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Hey Mom And Dad, Leave Those Kids Alone!
July 23, 2007 9:52 PM   Subscribe

Leave Those Kids Alone. The idea that parents should be engaging in play with their children is a modern concept (and not necessarily a good one, according to anthropologist David Lancy). Via.
posted by amyms (70 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, my guess is that in most cultures, certainly throughout history adults would have been working too hard to really play with their kids.
posted by delmoi at 9:59 PM on July 23, 2007


Hmm. But you'd think that in the way we live today children need some substitute for the mobs of age peers and the tagging along being around adults working that are perhaps the norm for acculturation in a lot of other societies. In a lot of situations, if it's not the parents, then there is no-one else.
posted by Abiezer at 10:00 PM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Something I remember from back in the day when we were having a baby every 22 months or so: when a child was engaged and fascinated with something, how tempting it was to just get down and try to capture some of that energy for yourself. We left ours the hell alone. They all turned out to be insanely cool people.
posted by squalor at 10:05 PM on July 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


delmoi said: Well, my guess is that in most cultures, certainly throughout history adults would have been working too hard to really play with their kids.

And, even now, in third-world nations, that's true...

I thought the article was interesting. I've been a stay-at-home mom for the majority of my kids' childhood and I've always made time to play with them, but they also had plenty of playtime with their peers. It didn't really dawn on me that parents playing with their children was a mostly modern activity.

After reading the article, I don't feel so guilty for the times I said "No, honey, I really don't feel like playing Barbies/Pokemon/dress-up/cars/Legos/etc. right now."
posted by amyms at 10:12 PM on July 23, 2007


"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I realize many of you think my client is a terrible person, who has some sort of perverse soul. I am here to tell you that, in a way, you are correct, but it is not my client's fault. My client has had to deal with his perversity and social ineptitude since he was a toddler, for you see--and this is something that was very difficult for my client to tell me--when he was a little boy, his mother used to play with him."
posted by Citizen Premier at 10:19 PM on July 23, 2007 [3 favorites]


When my father was a child, his grandfather, who used to crew on a Clipper ship, used to beat him with a length of rope, just as the would discipline crews on the tall ships. I do not discipline my son that way. I wonder if I should go back to the way things used to be. Perhaps I should find a dunghead for my son to shovel. After all, that's the way most of the world lives, right?

Okay, how about sleeping in the same bed as your kids? We all sleep together in the same room. I wonder if that is also 'wrong', according to the cultural standards of the article. My son was born in Japan, my wife is from Japan, and I lived and worked there for ten years, so we tend to adopt a lot of Japanese customs at home. However, people here always seem to think that we sleep in the same room (my son is four) as being rather strange. Perfectly normal in Japan.

What I think is strange is the concept of adults-only gatherings here in N. America. I like parties where the kids are invited, and get to watch the adults get drunk and have fun.

Or the strange comments like, " you and your wife must be dying for some alone time together, without your son."

Nope. We're a team.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:23 PM on July 23, 2007 [11 favorites]


It seems a bit like taking your sibling to the prom because you don't have a date.
posted by Cranberry at 10:25 PM on July 23, 2007


WHAT COULD BE more natural than a mother down on the rec-room floor, playing with her 3-year-old amid puzzles, finger-puppets, and Thomas the Tank Engine trains? Look -- now she's conducting a conversation between a stuffed shark and Nemo, the Pixar clown fish! Giggles all around. Not to mention that the tot is learning the joys of stories and narrative, setting him on a triumphal path toward school.

A "natural" scene? Actually, parent-child play of this sort has been virtually unheard of throughout human history, according to the anthropologist David Lancy. And three-fourths of the world's current population would still find that mother's behavior kind of dotty.


Freaky. I'm with 3/4ths of the worlds population on this one. If my mom had ever behaved like that with me as a kid it would have truly frightened me.
posted by vacapinta at 10:34 PM on July 23, 2007


It's really, really strange to imagine my parents actually joining my sister and I. Usually, it was the other way around -- one of the parents would be doing something adult-like (say, fixing a computer or blender), and we'd join them and bother them. It wasn't really a common event, though...

Most of the time, we were entertaining ourselves or out causing trouble with the neighborhood kids.
posted by spiderskull at 10:45 PM on July 23, 2007


Nope. We're a team.

We have a long wait till junior hits adulthood, but let us know how that worked out for you.
posted by sluglicker at 10:55 PM on July 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


Well, that does make me feel better. However, at 3 they can be very insistent. Very, very insistent.

DAUGHTER: Come on, mommy! Sit on the floor! We have dinner! (her equivalent to a tea party)

WIFE: No, dear, I'm busy.

DAUGHTER: (kisses wife on knee) See, I kiss busy and make it all better. Come play, mommy PLEEEEASE!!!
posted by dw at 11:08 PM on July 23, 2007 [2 favorites]


Oh dear God where to begin with this nonsense...

