Letting A Kid Just Be A Kid

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - August 05, 2009
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For the first time in his young life, my son had nothing to do during the long summer break - no summer school, no special classes, no organized programs. I don’t really know how it happened. Maybe it was because we were just too busy getting ready for our vacation to think about it. Maybe I just procrastinated the time away. Bottom line is, by the time I started worrying about it, it was too late to enroll him anywhere.

So, he’s in couch potato heaven.

Public and some private schools are already starting back up. But my son? Right now he’s outside sweeping the garage - and, yes, grumbling about it. But really, what does he have to be unhappy about? Here’s his routine: He loafs, and then does a few chores, then more loafing, more chores ... more loafing. The rest of the time he fills up with some serious TV watching, iPod listening, video gaming and Net surfing - you get the picture. He reads - if I take away his other toys.

At first I was really worried. Is this normal? Is it healthy? How could we let him waste an entire summer? What will he do? Will his brain turn to mush? If we let him coast all summer will he become lazy for life? I could see it all, his whole future, ruined, because of me. Our son would be a freeloader, an uneducated, unambitious, poor ne’er-do-well - and all because we allowed his inner sloth to take over during the fateful summer of ‘09. I was a failure as a mother. Guilt was eating me up - for about a day.

Then I had one of those reality-check conversations with a friend. Don’t get all worked up, she said.

Why shouldn’t a kid have the time to just be a kid? Once he grows up he will never be able to goof off for an entire summer. His life will be consumed with, well, adult stuff like making money, paying bills, going to work, fulfilling obligations, taking care of relationships, etc., etc., etc. Is it a crime to let him coast while he can?

She was right, of course. We are so hung up on success that we push our kids and fill every minute of their day. We don’t want them to “fall behind” in any way. Rightly or wrongly, we equate “more” with “better.” We think it’s for their benefit to “encourage” them to excel. We are, we think, simply doing our job as parents. We tell ourselves we are making our kids strong and competitive, and preparing them for the real world. Anything less and we are setting them up for failure. And their failure (gasp) is a reflection on our parenting.

But it ain’t necessarily so.

I wasn’t pushed as a child and - look! - I didn’t grow up to be a bum. After a couple of horrid experiences at summer fun (dodgeball is not - I repeat, not - my idea of fun) my parents took pity and never forced me to go again. When I was a junior in high school I did get a job, but no one made me do it - I wanted to work. And because it was my idea it made that paycheck all the sweeter.

It is true that life as we knew it then doesn’t exist anymore. It’s faster, more confusing and, yes, more competitive than it was back in our day. But children shouldn’t have to jump on that fast track before they’re ready. And we shouldn’t be so afraid that they’ll never get on it if we don’t push them while they’re young. One lazy summer will not set the tone for life.

And now excuse me while I go remind him to water the plants, take out the trash and throw the clothes in the dryer. Just because it’s summer does-n’t mean Mom has to do all the work.

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