwork in their classrooms. She wasn’t talking about personal devices. (Smartwatches and smartphones are banned in my children’s schools during the school day, which I’m very happy about; I find any argument for allowing these devices in the classroom to be risible.) No, this parent was talking about screens that are school sanctioned, like iPads and Chromebooks issued to children individually for educational activities.

I’m embarrassed to say that I couldn’t answer her question because I had never asked or even thought about asking. Partly because the Covid-19 era made screens imperative in an instant — as one ed-tech executive told my colleague Natasha Singer in 2021, the pandemic “sped the adoption of technology in education by easily five to 10 years.” In the early Covid years, when my older daughter started using a Chromebook to do assignments for second and third grade, I was mostly just relieved that she had great teachers and seemed to be learning what she needed to know. By the time she was in fifth grade and the world was mostly back to normal, I knew she took her laptop to school for in-class assignments, but I never asked for specifics about how devices were being used. I trusted her teachers and her school implicitly.

In New York State, ed tech is often discussed as an equity problem — with good reason: At home, less privileged children might not have access to personal devices and high-speed internet that would allow them to complete digital assignments. But in our learn-to-code society, in which computer skills are seen as a meal ticket and the humanities as a ticket to the unemployment line, there seems to be less chatter about whether there are toomany screens in our kids’ day-to-day educational environment beyond the classes that are specifically tech focused. I rarely heard details about what these screens are adding to our children’s literacy, math, science or history skills.

And screens truly are everywhere. For example, according to 2022 data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only about 8 percent of eighth graders in public schools said their math teachers “never or hardly ever” used computers or digital devices to teach math, 37 percent said their math teachers used this technology half or more than half the time, and 44 percent said their math teachers used this technology all or most of the time.

As is often the case with rapid change, “the speed at which new technologies and intervention models are reaching the market has far outpaced the ability of policy researchers to keep up with evaluating them,” according to a dazzlingly thorough review of the research on education technology by Maya Escueta, Andre Joshua Nickow, Philip Oreopoulos and Vincent Quan published in The Journal of Economic Literature in 2020.

Despite the relative paucity of research, particularly on in-class use of tech, Escueta and her co-authors put together “a comprehensive list of all publicly available studies on technology-based education interventions that report findings from studies following either of two research designs, randomized controlled trials or regression discontinuity designs.”

They found that increasing access to devices didn’t always lead to positive academic outcomes. In a couple of cases, it just increased the amount of time kids were spending on devices playing games. They wrote, “We found that simply providing students with access to technology yields largely mixed results. At the K-12 level, much of the experimental evidence suggests that giving a child a computer may have limited impacts on learning outcomes but generally improves computer proficiency and other cognitive outcomes.”

Some of the most promising research is around computer-assisted learning, which the researchers defined as “computer programs and other software applications designed to improve academic skills.” They cited a 2016 randomized study of 2,850 seventh-grade math students in Maine who used an online homework tool. The authors of that study “found that the program improved math scores for treatment students by 0.18 standard deviations. This impact is particularly noteworthy, given that treatment students used the program, on average, for less than 10 minutes per night, three to four nights per week,” according to Escueta and her co-authors.

They also explained that in the classroom, computer programs may help teachers meet the needs of students who are at different levels, since “when confronted with a wide range of student ability, teachers often end up teaching the core curriculum and tailoring instruction to the middle of the class.” A good program, they found, could help provide individual attention and skill building for kids at the bottom and the top, as well. There are computer programs for reading comprehension that have shown similar positive results in the research. Anecdotally: My older daughter practices her Spanish language skills using an app, and she hand-writes Spanish vocabulary words on index cards. The combination seems to be working well for her.

Though their review was published in 2020, before the data was out on our grand remote-learning experiment, Escueta and her co-authors found that fully online remote learning did not work as well as hybrid or in-person school. I called Thomas Dee, a professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, who said that in light of earlier studies “and what we’re coming to understand about the long-lived effects of the pandemic on learning, it underscores for me that there’s a social dimension to learning that we ignore at our peril. And I think technology can often strip that away.”