On Ifaluk Island, in the South Pacific, tribespeople believe that babies are "essentially brainless" before age 2, so there is no point in talking to them.

You know why age 2 is the cutoff for kids? It's because for so long in human history a lot of kids would die before they turned two, so much so that there had to be a societal mechanism to permit parents some emotional distance from children who quite possibly would be dead soon.

Secondly, they aren't brainless, I don't care what the glorious tribespeople think. I know 2 year olds who can spot and name constellations, recite the alphabet, and sing. I know 2 year olds who can write.

Actually, parent-child play of this sort has been virtually unheard of throughout human history, according to the anthropologist David Lancy.

Suppose this is true, so what? Throughout human history, electric light and antibiotics were unheard of. Are we supposed to stop doing something because the tribespeople don't do it?

Anthropology has become very very strange.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:14 PM on July 23, 2007 [8 favorites]


Americans go overboard with structured parent-child play which has explicit academic goals

I get this strange feeling that the parents mentioned in the article carry this unusual sense of desperation that their child will grow up sub-par if they don't follow every psychologist and child expert's instructions. There seems to be this prevalent fear that they'll be the dumb kids in class or become inadequate relative to their peers; a lot of these are normal concerns, but I can't help but feel that this is over the top in America.

"Some of those children are being raised to be spoiled, demanding, requiring constant adult attention, and inclined to argue with their parents," Pollock says.

I've witnessed this in a few upper middle-class families. In all cases, the parents were trying to mold superchildren, who in turn formed a dependence on this way of life. They couldn't entertain themselves worth crap.
posted by spiderskull at 11:24 PM on July 23, 2007


On further research, I can't tell if Lancy is crazy or if the author of the Globe article did a poor job framing the story

From the article

Lancy is concerned that specialists behind the movement -- psychologists, social workers, preschool teachers -- are too aggressively promoting this intense, interventionist parenting style to low-income parents, and that they are are too quick to claim that adult-child play is crucial for human development. He doesn't quite rule out that some interventions may improve literacy -- though the data are murkier than the psychologists admit, he insists. But the programs, with their premise (as he sees it) that a whole class of people is simply parenting badly, leave their advocates "open to charges of racism or cultural imperialism."

But on Lancy's page at USU
:

Dr. David Lancy loves kids. So much, in fact, he has several toys and a small tricycle scattered throughout his office so a co-worker's infant daughter can use them when she comes to visit.

WTF? So low income parents shouldn't engage in this kind of play with their children, but he leaves toys in his office so he can play with other professors' children?

Perhaps its his greatest fear, of being called racist of culturally imperialist, that keeps him from advocating for everyone else what he practices himself. And note how "low-income" is a code word in that paragraph for ethnic minority. (otherwise, why would low income people call teachers of the same ethnicity racist?) In fact, these low income people are clearly too stupid to be able to take constructive criticism of their parenting, according to that paragraph.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:33 PM on July 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


And note how "low-income" is a code word in that paragraph for ethnic minority.

I notice that a lot... But, I am from a very low-income household... But we're caucasian, an intact family, two parents, two kids, so we don't fit into a lot of "stereotypes."
posted by amyms at 11:41 PM on July 23, 2007


So low income parents shouldn't engage in this kind of play with their children, but he leaves toys in his office so he can play with other professors' children?

Well, I think there's a difference between actively playing with children, and providing toys and activities that they can play with themselves. I do tend to agree with his point when it comes to that modern catchphrase "structured play". Kids don't just need you to tell them what to do. They need to figure out for themselves what to do. Although I have no evidence other than my own ill-informed opinion, I get the feeling that while "structured play" may have some academic benefits, letting kids get on with doing what they want to do has massive benefits for creativity.

The shops are full of toys with slogans like "Play and Learn" all over them. You know the brands; Young Einstein, Leapfrog. All these toys that do things, sing the alphabet, recite the names of shapes, so the parents don't feel guilty about letting their have fun instead of "learning". Teddy bears that say "That's my hand!" when you squeeze their hand, and "That's my nose!" when you touch their nose. A relative gave my son one of these, a Winnie the Pooh doll. After you've pressed it's buttons for a bit, then stop, it keeps calling out to you..."Pooh bear needs a hug!", "Pooh loves you!". It's creepy. Dolls that wet their diapers and cry and crawl themselves along the floor in some spastic weird jerking motion.

Even that old staple, Lego, has gone down this road now days. When I was a kid (you know, back when we had to trudge 87 miles through freezing snow with no shoes on to get to school. 1988 or thereabouts) Lego was still pretty much boxes of blocks that fit together in interesting ways. You got the blocks and plates and built what you wanted out of them. Now, finding basic boxes of blocks on the Lego shelves is a frustrating task - it's now almost completely single-purpose model sets. Creativity has been replaced with structure. My son's birthday was last week, and I continuously saw that he was just as interested in playing with the boxes and wrapping paper his presents came in as the battery-powered noise-making presents themselves.

