Tag Archives: parents

One Type of Homicide Not Justifiable; But it’s Certainly Understandable

By Jason Menard

Like Michael once said to Paul, “I’m a lover, not a fighter.”

I don’t believe in violence as a solution to conflict.

I don’t believe in guns as I firmly believe that they have no other purpose than to kill. Continue reading

Advertisements

The Bear Necessities

By Jason Menard

It was a bitterly cold winter’s day in the city formerly known as Hull. The skies were clear, which made the cold outside bite a little harder. And as the car crested the small hill, off in the distance, we could begin to make out a shape. Blood red, arms and legs askew, alone in the parking lot. I gasped, my wife uttered the words, “I don’t believe it.” And in the back seat, my five-year-old daughter wailed.

Yes, Reddy Bear had been found. Now it was time to assess the damage.

But before we get to that, let’s provide a little back story. Reddy Bear is, in fact, a small red teddy bear, about the size of an adult’s hand, which was purchased many moons ago from some Roots store somewhere. Given to my daughter for her first Valentine’s Day back in 2002, the bear has become a fast friend to my daughter, and, by extension, a member of our family.

Odd? Not if you’re a parent. Many of us have children who have something in their lives that brings them a special comfort. Some children have a special blanket, others have imaginary friends, and many more have stuffed animals. And the thought of losing them is equally hard on both the child and the child’s parent.

Reddy Bear has undergone a number of changes over the years. When my daughter was old enough to talk, we discovered that Reddy was a boy. He was also her friend, Reddy. Later, as my daughter entered into the “playing mommy” stage, Reddy apparently made a side trip to Sweden, because she was now a girl (we still, sometimes, refer to Reddy as ‘he’) and had transformed into my daughter’s daughter.

After getting past the initial shock of being grandparents in our early 30s, my wife and I acquiesced to the fact that Reddy was special. Simply put, my daughter and Reddy play together, share confidences, and comfort each other in times of need. With that in mind, the question was now how do we make sure we don’t lose her?

It’s every parent’s fear. As much as our children love these creature comforts, they are still children and can, at times, be less than vigilant about taking care of their toys. This was doubly a concern when it became apparent that Reddy Bear was a significant part of our daughter’s sleeping routine. The thought of a night without Reddy conjured up the image of a tear-streaked face and the feeling of loss.

As silly as it appears – after all, it’s just a bear – parents will understand that their children’s attachment to these stuffed animals, special toys, blankets, etc. is very real and very deep. As easy as it is to say, ‘it’s not real’, it’s hard to deny the very real heartbreak that you can see in their faces when something this special goes missing. While my daughter will go a couple of nights without Reddy in bed – sometimes taking another stuffed animal in its stead – there truly is nothing like the real thing. Literally. Nothing. In fact, we have another identical Roots bear. Purchased at roughly the same time – except white. And while Snowbear is fun and all, he’s not Reddy.

We even contacted Roots stores throughout Canada, through the assistance of the company’s helpful – and indulgent – staff, looking for other red bears to buy as back-ups. And when that route failed to pay off, there have been repeated eBay searches – again, all in vain. So with no replacement, we’ve got to make this one last.

It’s not like we haven’t had close calls in the past. There was a trip from Montreal to London where, while getting something out of the trunk, Reddy almost made an unexpected stop in Kingston. There was also the trip to the mall, where Reddy found herself perched atop a garbage can as some kind stranger picked her off the floor and left her to be discovered.

But Hull was almost the end. Apparently, while getting my daughter situated in the car – not an easy task considering snowsuits and car seats – Reddy fell out into a grocery store parking lot. As my wife and I debated about whether Reddy had even made this trip (as opposed to staying in the luggage where we were) Reddy was left to fend for herself. Three hours later, en route to a New Year’s Eve dinner, we decided to take that fateful detour. And, miraculously to us, there she was, alone in the parking lot.

In the end, she appeared to have not been run over by passing cars. She was not taken or discarded. A little hand washing and a few tumbles in the dryer (not to mention repeated apologies by my daughter to her bear) Reddy was back as good as new. Eventually my daughter told us that Reddy had left the car to have lunch with a friend and was merely waiting for us – although she didn’t like waiting in the cold.

Another crisis was averted. However, let’s just say the grandparents are going to be even more vigilant – if that’s possible – about their furry, red granddaughter’s whereabouts from now on!

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Bully Shows Parents Just Don’t Understand

By Jason Menard

When will people learn? The more you talk about something and threaten to ban it, the more desirable it will be. Unfortunately, experience doesn’t always make us wiser – especially when it comes to knowing how to keep our kids away from things we find unsavoury.

