“Should Parents Check Their Text Messages at the Movies?” and Similar 2010 Parenting Questions

In the past 24 hours, I’ve found myself confronted with two parenting questions that weren’t questions when I was the same age as my kids.  And they got me thinking.

Last night, Mrs. Spidey told me that a few parents of our kids’ summer camp mates had complained that not enough photos were posted on the camp’s website.  Being a bit more old school, I thought about the years I went to summer camp (1974-1981), during which the only contact with the outside world was USPS mail that came once a day.  I saw and talked to my parents at visiting day halfway through my 8 weeks at camp.  No one ever asked “How come there aren’t more photos on the camp website?”

Then earlier today, on the Japers’ Rink Off-Topic Thread, one of the regulars sent through a note from inside a movie theater telling that he had made it in before the movie started.  He was criticized (nicely) for texting from inside the theater.  I agreed, but I noted that I was torn as a parent, because one of my kids might be texting because they were hurt or locked out of the house.  When I posted that thought several jumped in a said I was wrong and pointed out that before texting parents went to movies and the world didn’t end.  “Should parents check their text messages at the movies?” wasn’t asked back in the day.

The reason these questions are relevant and get asked is because times have changed and our expectations have changed along with them.  In 1976, my parents couldn’t get photos of me at camp.  They didn’t even think to ask “How come I can’t see my kid more often?”  In 1980, parents couldn’t be reached inside a movie theater unless you called the theater itself.  Expectations have changed and new questions get asked.  Just because we were satisfied the way things were, doesn’t mean we should be satisfied keeping things that way.

I came up with five other 2010 parenting questions to consider that fall into the same bucket:

  1. Why did you get an 88 on your test today? With immediate online grade posting, we parents are more informed than ever.  Our parents learned of grades only when we brought tests home.
  2. Why does it take so long for your teacher to respond to my email? Our parents communicated with teachers twice a year at parent-teacher conferences.
  3. What store should Aunt Jenny get you a gift card from for your birthday? Gift cards have replaced cash and checks as presents.
  4. Why doesn’t little Bobby going to the library to do research? The Internet has ended the practice of going to the library to meet girls for research.  It is faster and more convenient.
  5. Why didn’t you tell me you were going from the mall to Taco Bell? Kids who are old enough to go to the mall, usually have a phone and can text or call.

In all five of these examples, there is an understanding that expectations have changed from the past.  I distinguish this from other questions such as “Why isn’t little Susie buckled into her car seat?”  Yes, we all survived no car seat or a flimsy car seat, but that doesn’t mean someone would argue it’s OK to keep Susie out of her car seat.

However, I can easily see someone who thinks it was “good enough” back in the day and answers back:

  1. You really need to check your kid’s grades online every day?  When my kids were young we kept track of his test scores, but we’re OK not knowing their final grade until we got the report card.
  2. Why should the teacher respond to you so quickly?  They have parent-teacher conferences, don’t they?
  3. Isn’t it easier for Aunt Jenny just to send a check?
  4. Learning how to do library research is a critical skill.  Don’t let Bobby take the easy way out with the Internet.
  5. You don’t need to know where he is always.  What did you do before mobile phones?

All these responses are true.  But they are based in an earlier reality.  To tell me that I don’t need to talk to the teacher between parent-teacher conferences ignores the fact that using email or voice mail makes the communications easier and faster.  I can communicate with teachers outside of conferences, because I can.  Why shouldn’t I?  Didn’t my parents want to know more about my education?  Sure they did, but it just wasn’t done.  Well – it is done now.

So when I hear from a fellow Japers’ Rink poster that I should check not my text messages during a movie ever, I respectfully disagree.  I check because I can. I don’t have to wait until I get home to find out there is a problem, so I don’t.  If the momentary flash of light bothers you, I apologize.  I will not write texts or get on the phone during a movie.  If I need to do either, I’ll stand up and walk out.

I’m not living in 1980.  This is 2010, and I check to see if my child needs me because I can.


Pledging to Be the “Right” Parent of a High School Athlete

Just over a month ago, I posted somewhat of a diatribe about how poorly the high school ice hockey league in the St. Louis metro area is run. I’m sad to say that the issue did not resolve itself as I had hoped.

In the end, my son’s public high school will not be able to field an ice hockey team for the 2010-2011 season. Instead of allowing us to merge his school’s program with another from a nearby school, the adults that manage the league want to disperse the kids to other teams via a draft or the equivalent of free agency.