But I'm sure in the grand scheme of things, it's all pretty irrelevant. Kids turn out the way they turn out, and if time spent playing with them is time spent loving them, then I guess it's all good.
posted by Jimbob at 11:47 PM on July 23, 2007 [9 favorites]


Oh, and I can't really recall my parents playing with me. I have no idea what they did when I was really young, but certainly from about age 5 on, the only things my parents did to play with me were join in the occasional board game, or come with me to the park while I rode my bike or flew a kite. There wasn't really any of the intensive, planned, structured interaction described in this article.
posted by Jimbob at 11:51 PM on July 23, 2007


You got the blocks and plates and built what you wanted out of them.

In my case, it was inevitably guns. Ray guns usually, but any old type of gun would do.

Kids don't just need you to tell them what to do. They need to figure out for themselves what to do.


Completely agree. We're raising a generation that lacks the ability to amuse themselves or to feel comfortable with their own company. Instead, they continually look outside of themselves for entertainment or stimulation, and are at a loss to know what to do when they aren't amused by parents or whoever.

Which is not to say that parents should never play with their children. Just that they shouldn't feel guilty because they don't have either the time or the inclination. Left to their own devices, with nothing but an empty cardboard box for amusement, most children will create their own world, transforming that box into a racing car, a castle, a spaceship, or whatever else happens to take their fancy that day.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:04 AM on July 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


I always though that guy who drew Calvin & Hobbes had it about right.

I grew up in a place with tons of kids and whenever an adult, or older sibling, showed any interest in our games I remember clamming up. Even at the age of 4 or 5 we knew that they would think our games were silly and try to tell us how to do things better or so that they made sense. We inevitably lied about what we were doing to avoid irritating explanations and patronising bullshit. Left alone, we got back to whatever insanely complex fantasy world we were living in at the time. My mother is probably still wondering about some of the resulting property damage.

Having an adult present would have seriously stifled our creativity. Also we would have thought they were a weirdo.
posted by fshgrl at 12:09 AM on July 24, 2007 [4 favorites]


My mum used to pretend she was an alien when I was a kid. We'd be lying on the couch watching 'The Price Is Right' in the afternoon and she'd turn to me with these wide eyes, completely silent until I snapped. Then she'd start gabbling nonsense to completely freak me out before grabbing me in a bearhug and convincing me that no, she hadn't been taken over by a demon. We'd still play that game until a few months before she got diagnosed and at 17 it was no less funny than it had been at 7. She probably sounds insane to you but she was the most intelligent woman I ever knew and didn't shy from shunning the stupid parenting books our culture is so obsessed with. She never stifled my creativity, she embraced it wholeheartdly and allowed me to become more comfortable with the idea that what society tells us is normal doesn't mean shit.

I hope I get to freak my kids out one day, too.
posted by liquorice at 12:55 AM on July 24, 2007 [6 favorites]


This article is a mess.

It goes from OMG TRIBESPEPLE IGNOR THEIR KIDZ!! to ZOMG CLASS WARZ!!! in three pages. I mean, seriously, we don't ask anthropologists for their opinion on the prevalence of 69ing in Kenyan sexual practices before we decide to do it.

Treat your kids well, do what comes naturally and don't worry about how the Munkubu raise their kids too much.
posted by Avenger at 1:29 AM on July 24, 2007


Seconding McDermott.

Scenes of parent lunacy (=mis-projected ambition + guilt compensation + "expertise"-dependency) abound these days. The article's illustration (son ponders Dad, the building block architect) is totally typical. Another one that always gets me: child does something, and parents react by clapping enthusiastically.
posted by progosk at 1:42 AM on July 24, 2007


Thirding McDermott.

Here's a real puzzler for me: boredom. It's one thing to be bored when you're forced to do a task, like sort files at an office job, but how is it possible to be bored on your own time? There are books to read, places to walk, things to build, things to take apart, things to program, naps to take, food to cook, songs to sing, instruments to play.

I think some of this comes from having wide-ranging childhood experiences. Thank goodness I came before this structured play thing, too.

As a friend and I concluded over some beer one night, our parents never sought to be our best friends...but they were darn fine parents.
posted by maxwelton at 2:08 AM on July 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


The modern family structure and modern paranoia create this worry. Families used to be two parents, one at home a lot, and several siblings (not to mention cousins and other relatives living with them or nearby). Mom was there to make sure you didn't kill yourselves, but she wasn't your playmate. Now families are one or two parents with one or two kids, and these few kids often aren't allowed out with the few kids living nearby.