The latest example of this is the release of Rockstar Games’ Bully. This title for the PlayStation 2 enables students to take on the role of Jimmy, a 15-year-old who is starting his first year at a new school.

From there, the experience depends on how you play it. You can choose to befriend the geeks or become one of the bullies. And in typical tongue-in-cheek fashion, the game continues through social interactions. Of course, where people get up in arms is when that social interaction involves wedgies or bats.

And the greatest part of Rockstar Games’ marketing strategy? The fact that they new parents around the world – along with hyper-sensitive pundits – would be up in arms about this new game, shouting its potential for negatively impacting society, railing about its lack of compassion and understanding of a very real problem for today’s children, and essentially turning the volume to 11 to ensure everyone hears how horrible and depraved this new game is.

And, by extent, making certain that every teen worth his or her salt wants to get a copy of the game. Or at least be able to play it at a friends’ house.

It’s brilliant in its simplicity. From so-called Satanic music, to the evils of Gangsta Rap, to underage drinking, kids have reacted to their parents’ consternation and hyperbole in the exact opposite way that the adults intended. Instead of making this product repellant to kids through their actions, parents ended up making these items more desirable. After all, for a teen looking to carve out his or her own identity, what better way than to make a dramatic break from the will of their parents.

After all, parents don’t know anything. They’re old, they’re out of date, and they don’t understand today’s kid! And you know what, when there are still adults out there railing against games like Bully, it’s proof that not only do they not understand today’s kid, but they’ve forgotten the lessons of their youth, and that of countless generations before them.

Rockstar knew this. Rockstar, of the Grand Theft Auto series has had plenty of experience with parental outrage. And when the presence of an unlockable X-rated scene in a recent game was made known, all it did was stoke the fires of interest.

No, parents have yet to understand that the best way to minimize the reach of games – or any other media for that matter – that they find unsavoury is to ignore it completely. Parental outrage is the great validator for youth. Essentially, if your parents are opposed, then you’re probably on the right track.

It’s not until much later that we realize that our parents may have known what they were talking about. And it’s not until we cross the threshold into adulthood that we truly appreciate their wisdom, knowledge, and experience. And that appreciation – along with a dawning sense of regret – is only heightened when we have our own children, and the sins of our youth are revisited upon us by the next generation!

In fact, an even better way to turn your kids off of this type of stimuli is to share in the excitement and offer to participate! After all, what’s less cool in life than what mom and dad are doing?

Yet adults continue to react with outrage, thinking that discourse and common sense will prevail over a teen’s personal habits, when in fact they are dealing with knee-jerk reactions to stimuli. If a parent says one thing, then the opposite must be what’s cool!

So Bully gets released, parents around the world are up in arms, ratings boards slap on teen-only ratings (which, like Parental Advisory stickers become badges of honour, not objects to discourage), and people in the back rooms at Rockstar games laugh and watch all the money come in.

It’s not about right and wrong. It’s about how you handle it. This doesn’t mean abdicating your responsibility as a parent to discuss the tough issues. Nor should you let your child run free like a little hooligan, simply because you don’t want to say no.

But, in the end, going overboard with shock and rage in an attempt to ban a product only backfires. We’ve seen it throughout history – when will parents start to learn?

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Parenting Lets Us Be a Kid Again

By Jason Menard

Children are truly a gift. They enrich our lives, make us put things into a new perspective, and help us see what’s truly important. Those of us who have had the good fortune to have children have been blessed with a gift that will grow and blossom as the years pass.

Oh, and let’s not forget the toys!

While the politically correct thing to do when talking about our children is to wax poetic about the profound impact they have on our lives. And while all of those things are true, we parents have to admit that the toys are a pretty cool benefit too.

Having children allows us to relive our childhood. Take a grown man playing with Barbies in his basement, and you’d be ready to write him off as a borderline-psycho loner who probably hasn’t had a date in the past few years. But throw a three-year old daughter into the equation, and this more-than-creepy image morphs into a heart-warming expression of love between a father and daughter. A man lining up alone to see a Star Wars film? Probably living at home in his parents’ basement. However, when you add a son to the mix, then you have a devoted dad sharing a bonding moment with his child!

The most enduring films and TV shows are the ones that capture the imagination of our children, while appealing on another level to the adults who watch along with them. Shows like The Muppets and movies like Aladdin and the Shrek series resonate with our children because of the characters and the slapstick-style humour, whereas the parents are privy to another level of appreciation through carefully crafted dialogue and pop culture references. As The Simpsons has shown, kids will be drawn to the Bart and Lisa characters, whereas parents gravitate to the parents and the social commentary underlying each episode.

