The world is turning into a funny place. Everyone feels that they have the right and duty to share their opinions and unfiltered thoughts with the world. There was a time when the crazy people were more obvious and easy to avoid. Walk on the other side of the street when approaching the unwashed man ringing a bell and wearing a sandwich board message of doom. Or so countless Ziggy cartoons have taught me. But text on a screen has no tone, inflection, or – thankfully – smell. Now an entire generation has grown up without a buffer for their ignorance and that generation is spawning a new one. One that they will be sharing their skewed moral codes with. Children who are learning and adapting, absorbing this information and changing it into their own version of reality. Children that might be playing with your children.
By the time your child is old enough to leave your grasp and play with other children he is now a Cliff’s Notes of everything you taught him. The lessons are boiled down to very basic concepts, and while the message is there the nuance and art of it all isn’t comprehended yet. Unless you repeated every point you wanted to sink in repeatedly and left no room for error or interpretation, there is going to be a disassociation between intent and reality.
To choose a recent and huge example, its like The Last Jedi. A movie that had many people working for years to get a story across but when sent out into the world, many people had a negative reaction to what they saw. Is it the fault of the filmmaker or the audience? Maybe its the fault of you taking your creation to the wrong playground.
I can take my son to the playground on Monday and become filled with hope for the future. Every kid playing together respectfully; their smiles only surpassed by the proud parents’ grins. Then Tuesday is full of guilt and shame because while you don’t want to think the worse of a seven year old its obvious from an early age at some point that kid is going to jail. Come Wednesday the summer program counselors are there and a third type of person is revealed: those who are good or bad depending on if anyone is watching.
So what to do as a parent? There isn’t a manual for the playground designating children as chaotic good or lawful evil. But there are options, the same options that exist when choosing a movie.
To continue with The Last Jedi analogy; everyone has an opinion on a movie and everyone has opinions on kids. Their kids, your kids, that kid over there doing something weird. All of them. Everyone’s opinion is true to them and, much like its difficult if not impossible to convince someone a terrible movie is great you won’t convince them to change their thoughts on their child.
When choosing your child’s place to play for the day think of it like going to the multiplex or for those parents old enough, the video rental store.
If there’s nothing G or PG, move on to another location. This is not a knock against the movie place. Its catering for a certain audience and today that audience is not your young child. Some playgrounds have a lot of big kids and tweens hanging out and figuring out who they are. That’s nothing against the kids or the playground, but I would keep driving and look for a more kid friendly spot for the day.
Some parents let their kids watch anything. Figure out which parents are in line with your teachings. Some kids are swearing, hitting, fighting, pretending to be more violent characters. If that isn’t what you want your child exposed to, steer her another way. I’m a big fan of, “those kids are playing a different game, why don’t you play with those kids who are playing the games you like.” Much like saying, those kids are enjoying a movie that you might not like, this is a way to present another option that still seems exciting but is also acceptable to your parenting and does not insult other parents. A parent who feels they are being judged is like a trapped animal. Its usually better to walk around their ways and arrive at an understanding that as long as you’re there and I’m here we’re cool.
Sometimes, you pick the wrong movie. Its bad, but you’re already there so time to make the best of it. Acknowledge the situation and find a way to turn it for the better. Which means, realize and recognize that some days your kid is going to be the issue. Justify, clarify, explain all you want. Bottom line will be your kid is the one that did something that upset another kid and that child just went running to mommy or daddy. My son loves super heroes and I thank God every day for that but a giant four year old punching the ground and roaring like Hulk can and has scared the crap out of another kid. Now, deep down I don’t feel like he did anything wrong. He has an imagination and is pretending and that’s awesome. He just did it a little bit too loud. In such a situation, I get right in front of it before I’m defending the two of us. “Hey buddy, you’re being too loud and other kids don’t like it. Why don’t you pretend to be Banner for awhile? Why don’t you play something else? No laser blasts allowed at the park!” That last one usually gets a chuckle out of the other parent and the entire situation is diffused. He’s on to a quieter adventure, the other kid is already over it, and the parent feels relieved that there’s at least one other adult in the world trying to be responsible.
While it hurts when the world doesn’t completely adapt and accept your creation, it does not invalidate any thoughts. Yours or theirs. Use the reactions to mold, sculpt and edit your work to make it a little bit better for the next time; and next time put it in front of a more welcoming audience.