* Disclaimer: The following paragraphs are not meant to offend, disrespect, or inflame in any way. So if you find yourself feeling offended, disrespected, or inflamed, I really am sorry. No, really.

Life’s gracefulness lost on overstimulated, overtired children

By Ronald Dahl

Each summer, no matter how pressing my work schedule, I take off a day exclusively for my son, to follow his whims (as completely as possible) from the moment he wakes up until he finally gives in to exhaustion. We call it dad / son day.

This year our third stop was the amusement park, where he discovered (at age 9) that he was tall enough to ride one of the fastest roller coasters in the world. We blasted through face stretching turns and loops for 90 seconds then, as we stepped off the ride, he gave a shrug, and in a distressingly calm voice, remarked that it was not as exciting as other rides he had been on.

As I listened, I began to sense something seriously out of balance. Throughout the season, I noticed similar events all around me. Parents seemed hard pressed to find new thrills for nonchalant kids. I saw this pattern in my family, in the sons and daughters of friends and neighbors and in many of my patients with behavioral and emotional problems. Surrounded by ever-greater stimulation, their young faces were looking disappointed and bored. (Click here for full article.)

When I think about the social aspect of my childhood, I have warm, comforting memories that are, of course, all centered around my mother. When I got off the school bus at our little brick ranch house with the black shutters, there was a different smell wafting from the kitchen every day. Mama cooked dinner while I sat on the kitchen stool and regaled her of stories about my day. I sat the table and fixed the drinks, and then the family sat around the kitchen table nearly every evening and ate supper together. Now this wasn’t as idyllic as it sounds — Daddy and I rarely made it through a meal without an altercation. But my father aside, the point is that we ate together regularly. We didn’t have a television in the house, so reading before bedtime was our favorite entertainment. On Friday nights and Saturday mornings, we listened to radio programs… “Adventures in Odyssey” and “Ranger Bill” were my favorites. I can actually still hear the introduction, word for word:

Ranger Bill, warrior of the woodland! Struggling against extreme odds, traveling dangerous trails, fighting the many enemies of nature. This is the job of the guardian of the forest, Ranger Bill. Pouring rain, freezing cold, blistering heat, snows, floods, bears, rattlesnakes, mountain lions. All this in exchange for the satisfaction and pride of a job well-done.

I just checked my memory against the “Ranger Bill Fan Club” website, and I only missed one word. Ridiculous that I can still remember that… Mama used to say that my brain was a toxic waste dump.

Anyway, the whole point of the this conversation is that when I think about my childhood, it’s remarkably similar to how the 1950’s are portrayed in the movies. It’s like the 1980’s never happened at our house. When we hit high school and the teenage years, we suddenly discovered the 90’s (much to our father’s dismay). But the 80’s?… just a blur spent in our little bubble.

So how does this translate into today’s culture? Show me a kid today who would be thrilled about listening to the adventures of Ranger Bill on the radio…. yep, that’s right, you can’t. And I wonder if it’s even realistic to consider raising a child without a television these days? You can limit TV time, but can you function “normally” without it? How do you raise a child to fit in with their friends and be “cool,” yet still maintain some semblance of traditional family interaction?

These questions are more rhetorical than anything… I know that each family dynamic is different, and we’ll find our balance when the time comes. But all this thinking about committing to a church has my wheels spinning. How will this work for my children? How old will they be when they realize that their traditional church experience isn’t the only one out there? Will they feel deprived that their friends get to go to the “cool” church with the cool music and cool preacher and cool lights & video, and they have to go to old boring church? Or will the pendulum swing back eventually toward a more traditional form of worship?

Bobby and I got to our meeting early last night, and watched the stream of Wednesday night churchgoers file out of the fellowship hall. There were tons of seemingly happy families, with kids ranging from very young to about 15 or so. Do those families have fights on Sunday morning about whether to go to “boring-church” or “cool-church”? Is cool-church serving a great purpose in that it’s reaching our young people? Or is cool-church overstimulating them to the point of total spiritual insensitivity? Will they get to the point where they NEED that stimulation to get their attention? What if it gets to the point where quiet reflection is no longer an option? Won’t their classrooms then be in the same “boring” category as boring-church? Could this be a contributor to what seems to be a sudden increase in ADD, hyperactivity, and other behavior-related diagnoses? I know that’s a huge claim, which is why I’m not “claiming” it… I’m simply thinking aloud.

I’ve heard many people say that they’re choosing a church based on their kids — “they have the best children’s programs,” or “it got my kid excited about church,” or “I wouldn’t go here if it wasn’t for my kids.” Maybe I just don’t get it because I’m not a mom yet. But the fact is…. I just don’t get it. Where is the line between parents guiding children and children guiding parents?

Once, when I was 11 or so and Jennifer was 7ish, we spent some time at our “proper” grandmother’s house. My dad’s mom was/still is a little bit intimidating. She’s a retired English teacher, and has never relaxed her grammatical expectations. She’s very proper and refined, doesn’t approve of gum-chewing, and wears big pearls. She is the epitome of a Southern lady. On this particular afternoon, she was keeping us for a few hours. After an hour or so, Jennifer planted herself in the spinning, rocking armchair in the den. Using her feet to push off the floor, she began spinning faster and faster until she just became a blur, while chanting “I’m booooooooorrreddddd!  I’m boooooooooorrreddd!” at the top of her lungs. Grandmama told her stop spinning and informed her firmly that in her house, “bored” was a bad word and she wasn’t to use it again. Years later, Jennifer and I still laugh about “bored” being a bad word. But it’s not until recently that I began to understand where Grandmama was coming from.