Posted by: JDM..... | March 21, 2012

Childhood is for Playing….

Have the allegedly “wise” adults teaching them forgotten…..?

The story on the evening news reported the latest unemployment figures, and pointed out that the figure for teens was disturbingly high. With a convoluted sense of logic that unfortunately has become iconic for the present time, it went to feature the latest new program designed to address the problem head on, a class teaching pre-teens how to prepare to land a job. What nincompoop came up with that brilliant idea?

I looked out the living room window to my neighbor’s driveway. There were kids all over the place, ages ranging from eight or nine to just teetering on the far edge of the “tweens”. Now, I have to point out that the neighbor family has three pre-teen boys, and they put in a driveway to rival the average convenience store parking lot. It’s the local gathering spot and stays busy whenever it isn’t buried under two feet of snow or suffering a Yankee monsoon. This evening, three or four were practicing “ice hockey” (pavement version) between two goal nets, while others wove in and around the players on electrified scooters. Two boys in plastic space suits chased each other around with water “soakers”. Bicycles were piled by the house, soccer balls and other miscellaneous tools of childhood were littered about. It won’t be long before the kid-sized ATV’s start to circle the house, replacing the semi-healed ruts created last year.

Sometimes the noise gets to be a little annoying as our house is only a few feet from the fence, but then I smile and remind myself that the pre-adolescent voices yelling back and forth, and the occasional ball bouncing off the siding, will soon enough be replaced with the squealing of tires, roaring of motorcycles, and the usual tools of emerging young manhood.

I like to think we live in a healthy neighborhood. The kids are outside when weather permits. They play in the street, like I did when I was that age. During the summer, the air smells like barbeque and fresh cut grass.

I looked back at the TV where ten year olds were shown practicing job interviewing and were parroting the lines they had been fed about what a great idea the program was and how it would help them prepare for life.

What? Good grief, people have been preparing for “life” as long as there have been people, and while the methods have evolved to fit the circumstances of the times, that preparation involves a few rather stabile steps. One of them is called “childhood”. It precedes “adolescence”, which in turn precedes “young adulthood”.

Childhood is a time of play. That’s not just wasted time and energy. It prepares the mind and body for learning, gives them respite and recovery from more formalized learning. It’s an important part of how they learn who they are. It’s an important part of how they learn interpersonal skills. It’s an important part of how they develop self esteem. They will need all of these things and more when they are bowled over by adolescence, when they will practice bursts of risk taking behavior and independence.

Those who hold the reins now, but who will be retiring before they know it, are engrossed with a technology-centered life, and while they may be creating obedient technicians, I don’t think they are developing “human beings”.

Ten year olds should be riding scooters, playing ball, falling off bicycles, climbing trees, dreaming of being astronauts, veterinarians, cowboys, stunt drivers, doctors, teachers, and whatever they want. Their childhoods are frighteningly brief and irreplaceable. They will learn the responsibilities and skills of young adulthood in due time, when the time is right.

This is the era of “credentials”, when people are obsessed with how things look rather than with how they are, so I shouldn’t be surprised. But I seem to trip over new surprises with great regularity since I retired from the working world and started taking the time to look around.

Perhaps I am guilty of just another one of those “Why, in my day” lamentations, but I think there is at least a smattering of truth in what I say. These are children, human beings with a short window of opportunity within which the sparks of imagination, creativity, curiosity, and individuality can be ignited and nursed into the full-blown flames necessary for living, building, and inventing, loving, and managing their world.

They are not robots to be programmed.

The most successful people throughout history, and those who made life joyful, for themselves as well as for others, have been those who risked doing it “their” way, not those who followed a script.

Maybe somebody needs to teach their teachers how to play. I think they forgot.



  1. Another good one Jeff…I like to think Staci shares the same philosophy. I believe we gave her a “real” childhood

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