Monthly Archives: October 2012

High School Dances–It’s not 1984 Anymore

With apologies to the immortal Wang Chung, a few things have changed since those Dance Hall Days.  Not that I’m naive enough to confuse the 1980s with the days of Jane Austen, but the world of teens has changed–both for better and for worse.

Let’s Dance.  In my high school daughters’ world, homecoming dances are no longer primarily “date” activities.  Even upperclassmen often go to the annual dance with a group of friends.  These groups, usually including more girls than boys, gather beforehand for a pot-luck dinner at someone’s house (skipping the expense of the traditional dinner out) and for pictures as a herd instead of for portraits as pairs, and it seems the kids who are heading to the dance with dates are almost the exception rather than the rule.

Maybe that is a healthy change.  Once upon a time, a couple breaking up probably meant at least one of the two stayed home from the dance.  But my daughters and most of their friends are rejecting the two-by-two conditioning that used to be the norm in schools, opting instead for more independence–and, more importantly, for more efficacy.  No need to put on their red shoes and dance the blues.  They are already learning that their options in life are not dependent upon whether they have (or even want to have) a date, boyfriend, husband, etc.  I also choose to believe that girls arriving and leaving as a group are likely to look out for one another.  Anything that helps kids stay safe is an upgrade.  Feel free to insert your own Safety Dance joke here–no hats required.

As I do from time to time, I questioned my 16 year old daughter’s choice in shoes:  5 inch heels.  I reminded her that manufacturers would make more comfortable shoes for women if women refused to buy into the style of high-heels and pointed toes and insisted on comfortable designs.  She agreed, but style outweighs comfort in her world.  She also explained that as soon as they arrive at the dance the girls check their shoes anyway.  They may be voluntary victims of style, but these girls understand that dancing in heels is crazy.  When it’s time to get Footloose, they get shoe-loose.

Dress code is another issue.  After her first two months as a Catholic school student, my younger daughter came in from her freshman homecoming with word that the nuns had “shawled” girls whose dresses were too revealing.  An overly self-revealing young lady would have two choices:  add coverage with the shawl, or exit the event.  As a dad and as an educator I thought this was a terrific idea.  Being Pretty in Pink is a fine goal, but–regardless of whether the student or her parents share the school’s standards of decency–a dance is a school event and should not be confused with a club or bar.  Dresses that are loose enough and that cover enough are a reasonable expectation in order for a young lady to have the privilege of attending the dance; and similar criteria must apply to young men.  Dress codes are about R-E-S-P-E-C-T:  for self, for others, and for setting.  My older daughter’s public high school has a somewhat looser dress code, but she knows she still needs to meet her parents’ higher expectations.  We give her free reign to buy whatever dress she wants–usually online–but with the caveat that we hold the final say on whether she gets to leave the house wearing it once we see her in it; so far she has shown consistently good judgment, if anything leaning slightly more conservatively than we would have accepted.  I want all of my kids to have clean, safe fun, as well as to understand that how someone dresses often affects how others treat him or her.

Dirty Dancing.  Peer groups, shoes, and clothing are not nearly so contraversial, however, as the actual conduct at a dance.  Much has been written over the last few years about the physical types of dancing teens are engaging in at school events.  A quick search of Youtube or Google will reveal troubling videos of girls–someone’s daughters-bent forward, and boys–even a series of boys taking turns–grinding against them from behind.  Many schools have instituted explicit “face to face and leave some space” policies to deter this.

Regardless of school policy, my guiding wisdom (or fascist directive, depending upon your point of view) for my kids remains the same as always:  Don’t You Forget About Me.  Assume I’m walking in.  If you’re comfortable with me seeing what you and your friends are doing at the moment if I happen to walk in–and I just might–then all is well.  Now, if only more parents would take a similar stance….As Corey Hart once told my generation, we can Never Surrender.


Filed under Activities & Sports, Safety, School

Coaching Kids vs. Coaching to Win

Two years ago, my then-7 year old son began his first football season more excited than he had ever been about playing a new sport.  Even while he was loving soccer the previous two falls, he had been lobbying to give football a try.  So we signed him up for flag football, assured at the spring registration day by a member of the football club’s board that he was eligible, but were called the following week with news that he was actually 1 year too old and needed to play 7-8 year old tackle.  While I was sure I did not want him in football for the long term because of injury risks, our boy was easily one of the biggest kids in the age group, so my wife and I were OK with giving it a try.  He was more than OK with it:  the boy was eager.

The Big Guy (right), with a teammate

Practices started, and while I thought the adults involved (both parents and coaches) were crazy to expect 7-8 year olds to practice 5-6 days per week for almost all of August (until school started), he was having fun; so I parked in my chair on the sidelines and enjoyed watching him practice.  As it turned out, the coach played my son roughly the minimum number of plays permitted by the league all season.  In most games the coach actually kept count of the plays and pulled my son off the field for good as soon as he reached that minimum, even in the middle of an offensive of defensive series.

Lack of effort?  No–The boy worked hard whenever he had the opportunity to get into a game, and he never shied away from contact.  Lack of performance?  No, again.  I saw my 7 year old offensive/defensive lineman pushed backwards exactly once during the entire season.  In every other play my son ether locked up his opponent in a tie, pushed him backwards, or got past him.  I am not claiming he was a 7 year old Russ Grimm or Reggie White, but he did at least well enough to fit in with what his peers were doing around him.

But let’s set all of that aside for a minute and assume that my son–or any player–had been the most inept 2nd grade football player since the days of Red Grange.  This was the LOWEST team available in a league without cuts, essentially a recreation team.  Where was he supposed to gain experience?  How did sitting on the bench at age 7 foster interest in the game?

So what WAS the rationale?  Taking the coach up on his public offer to address any concerns along the way to guarantee a great experience for every boy, I emailed to schedule a brief meeting for after practice about what my son needed to improve in order to get on the field.  The coach–a former college player and the football club board member who initially advised us to register for flag–explicitly told me that the team “needed” to make the playoffs, and he felt my son should not be in the tackle league without first playing a year of flag football–even though the league’s policy was inflexible about the age limit for flag.  However, he also assured me that all of the boys would have more balanced playing time after they got past the first 3 opponents, who were supposedly the main obstacles to the playoff grail; he shared that he did not want anyone to have the experience his family had gone through the previous year when his wife “rode” his older son’s coach all year about playing time.  I walked away after a very friendly conversation still disagreeing with the ‘win first’ mentality, but confident that the situation was going to improve for my son.

The balanced playing time assurance was–to be kind–inaccurate.  All of the other players had significantly more playing time that season, except for one:  surprisingly, the other bench-dweller was the coach’s own son.  Apparently the part about being committed to winning was sincere.

By mid-September, my son was already starting to talk about returning to soccer the following fall because “they let me play.”  After the team’s eventual loss in the playoffs, I took my son out to breakfast on the way home, and while we were eating he told me–unfortunately with blank resignation because the bitterness had worn off–“I only played in the first half because we were trying to win.”  I followed up with the league (and since then with many members of our community who have asked me about my experience with the football club) in extensive detail about my concerns and my son moved on.  Our now-9 year old is once again happy and excelling on the field…in soccer.

7 year old kids.  A coach’s “need” to make the playoffs.  The two ideas do not seem to belong together.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Activities & Sports, Morality