Idea Handlers…

First Hopes

I doubt there are many new parents who hope their children will grow up to be out shape and unintelligent.  So to avoid obesity and stupidity, we immediately place our children into structure.  From their earliest days we expose our children to school and to sports – keep ‘em off the streets kinda stuff.  School is required by law.  Sport is required by the law of  perceived status.  So it begins; formation by institutionalization.  It’s hard to argue against structure.  I mean, everything we have as a society we owe to structure, I guess… 

I often say that worst unintended consequence of advancement is… a lack of advancement.  And though keeping our children embedded in structure is a good idea, some good ideas often clash with other good ideas, choking out better ideas still.  As a species, I’m not so sure we’re very good handlers of good ideas. 

When Structure Gives Way To Structure: Back Seat Homework

A weary child sits in the back seat of an SUV while mom navigates the fast food drive through.  The child is sweaty but cooling off.  He is perhaps 7 or 15 years old, or any age in-between.  Dressed in his team uniform, having just left the game or the practice that took place right after school, his mom orders their dinner into the microphone at the base of the menu display. 

Only partially exhausted, they head now to the next game or practice of this two-sport athlete.  The child stares at a schoolbook on one knee, perhaps taking notes on a spiral notebook balanced on the other knee.  This is the room where homework is done – the back seat of the car.  Beside him is the other uniform, the one he will change into for the next game or practice he will be attending.  He fuels his body with a #6 value meal while mom continues driving and texting.

What Gets Lost In The Balancing Act

He may be playing for the love of the games.  He may be playing because his parents would rather see him in sports than in front of the TV.  One of these sports may be the child’s future – his ticket into college or scholarship money.  Regardless of whose choice it is or why, I’ll suggest that many children will only tell their parents what they think they want to hear about all of this.  And many parents will only tell their children what they should believe about all of this.  I’ll suggest though, that there is probably not as much fruitful discourse as there should be about all of this. 

Leadership, listening, learning, and respect; these all important virtues learned from the structure of youth sports.  I believe in youth sports.  I have played them and I have coached them.  I have also spent a great deal of time listening to prep athletes and their views on all of this, as I help them become better at their sports.  As well, I have listened to a lot of their parent’s views on all of this as I help them become more fit adults.  When I attempt to correlate some of these conversations, between parent view and athlete view, they don’t always jive.

Make no mistake I have seen some teenagers handle this multi-sport lifestyle with grace and academic success, as well as success in their sport.  But from my view, it’s not usually this way.  Many who live this life are weary, socially awkward, and conflicted with their parents about how their lives should be lived.

And It’s Not Just Sports

I used youth sports here because it’s something I’m close to by way of how I earn my living.  But this kind of overload is widespread.  It is clubs too; music, drama, and other activities – any avenues which offer the structure that the parents may not be willing to create, implement, or foster themselves.  I mean, we all know that without an overload of structure, our children become junkies and thieves, yes…?

What Gets Missed

“I can’t remember the last time I ate a home cooked meal.”

Those words were spoken to me last year by an athlete I do strength and conditioning work with.  She continued that when she did eat at home, meals always came from a can or box, and that she felt the drive-through food was usually better tasting and healthier.

As parents we emphasize college and we emphasize activity – and it’s important that we do, especially when we view the children of parents who don’t emphasize these.  I am wondering more and more though, as good ideas clash with other good ideas, canceling out other ideas still, when will we begin to emphasize home cooked meals, homework done at a desk, time to play and be social, as well as time to veg…?  The beast of structure has been let out, he’s hungry, and he feeds on families.  As a species, I’m just not sure we are good idea handlers.  Some food for thought…  Be well.   

Please check back in two weeks for more thoughts on the philosophy behind the fitness.  Oh, and there is this from Slightly Stoopid.  Enjoy…

29 responses

  1. Amen Roy! My daughter once told me that her friend’s mom suggested that it was okay to fail her math class because she could take it again in summer school-when swim team practice wouldn’t conflict with homework! After all, she’d already been to the junior olympics and once beat one of Michael Phelps records. We always made our children choose no more than 2 activities to pursue at any given period of time and drive-thru meals were not up for discussion. You ate before or after practice and took a snack with you. (Pretty sure they were in the minority on that one!)