The dispute I and other parents have with the Mid States Hockey Association is a bit political.  It’s two sides with different opinions, both of which seem logical to the holder of the opinions.  I won’t rehash the argument here.  Like many political arguments, the dispute is not, at this point, resolvable.

I am able to justify the blog post and a couple of widely broadcast emails because I believe I was doing what I needed to do as a parent to support my child.  Upon reflection, however, I suspect some other parents or the leaders of Mid States didn’t perceive my actions in the same way.  I wonder if others thought I was lobbying for my son in a way that put my son above the others because my son is “special.”  That’s certainly not what I intend.  I never want to become that ugly parent of an athlete that clearly thinks his child is above everyone else.  I want to be known as a supportive, fair parent, who encourages his son to play to the best of his ability.

I pledge to be the “right” parent.  Specifically:

  1. I will make sure that my son attends every practice and every game, except for illnesses or for schoolwork problems.
  2. I will attend every game that does not conflict with other family obligations or business trips out of town.  If I cannot attend, my wife will do her best to attend.
  3. I will support the coaches’ decisions when my son complains and encourage him to raise any concerns to the coaches and not to me or his mom.
  4. I pledge not to talk to my son or yell at my son to do something in the middle of the game.
  5. I will allow the coaches to make their own strategic decisions, playing time decisions, and playing position decisions.
  6. If I want to talk with the coach, I will do so privately, but not within 24 hours after the end of a game.  This will give me time to reconsider or calm down, if I am frustrated.
  7. I will not talk negatively about my son’s teammates’ abilities.
  8. I will not denigrate the opponents loudly during the game.
  9. I will volunteer to assist the team in score-keeping, fund-raising or other role.
  10. I will make sure that all fees we owe for the team are paid.

Are these the right things to focus on?  Tell me what you think.

Does it make sense to list out these things and have all the parents sign a pledge?  Personally, I think so.

What I Learned from Summer Camp

Yesterday at lunch time, my wife and I dragged trunks, backpacks and duffel bags to the JCC here in St. Louis and saw our kids board buses taking them to four-weeks of sleep-away summer camp.  This is my son’s eighth year and my daughter’s fifth.

Where All This Learning Occurred

Our children are carrying on a tradition from their parents and some of their grandparents.  My wife and her mother both went to sleep-away camp.  My dad and I did as well.  I hope some day that my grandchildren will continue the experience.

I went to summer camp from 1974 through 1981, seven of them at Camp Ramblewood located on the Susquehanna River in Darlington, Maryland.  There are some great movies that portray some real aspects of summer camp:  Meatballs, Little Darlings, Wet Hot American Summer, Friday the 13th, and Parent Trap (which is drilled into my subconscious thanks to my daughter).  Ok – maybe Friday the 13th wasn’t based on reality.

We all learned something from those movies, but here are the top 10 things I learned from my eight years of summer camp:

10.  I learned that if you put a normal aerosol top on shaving cream, it creates a fine stream of shaving cream that is perfect for fights.

9.    I learned that it’s possible to stick a fork through your own ear lobe.  This kid named Jeffrey did it one day at lunch, when he impaled himself accidentally while leaning down to pick something up under the table.

Gimp: Does This Exist Outside of Summer Camp?

8.    I learned how create a rat-tail from a towel and put welts on others with a “snap.”  This would have been of great use, had I been cast in Porky’s, but that’s about it.

7.    I learned how to make bracelets out of gimp – in multiple stitches no less.  In the politically correct 21st century, I’m told this is now called “lanyard.”  Does gimp exist anywhere else but summer camp?

6.    I learned how to go commando (and that I didn’t care for it) when Camp Ramblewood lost all my underwear in the laundry in eight weeks.  I can still hear my mother on the phone to camp wondering how a 7-year-old kid can lose all his underwear.

5.    I learned how to do a lot of stuff that I had no opportunity to do elsewhere and have barely done since:  water skiing, riflery, archery, and horseback riding.  I know I haven’t shot a gun since 1981.

4.    I learned how to gamble.  I still owe my friend David Gildenhorn in excess of $2M from a rigged gin rummy game.  How did I ever agree to a progressive game of double or half?  Didn’t I realize I’d never end the debt?

3.    I learned that puppy dog eyes and a mumbled “I have a headache” led to TLC from the attractive infirmary nurse.  (That only worked once a summer, but helped later in life in my social life.)