Still, Dee summarized the entire topic of ed tech to me this way: “I don’t want to be black and white about this. I think there are really positive things coming from technology.” But he said that they are “meaningful supports on the margins, not fundamental changes in the modality of how people learn.”

I’d add that the implementation of any technology also matters a great deal; any educational tool can be great or awful, depending on how it’s used.

I’m neither a tech evangelist nor a Luddite. (Though I haven’t even touched on the potential implications of classroom teaching with artificial intelligence, a technology that, in other contexts, has so much destructive potential.) What I do want is the most effective educational experience for all kids.

Because there’s such a lag in the data and a lack of granularity to the information we do have, I want to hear from my readers: If you’re a teacher or a parent of a current K-12 student, I want to know how you and they are using technology — the good and the bad. Please complete the questionnaire below and let me know. I may reach out to you for further conversation.


The kids aren’t all right. Are phones really to blame?

In ‘The Anxious Generation,’ Jonathan Haidt argues that the move from ‘play-based childhood’ to ‘phone-based childhood’ has had disastrous effects

Review by Judith WarnerMarch 22, 2024 at 10:29 a.m. EDT Washington Post

If you follow the always abundant literature of What’s Wrong With Today’s Kidsthen you’re already familiar with the work of social psychologist Jonathan Haidt.

A professor of ethical leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business, he’s most widely known for his 2018 bestseller, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” in which he and co-author Greg Lukianoff excoriated the new campus culture of “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings,” and tied the emotional fragility they believed underlay those developments to soaring rates of depression and anxiety in college students.

In the years since, Haidt has been a frequent research and sometime writing collaborator of Jean Twenge, the prolific and controversial psychologist whose Atlantic cover story in 2017, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?,” set the tone for their work.

Along the way, Haidt has picked up a cadre of haters (the “kids are alright” crowd, he calls them) who have accused him of cherry-picking examples, retrofitting tired old arguments about “kids today,” and stoking “moral panic” about new technology to puff himself up and keep Gen Z down.

His new book,“The Anxious Generation,”is not going to make his life any easier.

In it, Haidt builds on his previous work and beefs it up, arguing that young people today — specifically those belonging to Gen Z — are damaged products of a massive shift in the culture of childhood. Born in the late 1990s to fearful and overprotective parents, they were raised, unlike the baby boomers and Generation X, with almost constant adult supervision. They became the first-ever cohort of tweens and teens to go through adolescence under the thrall of smartphones, forming their identities in the largely unregulated, ill-understood universe of social media. The toxic combination of “overprotection in the real world and underprotection in the virtual world” (Haidt’s italics) made them super-anxious. Time spent on screens and away from in-person interactions layered in depression-inducing isolation, deprived them of sleep, fragmented their attention, and got them addicted to the dopamine hits of likes, retweets and comments. “Gen Z became the first generation in history to go through puberty with a portal in their pockets that called them away from the people nearby and into an alternative universe that was exciting, addictive, unstable” and “unsuitable for children and adolescents,” Haidt writes.

By his calculations, technological innovation after innovation — “hyper-viralized” social media; front-facing, “selfie”-enabling phone cameras — added up to disaster: a 145 percent increase in depression among teen girls from 2010 to 2021, a 161 percent rise among boys in those same years, with big hikes in anxiety disorders, self-harm and suicide, too. “The Great Rewiring of Childhood, in which the phone-based childhood replaced the play-based childhoodis the major cause of the international epidemic of adolescent mental illness,” Haidt writes. And with that one tricky word, “cause,” he stakes his latest claim — and opens himself up to what’s likely to be a world of pain.

Even if you question the specifics of how Haidt slices and dices his data (and I do, up to a point: to generate those showstopping depression numbers, for example, he includes data from 2020 and 2021 — years of off-the-charts stress due to the onset of the pandemic, during which data collection methods dramatically changed), there’s no doubt that young people today are in the throes of a mental health crisis that’s unprecedented in scope and severity. The latest statistics are terrible: According to the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, for example, almost 1 in 5 of 12- to 17-year-olds had a major depressive episode in the past year, while nearly half of 18- to 25-year-olds had either a substance use disorder or a mental illness.

