virtual children by Scott Warnock

Alert: Parents, don’t be neglecters of your children this summer

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Ah, summer. For kids, this was once a time of extended days. Of doing nothing. Of internal adventure. Well, my friend, you can forget all that. This is 2011, and if you think your children are going to spend the summer To Kill a Mockingbird-style, hanging around and imagining the great world out there, you are behind the times. If you think of it that way, you, my friend, are a neglecter of your children.

Some years ago, a Doonesbury cartoon depicted two mothers talking about their children’s recent summer experiences. One mom described how her kid had engaged in many high-level, structured activities, a long list. After hearing it, the second mother sighed and said her child had a peaceful summer by the lake. The first mom, looking worried, said something like, “I think that’s child abuse.”

Well, it still is, in fact more so now than ever. What do you do if your child threatens to have idle time this summer? How will you know when your well-meaning parenting becomes thoughtless neglect? I am here to help. You are guilty of child neglect (and maybe worse; see below) this summer if your children:

  • Spend most of their long summer days hanging out with friends. Realize that those friends are likely in a plot to mire your children in mediocrity.
  • Sleep late. Ever.
  • Eat a s’more.
  • Mill around a pond, lake, loch, or other large body of fresh water most of the time. If they use any kind of tire swing device that launches them into these bodies of water, your offense borders on abuse. All offenses are lessened in this category if they catch a world-record trout.
  • Participate in too many sporting events not officiated by an adult. Little Chris next door is not only an unreliable referee but also will be unable to provide the proper advice to encourage the blossoming of your children’s physical gifts.
  • Participate in fewer than three structured summer camps. However, one very long, highly-intensive camp in a far-away, somewhat dangerous place can be exchanged here.
  • Do not have a personal trainer.
  • Do not learn a new language. Pig Latin does not count, of course. Note that if they create a new language, they get bonus points that count against transgressions in other categories.
  • Do not knock out several college courses. They must get A+’s, not mere A’s, in those courses for this to matter. They should also secure glowing letters of recommendation from each instructor.
  • Have sleepovers. If the sleepovers are with accomplished scientists, then that is okay.
  • Do not perform in at least two recitals of some kind. If they do not have a leading role in at least one one of these events, they must participate in five.
  • Go to the beach and dig around in the sand all day. If they are doing this as part of a deliberate, structured transcendental meditation strategy to unlock their spiritual power, you can excuse this aimless digging. This behavior is also excused if they find a fossil of a previously unknown mollusk, but only if that was the explicit goal of the digging (summer is not the time for serendipitous discovery!).
  • Go to the mountains and/or forests and idle around, gazing at nature. If they create a detailed, publishable sketchbook of native fauna and flora, they get a pass here. If they discover a new species or find evidence that an animal once thought extinct still roams about, that counts against other categories.
  • Read a chunky book of world-class literature. Moby Dick is good. War and Peace is better. Gravity’s Rainbow is the gold standard. Really, it’s preferable that they write such a book. Writers of world-class literature get extra bonus points if they are ten or younger.
  • Are even in the same room with a TV. If they should watch the thing, most other accomplishments are nullified. They get a pass though if the TV watching is a research activity so they can create an award-winning documentary about the plight of something.

You know I’m just trying to help you out. Years ago, you could let your children sit around all summer. Chill out. Make games out of nothing. Be kids. But don’t you hear the relentless patter of those little tiger cub paws? You know what that sound is?: That’s other children catching your child. If you don’t get with it, pretty soon your little one will be just watching their little striped tails swishing in the distance as they sprint toward elite institutions. They will be ahead, better, bigger, stronger, faster!

But you can do something about it. Don’t be a neglecter of your children, my friend. It’s a mantle of shame that will cloak you for those many summers to come. And, please, if your own shame is not enough, imagine the embarrassment when your eight-year-old shows up at school in the fall with a measly, one-page resume.

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.

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5 Responses to “Alert: Parents, don’t be neglecters of your children this summer”

  1. Thank you for the advice, but it’s too late. Those swishing, striped tails are already out of sight for my kids. I meant to be a better parent, but I was day dreaming on the front porch.

  2. I agree with this sentiment so much that I’m actually considering cancelling a couple weekend family excursions just so there will be less planned throughout the summer. Some of my fondest memories are of laying around with friends during the summer doing “nothing”, just riding our bikes around the neighborhood, or inventing new ways to entertain ourselves. The days when the only criteria was to be home for dinner at some point seem irrevocably lost. And DAMN IT, I’m not too happy about it. Looking up at the sun setting and realizing that we’ve done nothing all day but play, lounge, and swim in the pool is a fantastic way to “waste” a day, and I hope my boys will be able to do it as often as possible.

    However, for the record, Max will be working on a sequel to Gravity’s Rainbow. Can’t have the down time be a complete waste, can we?

  3. Eeew. Sleepovers with accomplished scientists.

    Despite your irrational and sadistic refusal to buy your daughter a new phone, I couldn’t agree with you more here. Children need to be children. I’m a teacher and I think homework in gradeschool should be eliminated. The release of free-time is a childhood gift that loses its luster too soon. Summer shouldn’t interim school.

  4. Is it permissable to let a girl child watch a summer Three Stooges marathon if you make her write a paper claiming she is challenging gender expectations?

  5. Great article as always! As a teacher I need to take this advice too! I feel guilty just taking the time during my summer vacation to read this article…I think I’m going to have to write a thesis about it just to justify idling my time away reading articles for pleasure. Um, gotta go now…

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