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Outsourcing social skills

Outsourcing social skills

The Wall Street Journal reports on how parents are seeing to their children’s social skills by outsourcing.

Some New York City children take after-school classes in dance, pottery or softball. Once a week, Gillian and Hunter Randall add an unusual activity to the list: lessons on how to shake hands.

It’s a class taught by SocialSklz:-), a company founded in 2009 to address deteriorating social skills in the age of iPhones, Twitter and Facebook friends.

Now, the simple act of speaking naturally to other human beings is one of several traditional responsibilities being outsourced by New York City parents.

Another program, “Little Givers,” a preschool class that teaches charity and social activism, shows Brooklyn toddlers who have mastered the art of sharing how to tackle a new challenge: philanthropy.

To parents and supporters, the classes are a handy way for busy, often affluent parents to instill important values in their children’s lives.

Discussing this among ourselves on the newsteam, Andrew Gerns notes:

Interesting. When I first read this, I said to myself “Huh. Churches used to

do that kind of thing. A long time ago.”

The writer frames this as a family responsibility that is now being


But before it became the family’s business, these lessons were taught

corporately– family, neighbors, churches, schools, etc all working

together. Sometime in the last century and a half, it became the sole purvue

of parents in nuclear families that were by and large cut off from

community. Now is being “outsourced.”

But before it could be “outsourced”, it had to have a monetary value placed

on it and then turned into a commodity that be packaged and sold.

These services probably make sense for blended families (those who can

afford it) where everyone in the household has their own busy schedule.

Which is another way of saying that our idea of family has probably shifted

and no one has noticed.

Torey Lightcap replied:

…it may seem sensible for cash-strapped churches to now enter into such enterprises as means of creating alternative revenue sources, thus bringing the cirlce closer to having completed itself.

Ann Fontaine received this note from the father of two of her grandsons:

Our co-op preschool managed to impart some similar skills but more as part of everyday interaction. Even they were a bit too focused on behavior rather than behavior as something important to achieiving a shared goal. These kinds of behaviors seem highly contextual to me, the kinds of things that are learned while you are doing something else. We moved our kids to the Seattle Children’s Theater preschool so they could do that–learn good citizenship in the context of doing things together.

Opportunity for the church? What do you think?


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History is full of wealthy people (at least in the English tradition) who hired other people to teach their children basic skills– nursery maids & governesses historically had more day-to-day time with children of the wealthy than the parents. Not sure how this is any different.

Personally, I think kids learn that sort of thing by the example modeled by parents & it doesn’t need to be made a big deal of. It’s embedded in the context of other activities. I know I learned philanthropy from simple things like getting to put the money in the collection plate at church, being included in discussions of stewardship (and what that might mean), and by my parents being open about the fact that philanthropy was just something that one did.

Even though my son has access to computer gaming and screen time, we try to limit the amount of time he spends doing that on his own and try (not always successfully) to lead by example in terms of giving the humans (and dog!) in our lives priority over screens. It’s tough to do– sometimes I’d rather just play bejeweled 🙂

Kristin Fontaine

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