But proving causation (rather than mere correlation) is an iffy proposition. It’s especially risky for Haidt in the face of a large body of scholarly literature on the psychological harms of social media that’s ambiguous at best.

He acknowledges this, and tries to get around the problem with the sheer amount of correlational evidence he pools together and combines with laboratory experiments he ran with Twenge. He also gives himself a convenient out, saying he “will surely be wrong on some points”; he’s even set up a research site that he will maintain, inviting other researchers to weigh in.Share this articleNo subscription required to readShare

That’s all well and good — clever marketing, for sure — but unfortunate for the book as a reading experience. For one thing, in assiduously working to prove quantitatively his very likely unprovable “Great Rewiring” hypothesis, Haidt spends the first two-thirds of the book writing defensively, as if speaking to an audience of straw-man detractors just waiting to score a gotcha against him. This results in a lot of artless rigidity: too much repetition, refining and redefining of dates and definitions.

Haidt’s investment in his “Great Rewiring” theory also leaves him with some blind spots. His call for anxious adults to let kids roam assumes that all overprotective parents live in areas that are basically safe, where kids can bike around or run errands or go house to house to play without, say, having to cross a six-lane highway. He misses the mark when he writes of Gen X parents “gleefully and gratefully” recalling their childhood independence; the kind of loud laughter he hears when he raises the topic, in my experience, is often more angry than nostalgic, children of the 1970s parenting as they do in reaction to the emotional absenteeism of their own parents. And his recollection of free and fun suburban childhood overlooks the fact that growing up is brutal for many — above all for kids who don’t fit the norms that prevail in their communities. To mock, as Haidt does, a playground sign at an elementary school in Berkeley, Calif., that includes “Tag Rules” like “Include everyone,” “No ball tag” and “If a player doesn’t want to play tag, then other players must respect that,” is to ignore that when children “manage their own affairs,” it’s often a “Lord of the Flies”-like experience.

Haidt also minimizes to the point of outright dismissal the sick-making potential of the unabating storm of miseries that Gen Z has endured in its not-terribly-long life span: 9/11 and its fearful fallout, the Great Recession, the climate crisis, hundreds of school shootings, crushing student loan debt, increased economic inequality, the opioid epidemic, and the spike in words and acts of hate targeting nearly every vulnerable group in turn. All are toxic stressors, and in the 2010s, all acted upon kids’ nervous systems, affecting them to different degrees, depending on their life experiences and their genetic propensity for mental illness.

Haidt could have done a lot with all that material. Because, when he steps away from his data — when he writes, as he puts it, “less as a social scientist than as a fellow human being” — his book can be quite wonderful. His chapter about the “spiritual degradation” of the phone-based life for all of us, regardless of age, beautifully grounds his critique in Buddhist, Taoist and Christian thought traditions. There’s no quibbling with Haidt’s suggestion, borrowing a phrase from the Tao Te Ching, that most of social media is “dust on the pedestal of the spirit.” His common-sense recommendations for actions that parents, schools, governments and tech companies can take (I should say “ought to take” in the case of governments and tech companies, because they won’t) are excellent. They include putting phones away in special pouches or lockers during the school day; keeping smartphones out of the hands of kids before high school (“basic” phones without internet connections are fine); and keeping younger kids off social media by raising the threshold for “Internet adulthood” (when a kid can sign a contract with a company to give away their data and some of their rights) from the current ridiculous age of 13 to 16, while also instituting enforceable methods for age verification.

There are a couple of big-picture questions Haidt doesn’t ask, much less answer: How did we end up putting electronic devices in the hands of children for hours on end in the first place? Why were we so collectively admiring of the “heroes, geniuses, and global benefactors” of Silicon Valley, who by their own admission sociopathically exploited “a vulnerability in human psychology,” as Sean Parker, the first president of Facebook, put it — our hard-wired need for connection, validation and approval, especially acute in middle-schoolers — to hook us in and screw us over, at younger and younger ages?

