The Pursuit of Fun

February 16, 2009

Any given weekend when the sun is shining brightly, the kids in my neighborhood are outside making the most of the good weather. That I might have a problem with that would make me the worst kind of curmudgeon - specially since I am the mother of a young child myself.

Now, imagine if you will that in my neck of the woods the sun is shining nice and bright all day long almost 70% of the year and the temperature is pleasant enough to remain outdoors until dusk. Imagine also that the kids age between 3 - 13 years old and outside having a fun time for 7-8 hours of the day. More often than not a bunch of parents are having fun right along with them. Throw in the long summer break and the spring break and do the math on the sum total of fun hours and maybe I won't be such a horrible Scrooge after all.

The pursuit of fun is perfectly reasonable but within reasonable limits. If you treat each warm day as if it were the very last one of the year, set out a picnic table and lounging chairs on the grass and get a party started and have this pattern repeat for most of the year, it gets old, tiresome and boring - the very antithesis of fun in my mind at least.

Despite my reservations, I used to let J join in these fun-fests but found it impossible to pull her out of there once she got sucked into the swirl of things. She'd come home dead beat at dinner-time with face-paint and nail-polish on her and one sugary juice too many. After a couple of days of all-out fun, J found it difficult to get interested in the mundane business of life in our household.

I have since diverted her away from the neighborhood fun-fests. Having a bunch of after-school activities has also helped. Yet, J often complains that she is not able to have fun and relax like her friends. She feels like she is "always doing stuff" instead of "relaxing and having fun". Being a FOB, I cringe at those words knowing their connotation. In our culture relaxation is the privilege of the superannuated - the rest of us have to have work to do. We have to earn the right to have fun and relax - it does not happen automatically.

Hanging out, chilling and doing nothing useful is the American concept of fun J is talking about - working hard to achieve something is most definitely not. So a kid with a flair for music practicing his instrument for hours would be uncool as would be a math "nerd" who loves to live in the world of numbers and patterns. They are not the fun, party crowd. In her book The Yin and Yang of American Culture - A Paradox, Eun Y. Kim tackles this very subject i.e. The Pursuit of Fun and the quandary it poses for Asian immigrant parents.

It is not part of our culture - we definitely don't give it the same amount of importance as Americans do. We tend to value hard-work and concomitant achievement much higher. Yet when in America, we want our children to assimilate the mainstream culture enough to be able to blend in comfortably.

In my specific situation, that may entail J joining the fun and games every once in a while but find ways to engage herself without the high-octane excitement at all other times. I am terrified of her turning into a fun-junkie. That is sometimes too much to ask of kids. "Why must I always be the one that comes home the earliest ?" , "Why can't I have pink lemonade and Cheetos with everyone else ?" and finally "Why must I work when everyone else is playing ?" are the questions I get posed.

The "work" in this case would be reading a book, working on an art project, practicing her music, dance or otherwise "gainfully" occupying her time. No matter what balance of "fun" and "work" we agree upon, it will still seem inequitable to J because her peers live for fun, it is a matter of incredible importance to them and to not have had enough fun is qualification to be a loser. No kid wants that label stuck on them.

So they try to meander in and out between cultural and parental expectations and peer-pressure to cut loose and have fun. I realize my challenges are only beginning. I try to explain to J that the greatness of America is built on an incredible amount of  hard work by the people who first settled in this land and for several generations continued to strive relentlessly to make life better. The culture of fun that she sees all around her is a relatively new phenomenon and will likely not yield the same results as hard-work did.

I tell her that there are plenty of historical role-models in this country who will attest to my conviction that hard-work is by far the only real mantra for lasting peace and prosperity. I tell that to be a good American, she must continue the best traditions on which this country was founded and this whole business of fun at all costs and to the exclusion every other consideration is certainly not one of them.

I am sure this lesson will need to be repeated one time too many. If I am very lucky, some of it will stick with J and actually make sense to her. In as far as being able to straddle the different world-views successfully, she is really on her own and only time will tell how she will fare.

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The Pursuit of Fun


Author: heartcrossings


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February 16, 2009
09:37 AM

"Hanging out, chilling and doing nothing useful is the American concept of fun J is talking about - working hard to achieve something is most definitely not."

Uuh, this is offensive and untrue on so many levels. Maybe the issue is the families you surround yourself with, and maybe it is your concept that children should always be doing something that resembles work.

First of all, for children, there are many lessons to be learned from play. You do not say how old your daughter is, but lets assume she is 7-10. Hanging out with girlfriends in a group is a learned skill. They practice negotiation, communication, give and take, bargaining, decision making, and other social skills needed to be socially apt adults. Unless they are spending every moment as a group on the computer or watching TV, what they are doing is valuable learning time.

