Saturday, February 21, 2009

Choosing Your Kids' Friends

When I was in 8th grade, our bus stopped to pick up the next pack of punks, my good friend got on and promptly ignored me. He sat far away; I approached him but he wouldn't so much as turn his head.

Nothing had really happened. I'm not one of these queer guys that has spats with his male friends - I never was. [Note that describes all the otherwise manly men of South Philadelphia. They are always having tiffs and going through *not talking to* phases with a gumba or two.]

But I could sense what was up.

Young C-Nut - What, are you no longer allowed to hang out with me?

To which I got a look-away nod of assent.

The bus stop was right in front of his house and he feared his parents watching him through the window. I felt a little upset, a little discombobulated but shook it off. Remember we were 13 years old. If this had occurred when I was younger it might have been a different story.

Mind you I had known this kid all my life. He lived only 10 homes down the street. His family was, let's just say *different*. I remember sleeping over his house back when I was five; after dinner, a nasty pot roast which his whole family referred to as *steak*, everyone, all three kids had to do their chores. I was a guest there and was astonished to be made to wash dishes! I was five!

However, what really made this family stand out from the crowd was the fact that they were passionate Christians. Born-again? I don't know. They were always having Bible study at their house; they were always starting, switching, or quitting another *church*. Everyone else, and I mean everyone else, in those parts of Central Massachusetts was a part-time or lapsed Catholic.

My buddy's apparently exasperated parents had concluded that I *was the devil* and they no longer wanted him to associate with me. Seriously, this is precisely what he told me as the bus drove out of sight of his spying parents. I was "the devil"!

The background for that specific period of time escapes me so I can't remember what may have been the catalyst for my excommunication. Though notably, the year prior me and my buddy had gotten into all sorts of trouble - we were suspended - for hacking into the school's TRS-80 ("Trash-80") computer network. I was suspended twice for crimes of this category and can't recall if my angelic friend, whom I led astray, was punished the second time.

Seventh and eighth grade were tough. The public school we attended was half *bilingual* and the rest was splintered into warring cliques. There were plenty of before-, during-, and after-school fights; rumbles even. The entire school was smoking and experimenting further down the ladder of maturity. The school may have not been scary in comparison to bigger inner city schools, but it was plenty bad enough. No well-traveled parent would be boasting, or even comfortable sending their kids there.

So given the rest of the social options, it was a little odd that I was being singled out as THE bad influence for kid who was just as bored as I was, and probably more adept at independently getting himself into trouble.

Now here I am, twenty years later a parent myself. Thinking back, I completely understand my friend's parents' actions. Without confessing any fiendish behavior I want to say I don't begrudge them one bit.

A child's friends are a most powerful influence on him. My wife and I were recently bemoaning the fact that all of our friends' kids are all a tad younger than our Prince C-Nut, and the ones close in age are all icky GIRLS.

And we want our son to socialize with not merely his age-mates, but with older kids who are presumably a good influence. This has been tough to orchestrate. Most seven year olds are not interested in hanging out with four year olds. The Prince does have one friend who's 1.5 years older but this kid, all he wants to do is watch TV. My son watches too much of the idiot box as it stands, the last thing he needs is a role model teaching him about the shows he'll graduate to.

My kids do have older cousins but they live in faraway Connecticut and Long Island. Five of the seven are typical wastoid teenagers. At family gatherings they sit and watch television. Well, actually, they do more than that. They sit there, four in a row on the couch each either texting someone or playing a hand-held video game while blaring iCarly or something in the background. No one helps with the dishes. No one is interested in playing a board game. No one dares step outside to throw a ball.

Because of the obvious distance, we don't see the cousins too often. But still, I wouldn't say they are even close to *ideal* influences for my kids and that's too bad. I remember vividly many, many things my older cousins said and did. Children really do look up to the older brats; and that's just ONE of the laws of human nature that mass schools abrogate with their *age-segregation*.

Getting back on track. The social or environmental climate we raise our kids in is pivotal; it's not something I want to mess up. Who knows how much further along my career or finances would be if I came across just one kid, when I was young, who was enterprising - who was cutting lawns or something? See - Sheep To Slaughter - if you haven't already.

And who knows how detrimental one particular charismatic friend can be for your child?

If I had my druthers, I'd surround my kids with responsible, considerate, self-motivated, older achievers. Whether they are a talented pianist, a dogged fisher, a hustling lemonade stand operator, or a voracious reader it wouldn't well matter. I don't want my brood to be subjected to a panoply of losers, kids with no oomph who're mesmerized by color TV and dependent on purchased toys for self-amusement.

I don't believe that a *strong* family can substantially offset or compete with the relentless influence of the outside world. I really don't. Think long and hard about what your life's goals were as they evolved. How many grew out of *what your parents wanted for you*? How many came from images of glitz, fame, and wealth which, without a television or peers, you'd know nothing about?

Job one is to turn the color TV off.

Job two is to homeschool - to in-source the mind control of your precious children.

And job three is to be mindful of whom your children befriend. You're probably going to have to bend over backwards, to expand your own social circle so that your kids can witness firsthand what they're capable of, and where they're headed.

I know. In this world, it's not so easy finding impressive people of character to hang out with. Finding eligible godparents for your kids was hard enough!


auntulna said...

Great post, and I really enjoyed "sheep to slaughter". I think I will apologize to my 20 y.o. son for wasting so much of his time in public education. Say you planned to home school through 8th grade, what kind of average time commitment is minimum? I'm thinking about two working parents.

The parallel between domesticated animals and socialism is no joke. There is an idea that various groups of animals "chose" to be domesticated to improve survival of their species, and indeed the domesticated far outnumber the wild ones. It's easy to see how people give in to the "allure" of govt. programs to reduce perceived risk. But that last walk down the chute is not the way I want to go.

CaptiousNut said...

As for the time commitment....

I'm not sure. I hear that most families do no more than 3 hours per day. I'd suspect much of that is self-directed too. I talked a little bit about *time* a few posts ago in Schools Ravaging The Environment

But one wouldn't not homeschool at ages 4, 5, 6, 7,....because they think it may be too tough at ages 12, 13, and 14. You give it a whirl and if it proves too much, you can outsource later on. In other words, there's no risk in trying.

Gatto says the early grades are the most important to *skip*.

As for domesticated animals, check out this great quote:

It is unfortunate for mankind, fortunate for tyrants, that the poor and miserable do not have the instinct or pride of the elephant, who does not reproduce in captivity. (Chamfort)