2.    I learned all there is to know about the birds and the bees.  Conversations with mom & dad?  Nope.  Learn something new in 6th grade health?  No.

1.    I learned independence.  This is important.  Because of summer camp, I easily made the transition to being away from home for college and moving out after graduation.

I’ll add one thing in closing.  I also learned about the ebb and flow of life, about the highs and the lows by going to summer camp.

You see, after first-year jitters in 1974, I eagerly looked forward to camp every year.  I saw the same people from Baltimore, from Philadelphia, and from Cherry Hill, New Jersey each year and went with my friends from D.C.  After 7 years at Camp Ramblewood, I knew the place, the ins, the outs, the rules and how to break them.  Everyone knew me.  Then, in August 1980, just a few weeks after returning from camp, we got a letter in the mail telling us that Camp Ramblewood was closing.  Some of us went to another camp the following year, but it wasn’t the same.  Camp Ramblewood open again a few years later, but is now a corporate retreat.  Bummer.

Perhaps that disappointment makes the memories fonder.  I don’t know.  I do know that I’d go again in a heartbeat, if I could.

Parents, Kids, and Concerts – The Cycle Continues

Last week, I wrote my Tuesday Family post about being embarrassed when I called the band 311 “Three-One-One” and not “Three-Eleven.”  This week, my son attended the 311 concert, and the event triggered yet another moment where I became my parents, even if just for an instant.

The 311 concert, which also included the bands Offspring and Pepper, took place this past Friday at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, a spring/summer outdoor venue near St. Louis where you can get reserved seats or you can sit on the “lawn,” which in this case is simply a very large hill.  My wife purchased 8 tickets for my son and his friends for his birthday, as he turns 15 in less than a week.  (Before you think “wow, that’s an expensive party,” you should know there were price breaks on four-ticket blocks.)

Concerts -- From Dad in 1981 . . .

This wasn’t the first concert our son attended.  In 2008 and 2009, he attended something called “Pointfest,” which is a day/evening long concert event sponsored by 105.7 The Point, a local radio station, at the same Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. Both those times, however, a parents of one of his friends spent the day at the concert as a sort of chaperon.  I also took him and two friends to see AC/DC at the Scottrade Center in early 2009.  This time, however, he was going without a chaperon, and that was a bit scary for me.

Going to a concert without a chaperon is certainly not a major milestone in one’s life, such as a bar mitzvah, graduation or driver’s license, but it did cause me to pause to recall my own concert history.  While in high school, I saw Bruce Springsteen twice (The River and then Born in the USA), The Rolling Stones Tattoo You tour, and The Who (1st farewell tour!!).  I also will admit to seeing Journey and The Cars.  All of these concerts were in the old Capital Centre outside Washington, D.C., and none were attended by my parents.

So, as my wife and I sped away after dropping off my son and friends, I had three thoughts.  First, I wondered, “What type of crazy music is this?”  Second, I thought, “Drug dealers are going to descend upon him.”  Third, I realized, “God, I’ve become my parents yet again.”

I really didn’t want to be negative about my son’s music tastes.  His tastes don’t have to mimic mine.  Never mind that I had never heard of 311 or Offspring (again – see last week’s post).  The rosters of the two Pointfests he attended were rife with bands that I had never heard of.  In May 2008, the headliners were Serj Tankian, Shinedown, Killswitch Engage and Filter.  In May 2009, the headliners were Seether, Shinedown (again!), Puddle of Mudd, Bullet for My Valentine, and Apocalyptica.  For me, these don’t have the same cache as Bruce Springsteen or The Who.  At least my parents knew who they were when I attended those bands’ concerts.

. . . to Son in 2010

But, in doing research for this post, I also looked at the roster for the first Pointfest in 1993.   Bands I know played:  They Might Be Giants, Midnight Oil, and Aimee Mann (from ‘Til Tuesday).  In 1994, the Violent Femmes and the Smithereens played.  (Wait!  I have their albums.)   The Ramones played in 1995, and Cheap Trick played in 1996.  Most interesting, however, is that 311 played Pointfest in 1994, 1996 and 2000.  I may not know 311 or their music, but there isn’t be any question that they have a following and some staying power.

I decided not to make any assumptions based on ignorance.  I had visions of my grandparents making similar judgments about Elvis or the Beatles.