You can always help to direct that play and give them activities to do or a project to work on. But come on, a child's job is to be a child, not to cure cancer and clean your house. There is a middle ground!

Do I mean that children should not have responsibilities? No. I firmly believe that children should have AGE APPROPRIATE tasks and responsibilities. I am a mother and my 18 month old knows how to put away her own toys. My friends instill the same values in their own children.

While I am sure that there are families who do not care what their kids do and let them play video games and eat cheetos all day long, it is your responsibility to find a family that does not do those things. your daughter deserves a chance to play and be a normal child, you just need to do your job as a mom and find her suitable playmates.

Ayan Roy
February 16, 2009
09:43 AM

The key here is balance.

This article personally resonated with me. I think you undermine the role of American style "outdoors fun" here. I personally feel children need to go out, mix with other kids and play hard/enjoy themselves, as often as they can. This is very important for their psychological development,peer group acceptance and socio-interpersonal skills.
I think, that if you try too hard to make a child exclusively homebound with so called "productive" (which it may be!) self-absorbed individualistic "hobbies", (which may seem too hard or boring for the child), then the child becomes too self-absorbed, a loner, and suffers badly on the social-networking, peer-group and physical fitness front.
That is exactly what happened to me when I was a small kid, partly due to my personal introvertish temperament, and more so because of my over-protective mother and grandparents, who would raise hell if I had a small cut on my finger or if I had a tiff with a kid in the neighbourhood. I thus used to read a lot, draw a lot and do a lot of origami and jigsaw puzzles, quietly by myself, but I hardly used to go out and mix with other kids, and did not really run and jump around too much.
Thus, I was never good at sports and was always bullied a lot in school by the "sporty" guys, as I was not 'street smart' and did not know the "rules of the road" as they called it, because was very naive and self-absorbed.

Even though now I have become somewhat physically active and socially adept through experience (Hostel life), I still have severe regrets that I did not play around and have a lot of the outdoors fun when I was a kid. I could have built a lot of lasting friendships during that time. Now I have hardly any friends left from my school-days or from my childhood neighborhood, because I hardly interacted with any kids then!

Ayan Roy
February 16, 2009
09:50 AM

Wow, SS, you said exactly what I wanted to convey too!! Agree with you completely. A young kid should play more, because they learn through play.

February 16, 2009
10:05 AM

Ayan - I hear you about being completely homebound and that is definitely not what I am looking to do with J. My own childhood included a lot of doing nothing with friends. The only difference there were guidelines on when to stop and parents stayed out of our fun and games.

I would love nothing more than for J to have the same experience but that seems to be hard to do. I have a problem with this non-stop cycle of fun and relaxation. It is very likely I am in the wrong place and surrounded by an overly fun-loving crowd. But that is part of the problem - no one else seems to think of it as odd.

smallsquirrel - I will be the first to admit that I don't live in a neighborhood that is representative of all America. I do not believe that all of America is uniform. I happen to know American parents who are concerned about balancing work and play in their child's lives and not given to going of the deep end on either. Unfortunately, they do not happen to be living next door to me. Arranging play-dates with kids that live 12-15 miles away is more work that I can do.

That said, what is going on around me is also a way of life and in no way considered odd. The fact of the matter is that the Asian threshold for fun (and indeed their need for it in their lives) is entirely different from the American one. There are outliers in both sets but that would not change the average.

My challenge as an Asian parent is to allow J to value the importance of work without becoming a working drone - that is a big part of why I am in America in the first place. If I thought the Indian way was perfect, I would not try anything different. Play is important and there is much I learn from my neighbors in the art and craft of making every sunny day a reason for celebration.This is not something that would never come to a desi naturally.

My only problem is with them amplitude. I believe is it a little too much and as a result is counterproductive.

February 16, 2009
10:36 AM

but HC, you are the parent! you set limits! tell your daughter she has whatever, say 3 hours every day to go out and play and the rest is structured however you see fit. the whole thing I object to is that you seem to see this as a zero-sum game. or maybe you don't, but you are projecting it that way.

kids not only understand limits, but they need and crave them. sit down with your child and find out what she wants to do and you two set limits together. I find it hard to believe there are not things for your child to do within a 10 mile radius. and there are limits you can draw, like I have stated above, within the existing confines of what you have now... let her play with the neighborhood kids but for a certain amount of time per day.

you want to talk about being ostracized? how bad are people going to make fun of her if she has no social skills? not to mention that every child deserves a chance to be a child!

there is a balance to everything, and you have to find the one that works for your family.

February 16, 2009
11:16 AM

SS - It is a zero-sum game in as far as the value of fun and its direct correlation to a general feeling of satisfaction with life. One of the Monday morning tasks in J's school is for kids to journal what they did over the weekend. Right after spring-break or summer this becomes brutally competitive exercise in who had did the most fun things.