Kids let us revert to our childhood and recapture the innocence and freedom we enjoyed in our youth. Many parents will sit and complain about the quality of cartoons or movies directed towards our youth. We grumble and grouse and state that the shows of our youth were so much better. But it’s not a matter of whether or not we think they’re better or not: we’re just not-so-subtly trying to coerce our kids into watching what we did, so that we can justify our adult enjoyment of such childish pastimes.

Recently I was walking through a store and a DVD caught my eye, an anniversary edition of Schoolhouse Rock. In my youth, these brief snippets of animation were the highlight of my day. Wedged between Mary Lou Retton imploring me to get off the couch and exercise and Menudo showcasing its Latin-lite, choreographed vignettes, these slyly produced cartoons that mixed education with entertainment were captivating to me and many of my peers. The memories stuck with me so much that on a trip to Washington a few years back, I made sure to sit on the steps of the Capitol, singing quietly “I’m Just a Bill.”

The fact that I have an 11-year-old son and a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter made the decision to buy it a no-brainer. Not only could I make the purchase guilt-free, I’d also have a built-in reason to watch them! Fortunately, both kids seem to enjoy them, so all works out well in the end.

Obviously, as parents, we want to encourage our children to forge their own identities and explore their world. Just as childhood remembrances of The Electric Company, Star Wars, and the like have become shared points of reference for my generation, so too do my kids need to experience the memories and the cultural phenomena that will act as a common bond with the people they meet in the future. But if I can expose them to the occasional reference from my youth — then all the better.

The funny thing about all of this is that as we age, we’re constantly worried about whether or not we’re ready for parenthood. We question whether we have the maturity and the wherewithal to be good parents. But maybe we focus too much on the responsibility component of parenthood and not enough on the joy.

Growing up is a part of life, but who knew that having children would let us be a kid again?

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Overprotecting our Youth Today Limits Their Future Tomorrow

By Jason Menard

I worry, what’s going to happen to today’s children when we remove the protective bubble wrap and force them to head out into that big, bad, dangerous world all by their lonesome?

Sometimes too much knowledge can be dangerous. Many parents, who are regaled with new and potentially explosive news about the latest threats to their children, live in fear of letting their kids do the one thing they do best – be kids.

Kids are supposed to get dirty, they’re supposed to take a few chances in their life – that’s how they learn. As sensitive parents, we understand that we’re supposed to forgive our children’s mistakes and encourage them to use them as a learning tool. But how are they supposed to make mistakes when today’s society doesn’t even encourage them to go out and test the waters.

I feel my parents did a good job, overall. I’m still here, in general good health, and I take an active interest in the world around me. And, while they were aware of where I was in my youth, I remember spending all day riding my bike around the neighbourhood or playing in the park, no matter what the temperature. Rain, sun, heat, cold – we were out there enjoying life to its fullest – and we weren’t restricted to a 50-foot radius around our front porch.

Now, I don’t want to come across as an old fogey harping on about the Good Ol’ Days, but more and more today’s kids are being restricted in what they can do, what they can experience, and where they can go. Our societal fears are overwhelming our desire to watch our children live, thrive, and survive on their own.

On an average day, my wife and I will send our son out to play, only to have him come back shortly thereafter saying that none of his friends will come out, because it’s too hot (we’re talking mid-20s here, not fry-an-egg-hot summer days) – they’d rather stay inside and play video games. Looking back on my youth, heat was never a consideration – and the concept of dehydration was never even brought up. You played until you were ready to drop, came home, ate lunch or dinner, and then headed outdoors again.

Parents are dousing their kids in waterless antibacterial cleaners, because – God forbid – they come in contact with a germ. But what will the long-term ramifications of this desire to protect our children from disease be? Will we create a generation of kids who are in danger of being felled by the common cold because they’ve not developed a normal immunity, like the rest of us?

Even a recent trip to an amusement park indicates how protective we’ve become. Rides, which once sufficed with a lap bar or a shoulder restraint now feature intricate protection devices, double-belts, and the like. Signs for rides indicated so many exclusions, that only Olympic athletes appear to qualify to get on board.

Gone are the days where kids would get on their bikes and ride. Gone are the days when a forest was a place to explore with friends. Gone are the days when time could be wasted, pleasurably. Gone are the days when kids could get dirty all in the name of exploration, discovery, and fun. What those days have been replaced with

We live in a society built on fear – fear of litigation, fear of our children hurting themselves, fear of our children being abducted – and that fear has clouded our parental instincts to the point where we’re suffocating our kids’ abilities to experience the world in the same way we have.

