Thursday, July 19, 2012

Because I Said So: Don't worry kids, Dad is watching whether you want him to or not

Watch me copy and paste today's Because I Said So column over onto this weblog! Just watch.

Don't worry kids, Dad is watching whether you want him to or not

Hang on: My kids want you to watch them do something.

They want you to watch them jump in the pool. They want you to watch them swim across the pool. They want you to watch them jump rope, climb a tree, play a drum, eat a peach and act a fool.

Nothing happens with these children unless someone else is watching.

Did I do this? Did I instill this need for attention in them? Or did they miss the point of George Orwell's "1984"? The constant surveillance of Big Brother was supposed to be a bad thing, kids. ("Hey, Dad, watch me misinterpret a theme in classic literature!") Or perhaps it is Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook and his culture of "look at me, I'm doing this right now" that has infected and inflated their egos.

I've heard a lot of talk recently about "helicopter parents," those parents that hover over their children, noticing every move, nudging them in the right direction, keeping them as safe as possible in the dangerous world of play dates and roller skates. Is this helpful or ultimately detrimental to a child's well-being and sense of autonomy? I have no idea. You raise your children the way you see fit, and I'll raise mine by shouting commands from the sofa in my office.

But then they find their way into my office. "Watch me tie a shoe. Watch me count to 100. Watch me spill this milk." They advertise their every anticlimactic activity in a manner even more irritating than television promos during sweeps week. It's as if Dave Brown was going to not retire every single evening at my house.

I don't recall this need for attention as a child, though it's possible I begged my parents to watch me struggle with my Stretch Armstrong, become more and more confused by my Rubik's Cube, or watch "The Six Million Dollar Man" again.

I know I don't do it now. You won't see me saying to my kids, "Hey, watch me come up with another metaphor. Watch me Google up a thesaurus."

I suppose we parents all hover to a certain extent. It's become part of our buckled-up, helmeted, surveillance-heavy society. But I try to mitigate it. I send the kids outside to the backyard, down the block and to the park in an effort at encouraging them to do things on their own.

I know they'll go off on their own one day, far away to live their own lives. And they won't travel like helicopters then, but like jets feeling the need to get away. Or more accurately, as teenagers they'll ease out of the driveway onto a Memphis city street in a 26-year-old Volvo with no air conditioning and a missing taillight, and whispering to themselves, I'm sure, "Please don't watch me. Please don't watch me."

But I will be. Left there in the driveway, finally landing after a lifetime of hovering, I'll be there hoping they call soon to tell me what they've been up to.
Richard J. Alley is the father of two boys and two girls. Read more from him at . Become a fan of "Because I Said So" on Facebook:

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