Inconsistent Messages

Parenting is an on-going learning experience that constantly opens our eyes to a great many things that we likely would not have given a second thought before having kids.  As we work our way through various interesting situations, we are, from time to time, startled to realize that there are forces that actually work against our efforts…sometimes in the most unlikely of places.

These unusual, yet widely accepted forms of hypocrisy are often comical, occasionally ludicrous, and in many ways, comically ludicrous.

As parents of sports-minded children, my husband and I often joke about the inconsistent messages we and other adults convey during competitive sports activities, compared to actions on the playground.

When participating in a game of hockey, ringette or soccer, players are encouraged to dig for and swipe the puck, ring or ball away from their opponents.  When this happens, onlookers cheer and praise the players’ skill and perseverance.

However, on the playground when kids consistently monopolize the ball or other coveted equipment, we worry about their future which will most certainly be fraught with this, and other anti-social behaviours.

But that’s nothing compared to what kids see from professional hockey players.

My son loves watching NHL hockey, but I cringe at the thought of him observing fight after fight between these adults, who in most other situations would be charged and quite likely restrained until regaining control.

The no-fighting lesson becomes even more difficult to teach as, after the fight breaks out, the referee stands by watching, apparently waiting to intervene until the fight goes “too far.”

I watch in awe as the fans, presumably many of them parents themselves, actually cheer as the fight continues.

But in spite of the glorification of fighting in hockey (or as the old joke goes: hockey in fighting), most kids understand that fighting is unacceptable, that they will get seriously reprimanded for doing so, and that if mom or dad engage in a brawl at work, there could very well be life-altering consequences.

I have recently become aware of another particularly obvious and oddly accepted mainstream occurrence that is also very much out of synch with the values we all work hard to instill in our children.

Like most parents, I am selective about what my kids watch on television, and sometimes find myself diving for the converter in order to sensor unsettling news previews and other potentially frightening scenes.

I have recently discovered that swiftly reaching for the converter is also a necessary maneuver when viewing segments on TV that I never would have expected.

Earlier this fall, I thought it would be interesting for my kids to watch the aftermath of the throne speech, but as we watched how our elected representatives behaved, it became increasingly difficult to focus on what the politicians were saying.  The “what” had become completely overshadowed by the “how.”

At home, school and in other social situations, children learn that it is completely unacceptable to interrupt, heckle, ridicule and sneer… at anybody. These are all behaviours we observed from the politicians until, appalled, I turned the TV off.

Kids are taught to behave respectfully toward all people and not to bad mouth others, but they see these same politicians trashing each other yet again in advertisements…trashing, which ironically is meant to make themselves look better!

I would never belittle the importance of policies and past performance as an indicator of ability to govern, but this widely accepted absence of an integral character trait is both disturbing and difficult to explain.

And it certainly doesn’t help today’s kids to understand the importance of a win based on merit, not on how bad one opponent makes the other appear.

There’s no doubt that professional hockey is physical.  The elevation of body contact to violence seems slightly less ridiculous than politicians, who are (ideally) elected based on intellect and integrity, constantly slinging mud at opposing parties.

We expect kids to recognize, interpret, and seamlessly adjust their behaviour according to whatever situation they happen to be in.  Luckily, they are remarkably sharp and deftly intuitive, and therefore usually able to manage situations which could, by people older than they, be considered outrageously confusing.

Of course, there are conversations parents can have with their kids to help them piece together what can often be a puzzling obstacle course.

I wonder how the hockey players and politicians explain it to their kids.