So mom or dad becomes the only alternative to playing alone, and playing with your parents really isn't so hot when you're past the toddler stage. Who wants to play with safe, sane, pretending-to-pretend mom or dad when you have brothers and sisters who can have the same sort of crazy, total, run till you drop fun that you have when a game transforms you? If kids have siblings and friends, they generally don't have much use for mom and dad and their good-for-you games.

certainly throughout history adults would have been working too hard to really play with their kids.

And kids, as soon as they were old enough to be useful, would have been working too hard to play with kids. Child labor has only recently been replaced by compulsory education.
posted by pracowity at 3:01 AM on July 24, 2007


Anything that contributes to the continuing infantilization of adults cannot be good. I think this is somehow related to that phenomenon.

As a kid, my old man was distant, grumpy and irritable. If he had chosen to involve himself in my play as a kid, I would have resented him a lot more than I already did.
posted by psmealey at 3:15 AM on July 24, 2007


It is a near-universal truth that "relaxed and happy" works better than "neurotic and miserable", not to mention being a more enjoyable way to live. There's only so many papers and books you can write about that, though.
posted by teleskiving at 3:15 AM on July 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


First of all, this article is in the Boston Globe. The GLOBE. Parse it out: G-Lobe, or gluteal lobe. If you play with your children, they can explain the concept of a "butt-head" to you. Seriously, though, the Globe is a shitty paper (as are most major market media racket-owned ad factories). Let's present a groundless, unpopular opinion proposed by one lone wacko without a lick of experimental evidence!

Secondly, the whole concept of childhood is relatively new to the western world. It's from about 100 years, right around the time Lewis Carroll was photographing prepubescent girls (there was no taboo, because hey, they weren't children or anything). And around the time of the child labor laws (play? Get back to work, you lazy scamp). And so on. Our grandparents and great-grandparents created this protected space (time, really) for us and our descendants. Why not enjoy it?
posted by Eideteker at 3:59 AM on July 24, 2007


"As a kid, my old man was distant, grumpy and irritable. If he had chosen to involve himself in my play as a kid, I would have resented him a lot more than I already did."

Of course, parents who don't enjoy playing with their children shouldn't [have kids].
posted by Eideteker at 4:01 AM on July 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


Of course if everyone that wasn't fit to have kids didn't, the species would likely be extinct by now.

And if my old man were here to defend himself, Eideteker, he'd probably ask you how your own kids turned out.
posted by psmealey at 4:39 AM on July 24, 2007


I agree with the sentiment that older kids get more out of playing with peers, and I hold no truck with flash cards or 'intellectual' structured play. But, but, my 4yro really likes it if I play some lego with him. I think in the same way as he likes to help me in the garden or the kitchen, but in his realm, rather than in the workshop where I might say don't touch the power saw and have to limit him for safety/skill levels.
When we play some lego we can both be pretty involved on a more democratic level. I should also say his 6yro sister usually joins in, although with a, to me, frightening tendency towards C programming in later life, she sorts the colours of the bricks. (excuse the microserfs reference)
posted by bystander at 4:53 AM on July 24, 2007


I don't have any! Which is what makes it my god-given right to tell other people how to raise theirs.
posted by Eideteker at 4:56 AM on July 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


I do have a major problem with using "we never did that before" as a reason to not do something, but I also hate kids, so I'm torn....
posted by Aversion Therapy at 4:59 AM on July 24, 2007


I've found it helpful to dress my infant daughter in a wig to give her more adult hair. It helps remind me not to interact with her in a childlike way.

If my gut's telling me to sit down and play with my daughter, I can't imagine not doing so because the Victorians didn't -- or any other tribe.

This is the wrong answer to the real problem of impossible expectations and pressure put on parents and children. Be a "good enough" parent. But there is mounting evidence that early learning really is quite significant, so good lord, don't intentionally not play with your child.
posted by ~ at 5:07 AM on July 24, 2007


Secondly, they aren't brainless, I don't care what the glorious tribespeople think. I know 2 year olds who can spot and name constellations, recite the alphabet, and sing. I know 2 year olds who can write.
Yes, but I know Republicans who can do those things, too.
posted by Flunkie at 5:26 AM on July 24, 2007


The article misses the distinction between simply playing with your kids and "structured activities". When my two-year old asks me to build a wall of blocks so he can crash through it with a dump truck, or asks me to help him build a wooden train layout, he's using his imagination just fine. At 2, he's not going to develop the engineering skills to get the train over the cat all by himself. As long as he's being creative, I don't see how my participation is a bad thing. He also understands that sometimes I have to go and cook dinner, or whatever, and he can either "help" me or go play on his own.

