Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Bumper Bowling is Ruining the World

Bumper Bowling. It seem pretty innocuous doesn't it? But hear me out. Early on in childhood, a baby learns to talk and walk through methods of trial an error. You learn to ride a bike, skate or climb a tree based on the idea that if you do it wrong, bad things will happen. Then comes bumper bowling. On the surface, not a bad thing, but the underlying message just may be one that is corrupting our country. If you take a kid bumper bowling when he or she is four and they slam the ball to the right, and if you continue getting bumpers when they are eight, then ten, then twelve and they continue to slam the ball to the right, but still hit the pins, what will the child have learned? Isn't it just possible that when that same kid is 23, and out having a few beers, he or she will be humiliated by a constant flurry of gutterballs all slammed to the right because as a child, they were never allowed to learn how to control the ball? And when that happens, who will be to blame or what is worse, who will the now grown child blame?

And that gets to the core of the matter. My generation, the children of the sixties and seventies, have been so immersed in the idea that we can affect the outcome of every situation, that we have too often sheltered and cossetted our children to protect them from the very necessary process of failure. There are no longer any absolutes, no longer any wrongs, just "mistakes". And as these children reach adulthood, the "mistakes" get larger and larger, and more serious. There isn't a teacher in the nation that hasn't had dealings with the "helicopter Mom" whose little precious child can do no wrong. Rules are to be bent and achievement altered to fit the child's needs rather than the needs of society. Cheating is the norm and even when grossly obvious, to be ignored according to some of these standards. These are what I like to call "Ostrich Parents." They are very open to pointing out the flaws in other children or schools or families, but stick their collective heads in the sand when the shortcomings of their own are brought to the forefront. As teachers, we have some legal censorship that must be used so that we can stay employed. For example, if Johnny comes to class half-baked and reeking of pot, I can't say that. Instead I used euphumisms such as "red eyed" or "sleepy" or "dazed" and hope that the parents have enough interest to ask a few key questions. Most of the time, they don't. Similar things occur with every other rule from innocent tardies to more serious sexual harassment, but until it gets to the legally serious point, most parents choose a hands off policy. And by hands off, I mean that they don't ask questions, don't take away cars and credit cards and don't do the things that might mean they find out something is wrong.
Too many parents choose to ignore problems and furthermore, they want the rest of the world to ignore them as well. This sets up a future in which Mommy and Daddy may end up paying bail, hiring lawyers and generally running their adult children's lives simply because they refused to admit a few absolutes into their early childhood experience.

This attitude has carried over into society. Please don't get me wrong, I don't think we should return to the days of Hester Prynne and public floggings, but then again, a little decent humility in regards to unwed pregnancy or drug use would be refreshing. I recall when I was in ninth grade when a girl got pregnant, she was sent to a special school. One girl tried to return for a pep rally, featuring the father to be, and was unceremoniously escorted off campus. Of course that was in the bad old days when girls were burdened with the proof of sexual looseness and boys got a free pass. That may have been unkind, but I think how the situation has evolved is wrong. We now see pregnant girls on campus all the time. They have made adult decisions and are given attention by the school, a home by the parents and generally speaking, except for labor, there's no down side. I am not saying that these girls and their boyfriends should be punished, but right now there's no negative consequences at all. Another example would be a boy that went through school with my 21 year old, got a girl pregnant. While he was busy with her, he lost his scholarship because he was absent partying with his girlfriend. You would think those two things would offer some sobering reality to this irresponsible young pair, but instead, their parents are paying for a luxury apartment (2 bedroom/ Washer/ Dryer?Cable/Internet paid) a car, and college tuition. Neither of them have to work. And to some people this seems like a reasonable decision. Excuse me if I disagree. These two very young, and somewhat selfish, young people choose to be careless, get pregnant and parents come and provide a safety net. I am not knocking helping out young couple, young love or pregnancy-all wonderful things in some circumstances, but in this case, as so many others, the parents are so intent at controlling the outcome, that they pay for everything and in effect make it so that the kids will never learn how to budget on a small income, how to limit their spending or how to balance their lives. In this case, it isn't help, it's control. And when you control someone so completely, you are limiting their ability to grow. And this case is being lived over and over every year. I shudder to think what will happen twenty years down the road when those then 40 year olds are still dealing with the problems that should have been resolved as 20 year olds.

