Sunday, November 17, 2013
Fred Flintstone Expectations in a Flextime World
The world in which it was normal to tell kids to “go play” is so thoroughly lost that The Girl simply couldn’t fathom that it had ever existed. But it did; I remember it. The workplace has left Fred Flintstone’s hours behind, but parents are expected more than ever to conform to them. This is what happens when we abandon the public sphere. I don’t miss the world of the Flintstones, but I wouldn’t mind seeing some public options again.
The changes I see are
0) More moms are now working rather than running the soccer van shuttle operation for their kids and others.
1) Many parents who went out to play as kids forbid their own kids from doing the same. (I've never quite understood the origin of that paraonia. National horror stories on every local news show?) This is compounded by a lower kid density, so a spontaneous pickup game of street football or whiffle ball just isn't possible and twitter hasn't filled that need.
2) A huge growth in "travel leagues" that introduce good coaching before middle school and, as kids get older, make it available all year, not just "in season". This (like PEDs for kids) is fed by interest in getting a college scholarship in everything from cross country to volleyball and pro money in football and basketball.
The likelihood of kids picking (or getting picked for) a particular sport as tweens might be greater if you live in a city where a fair number of such kids have had pro careers, not to mention Tommy John surgery while still in HS.
As someone who is planning on having kids in the near future, I read things like this and cringe. The idea of packing every waking hour out of school with sport or other activity, complete with driving and gas costs, just isn't appealing to me as a parent. This might count for something, actually.
This also may change as jobs genuinely become more flexible and modern. As you point out, most activities depend on one or more parents leaving work at 5 PM sharp to work smoothly. In some areas (software development and IT, for example), leaving a fixed time everyday with exact consistency isn't really a possibility. This could bring about some change as well.
I think there's something really important to be said in support of consciously *not* plugging kids into every activity they like--even if it's an enrichment-type program--especially at an early age. I worry that kids get so used to an event-oriented lifestyle that they lose a sense of comfort with just relaxing and spending time with family (that still happens right?) or what could be their own pace of life. What happens when they're older and suddenly Mom or Dad isn't there to schedule every detail of their life? Kids will get to a life of hectic schedules and places to be soon enough; I think it's at least worth it to consider slowing down the pace a bit and demonstrating how healthy some downtime can be.
Might their brains not develop in self-directed play?
When I was growing up, each of us had one organized activity a week. Other evenings we did homework, or played with neighbourhood friends. There was also a weekly family trip to the library, and possibly one to the art gallery — but those were family trips.
Lego League sounds dreadfully organized for something I remember as just being fun. But then, lego seems to have moved towards selling kits that make just one toy, rather than boxes of blocks that let you make whatever your imagination lets you. What happened to simply messing about with a big box of lego?
Somehow, thousands of kids managed to grow up just fine without Lego League, 3 different sport and other activities. I'm not saying hold kids out from everything but parents have to say no at some point.
No, we can't do all these activities because there isn't time or money or maybe it's not worthwhile to do.
It's as much of a choice to be overinvolved as it is underinvolved. Can we not find a happy medium?
But you can devote some time and effort to finding other families whose kids' activities are limited, and to finding activities they can walk to (or for the older ones, take a bus to). Over time, you will find a sort of subculture of families that see things this way. Groups of kids (maybe with one adult somewhere nearby) can be very creative about making fun and even learning life skills.