Child #1 is in seventh grade. His school (my old school) gives a lot of homework and aggressively pushes writing. Good.
He has access to computers at home, but we think it would be helpful for him to have something he can use to work on assignments.
We're contemplating a Microsoft Surface. The original one is way down in price now that the new ones have come out. He doesn't need the latest and greatest apps. We're looking for something portable that he can use for word processing.
My eldest is about to start seventh grade at my old school. He now has his mother's used iPhone, and texts quite a bit.
We monitor internet use on the phone (we have a program that sends a weekly email — he's gotten busted for watching YouTube after lights out, but not for content), and reserve a right to review his email and texts. My wife exercises this right — the boy ducks his head and rushes from the room, embarrassed, probably because he's texting a few girls and has started to realize they're flirting with him.
So: how much do you monitor tech usage by that age group? After this question, I will go back to decrying the NSA.
A quick bleg: has anyone put a kid through a school-based language immersion program, particularly at the elementary level? If so, can you post your impressions of it, or drop me a line?
We may have an opportunity to put dear little Elaina, Destroyer of Worlds into a Mandarin immersion program at an elementary school two districts over. It would involve sacrifice (it's a drive, and she'd miss our community's elementary school, in which we are very involved). But on the other hand, it's an incredible opportunity to become bilingual in a language of growing importance and to connect with her cultural heritage.
Yesterday my eight-year-old daughter schooled my sorry ass at Mario Kart Wii. She did so even though her strategy mostly involved deliberately crashing into hazards. The word "pwnage" was invoked. By her. Against me.
That's what my life is like now.
Evan's already a dedicated gamer. Abby's less hardcore, but with a family with so many gamers, she's bound to become one. But her experience will be different than Evan's, or mine. That's because she's a girl.
To illustrate what difference that makes, I offer you two sites: Fat, Ugly, Or Slutty, a blog that collects the sort of messages that women get online (as well as the sort of hate mail sent by people upset that women are collecting and posting such things), and Go Make Me A Sandwich, a blog that explores how women are depicted in gaming art, particularly fantasy gaming art (and, again, exploring how certain men react to anyone talking about such things).
So that's what Abby is looking at. Fortunately she's strong enough to handle it.
When I was a kid, summer was a magical time of freedom. I'd lurch out of the house rubbing my eyes with the birdsong at dawn and not return until dinner, filthy and tired and delirious with possibilities fulfilled. My parents would have a basic idea where I was — going to Eric's or Brian's (to start, at least) or to the movies — but they would not know with a GPS-anklet level of specificity. I walked through wild chaparral canyons and hills to friends' houses, rode my bike to the little one-screen movie house and ice cream shop miles away in Montrose, and roamed the horse trails of Flintridge, dodging piles of horse crap and playing militaristic versions of Calvinball with hooting friends. Physical activity that made me whine during the school year (like walking uphill a mile and a half to get home, alone, from first grade on) suddenly was all part of the fun. I might occasionally check in with mom by phone, as a courtesy, but in the days before message machines or call-waiting or cell phones, who could blame me if there were great, sprawling blocks of time when I was untraceable?
Now, of course, I'm a parent of young kids, living just a couple of miles from where I grew up. Would I let them roam the hills I grew up in unsupervised? Would I let them flit from one friend's house to the next, unscheduled, driven by whim and by whose Atari was working that week? Would I let them ride their bikes a mile to the boulevard for a candy bar? Hell no. Because I have caved fully and completely to the relentless message of the media, the government, and the people-who-know-such-things: my children are on constant peril.
I'm dwelling on this sad fact this week because of this maddening story over at Free Range Kids, the excellent site I first mentioned three years ago. Blogger Lenore Skenazy describes how a mother was admonished by police that letting her kids play in the neighborhood the way I used to play — indeed, the way kids have played since before anyone could remember — is illegal:
Dear Free-Range Kids: Our kids have always been “Free -Range.” Unfortunately, today, someone called the police because of the “unsupervised children” running around the neighborhood. My son is six (seven in September), and we allow him to ride his bike to friend’s houses up the street (we live in a small, three-street neighborhood far from any major roads), rollerblade down the road, play with friends in the little patch of woods across the street from our houses, play in sprinklers with the neighbors, etc. There are constantly kids running around our neighborhood, playing with their friends — kids of all ages.
The officer said that kids under ten, by law, are not allowed outside, unsupervised except in their parents’ yard. The officer did not come to our house, but visited the mom of two of my son’s good friends. The people who called reported that all the way back in the winter, a “whole bunch of unsupervised kids were sled riding down the hill” that is across from our townhouse units.
This cop might be all wet about the laws of his state or locality. But the sentiment he expresses — which would have been reviled and regarded as un-American fifty or even thirty years ago — is now mainstream. The media pummels us with stories about children in peril. Politicians snatch low-hanging fruit by demanding more and more and more laws protecting children. Schools and other institutions, rocked by frivolous lawsuits and by the collapse of personal responsibility, ban anything that might lead our little special snowflakes to skin their knees. And so we fear — and we deny our kids the sort of freedoms that we enjoyed.
