Saturday, April 8, 2017

On the Homefront: Motivating Our Children

This is going to be a stretch for some of you to grasp, and I get that. But if it's one thing I've successfully done in my life in the past, to varying degrees, it is create links where links did not previously exist. For instance, when I was in college taking a class on Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, I managed to draw a parallel between Ebenezer Scrooge and Ivan Illych. Don't ask me to remember how now, but man was I pretty convincing then.
Here's the deal:

My wife and I have three children, and each one has about as different a personality as you can imagine. Our oldest is always starting conversations with us about politics or history, or spouting off random factoids about famous structures that once stood or have stood for years. While many boys his age are traditionally at the point in their lives where they may discussing who the Bills may take in the upcoming NFL Draft or what the pending Little League season may bring, my son found it of the utmost importance to let me know this on Wednesday of this past week: "Hey Dad! Did you know that (Thursday) is the 100th anniversary of the United States entering World War I?"
Truth be told, I minored in American History in college, and I've always found it interesting to study. Watching so much of it get ignored has led me to follow fewer and fewer current events, because far too often what constitutes news these days is infuriating. So if I'm being honest, I feel that I've begun to rely on social media for updates on key issues. If I want more information , I know I'll have to dig deeper to find it, and I do on occasion if a topic interests me. But some of the biggest stories recently have left me aghast, as pop culture and talentless starlets seem to be taking over the news while the more important items fade into the background. It's sickening...but we'll come back to that.
Moving along, my wife and I have a daughter who is on the cusp of tween-dom. Her birthday is next month and her likes are a bit all over the place. Included among those likes are Star Wars, My Little Pony, Top-40 music, certain Disney Channel shows, classic children's books (brought to her attention by my wife and I), and cosmetics (something she's still not quite able to do "right" on her own). If I told her to put on a costume and gave her two to choose from, the odds are even that she'd walk out the door as either a Disney Princess or one of the more recent Star Wars heroines like Rey.
Our youngest daughter will begin a pre-school program this fall. We're looking forward to her coming out of her shell, or whatever bit of shell she has left. She's outgoing, personable, rarely shy, often decisive, and in short, quite a handful. She also adores both her older siblings, and thinks that every gift she has ever received is the BEST. GIFT. EVER!
Quite simply, like any parent, it is imperative that my wife and I adapt to each one of our kids' likes and dislikes during any one-on-one time so that time is as well spent as possible. But the real world makes that difficult sometimes.
While checking out the newsfeeds the past few weeks, I've grown increasingly disgusted. I've lost count how many different sites have included a link for me to click on, telling me how I "won't believe what Mama June looks now!" Guess what? I am sad that I even know who Mama June is, but thankful the two times I wrote her name just now were the first two times. I won't ever write them again. Why she was part of a somewhat popular TV show remains beyond my realm of understanding.
I have seen several references to some girl who was on Dr. Phil's show and didn't know how to properly talk. I read that there is someone somewhere who thinks this girl deserves her own show for the viral sensation she caused on the Internet. Thankfully, I don't know this girl's name. I don't want to know.
Most recently, one of the younger members of the Kardashian clan (funny how they've almost all gone silent in recent months...not that I'm complaining) was in the news because enough people were upset over a Pepsi ad that has been pulled. Skipping all the nonsense about how Kylie Jenner became famous to begin with, ask yourself if the people upset are angry with Pepsi, with her, or both, and why? Also, in the age of DVRs, who actually watches commercials anymore anyway?
With that in mind, what is it most parents try to instill upon their kids? It is the idea that if you work hard, you'll be rewarded. The idea that doing good deeds for others is a proper path. Right?
Meanwhile, we have to do all we can to keep our kids from being exposed to "news" like the abovementioned stories, and to shows that glorify stupidity and stereotypes (far too many Disney Channel shows to mention, with a few dearly departed exceptions) or promiscuity (a bunch of shows that air or used to air on the network that used to be ironically be called "ABC Family" or to a lesser extent, the blatantly ridiculous MTV vehicle Teen Mom).
Celebrities have been a phenomenon for years, and I used to understand why. I would love to meet Billy Joel and ask him to tell stories about the bar that inspired Piano Man. I would love to meet half the cast of Game of Thrones to find out what it means to them to be on a show that appears to have become one of the last survivors of "appointment television." I would love to meet Derek Jeter and tell him to read this and every other "On the homefront" column, and then ask him for a publishing deal. But those are celebrities who arguably earned their fame.
Others mentioned elsewhere in this column aren't famous: they are infamous.
It's why the conversations I have with my kids focus on things I know and understand, and relating those things to their lives. In the end, I always wind up telling them the same thing: worry about only what you can control. Yes, do good for others when you can. Never put yourself in harm's way.
They are the same lessons many of us were taught. Getting them through in this day and age is just much more difficult.

Howie Balaban is (once-again) a full-time stay-at-home dad who despises reality TV shows, with one notable exception. He will write about that in an upcoming post in the next 2 weeks.