I can’t help but think that online childhood is less a cause than a symptom of a society-wide mental pathology that has swallowed up adults and kids alike. It may be that the multiply layered traumas of recent years have pushed us past a tipping point. In the epidemic of mental illness in kids, we may really be seeing what it looks like when vulnerable people are “triggered.”

Judith Warner’s most recent book is “And Then They Stopped Talking to Me: Making Sense of Middle School.”

The Anxious Generation-How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness– By Jonathan HaidtPenguin Press. 385 pp. $30


America’s happiness score drops amid a youth ‘midlife crisis’

Washington Post March 21 2024 Victoria Bisset

The United States is no longer among the world’s 20 happiest countries, according to a new report — with young people hit particularly hard and reporting lower levels of well-being than any other age group.

The United States fell from 15th in 2023 to 23rd in this year’s World Happiness Report, which was released Wednesday to mark the United Nations’ International Day of Happiness. The country’s results varied dramatically among different age groups, however, with young people under age 30 ranking 62nd out of 143 countries for happiness, while U.S. adults age 60 and above ranked 10th.

This is the first time the United States has slipped out of the top 20 since the report was first launched in 2012. But a similar downward trend in youth well-being is also seen in Canada, which ranked 15th overall but 58th among young people this year.ADVERTISING

Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, director of the University of Oxford’s Wellbeing Research Center and an editor of the report, said in an interview Wednesday that the findings are concerning “because youth well-being and mental health is highly predictive of a whole host of subjective and objective indicators of quality of life as people age and go through the course of life.”

The report’s findings show “that in North America, and the U.S. in particular, youth now start lower than the adults in terms of well-being,” he said. “And that’s very disconcerting, because essentially it means that they’re at the level of their midlife crisis today and obviously begs the question of what’s next for them?”

The report is based on data from Gallup World Poll surveys from 2021 to 2023 that is analyzed by some of the world’s leading experts on well-being. The number of participants varies, but about 1,000 people usually respond from each country each year, rating their current life satisfaction on a scale from zero to 10. The happiness report is then based on a three-year average of those figures.

Nordic countries once again dominate the 2024 rankings, with Finland occupying the No. 1 spot for the seventh year in a row, followed by Denmark, Iceland and Sweden.Share this articleShare

The report found that happiness has decreased for all age groups in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand since 2006 to 2010, with a particularly notable drop for young people — and young females recorded even lower scores than males. Youth happiness has also fallen in Western Europe, albeit less dramatically.

De Neve said the findings for youth in the United States in particular were “really striking.” He said questions remain about the reasons behind the trend.

Normally, well-being is reflected in a U-curve, he noted, whereby “youth start higher, then they drop in well-being virtually all the way down to a midlife crisis, which is typically the late 30s, early 40s,” before rising again in later life — unlike in the U.S. data.

There’s “no real smoking gun” that explains this drop in youth happiness, which began just over a decade ago, he said. Issues such as polarization, social media use and growing health and income disparities could play a role, he said.

Many young adults began college or a career amid a pandemic and have faced high housing prices, misinformation exacerbated by social media, and a loneliness epidemic, as The Washington Post has previously reported.

The researchers met Tuesday with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, who “spoke of K-12 high school students … talking about sort of a change in culture where there’s no longer a culture of speaking to each other,” De Neve added. “And that is really horrible because we all know from well-being science that nothing’s more important than your social capital — having quality connections and people to rely on and speak with on a very frequent basis.”

The study found that “social support” and “social interactions of all kinds” are important for happiness and reducing loneliness. But in many countries, including the United States and Canada, loneliness is “significantly higher for the Millennials than for the Boomers” — a pattern also seen in Southeast Asia and Western Europe, but not in Central or Eastern Europe, the report said.

De Neve noted that the “general negative trend for youth well-being in the United States [was] exacerbated during covid, and youth in the U.S. have not recovered from the drop.”

Yet the research found that the pandemic also had the effect of making people more likely to help others in need. “This increase in benevolence has been large for all generations,” the report said, but the increase was especially large “for the Millennials and Generation Z, who are even more likely than their predecessors to help others in need.”


