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January 26, 2005

Screw Up Your Kids' Lives in One Easy Step

Wanna screw up your kids' lives? Sure you do. Because of them you have to come back from parties early so that the babysitter doesn't get mad at you. Without kids it would be much easier for you to attend the Rocky Mountain Blogger Bash or take a spur-of-the-moment trip to Vegas for the weekend. Don't even start thinking about how much extra money you'd have in the bank account if you didn't have to spend so much on braces, clothes, car insurance, and groceries.

That's where I come in. If you want to punish your kids for all the damage they've done to your life, you only have to do one little thing: convince them that their education isn't important because they can be either the next American Idol, the next Carmelo Anthony, or the next Terrell Owens. If you can convince them of that, their lives are almost guaranteed to be screwed up.

Just because your kid doesn't even have a shot at being a professional athlete or a pop star shouldn't discourage you from pushing them to ignore their reading skills in hopes of perfecting their fastball, for instance. Because you know, of course, that even if your kid truly is a talented athlete or singer, that there is a big difference from high school good and college good. There's an even bigger difference between college good and pro good.

And here's the really delicious part: even if they are pro good, pro careers in athletics rarely last for more than a few years. It's an uncommonly good athlete that survives the physical strain of a pro career (not to mention the legal problems, the drug temptations, or the simple truth that most of the athletes just don't live up to the expectations). And when that rookie or first year salary is gone, your poor kids won't even have reading skills to fall back on.

And don't even get me started on how likely it is that they'll be the next Eminem or whether they'll just waste their lives with drunk, disease infested groupies. If they're lucky they'll end up like the musicians that I used to see as a bartender here in Denver: free drinks, an aging group of devoted alcoholic fans, and the occasional blow job in a disgustingly filthy bathroom in a strip mall bar. Trust me, "getting lucky" isn't even close to the term that I would use to describe the situation.

See how fun that could be?

The saddest part is that there are parents that seem to be just dandy with this scenario. I have a friend who teaches locally. A good number of the kids in her fifth grade class read on the second grade level, a handful more read on the third and fourth grade levels, and only a couple actually read at grade level. That's also a good (if sad) indicator of their skills in other areas.

Some of the worst of these kids have parents who are loath to commit their kids to extra study or help because it would conflict with their football practice. See, that's the way they're training their kids: in a choice between learning to read and learning to tackle, tackling wins.

These aren't stupid kids, but the priorities that their parents are teaching them donít stop at their free time, it goes directly into the classroom. If reading isn't important enough to the parents that they'll push their kids to succeed, then the kids know that it really isn't that important at all. When being a sports star is the all-encompassing goal, it doesn't leave much room for academic achievement.

I don't advocate squashing your kids' dreams. In fact, encouraging them to excel is encouraging them to success in whatever they choose to do. But choosing an education isn't the same as choosing not to be good at sports. The fact is, though, that most kids aren't talented or lucky enough to be a starter on a college team--and of those kids, even fewer are good enough to be a starter on a pro team.

A good parent realizes the trade-offs and also realizes that a decent education is the thing that remains when the sports career doesn't work out. They help their children learn to play that sport, but they don't shortchange the academics.

So, of course, it's the parents' choices between helping their kids down good paths or bad paths. Kids, left to their own devices, would typically rather play a game and dream of stardom than spend time with a math book.

Posted by zombyboy at January 26, 2005 07:26 PM

Well done, Sir Zomby.

Unfortunately, I think the parents don't much like reading themselves. I am afraid they have all grown up into Pirates and have forgotten how to enjoy a good piece of children's literature, or can't in truth recall their adolescence so as to discuss what young adult/juvenile fiction book juniorette is now reading. And the classics? Too hard to understand all those big words, and looking them up takes too long, "'sides, we don't own a dictionary anyhow."

Posted by: Rae at January 27, 2005 12:40 AM

So, you're saying that with Nicky and I as parents, we probably shouldn't be pushing Fiona to be a women's basketball SUPERSTAR!?

Fine, fine, how about Benevolent World Ruler?

Posted by: andy at January 27, 2005 08:17 AM

Admittedly, I think you'll have better luck with Benevolent World Ruler than Height-Challenged Basketball Superstar.

Anyway, isn't ruling the world through a puppet government fronted by your own child the dream of all parents?

Posted by: zombyboy at January 27, 2005 09:53 AM

I am often stunned at how overscheduled the children of associates are. I know of eight year olds that are in dire need of daytimers, they're so scheduled. School ends at 3:00, basketball @ 3:30 M W F, ballet Tues Thurs, and no time to study, play in the yard, ride bikes. It's unreasonable.

Posted by: Jo at January 27, 2005 10:24 AM

...they'll just waste their lives with drunk, disease infested groupies.

That's what you wrote. Here's how it would sound if you said it to a rock star wanna-be:

"they'll just waste their lives with <blah! blah! blah!> groupies."

Posted by: McGehee at January 27, 2005 12:26 PM

(Excuse me while I join Jo on the soapbox)

This "overscheduling" and "they have to try everything at least once to know if they're good at it" mentality makes me nuts!

What ever happened to a parent knowing their child and thus being able to recognize their gifts and talents, and what is so bad about making them do something for which they have no natural gifting, but with hardwork can master it? The way a parent knows if a kid is good with a ball is to throw the ball with her. The way a parent knows what a child's academic weaknesses and strengths are is to make the time to sit down with him daily and examine his schoolwork. The way a parent learns what a child's dreams and aspirations are for herself is to sit with her and listen to her.

We get busy. Yes, indeed. We have lives and concerns that are so far beyond their reach; a mortgage, insurance, medical bills, savings, politics, our own higher education, but I cannot help but believe that we ultimately spend our time on the things we truly want to be doing. Kids aren't dumb. They know if mom or dad wants them around, or not. It isn't a lack of love, rather a lack of prioritizing.

A few years ago at a weekend marriage retreat with our church, the speaker used a catchphrase that has stuck with R and me (and is my computer screen saver): "Be Here Now." We don't tend to savor the moment, minute, hour, or day. We, most anyway, humans tend to be way ahead of ourselves, or stuck in the past.

Say yes to one sport (of their choice) a season (but make them stick it out through a "rotten coach" or a time when their bodies are growing and perhaps their skill is being challenged), and one instrument (see the previous exhortation), but make eating meals at a table in the evening, working outside or on a project together, and daily communication a required.

Oh, and let them see you reading, and read to them or at least talk to them about what they are reading and turn off the tv.

(Thanks for sharing the crate, Jo :D)

Posted by: Rae at January 27, 2005 03:23 PM

Are you trying to tell me it is only a small fraction of children that really have a shot at the big time?

You mean to tell me that the only true success with children is to instill values in them? Hard honest work is the surest path to a good life?

Come on!

I guess I'll settle on having an accountant for a kid instead of a rock-star/athelete/billionaire. Oh well.

Posted by: Shad0runr at January 27, 2005 03:26 PM

If I could, I'd have my kids learn a trade like carpentry or plumbing (yes, plumbing) in addition to a "higher level" skill like science or English composition. I missed out on the trade part, and I pay out the nose for plumbers and auto techs.

Posted by: bryan at January 27, 2005 05:38 PM

Good idea, Bryan. My gearhead R is already helping E look for an old VW Bug that she will be required to help him fix-up, i.e. rebuild the engine if need be, sand, paint, etc.

You wouldn't believe the charge for altering a pair of pants. I promptly came home and made the time to save myself the $15.

Posted by: Rae at January 28, 2005 09:01 AM
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