As far at the drug dealers, I had some legitimate concerns.  In my concert-going days, I had experienced witnessed joints being passed up and down rows.  Then at the AC/DC concert, two guys in front of us lit up what smelled like pot (or so I’m told).   I really didn’t know what to expect last weekend.  This became one of those moments of trust, where, as a parent, you have to assume that you’ve raised your kids well.  I guess my folks trusted me.

Sure enough, when we returned to pick up the kids four hours later, I picked up the scent of pot (or what I’m told is the scent) in the parking lot as we waited.  Our son and his friends emerged and looked no worse for wear.  They were tired and a bit deaf, but not the least bit under the influence of anything.

So the cycle of concerts began anew – from the Stones to the Who to Bruce Springsteen to . . . 311 and the Offspring?  Maybe so.

It’s Not Three-One-One. It’s Three-Eleven. Who Knew?

I hit an important milestone as a father last week.  It was inevitable, but I was trying to hold it off as long as I could.

As of last week, I am officially and completely out of touch with the music my son listens to, so much so, that I embarrassed myself in front of his friends.

The Band 311

My wife and I bought tickets for our son and friends to attend a concert for his birthday.  Last week, I was driving my son and his friends somewhere (probably to the mall).  Trying to make conversation and trying to show I was cool, I said, “So, you guys are going to see Offspring and Three-One-One next week, right?”

The next thing I know is there is snickering in the back seat, and my son turns to me from the passenger seat and says calmly, “Dad, it’s Three-Eleven.”

How was I supposed to know that the band 311 isn’t Three-One-One, but Three-Eleven?  Couldn’t it have been Three-Hundred-Eleven just as easily?

This had never happened before.  There are no such pronunciation issues with Offspring or Avenged Sevenfold or System of a Down or Gogol Bordello.  There are spelling issues with bands such as Gorillaz, but I never really write these band names down.  There are also odd moments, such as when I asked my son if he knows who Nikolai Gogol was.  No idea of course.

This scene of “dad-trying-to-be-cool-embarrassment” repeats itself generation after generation.  The other night Jay Leno explained how his dad always talked about “The Rolling Beatles.”  Parents of my generation often referred to “Earth, Fire and Wind” or “REO Stationwagon” and were thoroughly confused by the Who, the Guess Who, and Yes.

The closest thing to my gaffe that I recall was when a parent pronounced R.E.M. as one word that rhymes with hem and gem and them.

Led Zeppelin IV

Within days of this happening, however, my son helped me forget my naming mistake and made me very proud.  He came bounding up from our newly renovated basement and said, “Dad, I just played Led Zeppelin through the new speakers on one of your records.  Stairway to Heaven is beast mode.”

That’s right – beast mode.  That’s a very positive comment.  Trust me.  I almost cried.

Hey Kids!! Your Parents Know. We Just Don’t Say Anything.

Headline for all the children out there – most of what you think you are getting away with, your parents know.  How do they know?  They were once kids themselves.  They know how to get away with stuff, because they once did (or think they did). They may not say anything to you, but that’s part of what a parent does.

As my kids have gotten older and into ages that I remember reasonably clearly, I’ve tried to use my experience in my parenting.  I try to reflect back to put myself in their shoes.  Seems logical, right?  I figure, if I can think like them, then I can determine what to say to get them to understand my teachings.

However, when I think back to being 15, as my son is now, and think about what I was like then, I am afraid.  Someone once told me that it’s a miracle 50% of teenage boys survive adolescent stupidity, and I tend to agree.  However, I now know that I need to get over every little thing and move on, like, I presume, my parents did when I was 15.  And look!  I’m now 43.

I’d like to believe that I was a normal teenager in the mischievous department.  I ate candy and other sugars after I was told not to.  I stayed up later than I told my parents and, far too infrequently in retrospect, stayed out later than I was supposed to.  I “borrowed” money from my parents, usually in $20 increments, always intending to tell them later, but forgetting.  I experimented with cigarettes, also “borrowed” out of my mom’s purse, although I never intended to return those.  I may have, from time to time, told them I was going one place, really intending to go someplace else.  I’m sure there are other things that I’m forgetting.

I used to wonder how my parents never knew $20 was missing and how they never heard me walking on the wooden floor of our old house and how they never noticed that the bag of Halloween candy was lighter than the night before, even though I was banned from eating any more.  Now that my kids are older, I know the answer:  my parents probably always knew, but they never said anything.  They had a “forest-for-the-trees” mentality, which was about teaching us right from wrong, but not assuming we could be good 100% of the time.  It was a measured approach.

