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Mother's quest: Urge kids to leave the house, stay active, socialize.

Samuel Spadaro of St. Charles plays dodgeball during an outing at Epic Air Trampoline Park in South Elgin. He attends Haines Middle School.
Samuel Spadaro of St. Charles plays dodgeball during an outing at Epic Air Trampoline Park in South Elgin. He attends Haines Middle School.

ST. CHARLES – A few years ago, Meg Lietz’s oldest child would do all sorts of activities with his friends – ride bikes, build forts, play basketball – but for whatever reason, it tapered off.

Instead of getting together and playing in the same room, her adolescent son and his friends began playing video games with each other from the comfort of their own homes.

That pushed Lietz – who wanted her 13-year-old son to pick up the phone and call his friends – to take matters into her own hands. She created STC Social, a group for seventh-grade boys at Thompson, Wredling and Haines middle schools that regularly meets for a face-to-face social activity, such as capture the flag.

STC Social recently met for its second event, an outing at Epic Air in South Elgin. About 15 boys showed up, many of whom appeared excited to spend time with their classmates outside of school, Lietz said.

“That’s the stuff I was hoping for,” she said.

Thompson Middle School Principal Steve Morrill knows all too well about middle school students’ shortcomings when it comes to social skills. Technology isn’t helping, and he said, “middle school is always about ‘me.’ ” With concerns about their bodies, the fast pace of middle school and keeping up with the Joneses – believing their neighbor has it better – the middle school age group tends to be ultra-sensitive.

In general, Morrill said, boys aren’t nearly as vocal as girls. Two boys might sit at lunch together, eat and not say a word but describe that time to others as “hanging out.”

It’s this type of behavior – playing video games with each other through headsets and, when they are physically together, texting or playing games – that concerns Lietz.

“We’re doing a disservice to a whole generation of boys,” she said. “So much communication in life is based off of socializing in person. … If you’re not around people in person, I really think you are depriving yourself of communication tools you will need as an adult.”

Adolescents don’t always see value in social skills. Some even believe they will have a job – such as one with computers – that doesn’t require face-to-face interaction, Morrill said. He tells those students a computer-savvy employee works with people every day.

“You can’t replace social skills,” Morrill said.

He said adults must teach social skills. At Thompson, that includes teachers sitting with students at lunch to model social skills; assigning students roles during group work, such as recorder and facilitator; and getting students outside on the blacktop after lunch for brief social interaction time.

“School is still personal, and we can’t lose it,” Morrill said.

Lietz said she had gotten positive support for STC Social. She said it’s nice to know people feel good about it and understand why she started it.

Laura Sanders was one of the first parents to join. She thought it was a good opportunity for her son to spend time with his friends and meet boys from the other middle schools, she said.

“I just thought it was a great way for Garrett to interact with a large group of boys,” she said, noting it can be difficult to have half a dozen boys at the house.

Lietz intends to plan STC Social activities every few weeks as her schedule permits.

“Honestly, as long as people keep showing up, I’ll keep planning it,” she said.

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