Wednesday, June 14, 2000

Why Mommy can't play

Good news for lazy parents: Turns out playing with your children, directing their activities, encouraging them, and helping them decide what to do is actually a bad thing. That's right, it's better to leave the kids alone with those asbestos-laced crayons and let them do what they will than to suggest a direction or a color or even so basic an endeavor as staying between the lines.

Aiding kids in that way stunts their creativity--or so suggests a new study by the American Psychological Society. Children whose parents were actively involved in their play felt pressured to perform and judged on that performance. Whereas children whose parents could care less what they were up to presumably felt free to be wildly creative and original and true to their unique little selves. One can hope that their muse did not lead them to actually color on the walls, but one would hardly want to tell them not to.

Still, I applaud this new information, since it supports my selfish theory that children should know how to play and just leave me alone and go do it already. At last, now, I know I'm right to sit like a lump in front of the computer screen, reading my usual 487 pieces of e-mail, while my young ones learn spontaneity and initiative and how to amuse their own little selves. Lately, my son's imagination has led him to play Recycling Man; this involves going around the house and filling plastic shopping bags with various items that I will one day miss. He has a toy shopping cart in which he puts these bags and transports them about the house. I could tell him that what he's really playing is Homeless Man, but that would be applying my own rules to his creativity, and fie on that.

My daughter, on the other hand, has always had a tough time coming up with a play plan and has relied on me to tell her how to occupy herself, but no more. If I keep giving her ideas, how will she ever become a creative, free-thinking adult? And if what she freely thinks is that she'd like to watch Nickelodeon until her eyes fall out, well, who am I to hamper that self-determination? Keeps her out of my hair.

Yes, it's a happy day. No more showing the kiddos how to put together Legos into the impossibly complex forms detailed in the instructions, or putting play-doh through the intricate permutations suggested in the kits it comes with. If they can't figure it out themselves, let them figure out something different. And if it involves major clean-up--and tell me, what unsupervised children's activity does not?--well, perhaps its time to let the young people channel their own inner Hazel and learn to clean in a spontaneous and imaginative fashion that does not involve mom. If they don't judge me by my previous performance in this field, I won't judge them on theirs.

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