On the many benefits of ‘old school’ parenting for our children. Old school parenting may seem ‘old school’ to many, but our children can benefit greatly by stepping back in our past as children and applying these ideas as modern parents.
I was going through the basement the other day and found some of my old school work. I discovered some old projects, science notes and diagrams, and, most interestingly, a daily writing journal.
I began to read my daily entries and was struck by how much time I actually spent outside with my friends. Most entries focused on street hockey and the amazing goal that so-and-so-made and the spectacular sprawling save that so-and-so made (and its similarities to a save made by Mike Palmateer the other night). There were a lot of references to Mike Palmateer, in fact.
There were also a lot of entries related to bike riding (and re-enacting the latest episode of CHiPs), and to playing tag. I don’t think my upbringing was all that different from the upbringing of most kids in the seventies. We all played outside until the streetlights came on.
Of course, many children do still play outside, but I have the distinct impression that it happens much less than it used to. It also seems that much of the outdoor play is also structured around formal ‘play dates’ or organized sports activities by parents. I just don’t see informal outdoor play happen as much anymore despite its many benefits for children (and adults, alike).
It seems that much outdoor play has been replaced by an increase in ‘screen time’ and social media (especially watching YouTube videos). The ‘active’ personal interaction, resilience building, group cooperation, creativity and exercise that come with playing outdoors has been replaced, to an increasing degree, by the ‘passive’ act of simply observing. These children are missing out.).
These passive, and often solitary, activities will never provide the benefits of unstructured outdoor play: personal interaction, building resilience, group cooperation, creativity, and exercise.
Here are some good outdoor game ideas that your children might enjoy.
Eating Meals Together
Family dining appears to be less common than it used to be.
Older homes were designed with the dining area as being both designated and central. The majority of modern homes tend to emphasize a nice big kitchen at the expense of the formal dining area (most especially in modern condominiums where space tends to be at a premium). Many families now use the living room as a place to eat as they watch television together.
Furthermore, a growing number of meals are either take-out or prepared meals that are simply microwaved or heated up in the oven by parents. Once again, the ‘active’ and deliberate act of planning and preparing a meal seems to becoming a more ‘passive’ one that often just means pressing a few buttons on a microwave.
I also enjoy prepared meals and take-out, and there are many reasons and circumstances when this type of meal makes sense, but I also feel that the act of planning, shopping for, and preparing a family meal together is something that many children today are missing out on.
Making homemade meals and eating them together is a priority for me and my daughter. There is something very satisfying about preparing a favourite recipe (or trying a new one) and enjoying the product of your hard work.
Another key benefit of eating meals together as a family (this includes sitting together without any mobile devices anywhere around) is that you can use this time to talk and bond together. Children and parents need face-to-face interaction, and meals are a lovely time to share this. Indeed, for many families this may be the only opportunity for uninterrupted time together. I like to ask my daughter about lots of things including what happened at school (here are some good open-ended questions that should elicit more than “good” as a response). We also discuss how she is feeling about certain things, world events, her friends, new likes and dislikes, etc.
As a child, I remember meal time as most often being together time and I also remember the majority of my meals being homemade. I didn’t always appreciate this as a child (especially if it meant me having to stop playing road hockey, but I do appreciate it now. Homemade meals also tend to be healthier, too.
Talking on the Telephone
I know that people still talk on the phone; this has not changed.
As a child, I remember the excitement of exchanging phone numbers with someone and making a subsequent phone call to them.
You would normally have to go through their parents. This was a sort of ‘vetting’ process. There was an expectation that you would be polite by saying something like “Hello, this is Jason. I am Kevin’s friend from school. Is Kevin at home? May I please speak with him?”. You would normally have to wait for a bit while Kevin’s parent would yell something like “Kevin, it’s Jason from school on the phone”. Kevin would then pick up the phone (or an extension line) and the conversation would commence.
It was sort of a big deal as a kid to make a phone call (most especially when you were calling a girl and the importance of being polite was really important). I have the impression that texting is far more common than making an actual phone call these days. There are a couple of things that are unfortunate about this.
First, the ‘parental screening’ aspect is now unnecessary if your child has access to a smart phone or social media. Virtually anyone can contact your child directly if they have a smart phone and/or a social media account. I like to know who my daughter is talking to.
What has changed is that many conversations now take place by text. Anyone can now contact your child without your knowledge. Many conversations are now texting conversations and virtually anyone can now contact your child without your knowledge.
Second, politeness and civility is no longer required. Anyone can send anyone inappropriate messages and/or pictures (even ‘anonymously’ using things like AirDrop). The world is a much scarier and potentially dangerous place for children these days. You can avoid this danger by not getting your child a smart phone. Any attempt to ‘monitor’ or filter the information that your child gets is predicated on your ability to be more ‘ahead’ on technology than your child. This is a losing proposition … they will gain access if they really want to.
The days of the rotary dial phone may be gone, but you can still choose the degree to which your child has access to the potential dangers of having a smart phone and social media. I have read that people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates drastically limiting their kids’ tech use. This should be a siren call to all of us, as they know far more about this realm than any of us can ever hope to know.
Just like any child, I always enjoyed some school subjects more than others.
I also enjoyed doing certain school projects more than others. This has not changed. What has changed is how schoolwork and projects are done.
