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Local Youth Officer Pens Memo To Adults About Kids’ Social Distancing Challenges



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A popular Newtown School Resource Officer has penned a memo to parents about some of the challenges he sees local youths facing as they have been thrust into a world of social distancing.

In the piece, Officer Will Chapman attempts to relate, based on his experience and knowledge, why he believes it is particularly difficult for young people to adapt to this practice, and why youthful tendencies that may root themselves in age-old adversity to adult authority begs for many of those same adults to — now more than ever — lead by example.

Without any substantial editing, the content of the note and its sentiment appears to speak for itself quite eloquently.

Officer Chapman writes:

“Our kids miss being in school together, plain and simple. Psychological research has proven time and again, by too many scholars to count, that social engagement is crucial to learning, brain development, and mental health. [But] due to circumstances beyond any of our control, the vast majority of our children and teens are now lacking in their foremost sources of social engagement; their school and faith communities.

“Though I expressly encourage social distancing practices and do not condone group gatherings in our current state, I also encourage adults to regard the desire to gather not necessarily as careless and irresponsible, ‘kids being kids’ behavior, and understand that our kids are struggling to meet a psychological need that [the late American psychologist] Abraham Maslow would hold in near equal importance to food, water, shelter, and personal safety.

“When discussing social distancing with young people, an empathetic approach by adults may be more conducive to productive conversations with them about why meeting up with their friends, even despite their best efforts to wash their hands and stay a few feet apart, may be bad for the community on a larger scale.

“In Newtown, on a daily basis we have been getting reports of kids hopping the fence to skate in the skate park, or sitting and chatting in the football stadium, in which case they will likely get a polite reminder from a police officer that they are supposed to be at home and not gathering with people from outside of their household,” Officer Chapman relates.

“One of the tricky parts about getting our young people to understand social distancing is a dynamic that I am usually not shy about celebrating: The fact that in Newtown we have some of the most brilliant, creative, and adaptive kids you will find anywhere. Why would this ever be problematic?

“Well, in my experience working with teens, and I am confident that most parents would agree, when you give a brilliant, creative, and adaptive kid a rule to follow, they will find a way to do what they want while technically following the rule. For example: If you JUST say, ‘No more than five people, and stay ten feet apart,” do not be surprised when you see five teens from varied households, eleven feet apart, throwing a ball back and forth.

“They will look past the obvious problem, that they are throwing the same ball from hand to hand and face to face and transferring any germs exhaled, because technically they are doing exactly as they are told. I can imagine, too, that many parents who have long had the argument with their child of, ‘Get off that phone, go outside, play with your friends,’ are finding themselves now having to switch gears with a child that loves when a rule contradicts itself.

“The Police Department will continue to encourage and monitor social distancing in our community in the most friendly, educational, and community-oriented way possible,” Officer Chapman continues. “We are assessing and reassessing our procedures on a daily and sometimes hourly basis in order to maintain our level of service to the town.

“As with any behavior that we expect from our kids, the key component is modeling by adults.

“If they see their parents entertaining guests, gathering with friends, running to the store out of boredom rather than necessity, etc... they will understand these behaviors to be appropriate and acceptable and likely follow suit. Now would be a good time for parents to learn and get more comfortable with digital interaction, a skill set where many of our teens are light years ahead of us.

“The same online resources that many parents have been thrust into familiarity with to accommodate their students’ ‘distance learning’ can be used socially and for fun as well. Ask your teen for help setting up some of the digital meeting platforms or apps that are available. Show them that even you are making adjustments and sacrifices with your social life.

“It would go a long way for parents to model the same social distancing behavior that they expect from their teens. I think it is fitting to mention that, in my observation, the majority of families in town are doing a fantastic job with this concept.

“Most of all, parents should remind kids daily that we have seen difficult, society-altering times before, and we have made it through to the other side stronger, more capable, and with a more balanced set of priorities. As parents, we have many of the skills necessary to ride out this pandemic because we have experienced circumstances that provide us with some context for what we are going through. Many of our children have no such foundation of experience, so they may lack some of the skills and resiliency necessary.

“It is crucial that we support them and validate their concerns and feelings if they talk about how difficult this is for them, and reassure them that things will get better. If we take the approach of, ‘You think this is hard for YOU?!’ — it will likely fall on deaf ears because without a basis of comparison by their own experience, it is hard for one to gauge the difficulty of their personal challenges in a given set of circumstances,” Officer Chapman offers.

“Now more than ever we should be modeling empathy, gratefulness, and optimism for our kids,” Officer Chapman concluded. “I tell our teens often that I am very excited for my children to grow up in the world they are going to build for us. Our current circumstances do not pose a threat to that sentiment in the least.”

Newtown Police School Resource Officer William Chapman is pictured interacting with a young man during a community safety day event in 2017. The local law enforcement officer recently penned something of a memo to parents and others in the community about the challenges he perceives face local youths and teens regarding social distancing, and how he believes parents and others can play a role in helping them navigate the current COVID-19 avoidance practice more successfully. —Bee file photo
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