The Mollycoddlers: Will the kids really be all right?
What have we done to the kids?
Look around. You can tell by what isn’t there. How many kids run lemonade stands? Paper routes? Build playgrounds on vacant lots? Not lately, that’s for sure. So is the innovation and energy of youth simply dormant or is it being actively stifled?
A more common sight is the endless wave of cars arriving and departing whatever custom sportsfield or training facility is currently in session. Thousands of precious dolls, all chauffeured to and fro, from piano to soccer to tennis to swimming to art and then home again, existing on daily schedules that would tax most heads of state. And don’t forget that godforsaken abomination known as the “play date.” How parents can so willingly act as friendship pimps just to maintain a dash of human contact between their regular yoga blocks and bi-weekly espresso cleanse is beyond me.
Nothing is left to chance. At every turn our kids are managed and directed. Coaches, organizers, officials and instructors - always an adult – always someone to take the blame if Jane or Johnny sprain, break or lose anything at all. Go here. Do this. Jump over that. Free play is discouraged and order and routine are worshipped beyond all reason as we pay thousands to ensure our heirs acquire at least a modicum of perspiration in otherwise sedentary lives. How in the hell these dandies are ever going to look after us when we get old is the $64,000 question. It’s no wonder I have nightmares about the creeping acceptance of euthanasia.
So you can see why my mouth would hang open as I watched a recent ad by an enterprising Taiwanese bank. Formally known as The Thai Military Bank, TMB is one of the largest retail banks in all of Thailand. It was originally established to provide financial services to military personnel and their families, but now serves all customers. Anyway, they decided they wanted to do some inspirational advertising but realized that the providing of loans and opening of bank accounts might not exactly fit the bill. So instead, they focused on a local story that is about as amazingly inspirational as you can get. And it features kids – doing something that used to be very familiar.
The commercial takes the form of a short documentary. Back in 1986, a group of neighborhood boys watched that year’s World Cup of soccer from Mexico. As play went on they got so excited that they decided they wanted to form their own soccer team and play matches. But they had a unique problem. Their home was the island of Koh Panyee in the South of Thailand and their floating fishing village literally clings to a rocky outcrop stuck into the middle of the sea. There was absolutely nowhere to play a game like soccer at all.
Still, armed with nothing more than innocent desire and youthful energy these kids went and collected scrap lumber and whatnot every day after school for weeks. Slowly, they began constructing a floating soccer pitch. Using every spare moment they had, these kids assembled their own personal field of dreams. And when they finished – they played soccer, a lot.
The story follows them as they enter a tournament and proceed to realize the unique challenges they faced and dedications they endured led to them being far better than they even realized. The story even features a sort of Hollywood ending in that the Koh Panyee FC they founded went on to become one of the most dominant teams in the entire Thai league.
Today the village has a much more professionally constructed floating pitch that would appear well-used. But as nice as it is to see new kids coming along and having such a nice place to play and learn I can’t help but wonder how much they’re missing out on by not having their own mountains to climb.
When I hear folks (like me) complain about the state of youth today I know in my heart there is no one to blame but us. In our bizarre quest for earthly perfection we have wilfully sanitized the everyday almost beyond recognition. Ridiculously baby-proofed homes, over-the-top hyper-safe playgrounds, insanely organized lives and too-far-reaching plans. We then complete the crime by reflexively banishing our now-grown children to universities that seem to offer little more than a hands-on destruction of the free thought and unapproved ideas that once sprouted from their otherwise untutored minds. Is it really too late? Can the children actually be saved? Maybe we should be letting them play in the traffic after all.