Get those darned kids off my lawn

23 01 2011
I spent yesterday out puttering.   I was supposed to meet a new internet dating connection for lunch, but he ended up having a conflict with his child’s jazz band concert, so I just headed on out to a mall and did some shopping and hanging out.  I like to watch people, and it’s interesting the different things you see at different malls.  The one I was at yesterday is definitely in a high-income area. Mostly kids are kids, but I seem to see more indulgent parents at the high-income malls – little Johnny is having a fit for whatever reason, and the parent is sitting there beaming with his best “Oh, he’s just so cute when he acts out” expression. 
I get it.  I know that kids get loud and screamy at bad times.  But that doesn’t mean we all need to share the experience, and as a parent you need to step up and intervene in the situation.  I never, ever inflicted one of my son’s tantrums on the shoppers around me.  I got him out of the area.  One time I had to abandon a grocery shopping cart to do it.  I watched one little girl yesterday, maybe three or so, who wanted to walk around the elevated edge of one of a mall planting – it’s only about six inches off the ground and about a foot wide, and every kid in the place wants to do the same thing.  So she did it, and then her father said it was time to go, and she started screaming.  So he sat back down and let her walk some more.  Until it was time to stop… and she started screaming.  I watched this repeat three separate times.  He was busy texting on his cell phone – which I wanted to throw into the nearest fountain and tell him to start doing his job as a parent.  Can you imagine what it’s going to be like for them when she’s a teenager?
I also watched one little girl, maybe eight or so, pester her father to get into the bag from the Apple store – so that she could have the new case for her iPhone.  EIGHT.  YEARS. OLD.  With an iPhone.  I’m sorry, there are things I cannot justify.  I wouldn’t even have a phone for someone that age, but if you feel like they must have a phone, then you get them one that makes phone calls and that’s it.  There isn’t a chance in this world that I would give a child what is essentially a handheld portal to the internet in all its adults-only glory. 
I saw several parents distract screaming toddlers with videos on their smart phones.  On one level I sympathize.  Winnie the Pooh bought me half-hour increments of peace when my son was little.  But it seems like video inputs are everywhere now.  Children are constantly watching things on video screens, and I just can’t think it’s a good thing.  Minivans come with dual-DVD systems so that the two kids in the back seat not only can watch things, but they can watch different things.  Because Goddess forbid they should learn how to compromise.  My son always wanted his music in the car, and maybe I’m deluding myself when I think that music and video are different – but I also know from watching him as a toddler that videos would stop him cold, into a (sometimes literal) open mouthed drooling stillness.  He would immerse in music, but he also danced and sang along. 
I’m fifty.  My son is now 22.  I was probably some kind of Luddite throwback even when he was little, because I would never buy him gaming systems.  He wanted one of those Tamagotchi virtual kittens… I told him we had two actual cats in the house, and maybe he could try taking care of them. He wanted virtual worlds for the computer. I told him there was a real world right outside the back door, with real people in it, and he should go play with them.  I put a great playset in the back yard and every kid in the neighborhood was out there on nice days.   And I have not ONE single regret for resisting video encroachment the way I did. 
I don’t think there is anything intrinsically wrong with video games.  I just got my son the biggest baddest XBox I could find for Christmas, and I’ve sat through a fair amount of video carnage in the last month or so.  I’m okay with it. 
But I do have very serious reservations about the amount of video entertainment that our children watch.  They need to see, hear, and interact with the actual world when they’re little.   They don’t need to be passive video receptacles.  If you truly do want to have a Baby Einstein, you’ll take your baby outside and let him feel the air and earth.  You’ll let your little girl get filthy dirty digging in the back yard.  You’ll hand your babies toys that take their interaction and response, and you’ll spend time building with them.   Our children – and that’s a collective that includes children I didn’t give birth to – need our attention and the interaction that tells them they’re worth our time. 



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