I’m guilty of lumping all teenagers into a dismissive pile of laziness characterized by kids who are smartphone obsessed and fast to trade physical activity for screen time.
Having five kids that have yet to reach the dreaded teen years makes it easy for me to be this judgmental.
My opinion has been formed by my drive home each afternoon. I pass by a local middle school and am disappointed with what I see on most days.
I typically witness more kids walking home while staring at their cell phones in front of their face than chatting with their friends as they stroll. From my seat, the kids seem more distant to each other.
Passing by the school’s front entrance, I see the perfect lines of young people waiting for the bus under the watchful eyes of school officials. I often wonder what would happen if the bell rang and kids were allowed to roam rather than being mandated to wait in an assigned area.
The combination of seeing too much technology and structure provided a daily affirmation that my preconceived notions of teenage laziness were exactly right.
This weekend my opinion changed, leaving my Good-Bad Dad preconceptions teetering.
On Saturday evening, I found my faith in the future restored, in part, because of a game of touch football my kids stumbled across. Watching that game has temporarily helped revise my dismissal of today’s teenager.
My two oldest boys and I watched a group of a dozen or so teenage boys engaged in an intense game that would be best described as touch football played on an enclosed tennis court.
The rules of the game seemed fairly simple – two-hand, touch football on a short concrete field with halves separated by a tennis net.
My kids were intrigued by the athleticism on display. I was astounded for other reasons – because my preconceived notions were turned on their head by these young men.
There was no technology around the game – no phones, no “Beats by Dre” headphones, no Twitter and no ultra-sticky football gloves that allowed for a “Beckham” one-handed snag.
There was no supervision present – no referee to blow a whistle for pass interference and no Principal to tell the teams to watch out for the tennis net. Although there were certainly times where the game resembled more “Lord of the Flies” than an organized Super Bowl, the unbridled play was truly refreshing and completely self-governing.
During the game, leaders naturally emerged and followers fell into their comfortable, supporting roles. The team captains became naturally discernible, they were not a result of a “C” patch on a jersey.
Watching those young men play was eye-opening. The energy from the court was pervasive and pure, not manufactured and dictated by a stop watch or play clock.
When all of the distractions at the surface were stripped away – the phones, the social media, and the constant being told what to do – these teenagers were at their best – engaged and connected.
The made up game taught this Good-Bad Dad a valuable lesson – that creativity and leadership come about when kids are allowed enough time and space to figure it out for themselves.
No structure and no equipment is required.
In fact, all of that “stuff” might well be detrimental.