It seems that one of my running buddies may have missed the point of these past 300-something columns almost entirely. I was describing what a pleasant time my younger son and I had had on a recent car trip. We took turns finding trivia questions online: which MLB team had the most wins in a season? Which United States president was in office for the shortest time? Which movie has won the most academy awards? Who put the "bomp" in the "bomp-bah-bomp-bah-bomp"? (Hint: it was the same man who put the "ram" in the "ram-a-lama-ding-dong.")
Of course, neither of us knew many of the answers. But we had fun insulting one another and the miles eased by. "You don't know the last song on side two of 'Sergeant Pepper'?" "Oh yeah, well you don't know the name of some recent pop star or what she sang!" (I will leave it to the interested reader to determine which question my son could not answer and which question I was helpless with.)
I was telling my running buddy what a grand old time my son and I had--Beyoncé? Miley Cyrus? Alanis Morisette?--when my friend interrupted: "I thought you were against technology," he began. "Don't you always write about your preference for camping in swamps, about the negative consequences of kids and screens?"
I tried to explain my emphasis on human interaction and my predilection for moderation. "Playing trivia on a car trip is different from a kid isolating seven hours a day playing violent video games alone in his room," I suggested. But my buddy had already gone on to indicate that I was a zealot Luddite Puritan. And a prohibitionist who believed in wearing hair shirts.
Believing my patient readers to be more understanding than my snarky running group, I will reiterate my position without irony: One beer is fine; a case of beer less so; buying a lotto ticket is okay; mortgaging your house to buy scratch offs probably not. Occasionally playing video games with your kids is fun; allowing your kids to disappear into virtual worlds for hours and days at a time can lead to their being disconnected and grouchy. And to their flunking out of school and stealing to feed their addiction. And worse.
So my buddy's gross misinterpretation of my life's work got me thinking. Do your kids know when you're teasing, being sarcastic, or exaggerating for humorous effect? Is it possible that they're just not hearing you at all? How would you know?
The Infant Health and Development Study was designed to give kids from economically disadvantaged homes a better shot at productive lives. One exercise encouraged parents to make monosyllabic sounds. Language acquisition depends on exposure. Moms and dads were told to cuddle their infant and say, "Da, da, da." It never occurred to the folks who put together the study that the parents would fail to extrapolate to other syllables, "fa, fa, fa" or "ta, ta, ta" for example, let alone "so, so, so" and "bo, bo, bo." Can you imagine those poor infants between weekly appointments listening to the one same endlessly repeated syllable?
Before you say, "Nah, I don't make mistakes at that level," consider these two true-life examples:
- Marathons are 26.2 miles. And there is no greater joy than seeing the mile markers appear. Yet, my buddies and I ran a marathon in the Midwest recently in which there were not consistent mile markers. Oh, and the course was 27.2 miles, not 26.2. Can you imagine the staggering misery of that extra unnecessary mile after the first 26.2? Especially given that we didn't know where we were on the course? Woo.
- Echocardiograms tell patients whether or not open-heart surgery is necessary to replace leaky heart valves. Wouldn't you think it would be important to give the results of Mr. Smith's echocardiogram to, say, Mr. Smith? Imagine Mr. Smith's disappointment upon learning that he needs surgery when he doesn't. Imagine the other patient walking around believing he is fine when he isn't. In retrospect, maybe my buddy misinterpreting my insights into video games isn't the end of the world at all.
The take away for loving parents: Clear communication across ages and stages. Say what you mean and mean what you say. And if you must allow screens, make sure that you and your kids are playing together. Maybe you will learn who put the "bomp" in the "bomp-bah-bomp-bah-bomp."