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Jun. 30 2010 - 2:12 pm | 871 views | 1 recommendation | 5 comments

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 Grown Ups is a good starting point for this potential parenting shift, asking moms and dads:

1) What kind of kids do you want your kids to be?

2) What are you going to do about it?


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  1. collapse expand

    …and then there were the geeks among us. I was born in ‘51, so the fascinating new tech of my youth included portable radios and color TV. But we still spent far more of our time engrossed in tech-based activities than our parent might have liked. It’s just that it was a different kind of tech: the printed page. Besides, there was a grand-scale technological adventure unfolding in the news — the space race, and that captured a lot of young imaginations. What grand-scale adventures are kids offered today, besides wars and greed?

  2. collapse expand

    We limit the TV our kids watch during the week. We limit the computer time during the week. Weekends are usually pretty busy, going out with friends, playing a sport, getting involved in arts, crafts and the like.

    We take our kids on picnics, hikes, camping. We do road trips. We teach them technically skilled things like how to shoot a bow and arrow (compound bow). I have them “help” me fix and maintain our small farm tractor.

    We build blinky light projects, radios, and maybe one of them will get a ham radio license. We teach them to cook in the kitchen and on the camp fire. I teach them to drill holes, pound nails, and how to bolt things together safely. I show them a siphon. I brew beer with them (yes, they do get to taste if they’re curious).

    I don’t know how much of this will stick. A lot of what my parents did with me never stuck. From age 10 I began pursuing many things on my own. My kids are just now at that age where they can pursue their own interests.

    One thing has changed, however: As a child of the mid 60’s and 70’s I had a lot of latitude to do things that were unthinkable by today’s child rearing standards. At age 13 I was riding the city buses alone, bicycling all over the place, visiting parks and libraries on my own and so on. And I did this without access to a cell phone in case things went badly. Today, I don’t know how well that would go over with most people.

    It speaks volumes that we need an advocate such as Lenore Skenazy (of the Free Range Kids blog) to tell parents that it is OK to let their kids travel on their own, investigate things unsupervised, and even build a bad tree house and get hurt doing it.

    Today, we overprotect our children. I see helicopter parents and shake my head in disgust. Yes, I do care about my kids. But I also want them to grow up the way I did. And if you listen to the evening news or read all the safety oriented balderdash about kids, you might as well bubble wrap them in front of the TV set and walk away.

    (OK, I’ll get off my rant now…)

  3. collapse expand

    I’m a big believer in the old adage “idle hands are the devil’s workshop” which is to say kids who have too much free time usually wind up in trouble out of sheer boredom. My kids are pretty involved in activities they enjoy–my daughter in musical theater workshops, plays and snowboarding, my son in robotics, golf and skiing. That said, I also don’t believe in over-scheduling. Each of these things have a “season” and I want to make sure they both have time to do a good job on their homework. And summer camps provide an opportunity for supervised fun, exploring things they don’t get exposure to during the school year.

    For older teens, summer jobs and/or volunteer work is really important. Taking on more responsibility for earning spending money and being accountable to a workplace is critical experience.

    As for the electronic gizmos, Facebook and video games seem to be the biggest killer of time, but if the grades start to suffer, I take them away until they’re where they need to be.

  4. collapse expand

    It’s true that if parents today brought up kids the way my parents brought me and my brothers and sisters, they could get nailed for child neglect.

    My brothers and I played outside until dark. We went to the pool by ourselves once we knew the route. We’d get home from that, then play with our friends until parents started calling us inside. I used to walk over a mile (in snow up to my knees…kidding here) by myself and meet a friend along the way when I was 12 and 13. My step-sister and I used to go back in the woods and explore for hours. We did read during the summer, but there were no book lists, and true, I didn’t read tons of books in the summer.

    So times have changed. Parents will have to start their kids off in the realm of playing outside. Supervision will be necessary in the beginning, and most of us were brought up in a world where our parents were at the swing-set with us at least from the start. Camps help by exposing kids to alternate activities and to new children. I’m glad to hear that inmyhumbleopionion stays away from over-scheduling. So many parents are already thinking of their children’s college choice that kids are overbooked with a gajillion activities in which they need to be the star, or *some*one’s holding them back.

    As for the school year, O worry about the amount of homework assigned vs. the quality and challenge of the assignments. I attended public schools and didn’t take home every book every night. As an adult (and teacher), I can attest to the fine education I received. I’ve said this many times before, but testing isn’t the be all and end all of education. Getting an “A” or 100% isn’t the gold standard of learning. I’m not saying that we need to return to the 70s or early 80s for education, but we do need to re-assess how our schooling works. My 2 cents: get rid of A and B days forever. This is one place we need to return to an older system: every class every day; move sequentially each semester (i.e., no spanish 1 fall 2009, then wait for spanish 2 spring 2011 because of other stuff – unless that other stuff is study abroad in a spanish [or corresponding language] speaking country).

    Parents do need to let go a bit in general. Kids are resilient and will learn through – gasp! – failure. They may need some guidance once they’ve failed, but losing happens, yo – usually on the way to success.

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    About Me

    I'm a Teach For America alum and spent three years as a high school teacher on the west and south sides of Chicago. I've conducted research on turnaround schools with a team from the University of Virginia, consulted for school districts across the country, and done work with New Leaders for New Schools, the Consortium on Chicago School Research, and DonorsChoose.org. Currently I'm finishing my PhD from UVa's Curry School of Education.

    My work has been published in Education Week, the Phi Delta Kappan, and a number of academic journals, and I'm a co-author of the book Teachers' Guide to School Turnarounds. I also contribute monthly to GOOD, the website "for people who give a damn": www.good.is/community/MichaelSalmonowicz

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    I am a contributor for GOOD, the website “for people who give a damn.” You can read my June column here. Past columns can be found here.