Our fears are largely spectral — or, at least, vastly exaggerated. We're led to believe that every shrub hides a lurking child molester. Yet all reliable statistics indicate that such crimes against children have steadily declined (not to mention the fact that children have always been at greatest risk for abuse at home, not running around in the wild). Morons driving badly are still a danger, but not more to kids than to adults, and not more now (when they are distracted by texting) than they were back in the day (when they were distract by jamming the 8-Track into the player). Our parents weren't careless, nor were they made of more fearless stuff — they simply weren't bombarded with the daily message of danger, danger, danger. If the Leave It To Beaver/Norman Rockwell vision of America glossed over many ugly truths, at least it did not send the insidious message that little Cindy and Bobby would be kidnapped if they rode to the park and decapitated if they used an off-brand pool toy.
Why should you care? Well, you should care because the danger danger danger drumbeat and our capitulation to it is part of the process of making us more dependent upon the government, more subservient to authority, more willing to let the state use kids as an excuse to tell us what do to in an increasingly wide and unprincipled array of circumstances. Accepting that kids' lives must be heavily structured normalizes the idea that all of our lives must be structures. And it's self-sustaining. We crank and rant about youth being the slackoisie, but can you really blame them? Kids raised in the whiffle life are taught dependence and fear, not self-reliance and self-assurance. Do you think those kids are going to grow up and vote for more personal freedom and liberty when you're an old crank? Or are they going to look to the Nanny State, lovingly embodied by their own dear parents, to tell everyone what to do, just as it has always told them? Can you expect them to respect your desire to wander where and how you please, when they've always been taught they mustn't do that because it's dangerous? Sure. Good luck with that.
Now excuse me — my kid has a scheduled playdate.
Edit: Forgot to note that the Free Range Kids story was courtesy of Walter Olson.
The recently and awesomely re-launched blog Nobody's Business has a couple of posts addressing a core nanny-state issue from a couple of angles: the problem of children.
I'm talking about the problem that children bring out our most authoritarian impulses. Children take our theoretical devotion to liberty and reduce it to a practical appetite for Mrs. Grundyism and micromanagement. Children are the bloody shirt waved by the most enthusiastic and controlling nannies amongst us. I've just created a new tag — Think of the Children! — to aggregate all of our posts discussing how real and imagined threats to children lead us to tolerate intrusions into their lives and ours. (I also retroactively applied the tag to appropriate past posts. I need a drink now.)
Nobody's Business has two important posts touching on this phenomenon.
First, Rick Horowitz talks about how eager we are to judge parents — and involve the government — when we conclude, based on limited information, that parents are not doing a good enough job of watching their kids. If you've ever been on a mommy blog or an adoption blog or a parenting blog, you've seen it: someone tells a story about seeing neighbor kids out late unsupervised, and suddenly the thread is full of people telling the storyteller to call Child Protective Services — as if that's rational based on the information presented, as if a call to Child Protective Services is likely to work to the benefit of the children. This goes to an ethos that is at the heart of why we allow our fellow citizens to use kids as excuses to violate everyone's rights: people who are lovely, open-minded, and un-judgmental about other issues are often judgmental assholes about parenting. That's how citizens of a free society can talk themselves into using laws, or lawsuits, to micromanage everyone else's parenting: because many people think that everybody but them sucks as a parent.
Second, Mark took apart economist Steven Levitt's "daughter test" — the admission that in considering what society should criminalize something, he thinks about whether he'd want his daughter to do that thing. As Mark suggests, Levitt's sin is being too honest — he admits to what too many citizens are secretly thinking. We want the state to parent for us — to forbid things we don't want our kids to do. We want the state to step in to parent other people's kids as well, because — as established above — we secretly think those people suck as parents.
I was completely unprepared for how powerfully I would love my kids, so I sympathize with the tendency of kids to impair our capacity for rational thought and lead us astray from our ideals. But as Rick suggests, we have to stay strong for their sake — ultimately they won't thank us if we chain ourselves, and them, out of fear and for their putative own good.
Edited to add: Fixed messed-up links. Sorry.
Me: . . . Hi.
Spouse: How did Elaina do when you took her to school this morning?
Me: The first thing I want to point out is that it's not my fault.
Spouse: . . .
Me: I mean fine, really, at a fundamental level, I'd argue.
Spouse: What happened?
Me: Nothing too bad.
Spouse: . . .
Me: Let me just point out that it was somewhat chaotic after you left early this morning. What with the bickering, and the guinea pigs out, and me yelling at Abby to put the guinea pigs back, and Evan whining about something, and Elaina shrieking for no particular reason.
Spouse: Of course.
Me: Anyway, they all got to where they were supposed to be, and that's the main issue.
Spouse: What. Happened.
Me: Well, I did check to make sure Elaina's hair was reasonably well held together with barrettes.
Spouse: Yes . . .