Parents often issue the similar refrain that today’s world is different, which is true. But what’s more true is that today’s parent has changed. The available world around us has expanded to the point where its farthest reaches are within the click of a mouse, yet we’ve done our utmost to confine our kids’ world to their immediate surroundings.

Once, in my youth, I decided to take a running leap at the tree in our front yard, which featured parallel branches. Thinking I could make like an Olympic gymnast I leapt for the first branch, only to miss spectacularly. Lying in a crumpled heap, the wind knocked out of me and my head ringing, I learned a valuable lesson about risk management that I have applied to my every day life since.

And that’s the whole point. Our childhood follies and experiences teach us lessons for the long-run. We learn what to touch and what not to touch. We learn how to look before we leap. And, most importantly, we learn how to make our own way through this big, exciting – and sometimes scary – world.

By over-protecting our kids, we’re ensuring that they’ll make it to their future without a scratch – but are we not restricting the future they have by robbing them of the ability to experience life first hand? When we’ve finished holding their hands through their youth and keeping them at arm’s length, where will they go? What will they do? An animal raised in captivity often times is unable to be released into the wild because they don’t have basic survival skills. Are we doing anything different to our children by holding on so tight?

We need to give our kids the same gift our parents gave to us – the gift of a childhood. And if my son or daughter come home with a cut on the leg or a bout of Poison Ivy, then my wife and I will take care of them, and take comfort in the idea that each experience will add one more lesson learned to their youthful experience.

And it’s one more lesson that they can take with them when they step out on their own into that big world that’s full of the unknown, full of fear, but also full of beauty, excitement, and potential.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Chewing the Fat on our Kids’ Health

By Jason Menard

Does it really come as any surprise that Canada received a D for its overall commitment to our children’s health, when our kids have us setting an example?

On Thursday, May 26, 2005, the Active Healthy Kids Canada Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth was released to the public and the results certainly give us something to chew on – unfortunately, it appears that we’re chewing on fat.

Essentially the report states that Canada is failing its kids by not ensuring that they’re active enough each day to ensure optimal growth and development. The report continues by saying that “less than half our kids are expending the energy required to maintain a healthy weight, and to develop healthy hearts, lungs, muscles, and bones.

But should we really expect anything less? We’ve gone from a society that had to chase down our own food and kill it with our bare hands to survive to one where we can sit in our boxers at a computer screen, click a mouse, and have our groceries delivered to us.

And it’s a good thing that we only need one hand to use a mouse, because the other’s usually immersed in a bag of Doritos.

Physical activity, which was once a given component of daily life, is now nothing more than an afterthought for the majority of people. Instead of being an expected part of our day, exercise is treated as a luxury for which we don’t have enough time. Most of us – and speaking as a parent, I am more than guilty of this – find that by the time we’ve come home from work, prepared dinner, and done our evening chores, there’s precious little time to enjoy with the family. So because it’s difficult to shoehorn physical activity into our evenings, we make excuses to avoid it.

The end result is that, because of this, we have to shoehorn our own butts into our jeans. The long-term effects can be catastrophic, with poorer long-term health, increased diabetes, and a whole host of other health-related problems all of which can be attributed to our added girth. It’s a good thing

We’ve undervalued the importance of physical activity at school. We look down our noses at physical education classes – and really, is there any profession more maligned in our popular culture than the gym teacher? Instead of realizing the value of daily exercise, we look at gym class like a glorified recess. We talk about the three Rs and lament how our kids aren’t getting a solid foundation in the basics, but there seems to be no recognition that a fourth R should be added to the list – running!

However, the problem does not lie within the confines of our schools. It’s time we look squarely in the mirror for the real source of the problem – the parents. The Report Card gives parents a D for Family Physical Activity, professing that only 43% of parents are physically active with their kids. The saddest thing is that the number drops off as our kids get older: a reduction of 25% by the time our children turn five, and a further drop-off of 30% when they become teenagers. It appears that we, as parents, abdicate our responsibility believing that the school system will pick up the slack.

The end result of all of this? The prevalence of childhood obesity in our kids has jumped from 2% in 1981 to 10% in 2001 – and is there any reason to believe the trend hasn’t and won’t continue?

A 1998 Gallup Poll showed that 78% off Canadians were in favour of instituting 30 minutes of daily physical activity in schools, but that’s not enough. Our kids are not somebody else’s responsibility, but when it comes to ensuring the health of our children, a tragically large number of us take a hands-off approach to their physical development.

