Monday, July 03, 2006

Common Sense

I was joking in my previous post, so imagine my surprise when I started reading this morning. Kids really do need time to play, without their parents hovering over them. They need fresh air and the opportunity to burn off all that energy on a regular basis. They need to have friends and kid's secrets. They need to be kids.
What Boy Crisis? - New York Times: "The notion that boys are in crisis rings true to many middle- and upper- middle-class parents because it feels true to them. And that's because these parents are sick of being told that their preschool sons need occupational therapy because they can't apply stickers with the right fine-motor finesse. These parents are sick of seeing their kindergarten boys referred to reading specialists. They're sick of suggestions that their 9-year-olds have A.D.H.D. if they can't sit still through school days from which recess has been cut, gym has been eliminated and even lunch, sometimes, has been all but eradicated to cram in more hours of test prep.

Many dads recall that when they were in school, they were restless, sometimes turbulent, sometimes aggressive, sometimes disruptive in class. When they channeled their energy into the workplace, they thrived — and they don't want their sons pathologized, or girlified, for the sake of big-size classroom control.

I sympathize with much of this. But what I don't see happening among parents who complain that their boys are being disserved by educators is a calling into question of their own complicity with high-pressure schools that demand way too much of their sons.

Talk of the boy crisis is a diversion. It draws attention from the real reasons so many white suburban parents sense that their sons are in trouble. Those reasons aren't academic; they're behavioral and emotional. Researchers have found in recent years that anxiety, depression and self-medicating through drugs and alcohol are disproportionately on the rise in rich communities, as kids seek escape from excessive pressures to succeed.

This isn't unique to boys. Girls in these communities are showing an increased incidence of eating disorders (female athletes are in particular trouble on that score), and also a disturbing rise in escapist behaviors like binge drinking and cutting. Experts say girls are showing crisis signs for the same reasons as boys: because they're stressed out, overextended and pushed beyond the limits of normal human endurance. But since girls' forms of acting out tend to be self-destructive rather than disruptive and often coexist with excellent academic performance, they often pass under the radar."
We need another approach. Drugging these kids is going to have unforeseen consequences. In Chinese medicine girls at seven and boys at eight start to outgrow the heat retained in the body from being in the womb. As any parent can tell you, kids are always warmer than adults. I can remember building a snowman in my shorts when I was six. You can't pay me to go visit snow now. That stuff is cold.

Heat makes things move faster and kids are their own little energizer bunny. This wears off as they age and by teenagerhood, some kids seem to be set in cement. Waking them requires tactics worthy of a good drill sergeant and you wonder what happened to that child who woke you on Christmas while it was still dark.

As parents worry about child molesters and kidnappers, they schedule their kids to within an inch of their life and then wonder about the results. Children need time to explore situations without parental supervision 24/7. Instead of trying to change biology, why not change the environment? Get to know your neighbors, have barbecues and block parties. Let the kids play with each other. Support your local school. Social isolation would decrease, crime would probably decrease, people would be healthier all the way around and general happiness might increase.

But that isn't going to happen. It's much easier to make it someone else's problem and go back to watching American Idol.

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