Lost Treasure Found in Old TV Shows

The other weekend, my roommates and I had a rousing game of Monopoly, and it got me thinking about what incredible things we learned when we played the game as children.

The idea of owning property versus owning cash, negotiating and trading, bonds maturing, paying rent — the list goes on. As our evening dedicated to our far simpler lives continued, we watched “”Sesame Street”” and I marveled again at the lessons those puppets taught us.

Unlike children today, we were quickly fed valuable information about life situations and how to interact and deal with people of all kinds. In simple and subconscious ways, we formed an idea of how the world worked and how humans could work together effectively.

As the debate rages about how to curb violence among children, especially in our schools, there have been many proposed causes and just as many proposed solutions to this problem.

Violent television shows, movies and video games are popular scapegoats, while tighter gun control laws, ratings for television shows and other minor forms of censorship have been proposed as Band-Aid solutions. However, it seems that as the search for a suitable fall guy and the most politically advantageous solution continues, bureaucrats and activist groups alike are slightly off target.

The activities that children engage in today are introverted in nature and do not involve the healthy interaction among children that is crucial to learning how to relate to others in a harmonious way.

The murders that children see on television and the violence in video games cannot be entirely blamed for violence in schools. Instead, parents need to examine how their children spend their time and what lessons they are learning throughout the day.

Let us step back to when we were in kindergarten. What did we do? After an arduous day of school that ended around 11 a.m., we invited friends over to play games, climb trees, go to soccer practice, or maybe watch some TV. Video games were just coming onto the scene when we were that young. Let us look at what children today do in their spare time. They play video and computer games, use the Internet, some play sports, and nearly all watch TV.

My younger brother and sister have never even heard of “”Sesame Street,”” and my brother wakes up to play video games before school each day and throws a fit when my dad tries to make him turn the computer off to go to bed.

The characteristic that nearly all of our childhood activities had in common was that they required other children. Board games require at least one other person and we learned that we sometimes won and sometimes lost. Dealing well with winning and losing with friends was essential, because no one wanted to play with a sore loser, or a sore winner.

Team sports force children to interact with others whom they may not know and collaborate for a common goal. Children learn teamwork, respect and sportsmanship. Even those who do not enjoy sports can learn lessons about how to work in situations in which they do not necessarily feel comfortable. There are countless other examples of how we learned valuable life lessons as children without even knowing it.

Take “”Sesame Street.”” What did the two-headed monster do? Each had half a word, and only when they worked together and combined the two halves could they create a real word. We didn’t realize it, but those goofy monsters were teaching us how to work together. Bert and Ernie showed us that roommates don’t always get along but can still remain friends.

Video games and the computer are, for the most part, noninteractive activities — you don’t have to deal with other people. Today’s video games are more individual in nature. If you lose while playing a video game, you can start over or continue. It has essentially no consequences, and thus children never learn that losing can often be very hard to accept and can involve uncomfortable situations.

The problem-solving skills attained while playing video games are all reclusive in nature, as they do involve actual human situations. Video games teach children nothing about real life, and nothing about other people. Staring at a screen — even with other children — is not a substitute for sitting around a table and actually interacting with other children.

Using the Internet is touted as a valuable resource for children yet requires very little problem solving and does not teach children anything about their peers. They may learn facts and figures and even how to gather information, but that knowledge is useless if they have never engaged in a discussion or an argument with someone their own age.

A University of Michigan study concluded that compared with 1981, children in 1997 spent less time outdoors, less time playing with other children and less time reading. In addition, the report stated that children who played games and puzzles at home with their parents scored higher on most standardized tests. These and other interactive activities were determined to increase problem-solving skills.

Winning and losing create situations that require accommodating, cooperating and collaborating. Those children who have can handle such situations and will be the ones who succeed in school both in the classroom and on the playground. Those who face defeat in schoolwork and other activities at school for the first time are ill-equipped to deal with these situations. These children are more likely to resort to violence, as they have no other means of solving problems to come to a nonviolent solution.

Psychological research has shown that children who grow up learning how to deal with conflict have an easier time handling major loss (such as the loss of a parent or loved one) than children who grow up introverted, with relatively little experience dealing with discord in their lives.

Parents are the key to raising nonviolent children who are equipped to handle life situations. It is ultimately up to parents themselves to monitor their own children. Frightening as it may be, many of us are going to be parents in the not-too-distant future. It will be up to us to make sure our children learn to interact with other children in a peaceful and productive manner.

Children are not going to change overnight with a new program or law. Change is gradual. In this case, change is going to necessitate a new breed of parents who are active in their children’s lives, teaching them right and wrong and encouraging them to participate in activities that will assist them in learning about people.

As the progress of entertainment technology channels children to introverted activities, it will be our job as parents to refocus their attention outward to other children, so violence moves far down on the list of possible ways to deal with problems.

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