    • No doubt they were in the minority on that one Karen. If you look under the bleachers at any high school or club softball or baseball game, you’ll see piles of wrinkled up Quarter Pounder wrappers.

      I also know more than a few who prioritized athletics over scholastics. Sadly, in their minds it worked, because the games were won, the scholarships were had, or both….

  2. The word priorities comes to mind. Many families do not prioritize all that is going on in their kids, and the entire families, lifes. Their approach to prioritization is to cram it all in somehow, some way. And their perception is the more that actually gets done, regardless of how well, then the better they are doing at being parents, being a family.

    While I cannot bring any support information to this next thought, my thought is that as the decades roll on and the population increases and the opportunities that are available to all of us also increases… an equal decrease in is occurring in our desire to determine what is really important and prioritize just that. Hence, if it is available, we have to have it, do it, be it; regardless of the result achieved.

  3. Great post! I see this all the time here in southern CA as you well know Roy. The importance to succeed in certain areas of LA & Orange County is crazy over everything else but what is left at the end….. it really is something to think about for those of us that are older & have lost loved ones but know those times “when we did not have enough time to slow down for them” & yes, life & health!!! Not only here too – that need to be above all else & what kids have to do to get in the bsts colleges these days or even so-so colleges.. catch 22!

    • I know it Jody. When I pass through Orange County, it’s hard not to take notice of all the SUVs, all the soccer fields, all the traffic at all the drive throughs… , and so-on.

      I’m not one who necessarily believes that the best colleges provide the best opportunities, or offer the best answers. But it is a largely American trai that we pursue “the best” — whatever that means…

  4. Hi Roy!!! I’m glad to see you are doing well!

    I could go on and on about this very subject. Since I am the mother of three boys I think that I can speak from experience. I think one very sad thing is that a lot of parents do not let their kids play outside anymore. I am also a strong believer in home cooked meals enjoyed as a family. If someone has hockey and will be home late, their plate is waiting for them when they walk in the door, they just have to heat it up. What is the point of playing a sport if you eat garbage afterwards?! I feel bad for kids growing up nowadays in a way because every moment of their lives is planned out for them. God forbid they should have any free time. My oldest son who is brilliant in math got an 80% on his last report card and my mother in law suggested that I put him in tutoring so he could do better!!! Crazy.

    • Hi Carla — thanks for coming back!

      Not sure how well you would do here in Southern California, where most meals come in bags, most kids spend hours per day in the back seat, and most parents just go through the motions.

      Home cooked meals, time spent around the table talking, and parents and children who share conversations….

      Once upon a time.

  5. This is an excellent post Roy. SO true! Overscheduling kids is way too prevelant in this culture. It blows my mind sometimes learning all the activities some of my kids’ friends are in. These are young kids..and they don’t experience the family dinner table. When they do eat, often it’s not until 8 or 9 in the evening..and take out usually. There are a lot of imperfect things in my family, but one thing I am very glad of is that we’ve always maintained at least 5 nights a week of eating dinner together as a family, pretty much at the same time. It is a great time for connecting, conversation, laughing, and we musn’t forget sibling rivalry. 🙂 It is a time that I have cherished over the years. My kids come up with some pretty interesting thoughts!

    Children need to come home from school, run around and play, do their homework, etc. All of the numerous “enrichment” activities are stealing some the real enrichment of life IMO.

  6. I don’t have kids, but I have often thought that this sort of over-scheduled existence would be nearly unendurable for both parent and child. A kid who is an introvert (as I am) would never be able to recharge in that sort of always-on program. And where’s the time for unstructured play and spontaneous creativity?

    God help us.

  7. I just love your posts! I don’t even know WHERE to start with my comments….SO MUCH resonates with me…

    Earlier this week, I heard the term “soccer Mom” come out of my mouth several times when I was telling a trusted friend why I was resigning a volunteer position I had. What it boiled down to was the FOCUS was not in line with the ACTIONS and supposed values …it all just didn’t mesh with me.

    It is not the sport or activity (music rather than sports) that is the structure, it is the regimen that is placed upon them by parents…rather than guiding the “discipline of their OWN passion”

    We don’t allow kids to be kids who have their OWN wants and desires….We “force” them to be better and best to “get” something rather than doing something just for the simple pleasure of doing….

