Adults Behaving Badly

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Photo by PMillera4, via Flickr

Everybody else’s families had been out at the ballfields for nearly four hours by the time I got back there last night—even the four-year-old little sister of Alex’s teammate. I was the slacker; all I’d done from 4p.m. on was take kids to piano, pick up dinner at Hy Vee, drop Nicholas at cub scouts, cross town to drop Alex off at baseball, pick Nicholas up, take kids home, supervise packing lunches, get kids ready for bed, and continue triage from the weekend’s kid drama.

(In case you’re wondering about division of labor in our house, Christian has been working 60 hour weeks for quite a while now, and he was teaching piano last night following another brutal day while I was taking point on everything else.)

It was a beautiful night, but by the time I arrived, at the top of the third inning of the second game of this double-header, Alex’s team was obviously worn out. It was about 9:30 p.m. when it happened: someone took issue with a call by the home plate umpire. There was widespread confusion on both sets of stands: was the kid out? Was he safe? What was going on? Momentarily, the game sort of ground back into motion.

It was a couple minutes before I realized a group of parents was converging behind the backstop, exchanging words that were escalating steadily. Pretty soon there were expletives, and threats of violence. Then suddenly one of the players was in the middle of it. People were stalking off, turning around, coming back for more. Apparently a parent from the other team had threatened the father of one of the players on Alex’s team with an – – – kicking.

To his credit, the umpire kept his cool, and eventually turned around and stopped the game—by now it was past 9:40p.m. on a school night—and said, “Folks, we’ve got one out left. Let’s just get this game done and get out of here for the night.” At least one parent stormed off, yelling, “Tell me when you’re ready to play real baseball!”

The fact that a judgment call made by an umpire could spark this level of anger? This is wrong on so many levels.

It’s…a…REC LEAGUE, folks.

These kids are TWELVE. And THIRTEEN. They’re not even in HIGH SCHOOL yet. There are no scholarships being won or lost at the American Legion fields on a Tuesday night.

Plus….

IT’S A GAME.

For KIDS!

IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE FUN.

And what kind of example are you setting for your kids about the right way to handle setbacks?

I confess: I am not now and have never been a sports person. In fact, the general obsession with sports in America, to the exclusion of the arts, is a source of continual irritation to me. (I heard about a school that requires kids do be in a sport EVERY SEASON. I longed to ask, “Do they require kids to be involved in an art as well?” But I decided the answer was likely to make me angry, and life offers plenty of emotional stress without going in search of more.) What quality sports experience exists independent of music and visual arts and a well-crafted turn of phrase? Not a single one.

Still, not liking sports myself doesn’t preclude me supporting my kids in playing sports. They love playing, and it is a great opportunity to learn teamwork and grace in both success and failure. And the simple importance of making physical activity a long-standing personal value, something integral and normal to life, can’t be overstated.

But sports can teach kids the opposite lessons, too. Especially when parents behave like they did last night. Which is why I’m calling them out this morning.

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The great god, “Screen Time”

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Photo by Thomas Hawk, via Flickr

My kids are such jerks after they’ve had screen time. It’s so weird. They get up from that favorite time and they’re whiny, uncooperative, quarrelsome, and generally not fun to be around.

I told my mom about this, and she said, “That’s why I stopped letting you girls watch Saturday morning cartoons, you know.”

I did not know.

In fact, in light of what we went through last week in our house, that nugget of information illuminated a great deal about how my sisters and I behaved growing up.

Raise your hand if you identify with me on this: I’ve always tried to avoid screen time as a consequence of bad behavior, because I think it’s more of a punishment for me than for the kids. Because when they’re staring at a screen, they take care of themselves.

But last week, I’d had enough. I took away the kids’ screen time for a week.

On Day One, I held my breath, but a single reminder of their transgressions made them subside. Even Julianna and Michael.

By Day Three, they were playing with kites, Legos, and a deck of cards.

By Day Five, I was thinking this was the best thing I’d ever done.

By Day Seven, I was trying to figure out how to make it permanent without being a jerk.

The behavior in our house is by no means ideal. There’s still a crazy amount of ear-piercing shrieks, tug-of-wars over dollies and balloons, and tattling-while-ignoring-my-own-duties. My three-year-old’s legs still fold themselves to the floor in the most dramatic collapse you’ve ever seen; Alex still growls through his teeth and shakes his brother; Julianna still wails when crossed; and I still shout, “WHATDIDIJUSTTELLYOUTODOANDWHYAREYOUNOTDOINGIT??????”

But.

Photo by debaird™, via Flickr

For one week, I didn’t have to arbitrate who gets the Wii and who gets the iPad. For one week, they actually did the cleaning instead of asking repeatedly, “When I’m done can I have a movie?”

Until this week, I hadn’t realized that somehow, our life has become structured around screen time. I can make two dozen rules about what happens before a child gets his or her movie. But the fact is, it’s still the structural foundation of everything. We have to figure out how to plan the day to make sure there’s time for the great god Screen Time—even if half a dozen other things are done poorly or not at all as a result.

And I’ve felt guilty if they don’t get their screen time. Like I’m somehow depriving them.

This has been a very illuminating week for me. And my children are not going to like the result. But I think I’m going to like it very much.

There’s a very important series of guidelines in our natural family planning classes. They’re called the Phase I guidelines, to help couples plan their intimate activities. I won’t go into detail beyond this: these guidelines are designed to help you be confident that any signs you’re observing are related to fertility and not to sexual intercourse. The Phase I are:

  1. Evenings Only.
  2. Not on consecutive days.
  3. If “dry”.*

I am instituting Phase One guidelines for screen time in our house. In order to get screen time, kids will have to be fighting-free from rising to bedtime for one full day. If they continue to get along the second day, they can have screen time after school. And the next morning begins another day of abstinence, while we make sure we’re still fighting-free.

We’ll see how this goes. I have high hopes.

*Disclaimer: If you try to practice natural family planning using these three rules without instruction, you deserve to get pregnant. And don’t blame NFP.*