I'd like to be able to tell my kids that the world they are hurtling towards is full of unlimited opportunities; that the world will be a better place than it ever was before.
Sure. And I think they'd try to believe me.
But there are six reasons why they won't and why I just couldn't say it with a straight face.
You know what I'm talking about here. What simple-minded parent came up with this idea? I'm guessing it was the parent of the weeble-shaped child who couldn't kick a ball to save his weeble-shaped life. Now, I am not here to attack children whose silhouettes look suspiciously like extra-large eggs. I was never very good at soccer either. In fact, I wasn't good at any sport. However, having been a member of a winless t-ball team, I can say with authority that there is nothing wrong with participating in sports and losing. Being on that winless team (The Reds, Reed City, Mich, T-Ball league, 1978), I learned valuable lessons that prepared me for adulthood; namely, it prepared me to be a fan of the Chicago Cubs. To this day I still swell with pride whenever I see highlights on SportsCenter of the latest Cub's loss. That's not a joke. I spent a great deal of time and money to drag my family from Louisiana up to Chicago last year in order to realize a lifelong dream and watch the Cubs lose at Wrigley Field. I've never had that much fun at a ballgame before. I was in heaven. And the Cubs had 11 chances with men in scoring position in five extra innings to win. And the Cubs lost. And I was happy anyway.
2. Bicycle Helmets
Okay, that first one took a shot at children's self-esteem. This one pulls the trigger on one of the biggest buzzwords of modern day: safety. Sure, we could talk about safety statistics all day long. But in the end, the real point is that thousands of children are riding around on bicycles looking and (more importantly) feeling like a kid with a Roomba on his head. I don't care if the helmet has a cool flame decal on it. What self-respecting child wants to ride a bike with a safety--anything on his body? Again, I have experience in this, as does anyone who once rode a bicycle. Yes, I went over the handlebars downhill on a gravel road and tried to stop myself with the palms of my hands. Yes I tried to do a wheelie and flipped a bike backwards and hit my head on the sidewalk while the bike landed on top of me. But I guarantee you I did not look like an idiot doing these things.
3. Public School Uniforms
This is going to get me in trouble with my wife, who likes the convenience of not having to argue with the kids about what they will wear to school. But for my money, I'd have to say that telling a child he must wear dress pants and a collared-shirt to school is simply cruel. Kids wear jeans and t-shirts. Later, as teenagers, they like to add a little style of their own choosing. But wait, kids don't understand. They don't realize how they are being traumatized by living in a world where some kids come from rich families and some come from poor families. Uniforms will save them from this social stratification. Well, I haven't found a person who actually believes this. Thank God they're still allowed to wear tennis shoes.
4. Sliced Apples instead of French Fries
If I wanted my kids to eat the right foods, I wouldn't take them to McDonald's. That's pretty simple, don't you think? But if I wanted them to enjoy a fun meal out on the road, I'd get them a burger and fries. Unless, of course, they'd rather have a burger and apples. I knew a kid like that once; I never liked playing with him. I'm sure that somewhere he is now a forty-year-old healthy man who still fits into the size 32s he wore in high school and even still has all of his hair . Big deal. If he had to forgo the joy of eating thousands of french fries throughout those forty years then his life hasn't begun to reach the heights of euphoria that mine has. I almost feel sorry for the little healthy twerp.
5. Excessive Celebration Bans
This one could have been lumped in with number one, but I feel justified in giving this ridiculous idea a place all its own. Isn't that only fair? And after all, isn't fairness what sports is all about? Just consider, only a generation ago, kids were free to happily celebrate scoring a touchdown against a hated rival. They were allowed to crow with pride when striking out an arch-rival's best slugger. I have had to explain this sort of barbaric behavior to my children while watching replays from classic sporting events. It was nearly as hard to explain as the bikini shorts worn by Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the '84 and '85 NBA Finals. But here's the thing: yes, it might make an opponent feel bad that you scored, but it might also make a young athlete redouble his efforts to stop you from scoring again. Tom Jackson of the Denver Broncos told John Elway immediately following their Super Bowl XXI loss to remember that feeling and to not let it happen again. Elway suffered an even more humiliating loss in Super Bowl XXIV. Eight years later, however, he finally managed to win Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII. Additionally, this kind of ban just seems to take the joy out of competition. Let the kids play, let them enjoy their success, and let them rue their failures. It won't kill them.
6. Educational Toys
Yeah, I want my kids to be a lot smarter than the average kid, but I just can't see what the big push is to replace good-old-fashioned playtime with learning time. Let the boys play with army men all they want. By the time they're young teens they'll be reading any history books they can find on World War II. And they'll also learn their geography the same way. Let a kid get the Skateboard action figure instead of a planetgreen weather station with his kids meal, especially if he's already been forced to munch on apples instead of French Fries. For sheer imagination-building, I'd say a slinky is far more educational than a toy recycling truck. The very fact that online toy stores have page headings like alternative energy and environmental science should be a warning to us all. Okay, I have to admit the potato clock looks pretty darned cool. But that's as green as I'll go. Maybe the better way to go would be to let G I Joe make a potato bomb! Of course, then we'd have to label him a terrorist and he'd never get his name off the no-fly list.
When you put it all together, I have this terrible feeling that the world is getting safer, kinder, healthier, and fairer. What makes it so terrible is that there is nothing safer, kinder, healthier, or fairer about the world today despite these zealous efforts to make it so. The one thing that can be said for sure is that kids are not allowed to be kids any more. Which might be okay if we really could wipe out class distinctions or hurt feelings. Any one of the items on this list can be seen in a positive light. But the disturbing thing to me is how all of them put together form a mosaic of dull and unrealized childhood. We are already beginning to see that this is leading to dull and unrealized adulthoods. Instead of protecting hurt feelings for children, we have raised adults who live in constant reaction to hurt feelings. This is leading to a belief that such helplessness can only be fixed through nanny-government intervention.
The only thing that saves me from despair is the knowledge that my children are greater than the sum of the stupid rules imposed on their world. I have no doubt they will rise above the foolishness that surrounds them and they will indeed chase after those limitless opportunities as they make this world a better place than it has ever been.
Helmet Image by Photostock
School Sign Image by anankkml
Fries Image by artemisphoto