Baby Einstein, however, is concentrated evil. Observe a baby watching those videos sometime. It's one long session of "what the hell *is* that?"
posted by Ella Fynoe at 5:29 AM on July 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


Actually, now that I think about it a little more, I'm not really all that sure that I know Republicans who can spot and name constellations.
posted by Flunkie at 5:30 AM on July 24, 2007


I am the parent of a 2 year old, so this really caught my eye. My first thought was that my wife needs to see this article; she feels guilty if she isn't playing with our daughter as much as possible whereas AI tend to be more standoffish and let her do her own thing, although I am nearby if she wants my attention for any reason. On the other hand, when I do play with my daughter I enjoy it immensely and would in no way compare it to housework. So I looked up the original article in American Anthropolgist and I think that the linked article really did miss some of the subtleties of the original. Many others have already mentioned some of these points, but they are borne out in the original. For one thing, most of the cultures mentioned are third world tribal cultures where infant mortality is high and everyone is expect to contribute labor. Much of the child rearing there is done by slightly older children, but in these cultures the parents are still nearby, unlike the modern world where working parents are a thirty minute commute away from their children and have to find responsible adults rather than 6 year old siblings to care for infants and toddlers. Lancy also mentions the fact that high infant mortality in these cultures may make desirable that mothers not forge too tight a bond with their young children. For these and many other reasons, it should be obvious that what works in the developed, western world and what works for subsistence farmers are not the same. Lancy also goes on to point out that in China, Korea, and Japan (as alluded to above) mothers play a much more active role in early childhood development; they are expected to instill the appropriate cultural norms in the child and if that doesn't happen it reflects poorly on the mother.

It wasn't really mentioned in the Globe article or the original paper, but I had the thought that in the US, at least, the farming/pioneer culture probably also played a role in developing our cild rearing practices. If you think about the Wilder family, once they were on the prarie there wern't other children in the immediate vicinty every day, so it had to fall to the parents to take a more active role in their children's lives. Once again, what works for a group of South American tribesmen wouldn't work for an isolated farm on the great plains. Which I think is the take-home message of the original article: that child-rearing practices world-wide often differ substantially from what experts say is best, so perhaps we should be more skeptical of experts and find what works for our particular situation.

Sorry for the long post, but it was an interesting article and discussion; thanks for posting it.
posted by TedW at 5:41 AM on July 24, 2007 [3 favorites]


Avenger writes: Treat your kids well, do what comes naturally and don't worry about how the Munkubu raise their kids too much.

Just thought that beared repeating.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:42 AM on July 24, 2007


I don't have any! Which is what makes it my god-given right to tell other people how to raise theirs.

Same here. I am, however, doing a stupendous job in criticizing my sister's child-rearing activities.
posted by psmealey at 5:44 AM on July 24, 2007


Correction:that should be Ingalls family, as in Laura Ingalls Wilder, for anyone who missed my poorly phrased reference.
posted by TedW at 5:45 AM on July 24, 2007


TedW:
On the other hand, when I do play with my daughter I enjoy it immensely and would in no way compare it to housework.
The article didn't claim that people compare playing with their kids to housework.

The article claimed that people claim that they enjoy playing with their kids immensely (as you did).

However, the article also claimed that if people are asked to keep track of their state of mind hour-by-hour, those same people who say that they immensely enjoy playing with their kids generally rate the actual time that they actually played with their kids similarly to how they rate the time that they do housework.

It's as if people don't like playing with their kids as much as they like the idea of liking to play with their kids.

To be clear, I'm not saying that you personally don't really enjoy playing with your kids. I'm saying that your claim that you do is not inconsistent with the article.
posted by Flunkie at 6:00 AM on July 24, 2007


This article is pure bullshit. Infants before 2 years old must have positive interactions with caregivers. If they do not they have severe intellectual and emotional problems. This has been proven over and over again. One of the most compelling was studies of children raised in Eastern European orphanages were they received adequate food and shelter but almost no interactions with caregivers. These children were not healthy and had severe impairments. Similar things happen with children in dysfunctional families, ones that have problems with drug abuse or mental disease, it is a good thing if social workers go to these families and help Children get the attention they need.

The only thing that this article got right was that affluent families spoil their children. Shocker!
posted by afu at 6:18 AM on July 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


My wife is an early childhood education expert (SRSLY!) and is from a school of thought that "play is a child's work"-- adults should take pains not to interfere with it. She designs curricula for a group of preschools, and the activities are designed to foster play amongst kids. Adults supervise and direct where needed, but the goal is for the kids to develop their own ideas and interactions with minimal adult input.

My take (as a layman with no children yet): It's fine for adults to help with things for which a child lacks the dexterity, but getting involved in the fantasy element is a little creepy. Like it's fine to help Spiderman get catapaulted over the castle walls to visit the Fischer-Price people, but I'll bet Ed Gein's mother probably helped hold conversations between Snake Eyes and Boba Fett.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:25 AM on July 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


We're raising a generation that lacks the ability to amuse themselves or to feel comfortable with their own company.

Any time I see a sentence that starts with "We're raising a generation that...." I'm sorry, I just tune out. I've just heard it too many times, and yet kids/adolescents remain remarkably the same in each generation.

