There are many things that I am thankful about Wabash. For one, being around a bunch of guys and getting a chance to learn how the be a gentleman has given me some perspective on how I plan to run my life in the future.
Why do I bring this up? Well, ‘tis the season of Christmas shopping, and that means I have to contend with one of the rougher aspects of the season: greedy, misbehaving children.
Now, I like kids. I think they are a lot more intelligent than they appear, and you can talk to them about almost anything and you’ll get a response. However, I am not overly fond of them when they start whining, when they butt into conversations, and when they won’t stay still for more than ten seconds. This is especially bad around Christmas time, when the prospect of getting gifts tends to cloud their judgement (I recommend teaching them the meaning of Christmas nice and early so they stay calm).
Sometimes I blame the kids, but other times my target of irritation is the parents.
Wabash has taught me a lot about being a responsible citizen and person, and sometimes I wonder why more people aren’t being taught this because a lot of adults don’t show a lot of responsibility, especially when dealing with kids. I’ve begun noticing this more since I accepted my bid at Wabash, and it keeps getting more and more on my nerves.
One aspect of irresponsible parenting (probably more appropriate to call it “lazy”) is the electronics issue. Growing up, I had no TV or phone, I was allowed limited computer time which I spent perusing the internet (mostly on the Discovery Channel website, because they used to show programs on dinosaurs back then). I spent most of my free time reading, playing board games, and cutting out little paper dinosaurs and airplanes, and once I did expand my electronic consumption (in 8th grade) I had a wealth of knowledge developed so I could find things that interested me, develop my writing skills, and avoid becoming a mass-consumer couch potato.
But what about those that were introduced to electronics at a younger age (like, say, elementary school)? What about those 5th graders who got an iPhone for Christmas the year before they went to middle school? Well… they’re kind of boring.
One of the biggest disadvantages of electronics is that it draws your attention away. As a writer I do tend to drown things out so I can focus, but the same thing happens when I’m just browsing. Now, give a kid an iPad and he’ll have the same reaction, focusing so much on what’s in front of him that he’ll spend no time doing something very important: talking. If you want to get anywhere in life, you have to find a way to socialize with people, but if your entire life is just spend glued to a computer screen you’re not developing a lot of social skills.
I’m ranting about this problem due to an experience I had over spring break. We were on a Western Caribbean cruise, and one night we went down to the main dining hall for dinner. A larger family, containing a few kids in the late elementary to early middle school age, sat down next to us, and even before they had all sat down the kids had pulled out their iPhones and their iPads and were busy playing Minecraft. Even when their food came they didn’t stop playing. As I was raised without electronics, and thus had to talk with my parents about topics at dinner and thus work on my speaking skills, that just felt wrong to me.
For one, it insults the intelligence of the kid because their parents are basically giving them the game as if to say “Sit quietly and don’t talk while me and the other adults have an intelligent conversation”. Kids are really intelligent (I was able to have an engaging conversation with two kids regarding superheroes, Avatar: The Last Airbender and Warhammer 40K over Thanksgiving break, and it was probably the best conversation I’ve had in a long time). Worse, it ends up hurting your kids because they are losing the ability to both think beyond “point and click” and have an intelligent conversation. I enjoy playing games like Warhammer 40K because it makes me think: I have to tailor my army meticulously so that everything works in harmony (example: getting the right combination of heavy weapons to thin out large crowds so my front-line troops can close without dying in droves). Quite a lot of video games, like the Battlefield and Call of Duty franchises have no strategy beyond “crouch behind this knee-high wall and try not to die”. And as I said earlier about focus, it’s hard to have a good conversation with someone who’s spending so much time facing a screen, and once you get them to look away they have no idea how to act.
Secondly, it’s incredibly disrespectful to the people sitting around you, as they probably wanted a nice evening dinner and have to watch some kid get blown apart by a Creeper over at the next table (I also hate restaurants that have too many TVs; I go out with people to talk with them and catch up with things, not watch some well-paid thugs throw a piece of leather around and bowl each other over). When you are doing things that distract others from their meals, you show that you don’t care what they are doing, thus making yourself appear incredibly selfish.
I don’t have to deal with this at Wabash. Here, me and my fellows can and do engage in conversations without having our eyes fixed on a cell phone or iPad. I feel much more engaged while talking with them, and I feel I learn a lot more by listening to them rather than playing a game.
My second gripe towards lazy parents (yes, I’m still talking about poor parenting) is a lack of assertiveness. Your kids are not your friends, they are not bonsai trees; you cannot baby and concede to your kids or else they will become very greedy little monsters who won’t take no for an answer. For example, yesterday I was out picking up gifts for Christmas, and one of my stops happened to be a small restaurant. As I was waiting in line, a lady came in with her three young kids. the kids began to scuffle among themselve (something about not sitting near a fireplace or something) and after about a minute of this the mom finally got fed up and left, taking the kids outside and telling them they were going home.
Seems okay? Well, I hadn’t left yet.
I picked up my things and made my way outside. As I walked outside, I walked passed the same woman and her kids going back inside. Why? She had said they were going home; why would they come back inside? Some conceding had to have happened, and that’s not a good thing. By conceding to your children, you put the idea that they can get away with anything without serious consequences, and thus will have little to no respect for parental authority once they grow up. This can lead to plenty of serious problems later in life, such as an unstable work environment due to failing to acknowledge that someone else is the boss and not them. And you’ll get no respect from them, as they’ll expect to get whatever they want and will react badly once you finally man up and say “no”. Kids need to realize that there are limits to what they can do, and it is the duty of the parent to show them what those limits are.
But enough about the negatives. This is supposed to be a happy time of year, a time where we get together with friends and family and enjoy each others company. I may have my gripes about some aspects of life, but I’ve said my bit now.
Merry Christmas to you all.