Me: But somehow, in the confusion, with the guinea pigs and the screaming and thus and such, she snuck into the bathroom, took out the barrettes, and put about twelve bobby pins in there.
Spouse: Bobby pins.
Spouse: The devil child is on the loose with twelve bobby pins.
Me: Well, the good news is that I don't think the teachers will focus on the bobby pins.
Spouse: . . . . [very small voice] . . . why?
Me: Because of the cream cheese.
Spouse: . . .
Me: Yeah, uh, apparently she got some cream cheese into her hair this morning and I didn't notice until I got her to school.
Spouse: Cream cheese.
Me: Yeah. I tried to get it out. To the best of my hairstyling ability. It's not in clumps any more. It's more like highlights.
Spouse: Did the teachers see it?
Me: Well, they're still checking every kid for lice when they come in because of that outbreak last week, so I sort of assume so. I left before they said anything.
Spouse: . . .
Me: So, how's your day going?
So our third kid, Shiva the Destroyer of Worlds, who is 3.5, has been chewing her fingertips (not her nails, the fingertips themselves) to the point they are often raw and chapped and torn and even bleeding.
This isn't even during a month when we've been withholding food to promote discipline. She destroys all obstacles to her will without apparent effort, and I had her removed from that Obama Death Panel, so it's probably not stress.
Has anyone else dealt with this particular bad habit in a kid? Can anyone suggest a remedy (like that foul-tasting stuff you put on fingers, or thumbs, to prevent thumb-sucking) that works? We can always break out the Skinner box, but I'm hoping for something that takes less effort. Thanks!
I can write what is, all humility aside, the most effing brilliant post about federalism or free speech principles or some arcane point of law that has ever been blogged. It will take me hours of research and writing and thought.
But the traffic and links for that post will never, ever approach what we get for one of my "LOL my kids is funny" posts that took me five minutes of whimsy.
And that, in turn, will never get the traffic that we get every.single.freaking.day. from image search engines just because I labeled a picture of Dora the Explorer as Dora the Explorer in a throwaway post. [God, I hope those searchers are all little kids. Really I do.]
So I've decided that the blog is changing. It's going to be called "My kid kicked me in the nads today", and it's going to be all cloyingly funny kid stories all the time, mostly culled from other people's posts on Facebook. And every post will have a labeled image of a kid's TV character. And of a naked eunuch, that being another preposterously popular image search.
So I'm saying the whole ambiance might change a bit.
I'm expecting my co-bloggers to change with me. Patrick will be expected only to write brilliant and incisive blog posts about deranged litigation and out-of-control public servants to the extent the impact five-year-olds saying clever things. Ezra will be expected only to write about how the imperialist state subjugates the working man to the extent the working man's toddler shat in a Prada handbag or something. David will be expected only to write the worth-waiting-for artistic evaluations of Hummel figurines. Charles may only blog about consumer culture as it pertains to scrapbooking. And the rest may only continue to not blog about approved subjects.
Life with the demonically possessed three-year-old, part 1:
I am awakened at 4:30 a.m. to strange sounds. I investigate. Three-year-old — whose blanket was taken away the night before for various crimes against our tranquility — has (1) defeated "child-proof" door knob on office, (2) dragged heavy high-chair all the way across the house from the dining room to the office and positioned it next to eight-foot cat climbing structure, and (3) scaled high-chair to attempt to retrieve blanket from top of cat climbing structure. Asked what she is doing, responds helpfully "Nothing!"
Upon my waking, three-year-old is found on couch, looking innocent. It appears she has opened the door to the atrium to let the cat out. How nice! Later investigation by wife reveals that three-year-old has actually (1) opened heaving sliding glass door, (2) successfully manipulated key to open locked door to garage, (3) poured out partial container of laundry detergent onto garage floor, (4) inserted car key into wife's minivan and started van sufficiently to play with windshield-wipers, and (5) bored of this, returned to couch to look innocent.
Part 3, from this morning: I am awakened by repeated clicking sound. I get up and find hall bathroom light on. Three-year-old has (1) climbed onto sink, (2) retrieved boxed, sealed children's Motrin from medicine cabinet, (3) removed plastic wrap from box, bottle from box, and tight and strong plastic wrapping from bottle, and (4) is attempting to defeat child-proof cap on bottle. Post-hoc analysis of clicking sound suggests that three-year-old has concluded that cap uses combination lock and is trying various combinations in effort to defeat lock. When confronted and asked what she is doing, three-year-old looks at bottle in hand, carefully places it on counter, then raises both arms to me and says "Daddy, I need to cuddle!" Subsequent protective sweep of bathroom reveals three-year-old has dismantled flush-handle on toilet. I require 15 minutes to determine how to re-assemble it.
Either she's going to grow up to be a brilliant engineer, or she's going to kill us all, possibly in our sleep.
Left: Destroyer of worlds. Right: Drama girl.
Edit: Greetings to our many visitors to this post. If you liked this, you might like my Conversations With Kids series.