When I ran this idea past my own three kids, 21, 21 and 17, even the 17 year old-who's a bit of a wild child-were appalled that even after having kids some couples were relying on their parents to foot the bill. Speculation was made by my older two, who are full time college students,if the intent was to force marriage or to control the outcome of the grandchild's life, which I thought was pretty insightful from kids the same age as the ones in question. The younger one thought that the parents were very naive and that the couple was getting a free ride. I have to say here that although we paid into a college fund for each of our kids, they have paid their own rent and bills after freshman year. And just out of curiosity I broached the subject of marriage and children, and both my college kids refused to even think about it until after they are out of school (for which I breathed a big sigh of relief!) When I ran this same idea by some parents, I got mixed reactions. Some agreed with me that if kids make adult choices they need to go through the consequences such as getting a job and paying their own bills. Others however, thought that they wouldn't want their kids living in a dump and fully intend to pay for everything. Strangely enough, the parents who were more hardline have kids who are all high achievers and have that history and those parents who wanted to pay for everything had students who have lingered in college for years without declaring a major. It's not a scientific sampling by any means, but I thought it was interesting.

So we return to the image of Bumper Bowling. Long cushions keep the ball rolling towards the pins no matter how erratically or carelessly the ball is thrown. They are assured a strike, or at least a spare, by an artificial means. How long to we continue to support adult children that refuse to take responsibility for their actions? If you read current media,you know that the Boomerang Child is not a new situation. But I think it poses some serious implications for my generation. Are we willing to subsidize continued and repeated "mistakes" by adult children at the expense of our own retirement and income? At what point do we cut them loose? And after cutting them loose and expecting them to show gratitude for years of support, should we dare to be surprised when these same children express anger at not ever being allowed to learn how to function as adults? In short, when do we take away the bumpers? For some parents and some kids, it may never happen.


Darren said...

Hester Who??? =) (It's a joke)

I like your Bumper Bowling example. I wouldn't have thought of it myself.

Eric said...

Great analogy of life as we see it happening now. I've always thought that we need a little bit more shame in our society...could possibly straighten a few lives out.

EllenK said...

Actually the inspiration came from my husband complaining about "when he was a boy....blah bumper bowling." I thought about it and decided that in a way, he was right. We are limiting our kids abilities when we keep them from failure. It's better to fail at small things when young, than to mess up later.

Hebisner said...

I am very sympathetic to your point of view on holding students accountable for poor choices and behavior. Helicopter parenting and not allowing children to fail or accept some consequence is not helpful in the long run for kids.

On the teenager pregnancy issue, I would like to point out though that while certainly the "couples" in question should accept responsiblity and not be freed from that by permissive parents, you also must consider the childs welfare in this equation. Allowing the child to be raised by older children in a poor enviroment is not a good choice either. That is a possible consequence if the Parents of the teenager parents don't help them.

EllenK said...

True, you need to consider the child that is produced. What bothers me is that these particular "children" are expected to give up nothing. While I don't seek punishment per se, I do think that taking a job and paying some bills and deferring some personal goals because you were irresponsible is a reasonable response. In this specific case, the parents are older than I am (50+) and the subsidy is going to continue for at least three years until one of them graduates. That translates into a good deal of money from a retirement account. And this doesn't even begin to touch on what might happen if the couple doesn't marry and the grandparents end up having to raise the child. While no decent parent wants their child to suffer, there does come a time when an adult child makes life-changing decisions that they should be held responsible. And that does mean cutting the aprons strings and the funding. Believe me, I see kids all the time that are in school on the seven year plan, not because they can't do the work, but because there is little incentive to move on. Maturity has more to do with willingness to shoulder the load than age.