Why every parent should watch Adam Sandler’s new movie
I recently saw the movie Grown Ups, in which Adam Sandler’s character reunites at a lake cabin with some childhood friends. As a comedy, it’s a decent flick. But I think its real value lies in its message about parenting.
Sandler and the rest of his crew–Chris Rock, Kevin James, David Spade, and Rob Schneider–are in their mid-40s, which means they grew up in the 1970s and were full-fledged adults before ever coming into contact with cell phones, e-mail, and digital cable. This is reflected in their characters, who reminisce about playing outdoors as kids–as opposed to their own children, who seem happy only when viewing some kind of entertainment on a screen.
One of the friends with whom I saw Grown Ups blamed this on the fictional parents in the movie. If they saw so much value in being outdoors and playing with friends, she reasoned, they should have just raised their children with that in mind.
I agree with her, but I think that’s going to require a shift in how parents operate. My mom and dad are about a decade older than Sandler and company, and I’ve spoken quite a bit with them and their parents about what life was like when they grew up in the 1960s. The message I’ve gotten is that parents of that time basically threw their kids outside after school and during the summer, telling them to be home for dinner. This meant that groups of kids spent hours and hours playing outside in the park or the woods, making up games, and otherwise filling time creatively. There was little thought among parents about the positive or negative effects of doing this; it simply was how things were done across American society. There were tons of kids around most neighborhoods, most moms were home all day, parents didn’t fear that their children would be kidnapped if unsupervised, and children didn’t have that many competing entertainment options inside of their homes. In retrospect, it seems that this type of parenting worked out pretty well, but it wasn’t necessarily done because adults spent time considering if it was the best way to raise kids.
Today, technology is ubiquitous, and children spend about eight hours per day engaged with various forms of entertainment media. That is the new norm across society, which means that if adults take the same approach as their parents and grandparents–going with the flow and doing what other parents are doing, without much thought about the effects of how kids are spending their time–they likely will end up like the characters in Grown Ups: wondering why their children reject non-technology-driven activities.
Many parents I’ve spoken with over the years don’t have a particular plan for parenting as their children grow up, saying, “Kids will be kids.” That’s true to some extent, but a more complete version probably would be, “Kids will be certain types of kids based on the society/time period in which they grow up, the other kids with whom they spend time, and how parents mediate these two influences.” If one accepts this premise, then it is clear that parents today have to put in a lot more effort if they want their kids to grow up (at least to some extent) like they did–engaging with friends, exercising, and seeing sunlight, grass, and trees more than sitting in front of entertainment media. The plot of