Weekends are slightly better but not a whole lot. This kid who wrote once that over the weekend the Verizon guy had come to his house is still laughed at. The school will organize several fun-events over the year - ice-cream socials, carnivals, spring-fests and what have you but I have yet to see them bring in the local youth choir or orchestra to perform for the kids. I would guess that is not considered fun enough.My point is that the culture is quite pervasive.

You are expected to do fun stuff if you have any semblance of a life - this begins in childhood and does not stop when you become an adult. Not having "plans" for the weekend is not particularly cool even for a grown-up.
Maybe I have not conveyed this right but that is where my problem lies.

J gets plenty of socialization opportunities in school and the bunch of activities in and outside school she participates in. My concern is not about her social ineptitude but about J feeling content about her life without needing non-stop fun to make it a thing of happiness. My concern is about her being able to find joy in the mundane as well because a lot of life can be just that.

Deepti Lamba
February 16, 2009
11:27 AM

In fact I feel there are more places in America which are education oriented for kids. There are children libraries, kids museums and even the parks are way better than what we have here.

Back in Milwaukee since we did not know any parents with kids of Aayan's age we used to take Aayan to the library where he used to read and play with other kids.

We had great fun at the museums and we even went to the local jazz concerts just about every evening during the summer months.

On weekends we used to drive off to Chicago, go for walks around the pier, the zoo or just hang around the book stores where we'd pour through kids books.

And Aayan was barely three at the time.

Even here in India we are making sure he and Parita have a more well rounded access to knowledge and aren't just academics oriented.

Kids should have fun with kids but parents should have even more fun with their kids. They grow up so fast and then one fine day they don't want to hang around their not so cool parents;)

We got to enjoy them while they still want to be our buddies;)

Deepti Lamba
February 16, 2009
11:39 AM

HC, maybe its time to look for a school which is more balanced in its outlook towards 'fun' and academics or move to another neighborhood which isn't in the party mode all the time.

Where we stayed in Dallas, Milwaukee and even in Calfornia I don't remember kiddie party time 24/7. Maybe you guys are living in the wrong neighborhood.

Even here in India, actually in Delhi, the kids living in 'posh areas' were always in the party mode since they were tots but we kids in our regular mundane middle class neighborhoods used to have allotted fun time hours.

February 16, 2009
11:55 AM

HC, well, my argument still stands. so that kind whose entire weekend revolved around the verizon guy coming has parents that are crap. but if that kid had something that he was interested in, and his parents had encouraged him to pursue that interest, he could have reported on that.

Say he was interested in zoology. he could have reported that he took a walk in the local park and then reported on what he found.

even if it was just about sports and the history of that sport... it can be turned into a learning adventure. the parents just have to be involved.

I feel that you are making excuses. many learning opportunities can be made fun if you put some thought into it. that is your job as a parent. if you think your school needs more cultural opportunities then you get involve and you help organize them. and come on, think like a child... how much fun is a choir? not very. you need to think about maybe something like the costumes from a local production or hey! you are south asian living in the US. Why don't you offer to help plan a day where other cultures are showcased... traditional dress, food, etc.

Time to stop pointing the finger and get more involved.

February 16, 2009
12:43 PM

SS - I think you are missing my point my a bit. The issue is not about what I am able and willing to do to widen my child's horizons - I naturally make the most of the opportunities I have around me. It is not about what J is getting out of all that but about her perspective and about her sense of fulfillment with her own life.

"so that kind whose entire weekend revolved around the verizon guy coming has parents that are crap." - pretty strong words for the parents ! This stems directly from the presumption that parents have to play the role of entertainer and organizer of play/activity in their child's lives and that a kid will have no idea how to spend them free time on their own until the adults start pick up the MC role.

That is my whole argument again the culture of fun. The kids are so over-dozed and dependent on it that they forget how to occupy their time by themselves. To that extent they feel like failures if their parent was not mindful enough to take them to for a nature walk on Saturday to spark their interest in zoology and the high point of the weekend happens to be the Verizon guy showing up.

A creative child may write a hilarious story on the theme for being bored to tears until Verizon guy super-hero showed up to save the day. But given the acceptable standards of "fun" in J's peer-group that would not past muster. They would still poke fun at him.

As for the local youth choir/orchestra - they are a bunch of highly talented teens and tweens who have worked hard to be able to perform as well as they do. They repertoire includes the contemporary and is very entertaining.

You would think kids would love to see kids near their age being so assured and confident about themselves on stage. That a school may see some value in showcasing such talent instead of organizing an ice-cream social. Again it is about attitude and perception.