Unfortunately, the school system is going to have to be the one that picks up the ball we’ve dropped – after all, the exertion may be too much for us. Parents aren’t going to change their ways no matter how many publicity campaigns or surveys come out. It’s easy to sit here and say we should all spend a half-hour riding a bike, going for a walk, or tossing around the ol’ pigskin with our sons and daughters – but we have to deal with reality here.

This isn’t a matter of who should shoulder the responsibility – it’s about who will. Our school systems – both elementary and secondary – are in the best position to quickly and effectively institute mandatory physical education periods. Just a half hour a day will give our kids a good foundation. There’s really no reason why gym should be an elective course in high school – if we put a premium on developing the mind, we need to do the same for the body.

Looking long-term, by making exercise a regular part of our kids’ lives, they’ll be more likely to continue to make it a part of their everyday routine. Ideally, spending a half-hour or more working out, walking, or just being active won’t be an imposition but rather an afterthought in their lives.

And then maybe they can turn around and show us the right way of doing things. For the good of our health, our kids will have to be the ones teaching their parents – because we’ve shown that, when it comes to healthy living, we’re no role models.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Raising Our Kids is Not a Game

By Jason Menard

While some parents are hailing the decision of the Retail Council of Canada to voluntarily restrict the access of certain video games to children, I have to wonder if this is truly a step forward in protecting our youth – or whether it’s just another case of parents abdicating their responsibility to someone else.

Once again, instead of taking the active role in child-rearing, we’re looking to external bodies to regulate our environment. To take the choice out of our hands, and to protect us from ourselves. The problem is, it won’t work. By making these games harder to get, all we have done is made them more appealing to kids.

My generation was one that grew up with video games. Whereas it’s unthinkable that many of my parents’ peers would be caught with a controller in their hands (my mother, addicted to Pac Man as she is, is a notable exception), I’m hard-pressed to find anyone in my early-30s circle of friends that don’t own at least one video game system. They are as ubiquitous as DVD players and TVs.

And, as my generation raises their children, we are exposing them to video games. The key for us is to do so responsibly and to do that we need to be active parents. No ratings or restrictions are going to change that.

As parents, my wife and I have chosen to restrict the types of games that our 10-year-old son is allowed to play. The reality is that there are plenty of games with content that some people would find unsavoury. We’ve rented games filled with strong language, violence, sexual themes, gore, and any number of illegal activities. The key thing is that we don’t play them when he’s around. Nor do we allow him to play them – and we explain to him why. There are plenty of video games out in this world and there are more than enough for him to enjoy without subjecting him to adult-themed games.

But we’ve decided to set these rules. In the same way that we guide what movies he watches, what TV shows he’s exposed to, and what access to the Internet he has, so to do we monitor the video games. In fact, we generally try any game he gets before he does, to be sure we’re comfortable with the images and activities he’s going to presented with.

It’s called active parenting – and no rating system can give that to you.

In fact, ratings are only good as guides, not as enforcements. There are two sides to this coin. First off, ask most teenagers which movie they’d prefer to see – one with a PG rating or one with a Restricted rating – and they’ll choose the latter, greatly because of the stigma attached to it. The sense of mystery and the idea of the forbidden are far more appealing than the “parentally accepted” former choice.

Secondly, ratings are not absolutes. Whether they’re industry-defined or independently assigned, they only serve to provide a general guideline of the content. There are R-rated films that I have no problem allowing my son to watch, and that have more value than many of the so-called age-appropriate films. But we don’t allow him to watch these in isolation. If a broadcast has strong themes present, it’s our responsibility as parents to talk about them, not ignore them as if they don’t exist.

Many parents, including ourselves, have been guilty at times of using TV as a babysitter. And now, as my generation continues to have children, the video game system is taking the same function in many cases. But, just as you wouldn’t hire a baby-sitter to watch your children without performing a thorough screening first, nor should you fire up a PS2 or Xbox without some prior knowledge of what’s going to happen.

I’m not so naïve as to think that my son is being completely sheltered from these images. In fact, I know acquaintances that allow their pre-teens free access to games that I would consider challenging for most adults, but that’s their choice and their kids. My wife and I can only control our environment and hope that the lessons we’re teaching, the messages we’re imparting, and the choices we’re making are enabling our son to feel comfortable in the world we live in.

Stricter enforcement on sales and ratings systems won’t do anything to diminish the appeal of violent and suggestive video games. It’s our job as parents to be actively aware of what our kids are exposed to. Raising our kids is not a game – so let’s start taking it seriously and stop looking for others to regulate what we do.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved