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Category Archives: Childhood

Stick ‘Em Up!

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Every so often a new study posits the link between media violence and real violence. The theory most often is that children exposed to violent themes and games become inured to real violence and thus more likely to commit violent acts. There is a certain logic to the premise but is it really that straightforward? Hasn’t violent play always existed?

People raised during the earlier days of television were exposed to far more violent images than their moving picture going or radio listening ancestors. A child growing up in the 1950s was immersed in cowboy-shoot-em-up imagery and play. Cowboy and cowgirl costumes (replete with guns and holsters) were not just Halloween costumes; they were toys. Television, movies, books, comic books and creative play was rife with shooting. Even Superman (the television show) had people shooting (and killing) people. Toy soldiers, G.I. Joe and war games have been a part of child’s play since the advent of war. But all of this happened in a distinct child’s world, in which an adult (related or not) was always at the ready to impose adult order. The world belonged to adults and children knew that. They were ever conscious of their place in the adult world and the distinct delineation between being a child and being an adult. Children engaged in unsupervised play and then returned to the structured adult world.

The adult world demanded marked different behavior than that of a child’s world. The language (e.g., slang, profanity,) manners, appearance and attire requirements in the adult world were different from that in the child’s world. Adults maintained the boundaries in various ways. There were many subjects that were not discussed in front of children (little pitchers have big ears; what in the world does that mean!?) Adults socialized without their children and enjoyed other privileges of adulthood (e.g., choosing which television shows were watched, what foods were eaten, which clothes were purchased, etc.) The rigidity of home life was countered with the wildly independent social life of a kid. Play was unsupervised and free-range. Children engaged in activities without parents. They played sports, danced and sang without their parents witnessing every single moment. They were in their world and they were just playing.

Children flourish when they can explore the world safely. Knowing that adults are in charge and are sure as shootin’ gonna tell them what to and not to do, is very comforting. However, if a child is left with a feeling that the adults are not in charge, or worse yet, the child is in control, that child can grown very frightened and insecure. The same child who senses that “no one is the boss of me” not only has a fuzzy sense of fiction and reality (which is an inherent part of childhood development and why children need parents) but also could possibly be left to immerse themselves far too often in violent games and play. There is nothing about holding a plastic gun and aiming it at a screen that is more violent than holding a Davy Crockett pistol against a friend’s head. However there is something numbing about playing alone and obsessively. An interesting treatment in these “violence studies” would to be to have one group of children “Go Outside And Play!”

This dance of control in which parents involve themselves in a child’s world and children are given equal footing in the family may not be the most effective formula for growing strong children. Children flourish when they are given limits. They want to grow up when being a grown-up looks better than being a kid. While there is nothing positive one could say about violent video games, it is short sighted to think any imagery in any form has the power to change collective behavior. Blurring the lines between reality and fantasy, and childhood and adulthood is much more likely to affect change. If in fact the exposure to violent imagery (in games, film, video, etc.) has risen and violence in children and young adults has risen, that is indeed correlation. But to suggest (yet again!) causation and wag our finger at the media makes us look silly and a bit irresponsible.

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2013 in Childhood, Media/Marketing

 

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Empty Nesting

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Empty nests aren’t what they used to be. In fact you might be hard pressed to find a nest with vacancies. This isn’t exactly news; we’ve been hearing about dismal job markets and diminished economic opportunities for young adults for quite some time now. It’s commonplace to hear of households that include adult children (and even their children.) What is rarely mentioned in these discussions is that it is often quite an agreeable arrangement. Modern parents and children (of all ages except perhaps peak adolescence) enjoy spending time together.