There are overinvolved parents, and have always been--what form it takes may change, but it's much more a symptom of the parent not having enough of a self-identity than the activity itself. Everyone knows moms and dads who were always horning in on their kids' activities, or trying to be their pals--and those parents were always jokes to everyone else. Either their kids learn how to lie really well to keep them out of their lives, or they end up in therapy. Or run off and join the circus.

My son has gotten (despite our pleas) several beeping annoying "educational" toys from family. What's fun is that he never plays with them as you're supposed to; instead, he fires us several of them at once and alternates between hitting random buttons...like a tiny 2 year old DJ. It's actually very cool. I certainly didn't teach him that.
posted by emjaybee at 6:27 AM on July 24, 2007


It's all about doing stuff with your kids, whether it be play or work. My son (almost 4) is happy to tag along with me whatever I'm doing—in fact he'd rather "help" me when I'm working around the house then play with his toys, most times. Recently, "helping" has turned into helping. Play, including structured play, is a part of mentoring your children, preparing them to live in our society. Much of this mentoring is accomplished by children tagging along with, and learning to help, their parents while they work. In tribal cultures, the separation between work life and home life is indistinct to non-existent; similarly, the line between education/mentoring and play is fuzzy. It is absolute foolishness, though, to suggest that tribal cultures are not playful with their children; the form of the play is different.
posted by Mister_A at 6:34 AM on July 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


Ahh crap. That's apposta be a "than" not a then before "play with his toys".
posted by Mister_A at 6:37 AM on July 24, 2007


The constant cries of "I'm bored" stem from kids who are addicted to constant external entertainment. They have never learned to do it for themselves because it was always done for them. My cynical nature suspects this as somehow a plot by the media companies who sell that "entertainment", to increase demand for their product. More likely, those companies are just feeding a growing addiction to constant distraction.

Play is anything but distraction. When you play, you are totally in the moment, rather than removed from it. The trick to playing with kids is to be at their level or else it is work, like some parents noted in the article.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 6:46 AM on July 24, 2007


Whenever one of my kids tells me, "i'm bored." I say, "you're damn lucky to be bored. You're not allowed to be bored once you're an adult. I suggest you savour the experience of boredom, of the lack of Jobs, Chores, Obligations and the dreaded Shouldn't I Be Doing Something Useful Insteads that will weigh you down when you're all grown up. Cherish your boredom while it lasts, because you only get so much of it before it is gone forever."

It's months before they tell me they are bored again. And then they cringe as if to say, "oh, crap, there he goes again."
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:28 AM on July 24, 2007 [3 favorites]


Actually, sexual social equality has been virtually unheard of throughout human history, according to the anthropologist David Lancy. And three-fourths of the world's current population would still find a career-oriented woman in a traditionally male occupation kind of dotty.

When I was a kid (you know, back when we had to trudge 87 miles through freezing snow with no shoes on to get to school. 1988 or thereabouts) Lego was still pretty much boxes of blocks that fit together in interesting ways.

Nope. Even in the late 70s the Lego Space series was there, and there were boat sets and castle sets and so on with all sorts of special pieces.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:29 AM on July 24, 2007


On the plus side, anxious parents can now fret over whether they're spending too much "quality time" with the kids.

Good news for the pharmaceutical industry, methinks.
posted by gompa at 7:35 AM on July 24, 2007


I have to confess that I am of two minds about this article. On one hand, I taught myself to read English at 2 probably because my dad was a ne'er-do-well who left me alone for long periods of time.

On the other hand, my parents' "hands-off*" approach left me a bit disadvantaged when I finally met other children at a gifted and talented class. I missed out on going to CTY or other programs, and I felt "out of the loop" when I had to substitute reading for experiences.

*Consisting of alternately ignoring/hitting me and claiming credit for my academic performance.
posted by ntartifex at 7:39 AM on July 24, 2007


As a lot of you have posted, there is value with parents spending time and playing with their kids. When it gets weird is parents looking to enter too deeply in their children's fantasy worlds. If the child is freely talking about it that's its own thing and then listening tells you what the kid is on about. But parents who are too curious about their kids imaginary world are an invasive presence and kill spontaneity. An adult pretending to pretend is just torture for a child to be around.

That said I think there are benefits that come with kids spending more time with parents and their extended family and less time with peers. There are a range of activities where parents don't have to pretend to be interested, sports practice and board games being the two foremost examples. I also think it's beneficial for the whole family to be consistently involved in some sort of goal directed activity together, anything from a family business to some sort of project like a home improvement. The anthropologist may have had a point but he doesn't talk about how much less parents and children interact than they did a couple of generations ago.

