Lost Opportunity For Kids
To Work Things Out Themselves?

Maria scheduled a lunch meeting with Evelyn and Ed. Her agenda was to discuss more ways to apply the Buddhist principle of benevolence, respect for others, and reciprocity as the foundations of social order in the classroom.

Maria and Evelyn were already seated. As usual, Ed was late.

"Whatever happened to 'kick the can'"? Maria took a tissue from her purse and cleaned her glasses.

Evelyn peeked over the top of her menu and inquired, "What's that?"

"I can't believe you never heard of 'kick the can'. When I was a kid we played it all the time. After supper we all got together in the alley and played until dark. One kid kicked the can down the alley and all the other kids ran and hid. It's a form of hide and seek with a twist." Maria glanced toward the entrance. "There's Ed." She waved her hand in the air to get his attention. "Hi Ed. We're over here."

As Ed strode toward them Evelyn filled him in. "Maria's been educating me about kick the can."

"Kids don't play it anymore." Ed pulled out a chair and joined them. "They don't play hide and seek either." Ed nodded his hello to Maria and picked up a menu. "Think I'll have a salad." He patted his stomach. "Gotta watch the calories. Been putting on a little weight."

After the waiter took their orders, Evelyn tucked her napkin in her collar to form a bib. She was anticipating some messy pasta. "Seriously, you guys, how come kids don't play hide and seek anymore?"

Ed said, "That's easy. It isn't taught in gym class."

Maria shot Ed a knowing grin. "Remember when our parents used to tell us to go outside and play? We'd stand in front of a friend's house and call, 'Oh for Patrick'. Pretty soon Patrick would come bouncing out the front door and we'd figure out what we were going to do."

"Yeah, I remember. We made up our own games… and our own rules." Ed was looking at the wine list. "What kind of wine goes with Osso Buco?"

Maria raised her eyebrow playfully. "I thought you were cutting down on the calaries."

"I can make up a game, can't I? Since when does made up osso buco have too many calories?"

Evelyn was impatiently tapping her fingers on the table. "Get serious you guys. Why don't kids make up their own games anymore? I mean you two are older than I am, and I don't remember 'kick the can'. I know what 'hide and seek' is all about, but it seems to me you're telling me something, something important, has been left out of my childhood."

Just then their entrÈes arrived. The three teachers from school district #19 enjoyed their summer get together and exchanged gossip and small talk for a while.

When they'd finished, Evelyn was determined to have a more serious discussion. "What did I miss? What's so great about hide and seek and making up one's own games?"

Maria said, "What you missed, and what kids today are missing out on is the opportunity to practice working things out for themselves. Everything is structured." Maria leaned back in her chair and raised her hands to the air. "They don't play games of their own making. They don't spend hours negotiating the rules. They simply don't have the opportunity to play at a level where they have some say in it."

Ed took one last fork-full of salad and put his napkin down. "What do your students do after school, Evelyn?"

Evelyn felt her face flush. She thought they were ganging up on her. "They go to their extra curricular activities. They go to their swim meets, their tennis lessons, their soccer games, their football practice, their music lessons, their…, oh I don't know, whatever they're into. Kids are different… They have different interests. There are lots of opportunities for them to pursue their own interests… I think that's a good thing, don't you?"

"Yes, well, what do all those things have in common?" Maria's voice sounded condescending.

Ed answered before Evelyn had a chance to think it over. "They're all overseen by adults. Adults make the rules. Adults make sure the kids follow them. Adults are in charge, period." His voice trailed off. "It's all structured."

Evelyn was more than a little annoyed when Maria got on her soapbox and made her little speech. "We don't provide kids with the opportunity to learn how to negotiate. I remember when I was a kid. We spent hours over the rules of a monopoly game. We had to duke it out between us. Adults didn't tell us what the rules were or who broke them. We had to negotiate… on our own." Maria gave out with a deep sigh. " A natural way of learning has been lost." She looked at Ed for approval. He nodded.

Evelyn wore a gotcha grin on her face. "Now I suppose you're going to tell me that in the idyllic world of your childhood kids always treated each other fairly. Give me a break." She pursed her lips in indignation. "In the 'good old days' bullying was an acceptable coming of age problem that children were expected to cope with on their own. Come on. Admit it. That didn't work awfully well did it?"

Evelyn was on a roll. She couldn't stop herself as she snapped, "Were you a bully or a victim, Ed? And, how about you, Maria?"

Maria and Ed exchanged a look of dismay. Maria fiddled with her flatware and Ed had a sheepish look on his face when he raised his white napkin in mock surrender.

Maria took a deep breath. "Yeah, well, I guess there has to be something between adults solving everything and children being left to their own devices."

Evelyn had clearly earned her stripes and the three of them got down to some serious discussion about how to maintain a delicate balance between too much and too little adult intervention. One thing they all agreed on is that it's an adult responsibility to teach kids the skills for getting along with each other, and to provide a safe place for them to practice those skills.