The generations share interests, activities and even clothing. They are often in constant communication and know a great deal about each other’s lives. In generations past this was rarely the case in traditional American families. A child had his/her circle of friends and interests and upon reaching adolescence rebelled against all that his/her parents represented. The politics, music and literature of the younger generation were unrecognizable to that of the older. The clothing, hairstyles and lingo were equally foreign and perhaps infuriating. Who would want to spend time with someone they couldn’t understand? An adolescent’s primary goal was to get out of the house and away from the hopelessly old-fashioned parents. College served that purpose well, as did first apartments (filled with like-aged and minded roommates.)

Something has happened in recent decades to blur the lines between the generations. The most intriguing aspect to the change is that it’s both the younger and older moving towards each other. If we were to jump in a jeep with our binoculars and pursue the average American nuclear family in their natural habitat, we would spot this morphing phenomenon. Parents and children (of all ages) look an awful lot alike. They dress alike, they groom alike, they text alike. The fact that this happens in public proves that everyone is okay with it. Daughters don’t mind (or perhaps even enjoy) their mothers appropriating their dark/cadaver like nail colors, sons enjoy/tolerate sharing their baseball caps with their fathers. From the back (if weight wasn’t a factor) you’d be hard pressed to determine which generation was which. It’s been a long time since we’ve witnessed a unified family look, in nature that is; it happens in Christmas cards all the time. Surely there’s a more recent example of this indistinguishable appearance; but it is Little House On The Prairie that comes to my mind.

If we were to hop out of the jeep and (lawfully) enter homes, we might discover that there is no “adult” space (formally known as the living room) and “child” space but instead “family” space. Unless a parent engages in a delicate or dangerous activity, there is probably no “off-limits” space within the home (for fun, check to see if there’s a lock on the parents’ bedroom.) The music, movies, social media, gadgets, and fitness regimes are most likely shared. This average family probably socializes together and often vacations together. They will attend all school and family events as a unit as well. To the novice jeep rider this may appear novel. But it is actually a very old phenomenon (see Little House reference.) Back when we were forging new territory and had little if any connections to the world, our nuclear family was our world. One’s fortunes and survival depended on the strength of the nuclear family.

It is slightly ironic that in an age of such instant and ubiquitous connectivity we revert back to an isolationist mode of living. But if we take a closer look (back in the jeep everyone) we will see that we are anything but connected to the larger world. When is the last time you had friends over for dinner? How often are you invited over for drinks? When was your last block party, potluck or open house? How many times a week, or even month, do you go out with friends (without children in tow?) How long have you been at your current job? Do you lunch or happy hour with your co-workers? How often do you attend religious or community events? Can you recall the last time you dropped by a friend’s home unannounced?

Some of our disconnection to the larger world is our own doing and choice, but some of it is not. A job isn’t life sentences any longer, nor is marriage. We move (by choice or not) and we start over. We lose contact and perhaps the confidence to make new contacts. We are so electronically plugged in that isolation can feel like a reprieve. Our work life is so heavily in favor of extroversion that off-hours cocooning is a sanity saver. The reasons we choose to enmesh with our nuclear family could be many. The affects are probably always the same; nests are less empty. What is indisputable is that if we stay in the jeep long enough (and refuel a few hundred times) we will see this phenomenon shift once again. In 25 years or so we will start hearing the ancient strains of; “What are you wearing?!” “Turn that noise down!” “That’s not a word!!!”

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2013 in Childhood, Cultural Critique

 

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The Mulching Of Minors

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A father shared this observation of a friend’s 9-year-old in a restaurant; “She sat there for two, no three hours! In her seat, eating and being quiet!” This observation was jarring not for its narrative but for its delivery. His face and tone suggested he had seen a blue moon during a total eclipse of the sun. It’s always a wee bit awkward to be on the receiving end of something you don’t understand. It’s difficult, when you can’t relate or perhaps even understand the message to know how to respond. If you are graceful and socially adept you might smile and lightly yet rapidly change the subject. If you are somewhat more like, well like me, you might just let something wildly inappropriate fly from your mouth. But enough about me.

