Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Are American Kids Commitment-less?

July 15, 2015

Are American Kids Commitment-less?

We've all heard for years the alarmingly uneducated-sounding results of surveys where high school seniors think Florida is in South America and that they cannot identify who George Washington was or what the Constitution is and so on and so forth.  At first glance this appears to be lazy teenager silliness, maybe even deliberately messing around with the survey out of an unsatisfied urge to mischief .  When those sorts of results are coupled with what we see in the special subset of people who opt-in and choose to take classical ballet as children, a much clearer and genuinely concerning pattern appears: the pattern of non-committal - or perhaps more telling, the pattern of choosing easy results and "likes" over real work and accomplishments - but not for the obvious reason of merely being lazy.  No, I think that unfortunately the problem goes far deeper than that.

Everyone says they want to, but so few can...

With ballet, everyone likes a well-done ballet (at least almost everyone) and almost everyone will say 'ballet is beautiful' or that they'd like to look like a ballerina when they grow up (for girls) or that male dancers are really amazing at jumping and turning and that it's "cool" to move like that (for boys).  What is happening however is that many pre-teens who encounter the challenge of growing into an adult body and at the same time are being challenged a bit more in their ballet class by the progression of class levels are now showing a general malaise or sloppiness in their work in order to avoid that feeling of physical challenge.  And therein is the real problem and the real solution!

Physical challenges require two things of you: the willingness to try very hard to meet the challenge AND - not to over-emphasize but this is very, very important - the ability to be able to tolerate the heat, pressure, exertion, and sense of the body needing to absorb and re-direct a lot of uncomfortable physical energy.    The willingness is still there among almost all kids nowadays, but that second part, the part where you can tolerate that feeling of extreme exertion that touches on real fatigue in the course of meeting that physical challenge, that's the part where American kids are really coming up short now.

Are there still American kids that can tolerate real exertion?  Yes, obviously there are - but the ratios are now totally upside down.  Whereas in the 80's and 90's it would be 20% - 30% of kids who could not tolerate real exertion but 70% - 80% could, now in the twenty-teens that has reversed like some-kind of polar shift to where only about 30% of kids can absorb and tolerate the feeling of real exertion but 60%-70% of kids simply have no capacity to handle exertion.

If your building crumbles, check the foundation first!

I can remember my grandmother talking to my mom about the fact I was watching too much TV each day - back before cable when there'd only be 1 or maybe 2 30-minute TV shows a day I'd want to watch assuming I got home in time from school to see them - and of course Saturday morning cartoons (about 2 hours worth).  Otherwise, neither I nor any of my friends spent any time in front of an electronic device because there simply were no devices and no digital media content anywhere. So what'd we do all the time?  Climb trees, ride bikes all over including down foundations of houses that were being built, play neighborhood soccer or baseball games, basically horse around outside all the time because being inside was boring.  Why is this so important?  Because the whole time we were outside playing around our bodies were exerting themselves and practicing all types of balance and coordination skills.  That made things like ballet feel like the physical discipline it is: ballet was created in a world where basic physical skills and capacities already existed in kids in a world and time where physical exertion was required to do anything and everything, and would then tune those into the finely balanced, poetic movement device you see on stage.

That's where the foundation comes in - we all had very solid physical ability foundations with no need for any PE class to be able to run for a mile, climb a tall tree, walk across narrow boards without falling off, and play play play all day.  We developed this capacity without deliberately taking a class or being forced to do it because all our free play did it for us while we were distracted by having fun! 

Today's kids have no foundation

Today, practically every kid I see is either actively using or just got done using a smartphone or tablet of some kind and in any case has been sitting very still, almost as still as we had to when we got in trouble.  Except, they are not in trouble, they are being "occupied" or "entertained" just like a Veal calf no one wants to allow to move until it's time to slaughter it so that the meat is as tender as possible.  Sorry if that's graphic, think instead of the movie Walle where all the passengers are obese and incapable of actually doing anything because they all just sit and let a digital media solution inject constant "entertainment" and "information" into them.  

What this does for the physical foundation we all need is change today's kids from well-built houses with solid foundations into mobile homes in a trailer park propped on cinder-blocks that can't hold on to anything and can't withstand much if any physical load without collapsing or blowing away.  This constant-entertainment, constant-connected "like" world has robbed today's kids of the essential tool needed to survive in a real universe full of real, physical obstacles and challenges: mental confidence in and high capacity exertion tolerance of your body.  

American kids are trending towards being commitment-less because they've been robbed of their capacity development under the guise of "neighborhoods aren't safe anymore" or "everyone's kids have iPads, we didn't want him/her feeling left out"  or "my 12 year old really wanted an iPhone for his/her birthday".  American kids are commitment-less because they don't have the ability to withstand the feeling of real exertion and fatigue - that has gotten robbed from them for the sake of some corporate profits and parental convenience "to keep them safe at home" and "to keep the noise down at home".  So that means as soon as any physical discipline such as ballet or karate or whatever gets somewhat advanced (which we always thought was the fun part because it meant we were finally getting somewhere) and starts making the body really exert within that discipline, that sensation is so overwhelming for so many kids that they are freaked out by it and have to stop rather than being able to press ahead.  The saddest thing I see are all the teens who cannot tolerate their muscles quivering when trying to master a physical skill.  

I think the answer to this observation-question is perhaps the most telling: when's the last time you saw anyone's kids confidently climb a tree or actually ride around the whole neighborhood all day on a pedal powered bicycle (battery powered kid cars don't count!!!) on a Saturday or a Sunday?  

Let's also be real clear about something - since we all still live in the physical universe and have bodies with things like hearts and muscles and lungs in them, real exercise and by that I mean developing the capacity to withstand real exertion, is extremely critical to your longevity and having a healthy, full-function life free from decrepitude and preventable illness like diabetes, obesity, alzheimer's, osteo-arthritis, muscle atrophy, etc.  There really is no way around this, Moore's Law, network fuzzy logic algorithms, 3-d displays, none of that helps with this.   I am very concerned that all these kids today who never get the chance to encounter and master real exertion due to iPad, tablet and Facebook immersion, are going to have a frightening adult life in just a few decades with bodies that simply won't last well in this 3-d universe full of snowstorms, gravity, heavy boxes, and all kinds of unpredictability with what will come at you.  No amount of 'likes' on Facebook or Instagram will help you withstand any of that and if you wait until middle-age to get serious about exercise you've totally missed the boat and your body has no chance to develop properly.  

Just imagine if we spent 15 minutes on our devices but 3 hours moving around in and challenging ourselves with the physical universe each day... 

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