How can I help an intelligent 5th-grader who shows signs of depression?

Washington Post March 21 st 2024

Dear Meghan: How can I help or relate to a fifth-grade student who does very little work, barely talks but does show up at school. He shows up to the counseling group but says nothing. Parents work full-time, and the boy is alone after school until they come home. He seems depressed, but I’m not sure. He is intelligent.

— Worried

Worried: My first thought when I read this was Ross Greene’s words, “Children do well if they can.” I often think of this saying when it comes to all sorts of behaviors, from school problems to disobedience. The idea that children do well if they can means, if the conditions are right, every child will reach their fullest potential, whatever that may be. It doesn’t mean that there is perfection, but it does mean that the child has a chance at growing.

When it comes to this young man, I know precious little of what is going on in his life. If you are his parent, you have many options available to you, from outside supports for after-school activities or therapy to other school resources. If you are a teacher, your domain is truly just in the school, but please work in tandem with the family, the fellow teachers and administrator, and the school counselor to find the most effective solutions.

The best news is that he is still showing up; something in him has not given up! He could fight going to school, we know that chronic absenteeism is at an all-time high. He could absolutely refuse the counseling group, but again, he is there. His intelligence is also interesting. Giftedness in children often doesn’t show up the way you may guess. They aren’t all straight A’s and precocious stereotypes depicted on TV; the depression and lack of work could actually be a symptom of his gifted needs not being met (children do well if they can), or he could even be depressed and gifted. In either case, it could be a useful lens by which to see this young man.Share this articleShare

So often the child is seen as a collection of problems to be fixed (Love school! Do your work! Be happy!), but no one slows down to simply ask the child what is going on with them. Your theories don’t matter that much until you understand his life from his perspective. The Greene Collaborative and Proactive Solutions model is especially helpful as it gives you a script to follow and a worksheet to fill out. It keeps the adults from getting lost in the weeds as well as holds the child to real expectations. It takes some practice and may feel unwieldy at first, but with time and dedication, it is amazing to watch children begin to trust that adults want to truly know and support them. Starting with problem-solving, the smallest of goals (turning in one math sheet) can yield rewards that go across all sorts of domains, as long as the child is involved in the problem-solving.Skip to end of carousel

Meghan Leahy is a parenting coach and the author of “Parenting Outside the Lines.” She has given advice about toddler tantrums, teens and mental health and co-parenting.Ask her a question here.End of carousel

It is also useful to look at the basics every student needs to be successful and see what’s missing for this fifth-grader. First and foremost is safety: emotional, physical and psychological, both inside and outside of school. I cannot express how important it is that a child has a compassionate adult in their life, preferably both in school and at home, but I will take even one! And, yes, it is perfectly fine that his parents work full time, but it may help him to have contact with a mentor after school. Notice I didn’t say “more work” or “even more activities.” Some children benefit from after-school hobbies; some don’t. Some children need more guided activities; some don’t. Working with this young man and his family to find a solution that works for everyone is the best place to begin.

Depression is complicated, but it should still be addressed no matter if you are the parent or the teacher. If you are the teacher, please meet with the counselor to express your concerns with the details of the behaviors you’ve witnessed, when they started, and how long the behaviors have been happening. It is common in our culture to notice the loud, problematic behaviors first, but lack of school work, silence and being checked out are also red flags.

If you are the parents, the first place to look is the basics: sleep, exercise and nutrition. Many well-meaning adults create complex academic plans for kids only to realize that the child simply needs more protein, or they are getting only four hours of sleep at night. Can you force a fifth-grader to eat or sleep? No, but it is where the attention should go first! It is hard to help a child find their motivation when their primary human needs may not be getting met.

This boy is at an important age where the proper interventions can change the trajectory of his life. Don’t give up. Believing in him, staying involved, and caring about him, you could fill his bucket in ways that you don’t see right now. We are all eager for quick solutions, but sticking by him may yield good things when you are least expecting it. Good luck.