If you’ve never seen modern parenting in play, you know, like if you lived in a retirement community or a convent, you could still learn a thing or two by listening. Parents love talking about their children, just like gardeners love talking about their flowers. Even when they’re not talking about their own, or posting 35 photos of “dropping Madison off at camp” on Facebook, they’re sharing their parenting perspective. Take the stunned observation of the (above) father. If his own children sat nicely through a meal he might not have noticed the 9-year-old. If he felt it was valuable to teach a child how to be an enjoyable dining companion, he would simply assume that all children (who are old enough to be in a restaurant) know how to behave.

The point of parenting is to grow decent and strong adults. There are many diverse roads to that end. The values, perspectives and traditions of the parent should guide the journey. Being indoctrinated with parents’ political, social, religious, and ethical views is what gives a child roots. Structure, limits, expectations, and critical feedback are what makes a child blossom into an adult.

Typically a child of 5-years-old can sit still and understand the difference between public and private behavior. (That’s why formal education begins at age 5.) It’s a crucial part of a child’s socialization to expose them to the larger world. Keeping in mind the age appropriateness of the activity of course (bringing an 8-year-old to the ring cycle is endangering the welfare of a child.) The point of taking a school-age child to a restaurant (beside feeding them) is to expose them, in a controlled way, to the adult world. Teaching a child to; speak clearly to a waiter/waitress while looking him/her in the eye, ask for items to be passed, thank servers and observe adult conversation and financial transactions is the point of dining out with children. The child, learning and feeling confident about the adult world grows strong.

Learning that the adult world is something to aspire to, is how we fertilize children. Creating a world that is completely child-centric is not only a frightening burden of power but also an utter disincentive for growth. Children need to be heard and given the space to express themselves. But they need to do this in the protective environment that comes from stronger older people who know a thing or two about making a garden grow.

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2013 in Childhood

 

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Letter To A Graduate

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Dear College Graduate – Congratulations on your brand spanking new diploma! No matter where you go or what you do you will always have this accomplishment. You can never become a lapsed graduate or have your degree expire. There are few things like that in life so by all means bask a bit. No doubt you’ve heard a few rumblings about the job market and your prospects of doing better than your parents. Some speaker at your graduation (or older relative at your party) thought himself or herself insightful and wise to depress you with their opinion. You may have taken loans that have a looming repayment date. The thought of which may waken you in the middle of the night, the young adult version of a monster under the bed. This would be a good time to remember that with any luck, life is long and you’re going to be just fine. But there are some harsh realities that must be faced.

Uncle Don is right; the job market is different for you than it was for him. When he (and Aunt Joyce) graduated college, sometime during the heyday of network television and the invention of the answering machine (look it up) there was such a thing as “entry-level” jobs. A person could join a firm (that’s what companies were called then) at the bottom and work their way up. These jobs were plentiful as back then people did the work of machines. A mailroom in a large firm had to be staffed as emails and texts were sent in paper form and had to be sorted and delivered by people. Receptionists and switchboard operators did the work of automated phone trees. And secretaries did just about everything. In the finance world clerks and administrative assistants (which meant entry-level administrator before it became a euphemism for secretary) were an integral part of the pre-technology workplace. Back then Don and Joyce would have sent letters to dozens of firms and answered ads to get an interview with personnel (aka H.R.) During that appointment they would most likely be given aptitude tests and then placed within the organization according to their strengths. Once placed Don and Joyce would learn the ropes, distinguish themselves, serve their time and move on up or even out.

While technology is a wonderful thing, as is progress in general, and the new(ish) field has created jobs, it has also diminished an entire classification of jobs. Of course this phenomenon isn’t entirely new. Don and Joyce may remember their ancestors starting out as “office boys” or runners. There was a time when department stores (which ruled the retail world) were staffed with; counter help, salespeople, cashiers, wrappers (items went home wrapped in brown paper and string not in bags), elevator operators, restroom attendants, doormen, models, dressers, dressing room assistants…You get the idea. Department stores themselves are practically a relic from the past, let alone the diversity of employment opportunities. So yes, with each generation there seems to be a dramatic change in the employment tableau. But you and your classmates are also facing much more competition for the sparse opportunities. Many many more people go to and graduate from college today. Many more people borrow substantial amounts of money to do so. Don and Joyce knew little about that. Their friends went to schools they could afford. They might have worked their way through school, went on scholarship or went to state schools that were highly subsidized.

