Friday, January 21, 2011

This Is The Way To Be A Child, Be A Child, Be A Child...

It seems I am now, officially, old. Remember how we used to laugh at our parents, their stories of "when I was a kid..." about walking five miles uphill in the snow, both ways, to school; how kids worked hard and built character and weren't a bunch of lazy layabouts like we were, with our fancy televisions and video arcades? I guess I never *seriously* thought I would feel the way they did back then. But when you become a parent, all of those things you never thought would happen to you *do* happen to you, eventually. Whether you like it or not.

Now I'm not saying that I am better or worse off because I was bullied to the point of fighting back in middle school. Or that I've forgotten all those bruises my legs suffered from playing bombardment (a.k.a. dodge ball) at recess in elementary school. All I know is that I learned a lot about people through these experiences, and a lot about myself. And oddly enough, there was never an adult around when it happened. Imagine that!

So here's my latest old-lady gripe of what's on the playground today: PPC. No, not PCP, the drug that used to be called Angel Dust. PPC, which stands for 'Peaceful Playground Coaches.'

I kid you not.

It is mind-boggling the number--and authentic feel--of violent movies, television shows and video games that our children are bombarded with by today's entertainment industry (and I use the term 'entertainment' very loosely). But rather than put our collective foot down as parents and declare "ENOUGH!" to the industry, we let them continue to make billions of dollars churning these things out, and instead try to reverse the effects of their messages by teaching school kids how to use 'Rock Paper Scissors' to resolve conflicts.

Apparently, this all started out in California, when a woman decided that today's children spend so much time alone (on a computer, or because they have no siblings), that they don't know how to play team games. When I was young, we'd go to the park to see who was around. If there were a few kids, we'd play basketball. If there were more, we'd start up a baseball game. We'd choose teams, create lineups, and play until we got hungry. But since so many kids today spend time indoors, there's this idea that many don't know how to play the games we used to play. Thus, the need for a playground coach: teach them the games, show them how to pick teams, let them know the rules, teach them how to resolve disputes and off they go.

Personally, I think we already do too much for our children, scheduling them for organized sports, after school clubs, music lessons, art classes and a hundred other activities that involve someone teaching them how to do things. My eight-year-old dropped out of cub scouts because it was too much work and he didn't like the meetings. He loves to listen and sing along to rock and roll music, but has shown no inclination to learn an instrument. He plays with trains, bugs, paints and LEGOs, fights with his brother, and makes some of the most interesting observations I have ever heard from a third grader. I'm convinced it's because he has time to think, on his own, about the world.

Just because our kids don't do things the way we did doesn't mean they won't figure out how to do them on their own. Sure, tell them the horror stories of 'back in the day', that time before cell phones, Wii and computer games. The years of only seven channels on television, rotary phones and no Internet. But then give them some credit, some freedom and a chance to live out their own childhoods without coaches for every little thing.

How else will they have stories to tell your grandchildren about how hard things used to be?

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