‘Pampered wimps’ need structure

A humorist over at The Huffington Post wrote a hilarious piece romanticizing the laissez-faire summers of her youth, as contrast to the robotically controlled Dog Days kids endure now.

Entitled “10 ways to give your kids an honest-to-goodness 1970s summer,” the piece makes mockery of the over-busy, over-scheduled, over-structured summers that we over-weening parents force on our kids today.

“It is officially June. The Pinterest pages, Facebook feeds and family magazine features are loaded up with all the activities you should do with your kids this summer. AS. IF. As if we need more activities … I am done. Sort of like how I was done with the school year — but I am already done with summer. And by done, I mean I am done with all the forced-smile inducing, uber planned and supervised, over-the-top summer life experiences I am supposed to provide for my kids. You know what I want my kids to experience this summer? The same type of summer I would have experienced in the late 1970s. The exact same one.”

The author, the always witty Melissa Fenton, launches into a call to arms for a revival of the summer of yore — let kids watch TV as much as they want and eat whatever they want, drop them off at the theater for entire days at a time, lock them in a bedroom and make them play “Simon Says,” etc.

In other words, cut ‘em loose and let ‘em be kids — no Google Calendar Invites allowed.

Based on the number of times I’ve seen the story reposted on my Facebook feed, parents everywhere are ready to anoint Fenton as Empress of the Galaxy.

I read it Monday morning, after a three-day, 1,100-mile rapid-fire round trip to Wichita, Kansas, for a basketball tournament for 12-year-olds with my son Chase. If not for my personal policy against condoning anything printed by The Huffington Post, I would have probably “shared” it myself.

The column reminded me of that famous episode of South Park, in which the show’s smart-alecky protagonists are devastated to learn that winning the local baseball championship means they have to keep on playing.  Intent on getting their summer back, the boys conspire to “suck” by throwing the first game of the state championship. The plot of the Boys of South Park is nearly foiled when they discover that their opponents, themselves desirous of a return to a ‘70s kind of summer, are trying to throw the baseball game, too.  In the end, the Boys of South Park managed to lose — and thus earn their summer freedom again — by instigating a melee that gets them booted out of the tournament.

In Wichita, I was talking to another parent (in between one of our seven basketball games in 48 hours) about a slightly different variation of the same.  The parent commented to me that he wasn’t sure whether it was good or bad that boys at the age of 12 are feeling implicit pressure to begin to specialize in their preferred sport.

This is the first summer Chase hasn’t played baseball, so that he can give nearly full time to football and basketball camps and leagues. There just isn’t enough time to do all three, even for a 12-year-old.  I am a pretty busy guy, and most days I thank God my schedule isn’t as full as Chase’s.

So which is better — the laissez-faire and super-free days of summers gone by, when kids could wonder and daydream and play, or the newfangled iteration in which kids go to computer camp, climbing camp, speed camp, chess camp and algebra camp? And in the same vein, is it better for kids to be allowed to amble in and out of a lot of activities and sports throughout their young lives, or should they early-on pick a plan and endeavor to excel?

We know Fenton’s answer — cut ‘em loose and let ‘em be kids.  But I’m not so sure.

My general thesis is that kids today are pampered wimps. (I am saying that in my best great-grandpa voice.) The last thing they need is a 90-day hall pass to sit on the couch and stuff their cheeks with Cheetos. Given all the hand-holding kids receive in the other areas of their lives, I personally think a little extra structure and the right amount of pressure to focus and excel are probably very good things.

And so like most of the other parents, I will just keep on cramming my kids’ calendar with sports and other self-improvement activities. If Chase tries to throw his next basketball game, I guess I’ll know he’s had enough.

Josh Penry is a former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He graduated from Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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