And while I think it's lame to try and disguise education as games (if you're sneaky about it your child will learn!), there's nothing wrong with parents devoting time to education and doing so playfully.
posted by BigSky at 7:53 AM on July 24, 2007


This is great news! Playing with kids is really boring.
posted by footnote at 7:54 AM on July 24, 2007


They're also forgetting the psychological benefit for the parents when playing with the kids. Having children is stressful, painful and sometimes depressing. What a relief it is for an adult to sometimes stop their workaday drudgery and just sit and play with someone who loves you unconditionally.

When my kids turn seven or eight, I'm certainly going to miss that.
posted by fungible at 8:00 AM on July 24, 2007


More evidence, less idle speculation, please.

"Play" is actually misunderstood by this anthropologist, which is surprising to me. In virtually every species of mammal, childhood "play" is a preparation for behaviors that will be very serious later in life. Kids do that together, by mimicking adults. In the mostly ancient cultural examples cited, the kids would be within sight of many adults, making that mimicking easy. Not so for many Western kids, for great expanses of their day.

In the West, what modern parenting advice is really trying to get across is the idea that you should spend time with the child, not play. In the platonic ideal of the noble savage tribe woman, she doesn't play with her child, but her children are in her sight just about every hour of every waking day. That's missing for many Western kids.

Finally, change != bad. The anthro gives no evidence that this change toward playing with kids is in any way a problem. He's just relying on the ancient logical fallacy of "it's always been this way, so change must bad, even though I have given no reason why."

Meh.
posted by teece at 8:28 AM on July 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


When my kids turn seven or eight, I'm certainly going to miss that.

Hey, my kid is seven, and she still loves me unconditionally.

Well, most of the time.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:29 AM on July 24, 2007


fungible, my kids still like to play with me, and they're all past 7. It's just that we're building models or tossing a frisbee or making a craft instead of playing with Thomas the Tank or whatever.
posted by Biblio at 8:31 AM on July 24, 2007


Sheesh. Is there anything Americans like to do more than tell other people how to raise their kids?
posted by straight at 8:32 AM on July 24, 2007 [3 favorites]


Your kids are boring as hell and way more annoying than you think. I'm seriously considering a vasectomy!
posted by autodidact at 8:50 AM on July 24, 2007


I wonder what happened with William James Sidis?

Apparently the way he was raised made him one of the most brilliant kids at the time, then he just flipped out as an adult and started obsessively collecting train memorabilia.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:55 AM on July 24, 2007


When I have children I am just going to tell them lots and lots of crazy lies.

Worked for me.

I beliefed corned beef was turtle until I was 12.
posted by Esoquo at 9:16 AM on July 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think some of us are confusing "structured play with the specific purpose of advancing learning" with just, you know, playing with your kid. The article is addressing the first, and a lot of people here are addressing the second.

I'm new to this whole kid thing; my husband has 6, 9 and 13 year old boys who live with us full time and have done so for 2 years. We both work full time and by the time I get home and get dinner and deal with homework (in season), I'm wiped out. On weekends the kids tend to visit grandparents, and until she moved 1,500 miles away to start her new family, their egg donor. When home, they're riding around on their bikes terrorizing the neighborhood, making forts in their rooms with their friends, or camped in front of the computer (the 13 year old, go figure). They don't usually want to play with us, but I can think of a few instances in the last couple of years (Star Wars Monopoly or other board games, and 45 minutes of chasing each other around the house for no particular reason) where we played together or as a family. We don't do "structured play" to teach them things; we teach them all the time, constantly, just by living.

I used to feel guilty that we didn't spend more "fun" time with them, but I don't think they want us to playmates. They want and need us to be parents. My dad used to play Atari (I'm dating myself there) and go sledding with us once in a while, but for the most part, my brother and I were out of the house after breakfast and didn't come back until lunch; then out again, and not back until dinner. We've recently moved into a soulless suburban neighborhood full of ankle-biters, and now our kids do pretty much the same thing. It's good for them, they all know how to read and are doing fine in school, and we're the parents.

I think one of our biggest problems is our tendency to completely over-think every damn thing. Play with them once in a while if you want to, leave them alone to play the rest of the time. Much shorter "article," same message.
posted by jennaratrix at 9:43 AM on July 24, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think this is another place where moderation wins the day. Play with your kids. But definately let them play with peers, alone-ish. Lots of socialization goes on there. And let 'em play on their own too. As an only child, I had a lot of afternoons where it was just me running about my babysitter's property, mucking about and making stuff up. As a result, I feel like I hung on to my imagination more than many of my peers.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:10 AM on July 24, 2007


I'm with Avenger on this one. I will do what I think is best for my child in an information-based society of the 21st century.
posted by Zinger at 10:12 AM on July 24, 2007


We're raising a generation that lacks the ability to amuse themselves or to feel comfortable with their own company. Instead, they continually look outside of themselves for entertainment or stimulation, and are at a loss to know what to do when they aren't amused by parents or whoever.
Who is this "we" of whom you speak?
posted by scrump at 10:13 AM on July 24, 2007


I'm seriously considering a vasectomy!