    THANK YOU for this posts AND many others that you write!

    • Thanks Jules. I read a book a few years back, The Games Do Count. It was interview excerpts from famous peopel including politicians, actors, and CEOs about how youth sports helped make them who they are. The final interview was of George Will. Will, a known baseball enthusiast, recalled that in HIS day, the structure was up to the kids — they had to choose the field, call the guys, set the whole thing up. Now it all comes from a can.

  8. Thanks Mary.

    My approach to parenting in a nutshell: Don’t use drugs, and say please and thanks as often as you can. The end.

    My daughter is 21 now, on an academic scholarship to a tasty university. Her mom and I have always lived by this edict: Only make adjustments when she proves us wrong. Still waiting on the first adjustments….

  9. Things sure have changed since I was a kid!

    Some things gained and some things lost I guess. Yet, I can easily see the lost, not so easy to see the gained I’m afraid.

  10. I love this post for many reasons. Mostly for it’s truth and value. And although, I can’t speak from a parents or child’s point of view not having been in any of these positions. I sure can understand what you speak of. It makes me sad that kids are put to do these activities and live a lifestyle they (some) most likely don’t want to begin with. And right now, I’m just thinking I always wanted family dinner conversations.

    It’s interesting because I’ve always told myself (if I ever have kids?) I’m going to be that parent who “forces” my kid into being a Writer, Poet/Artist, Bodybuilder and Olympic Powerlifting Competitions and the works. But reading this, I’m not sure if I should be forcing any kid because it’s definitely an extreme. I wouldn’t want to be a controlling parent. Protective to an extent. But I mean, I would allow the kid to tell me what interests them at best and from the heart.

    I think since I’ve come from a background where structure was just a “word”, a dream as a kid for me to be had but never caught/reached. I still find it difficult to try and dream period. I guess the lack of poor parenting I’ve had in my own life would make it so I want to put my kids through activities I believe would organize, create and help them in valuing their self-esteem. But I would definitely want to have dinner conversations with them at my dinner table and cook for them because I want them to be all around healthy.

    Okay, so that’s all I will say. 😀

    • Comment of the week P. Hall! Thank you very much! I don’t like the word “force” so much, but I totally understand where you are coming from.

      As I mentioned in a previous comment, my approach to parrenting was quite loose. I simply wanted her to be mindful, drug-free, and choose her own path. I look at my little girl now, and so appreciate the path that she has chosen. It’s not what I would have chosen for her, and for that I am glad.

      Again, always appreciate your perspective!

  11. Things are so different now from when I grew up. The crazy schedules some of my friends have amaze me. I often wonder “why” are you doing all of that? We are not perfect, but in our family, we are an anomaly to our friends in that we do little outside organized activities, but lots of family things. Music is the exception, and that doesn’t take a lot of time outside the family, but a concentrated effort at home to practice. Great post.

    • Thanks Diane. I have always appreciated the family-driven lifestyle you all live. It has hit home with me on more than one occasion. What write about losing 150 pounds and keeping off — that’s great. I really think you should be writing more about your family life — the world needs more that. Someting to think about….

  12. Someone said to me that he allows his child to lay on the grass, stare into the trees and skies, and wonder.
    I think we all need a little time to wonder and imagine, eh?
    My most productive time happens NOT when I am checking off the list.
    It happens when I create the space to wonder.
    hugs my friend 🙂

  13. While not perfect parents, (far from it!) there were several things that my husband and I did as our 4 children were growing up (they are all college age or older now). Similar to Karen, we limited them to 1 sport per season, but they could play something year round. At times this was a matter of disagreement, but we stood firm to “school first, then sports”. Secondly, I did cook most every night not only for the health benefits, but do you know how much it costs to feed 6 people fast food? It’s not cheap! Once the kids were driving and could get themselves to and from practices, dinner was always ready for them, even if we ate in shifts. And on those nights when everyone was home and we ate as a family, there were not phones allowed. My married children have said that they hope to do something like this when they have families, so that makes me happy.

  14. Pingback: 22 is no age to start working… | Contemplative Fitness

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