In the ‘old days’, a project required a fair bit of planning, prioritization, and diligence. This is not to say that these skills are still not required to do a project well, but there seems to be a tendency to rely more solely on the internet to complete these undertakings.
Back in the day, my mother would come to the library with me or send me on my way to do physically do this research. There were many tools that I needed. I needed to know how to use the Dewey decimal system and to begin broadly and then narrow my research using keywords in the card catalogue. I then needed to preview each of my found resources, filter information in them as being more or less useful, decide which one of them I could use further and which to return, and then to select which items I wanted to borrow to take home to help me complete my project.
As such, a school project required a few skills: researching a broad overview of the topic, narrowing down my broad research into a more focused format, creating a view that I could support or discuss, and then composing a logical and planned response. Importantly, all of this was done by going to the public or school library and narrowing my required information independently – starting from the broad and moving towards the specific. Filtering in this manner, was a required skill.
Nowadays, much research is done using the internet. There is nothing inherently wrong with getting information in this manner, but there is a difference. The internet can provide access to any and all opinions and perspectives, even erroneous ones, and it is much more specifically ‘search term’ driven. Books, on the other hand, have at least a cursory vetting process directed by the publisher and subsequent peer review.
I can publish a post stating emphatically that the earth is flat and my post could be the first to show up in a Google search on the subject because it matches my search in a very narrow sense. The problem is that the vetting process (say by social media responses or peer reviews) is not always as readily accessible without starting with a broad topic overview. Without knowing any better, I could state this opinion as fact ‘because it was on the internet’ even though it is only a very segmented and specific view that was ‘search term’ driven. Physically researching a project in a library and/or in a respected peer-reviewed journal or website can help to eliminate this ‘foggy thinking’ by providing a broader perspective on the subject before making conclusions.
This is not to say that ‘foggy’ or erroneous thinking did not happen in the past, but I could suggest here that it was harder to come by when research was done holistically and not driven by specific search terms. Errors in fact or judgement would become more readily apparent if the topic was examined broadly before simply looking for ‘is the world flat’ which would more likely only show search results that either emphatically support or refute the topic. This type of research can be both limiting and polarizing to thought.
Children can benefit by developing critical thinking and research skills that extend beyond a simple Google search. The keyword specificity of internet searches alone can provide a more limited view and understanding of topics. Developing a more holistic perspective, in fact, may be what is necessary to solve many of the problems we face right now and the problems we will face in the future.
Parents can help support this by going ‘old school’ in teaching research skills and critical thinking.
Listening to Music
Music is special because it can elicit strong physiological and mental responses in people.
When I was a child, there was something very special about listening to the radio, finding a song that I thought was really great, and making a trip to the record store to buy a new 45 or an LP. It was a physical experience. I responded to the music and had to make a trip to the store to buy it.
I would first locate the vinyl album, sometimes by searching by artist in the numerous rows of alphabetized bins, or sometimes by scoping around the Top Charts at the front of the store. Sometimes I would buy an LP, sometimes a 45. In any case, there was a physical interaction of sorts – search for, pick up, pay for, unpack, listen to, put on my shelf, listen to again (and again). There was also the element of surprise that came with a physical object as opposed to a very predictable download.
Liner notes were one of absolute favourite perks buying vinyl (or even cds). Liner notes often included lyrics, commentary from the artists, and or some cool pictures, too. They helped to make the connection between the music and me just a bit more personal and I miss them very much when I buy a song on iTunes.
Times have changed. Most music is now introduced via YouTube and tied to movies or other media links. We had videos for songs when I was a kid, too. The difference is that children now watch the video time and time again, interact with their peers online, and gain view of the posts and responses and tied selling of others. The ubiquitously strong ties to movies is also a relatively new thing. Yes, there were ties in the past like Quadrophenia and Tommy, for example, but these were exceptions and not the rule.
What children today are missing is the physical interaction with music when they download a song illegally or buy it on places like iTunes. They are missing the connection with the broader story, the thrill of going on the ‘hunt’ for an album or a single, the opening of a sealed album, the liner notes, the slight crackle as the needle meets the grooves – in short, the physical investment in music and the joy that it can bring. Something that we enjoyed as parents. In some cases, the singularity of the download experience can also lead children to miss out on the ‘group’ experience of enjoying and exploring new music with other and their families. Personal downloads by children also exclude you as a parent in the experience of exploring and discussing new music with your children.
What can you do? Dust off that old turntable and play a vinyl record album or a cd! Take the time to order it or pick it up, observe the sealed package, open it up carefully, smell it, open up the liner notes and read them, play the record/cd from start to finish. You can also intentionally ‘do nothing’ but listen … and enjoy it ‘while doing nothing’ but enjoying it together!
There is no need to throw out the proverbial ‘baby with the bathwater’ when it comes to good modern parenting.
Modern parents face modern challenges and new realities, but there are fundamental aspects of good parenting that have been around for quite a while. Perhaps we should all slow down a bit and reflect upon our own upbringings and how things have changed, and upon whether or not these are good or bad changes. There are many things we can do that will help our children in the modern world, and some of the tools for doing so are right in plain sight.
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Jason @ froogalism.com
Author: Jason Milburn Google