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Educators from Carolina Friends School in Durham explore the relationship between health and education.

CAROLINA FRIENDS SCHOOL is an independent Quaker school serving students 3-18. Contact the school at:

4809 Friends School Road
Durham, NC 27705
Telephone: ( 919) 383-6602

Karen Cumberbatch, Head of School, brings more than 23 years of educational experience and a background in African-American studies.

Anthony L. Clay has served in roles ranging from college counselor to advancement director and is currently the school’s Director of Extended Learning.

Renee Prillaman, Assistant Head for Teaching and Learning, has over 40 years of teaching experience and is also on faculty at the Program in Education at Duke University.

Childhood Curiosity and
Social Responsibility in a Digital Age

By Karen Cumberbatch, Renee Prillaman, and Anthony Clay

Our global culture, increasingly connected through technology, presents new challenges and opportunities in supporting healthy childhood development. Three lifelong educators from Carolina Friends School—a pre-K to grade 12 school focused on providing a progressive and inclusive education based in Quaker values—recently shared their insights on this topic.

RENEE PRILLAMAN: In thinking of the role of a “global village” in children’s development, it’s important to talk about how we all can build a world that is equitable and just. Together with our children, we can explore how we are getting to know and connect with other people—in what ways do our worlds collide, and how does our behavior ethically impact what goes on in their world?

From left, Karen Cumberbatch, Renee Prillaman, and Anthony Clay reflect on the impact of the “global village” on their students.

KAREN CUMBERBATCH: We all share a tendency to think that children, especially young children, are not capable of understanding or engaging with complex issues in significant ways. Research and our experience as educators tell us otherwise. 

ANTHONY CLAY: Part of that work is nurturing a sense of responsibility to people and places around us—and that sense of responsibility looks different at different ages and stages. From assigning chores and community responsibilities to encouraging collective activism against injustice, there are ways to connect with those around you that start locally and expand globally.

Skills and Experiences Our Children Need

KAREN CUMBERBATCH: We know that access to a diversity of perspectives and people enhances cognitive and critical thinking, problem-solving, and social-emotional development. Learning how to build strong connections, how to navigate through conflict resolution, how to be more empathetic—those skills and mental muscles are strengthened by exposure to a diversity of cultures and people.

ANTHONY CLAY: If you want to successfully navigate the modern world, one so divided in many ways, you have to give students the skill set to peacefully resolve conflict. Peace, harmony, and understanding may sound like clichéd words, but we need that kind of intentional, strategic, smart work. Providing children with the tools to navigate challenges for themselves is core to our work at Carolina Friends School.

RENEE PRILLAMAN: Also crucial is the need for creative expression and the arts. Access to creative expression and creative endeavor—which take different forms for different children—provides a way to come to peace with oneself and a way to be an agent for change. The role of teaching and learning for us at Carolina Friends School is not only to help kids become effective scientists, historians, writers, artists, and researchers, but to do that in the interest of following a passion that makes a difference in the world. 

The Benefits and Dangers of Technology

ANTHONY CLAY: Technology provides great potential for meaningful engagement and global connectedness. We can’t always travel back and forth across the world. 

KAREN CUMBERBATCH: For instance, a few years ago, we partnered with a school in Trinidad to create a joint course on Caribbean history. Technology was used to facilitate discussions between our students and allow them to engage with each other on projects. It really expanded that classroom experience for both schools.

That’s an example of the positive potential of the tools available in the digital world. There’s a negative side, too, of course. One area of concern are the wide variety of “educational” video programs and apps that build on our fears and insecurities as parents. There are those geared for very young learners that purport to give your child a leg up without much evidence. In particular, claims to help a child “become an early reader” are suspect. Our approach is that children’s readiness about literacy skills varies widely. Forcing reading on children who are not ready is not best practice. There are also some programs that are being developed in alignment with research, and use of these in a learning environment, with support from teachers, is different than a home “educational” game. 

RENEE PRILLAMAN: Another real concern is the influence of social media and computer games. Technology is not a substitute for true relationship-building; it is a vehicle that can support and facilitate relationships. Social media create a risk of replacing authentic interpersonal connections in children’s lives. 

Recently, there have been a number of media reports about the impact of violent video games such as Fortnite on children. Saying there is no research linking that type of game with the potential to commit violent crime is not the same as saying there is no potential harm to development. In addition to some video gaming being designed around weaponry, violence, and first-person shooting, there are advertisements that pop up that aren’t appropriate for pre-adolescent children, and evidence of harassment and bullying through ways in which players can communicate with one another.

Deciding what is or is not appropriate for your child requires rigorous oversight on the part of parents, but there is good information out there. Common Sense Media provides great resources for assessing these kinds of media. 

Knowing Your Child: Listening/Observing

KAREN CUMBERBATCH: Whether it is assessing a child’s use of technology and social media or engaging them in difficult subjects, it’s important to be guided by what your child is telling you or showing you. At what stage is your child? Should your child wait a little longer to play a game, or have access to a smartphone? Be attuned to your individual child’s readiness.

RENEE PRILLAMAN: In particular, take into account and observe what is anxiety-provoking for your child. In what should be an inventive and hopeful period in many children’s lives, we are seeing increased anxiety and depression. We can help them manage these hard things. Be led by their questions. 

KAREN CUMBERBATCH: Developmentally, there is a difference between things that are traumatic or violent and things that are in the realm of care. There is perhaps more opportunity than we realize to engage cautiously with our kids. I can remember a conversation I had with my own daughter at age five or six, when she said “I want to be white.” She was reflecting on her friendship group, and noticing a difference between herself and others. I would never have thought to begin that conversation at that age, but they’re noticing and thinking about things that we may not realize.