So great news, right?! Don was right to rain on your parade! Well not exactly. Challenging isn’t the same as hopeless. Tenacity is your best friend right now, that and humility and hard work. Be willing to do anything (that’s legal) and work like a dog. Put your head down and get it done. Knock on every door; don’t wait for anyone to do anything for you. You need to be your own manager and press agent. Style yourself and your profile to be attractive to an employer. Prove why you’re an asset, not why you deserve a job. Let go of any notion of a dream job, and embrace the concept of a job. Believe in destiny and really hard work and let go of fantasy. And once you get that job, and you will, treat it and others with respect. Go get ‘em.

Signed,
F.O.D. (Friend of Don)

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2013 in Childhood, Education

 

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Texting While Parenting

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Technology is altering the very fabric of society and eroding the parent/child connection!! At least that’s what you’d think by scanning media. Phones: smart, cell, land, and rotary have changed everything about how we communicate!! It’s true; you know what also changed communication; the written word, the printing press & going a bit further back; speech. But the children! They are attached to their screen. Yes, as they were once attached to their comic books, and paperbacks. Okay but what of the parents? Parents are often on their smartphones/tablets while in the presence of their child. Shudder. Grown people are actually reading, writing or talking on the phone before their child leaves for college?!

At first glance a parent pushing a stroller while texting or chatting is a bit disconcerting. But that’s more to do with what was once a private behavior is now public. All our mothers talked on the phone. Some of our mothers threatened dismemberment if interrupted. (“There better be a LOT of blood if you’re interrupting me!”) Talking/texting while parenting publicly just takes some getting used to. Like girls styling their hair in a crowded restaurant. Over your food. There’s very little private behavior left. So once we just get onboard with that, what in the world could possibly be troubling about an adult being an adult in the presence of their child?

In this age of parenting as guerilla sport it’s actually refreshing to see a grown person engaged by something beside their child. A parent not utterly consumed by his/her child makes for a much better parent (perspective is everything.) For the child, it is imperative that they experience their parents as something beyond their appendage or magic genie. Learning to do things on their own, even the simplest things is what plants the seeds for strong roots. Remembering to pack their lunch or do their homework teaches competence, responsibility and creates self-esteem. Being left to one’s own devices in social situations not only develops coping mechanisms but also gives the child the freedom to experiment. Attending birthday parties or summer camp with a parent in tow stifles creativity. Children, particularly in early adolescence like to try on new selves. It’s hard to improvise with your choreographer in tow.

So enough with the demonizing technology. Parents do not need to focus on their child every waking moment. They need to be engaged and present which is not the same at all. Teaching a child right from wrong, how to be a good member of society and how to be a functioning adult has nothing to do with being emotionally and physically available 24/7. Seeing one’s parent engage with other adults (outside of a pee-wee soccer match) is important for a child. Being on the phone signals to a child that mom/dad has a life beyond the playground. (This is critical for parents who take their vacations with their children, dine out with their children and/or sleep with their children.) If children do not see adulthood as somehow more privileged or better than childhood, why grow up? So pick up the phone or tablet and read, write, chat. If anyone dares give you the evils or heaven forbid verbally criticize you, have at it. Perhaps you could hold up the tablet & remark; “Such a pleasure to be able to read again! All that smoking & drinking while pregnant meant I didn’t have a free hand!” Or I suppose if you’re a better person than I you could just hold up the phone & ask; “Did you need to make a call?”

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2013 in Childhood

 

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