Friday, December 21, 2012

Wayward Youth and Holiday Gift Thoughts

Kids really do say the darndest things, and they often reveal more about how the world is turning than watching too much news will-something my own children accuse me of. I remember my third grade class, when Charles Schultz passed away in February of 2000, being unaware of who he was and only vaguely familiar with his comic strip, Peanuts. I was trying to spark some connection to what was an inherent part of the fabric of my youth (forgive me for going all nostalgic, I can hear that voice and Wonder Years music right now). I said "You know, that kid Charlie Brown, and his dog Snoopy-the one that sleeps on top of his dog house?" The blank looks worried me, but not as much as one response: "I know Snoop-Dog!" Well, I knew then that world had come to an end.

Today, I see that I was wrong. The world is still here; kids are still saying the darndest things. When I ask them what their plans are for vacations, what they want for Christmas, or some other random check on hearts and souls of today's children, I am thinking back on own childhood. I expect stories of late-night hide-n-seek during milder seasons; snowball fights, sledding, snow-forts and tunnels during winter months. That Wonder Years music doesn't play for long, because the needle scratches across the vinyl when I hear  things like "X-Box" and "Black-Ops". This is from kids who are seven, eight, maybe nine years old. There are some who still get excited about actual play with other real-life kids. There are some who still regularly connect with family members, neighbors, and the world around them. But it feels like those numbers are shrinking, and as the social experiences of children become more narrow and shallow, the need for programs targeting social needs in schools grows. When their time in a pretend world surpasses their time learning to navigate the real world, children become less comfortable with the real world. More kids are liking recess less these days. They just don't know how to do it.

Young, immature minds can be consumed by electronic gadgets and warped virtual reality. When kill counts in  simulated urban combat climb higher than the number of hugs and smiles received, you likely invite some unwanted consequences. So if you are planning to head out for some last minute shopping, consider some alternative ways to spend that possibly three-hundred-plus dollars that a game system and a "rated M for mature" game might cost. How many good books would that money buy? How many family movie nights (including buttery popcorn)? Possibly the price of gas and admission to a nearby science center or museum, or some combination of these ideas. The flash and bang of a zombie kill or a high score is gone as quickly as it came, but the return on the alternative (and often less expensive) gifts can be tremendous, and really does show up in school.

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