My relationship with the Boy Scouts of America was not the most pleasant. I was an oddity, to be sure. I think I was at one time the only—only—second class scout to be a patrol leader. Second class. For those who may not have been through the quasi-military organization, the way it was structured in […]
I was surprised to see the cover of the most recent Time Magazine: an attractive young woman breast-feeding her 3-year old boy, who is standing on a chair to reach her breast, wearing army fatigues. I’m not shocked or disturbed in the least by the breastfeeding. There is nothing wrong with public breast-feeding. The subject of the main article, Attachment Parenting, does intrigue me, and I’m looking forward to reading it.
This is an unscientific response to a ridiculous claim. Rick Santorum, who wishes to be the next Bishop In Charge of America (or whatever prelate his church might recognize) recently made the claim that Gay couples are going to destabilize the family in America in order to accommodate their lifestyle.
We’ve all been hearing this claim now for, oh, since gays stopped sitting by and letting cops beat them up on Saturday nights without fighting back. Ever since Gay Pride. Even on my own FaceBook page I had someone telling me I was blinded by the “Gay Agenda” and that the country was doomed—that because of the Gay Agenda little children were being taught how to use condoms in school and this—this—would bring us all to ruin.
If we collectively allow homosexuals to marry each other, how does that do anything to American families that’s not already being done by a hundred other factors?
I’ll tell you what destablilizes families. And I’m not genius here with a brilliant insight, this is just what anyone can see if they look around and think a little bit.
Families are destabilized over money.
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How often do you cross paths with a parent who is attempting to make his or her children in the parent’s image and likeness? I see it on a regular basis. The prototypical case is the parent who didn’t make it to the Broadway stage who tries to turn his/her child into a Broadway performer. You often see parents who demand athletic excellence from their kids, often (it seems) in an effort to compensate for the parent’s failed strivings to make it big in sports. This style of parenting reaches every high-earning or high-prestige profession. Or maybe it’s not to make up for the parents own failings as much as it is an attempt to create a trophy child so that, at cocktail parties, the parent can nonchalantly drop a few hints about his or her child’s (sometimes admittedly spectacular) accomplishments.
This afternoon, a friend sent me a perfect antidote for this mindset. It’s a poem by Kahlil Gibran, titled “On Children.”
Upon reading it, I was reminded of the following quote by Friedrich Nietzsche: “What does your conscience say? — ‘You should become the person you are’.”
Ken Ham is the head of Answers In Genesis, an organization that promotes and perpetuates the Creationist view that the Earth is less than ten thousand years old, that homo sapiens sapien trod the same ground at the same time as dinosaurs, the the story of Noah is literally true, and that evolution is All Wrong. He’s an Australian and a biblical literalist. He built the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, in 2007. Check the link for an overview by an (admittedly) biased source, but for simple clarity is hard to beat. It is a fraud of research, flagrantly anti-science, and laughable in its assertions (in my opinion).
Ken Ham is one of the more public figures in our current national spasm of extreme religiosity. He’s attempting to have built another show-piece in Kentucky, a theme park based on Noah and the Flood. The problem with this, however, is that tax dollars are being used in its construction and it is a blatantly religious enterprise.
In the meantime, Ken Ham and Answers In Genesis have recently been disinvited from a conference on homeschooling.
Free play is unstructured, imaginative play. Scientists have determined that free play is:
Critical for becoming socially adept, coping with stress and building cognitive skills such as problem-solving. Research into animal behavior confirms plays benefits and establishes its evolutionary importance. Ultimately, play may provide animals (including humans) with skills that will help them survive and reproduce.
The above quote is from an article called written by Melinda Wenner titled “The Serious Need for Play” found in the February/March 2009 issue of Scientific American Mind.
Despite these many benefits regarding free play many parents are packing their kids’ schedule with structured activities that deprive them of these opportunities to freely engage in play. According to one study, between 1981 and 1997, the amount of free play by American children has dropped by one quarter. Wenner blames competitive parents:
Concerned about getting their kids into the right colleges, parents are sacrificing playtime for more structured activities. As early as preschool, youngsters after school hours are now being filled with music lessons and sports reducing time for the type of imaginative and rambunctious cavorting that fosters creativity and cooperation.
Wenner’s article cites psychiatrist Stuart Brown who suggests that limiting free play “may result in a generation of anxious, unhappy and socially maladjusted adults. What is it about the right kind of play? It is different than playing structured games or playing musical instruments. Because free play has no obvious function short-term and no clear goal, it inspires creativity and it invites trying out new activities, fantasies and roles. It also appears to hone our social skills, including our abilities to negotiate with others. Scientists have concluded that there is a connection between these two things: imaginative play helps build fantasies that helps children cope with complex social situations. It creates a “social buffering.”
For adults who seek the benefits of free play, Stuart Brown suggests three approaches:
Body play: participate in some form of active movement that has no time pressures or expected outcome (if you are exercising just to burn fat, that is not play!).
Object play: use your hands to create something you enjoy (it can be anything; again, there doesn’t have to be a specific goal).
Social play: join other people in seemingly purposeless social activities, “from small talk to verbal jousting,” Brown suggests.
Which leads me to a story from last fall. My wife advised me that her cousin was coming through St. Louis with her boyfriend Don. Who is “Don?”, I wondered. It turned out that Don Fogle, a former world Frisbee champion and a professional juggler, had formed a small company that gave workshops to grade school and high school students to encourage them to learn how to engage in cooperative play through various types of physical activities including juggling. Before he left St. Louis, Don allowed me to videotape him engaging in some of the play activities he teaches kids. Don’s presentation includes some scientific claims that I would like to know more about. Even if one is not completely sold on Don’s specific scientific explanation for the importance of his program, it seems intuitively correct the children and adults all need unstructured physical activity for their peace of mind, and that juggling seems like an excellent approach. Certainly, human animals did not sit still in classrooms for 8 hours a day reading books and staring at computer screens. At a time when many schools have cut out physical education, it seems intuitively correct to stir in these sorts of unstructured activities (after the structured training, the participants are encouraged to play.
Without further ado, here’s Don demonstrating ways of playing using juggling sticks.
Driving home from work today I did a bit of social psychology inside of my car by scanning the offerings of AM radio (I’ve been doing that a lot lately). Today, the most prominent AM radio station in St. Louis featured an opportunity to talk to Santa Claus. Santa took precious moments out from his busy schedule to talk to dozens of St. Louis children who were allowed to call the station and discuss upcoming matters of great importance with Mr. Claus. The typical conversation went something like this:
Santa: what your name? [I kept thinking, "Here's a man who claims to be virtually omniscient in that he knows who's been bad or good, but he doesn't know who he's talking to."]
Santa: How old are you, Ashley?
Ashley: I am six.
Santa: What would you like for Christmas, Ashley?
Ashley: I would like an iPod, and a Nintendo Wii and lots of other toys [Most of the children asked for toys that added up to many hundreds of dollars].
Santa: Ho, Ho, Ho! Thanks for talking! [Santa knew enough avoid saying anything that would cause big disappointments on Christmas morning]
As you might guess, there was a conspiracy of misinformation going on. The parents and the radio station personalities worked hard to tell the children that Santa Claus actually existed, and they convinced the kids that asking a stranger to bring them valuable things was somehow appropriate. And why wouldn’t he be? He gives you stuff, no strings attached.
Even though it is obvious, it needs to be said that Santa Claus is far more popular than Jesus Christ, at least among children.
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