*clapping enthusiatically*

Good boy!
posted by fungible at 10:39 AM on July 24, 2007


Oh, for heaven's sake!

I got down and played with my kids when they were playing with wooden train tracks and Legos and Imaginext because they were FUN!

I didn't try to show them how to be creative, they had plenty of that already and often made me think in new ways ("this guy is hanging from the rope because that guy shot the train and he fell off and the helicopter guy caught him with the rope and he's going to land on the jail and set the sheep free!").

And I didn't always play with them, because I learned that they needed to be able to amuse themselves.

But I did feel guilty sometimes when I didn't want to play with them, because in a country where a Mom like me could afford to stay home with her kids, it seems a shame not to take advantage of that time by building on the bond between Mother and child.

As for the children in third world countries across the world and their parents? They would change places with us in a second. So screw you, anthropologists. Go mess up your own kids' heads and leave us alone.
posted by misha at 10:54 AM on July 24, 2007 [2 favorites]


straight wrote:
Sheesh. Is there anything Americans like to do more than tell other people how to raise their kids?

Sure! We also like to tell other people how to run their countries.
posted by Songdog at 12:08 PM on July 24, 2007 [4 favorites]


I dunno, I'm of two minds with this article. I chose, when I was pregnant, to quit my insane 80 hour a week career track so that I could stay home with my son when he was born. (Of course, I went batty after a few months and started my own company...because as cute as babies are, they're not terribly good conversationalists.)

I don't think deciding to stay home was a bad decision, and I bless our lucky stars that it was financially feasible, but I can look back at my journal and see how radically our "playtime" has changed as he grows closer and closer to school age.

As an infant, I spent an enormous amount of time interacting with him...as ya do. Because they're cute, and they smell good and they give you that wide eyed adoration that you'll only ever get from a baby. (Note that it doesn't have to be *your* baby...they'll give that same look to a cat...they don't care, babies love everything.)

When he was about one, we played games with letters and colors, but we also played cars and roll the ball, and chase the ducks. (Well, he played chase the ducks, I mostly laughed.)

Now at four, he has a vivid fantasy life and an imagination that staggers me sometimes. Periodically his father or I play a role in his fantasy of the moment, but only when he comes to us and says things like "You'll never defeat me, Darth Momma! I'm Obi Wan!", and I have to then dodge imaginary light sabers.

We play together when I'm doing a painting, and he wants a canvas and paintbrushes, which I'm more than willing to give him. Canvas and paint are cheap, and some of his paintings are so good that I've got them framed and up in the house. (Not in that weird "Look what my kid can do" way, but mixed in with other art on the walls so that he can see himself next to a Seuss and a Pollock. )

We play together when I cook, and he reads the recipe and does the math to figure out fractional measuring and volumes. We play together when I take him to the zillions of museums around here, which he loves. He can tell you a mind numbing amount of details about every dinosaur in the dino musuem, but he can also tell you how a gravity well works at the science museum, or how crops go from seeds to grocery store at the farm museum, and his interpretation of what artists were thinking when they created masterpieces is mind blowing when we go to the MoMA or galleries. (He once said James O'Barr "I'm sorry you're so sad." And O'Barr said "Why do you think I'm sad?" and Boy said "Well, your paintings make me feel sad, so you must have been sad when you painted them." He's very tuned in to what art means to him.)

Do I get down on the floor with him and play blocks? Not very often. I will if he invites me, but I don't invade his play area without express invitation, just as he's not allowed in my soap studio unless I give him express permission.

And we do academic stuff, like practicing writing and reading and basic math and grammar and whatnot, but I don't disguise it as play. It can be fun, mind you, but I don't try to pretend that it's playtime. He gets a small allowance in return for fulfilling certain requirements; feed his critter, clear his own place after meals, set the table, do his letters and words, brush his teeth without being reminded a zillion times, keep his toys out of the pathways. ( I don't expect him to keep things organized...just out of my way.)

All in all, I've throughly enjoyed my "playtime" with my son, and it is with some sadness that I'll put him in an academic PreK this fall, but a he needs the interactions of other kids. And frankly, after almost 5 years, Mommy could use some time alone. ;)
posted by dejah420 at 7:17 AM on July 25, 2007


"structured play with the specific purpose of advancing learning"

That sounds like a good way to get your kid to hate playing with you and learning in general.

When I have children I am just going to tell them lots and lots of crazy lies.

When my daughter asked me who Karl Marx was, I told her he was one of the Marx brothers but was never in movies.

Years later she was in a high school history class that was plagued by smart-aleck students. The angry teacher had enough and did a three minute harangue about flippant answers. Then she asked "Who was Karl Marx?"

The only time my daughter ever was sent to the office.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 8:19 AM on July 26, 2007


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