My wife and I are doing the same thing.  I know that my wife and I know more about what our kids do than they think we know. They just don’t know that we know, just as I didn’t know that my parents knew.  (Still with me?)

Headlines for the kids again — We know when you don’t go where you tell us you are going.  We know when you don’t wear your helmet when biking or rollerblading.  We know when homework isn’t done.  We know when you play video games all night when you should be sleeping.  We know whether you practiced the piano or not.  When we know you are fibbing about something, but we don’t always make a big deal.  When know when our wallets seem light and when the television is on an odd channel and the web browser is on an inappropriate site.  We just don’t always demand to know what happened.  We have fallen into the same measured approach.  Not everything can be World War III.

What worries (scares?) me as a parent, which I’m sure worried (scared?) my parents and my in-laws, is that we parents can’t possibly know everything.  The best we can do is teach right from wrong and choose when to intervene.  Our only option is to use what we know to the best of our ability and not worry about each and every decision they make at each and every moment.  That’s the right thing to do.

But wouldn’t GPS chips in our kids’ arms be really cool?

You Heard Me. No TV Limits for My Kids.

When I came home from work last night, both kids were home, but I didn’t see them or hear from them for about 90 minutes.   Neither moved during those 90 minutes from the televisions they were watching.  I have no idea what they were watching, but I’m sure it was incredibly inane, like The Suite Life on Disney, to which my daughter has a season pass on our DVR.

Like most parents, my wife and I have struggled and still struggle with the amount of time that 12-year-old daughter and our 15-year-old son spend watching television.  I think we struggle with it not because it’s a problem, but because we’re supposed to struggle.  It is drummed into our heads that watching television should be limited — unless it’s PBS or Discovery Network or something like that and unless it’s only in small amount per day.  As Dana Carvey’s George Bush would say “It’s bad.  It’s bad.”

Was I upset by my kids not moving?  Not really.  In our house, we don’t limit television watching.

Queue the pundits to say we’re bad parents.

I beg to differ, so I decided to look into this problem.  The more I looked at the information, the more comfortable I am with no limit.  Those preaching television limits are, in my opinion, using television data as a way to say we’re bad parents because they can’t find anything else to complain about.  Limiting television isn’t a solution.  Increasing time studying, playing sports or volunteering is.

I did some quick research on television viewing at lunch time today.  I found out that, on average, there are more televisions per household (2.93) than there are people per household (2.54). In the Spidey household, we have an embarrassing seven televisions and three computers on which programs can be watched.  All of our televisions also have DVRs, allowing us to watch what we want, when we want.  The phrase “there’s nothing on” hasn’t been said in our house since the first Tivo came out in 1999.

So – if television watching by children is crime, my wife and I have certainly created the opportunity for our kids.  A motive is needed to complete the supposed crime.

My motive in not limiting television is very simple.  I think kids need downtime.  Instead of limiting television, my wife and I make sure that other activities are done first.  They must keep up grades in school.  They need to get their physical activity.  They have to take a musical instrument.  We make sure they are socializing with friends.  I hope to find a charity for us to support as a family at the end of the summer.  Rather than focus on limiting the negative of television, I prefer to focus on increasing the positive of other things.

To the pundits, I say –

  • Don’t tell me how much television the average child watches per week (1,680 according to Nielsen).  Tell me instead how much time they spend on homework, and let’s work to increase that.
  • While you are looking at those 1,680 hours, tell me more what they’re watching and whether any of it is as a family.  There is a lot of good happening on television.
  • Don’t publish study after study on the TV’s effects on children (4,000 so far).  Study instead the best way to motivate children to be good students or get enough physical exercise.
  • Don’t tell me that unhappy people watch more television as a way to say we shouldn’t watch television.  Study instead why these people are unhappy and how we might help them.

What was really going on last night in the Spidey home?  My son was watching TV after 4 hours of summer school (he has an A in both classes) and then an afternoon outside in the heat with his friends.  My daughter was exhausted after a sleepover the night before followed by cheerleading practice in the afternoon and couldn’t really move of the couch.  I have no problem with them sitting there like lumps periodically.  When our kids have accomplished what they need to each day, it’s their right to veg in front of the television.  If that’s more than 1,680 hours per week, I’m good.

Limit television?  Back to Mr. Carvey’s President Bush — “Not gonna do it.”