Us South-Asians have our little henna-tattoo, bangle and bindi stalls at J's school's spring-fests and some kids come attired traditionally as well. We just become one of the many acts that are out there that day and don't interest the kids as much as some of the more exciting things they could be doing instead.

February 16, 2009
12:47 PM

Deepti - A change of neighborhood may well be in order :) This time I'll be sure to check if a 24/7 kiddie-party culture is the norm or not !

February 16, 2009
03:14 PM

Play while play, study while study, work while work - if you can teach and get your kids to learn this basic principle, you have won half the battle. It helps create a good structure and balance while kids are growing and expanding their horizons. Parenting is an art, let your own intuition be the guide, because nobody knows the quirks and needs of your kids better than you, and nobody loves and cares for your kids more than you. You do not have to follow the Jones. Improvise on your own childhood and those of people around you. When in doubt, think of what your mom would have done and than improvise it.

February 17, 2009
01:50 AM

Good article.

I remember reading a news item a while ago that parents in some Asian dominated neighborhoods in California bemoaned the fact that there was flight of American students from schools because of too competitive an academic environment.

This affected the quality of education because American parents had a well rounded approach towards their kids education, which was being missed by Asian students and parents. It was like they were going to schools in Hong Kong or Taiwan.

American schools tend to be more relaxed, creative and a fun place, especially during early years. This is partly due to parental approach to kids education.

Then the kids grow up and shit hits the ceiling fan. Lack of academic rigor turns into a major disadvantage in the later years.

Addiction to fun oriented activities makes all other activities boring. Child's agenda supersedes that of parent's. The author has used a very apt phrase, "fun junkies", lol!

A recipe for disaster when it comes to making career choices. Peer pressure and distractions take over child's life. This is why even in expensive private schools, there are problems.

If malnourished students attending lousy zilla parishad schools(I used to attend one) in India can hand many of their richer American counterparts their asses, surely there must be some merit to the Indian approach.

Education in US schools is far superior to education in Indian schools. It is the external influences/pressures that spoils the system in US.

IMO, Indian parents are at an advantage. Kids sponge-off all the creativity and quality from American system and at the same time inculcate Indian rigor and discipline at home.

When I was a kid, I had interacted with a few Montessori(fun schools) students in India. They seemed pretty dull to me and I don't think the were any more happier than we were. Although the IIT/MBBS tutorial types that i came across did look stressed out.

February 17, 2009
06:51 AM

"So a kid with a flair for music practicing his instrument for hours would be uncool.."

You have more number of American kids learning to play musical instruments compared to Indians and even forming local bands. Tell me, how many Indian kids are serious about playing any kind of musical instrument?

In the US, many parents consider even sports activities to be work (something you don't seem to acknowledge). This is why you see many soccer moms taking their children to junior baseball, swimming, and other activities like piano, etc. Not many parents in India do that.

If work were synonymous with academics and nothing else, your article would make sense.

February 17, 2009
08:02 AM

Ledzius - I'd have to be a legally blind to have lived here any length of time and failed to notice the importance of sports and cheer-leading practice in the lives of American kids :)

Along with those activities comes the mandatory dose of fun. Therefore, the pizza parties for the kids after the game, a visit to an ice-cream parlor on the way home from soccer lessons and so forth. Three birthday parties for a six -year old to account for different sets of friends from school and the little league and then family.

You simply cannot miss these sights on a weekend in the suburbia. Fun is serious business and the average Asian immigrant parent can feel very overwhelmed by what our kids expect from us.

True Asian kids are not nearly as into sports or even occidental musical instruments as American kids are. Though even in the backwaters I live in, I know several Indian kids who are train in Western vocal and instrumental music. You have to realize that these kids into a bunch of Indian culture assimilation activities and have very little spare time to do other stuff - at least up until they grow up and have their own opinions about what interests they would like to pursue.

However, their parents would likely not feel obligated to introduce the element of fun into any of these 'non-academic' activities that they do participate it.

We are usually taught that work (and that includes a lot other that studying from books) is its own reward and should be fun enough if you have any passion for what you are doing. If the fun is not intrinsic maybe you should not do it and try something else that you would truly enjoy. A kid who is passionate about singing or painting will need no more inducement than being allowed to do what she likes.

Back in India, the education system does not allow enough spare time for kids to seriously pursue other hobbies. It is a systemic shortcoming and one that parents can do little about. We are very appreciative of the flexibility the American system allows and as Kaiser-soze points out the element of play and creativity in early-learning.

These are the very things we missed in our education and growing up in general and do want our kids to enjoy. Yet when we get into the flow of things we are often caught off-guard by how seriously having a good time is taken and struggle to find the right balance of the two worlds so our kids may thrive.

February 17, 2009
08:35 AM

Kerty - "When in doubt, think of what your mom would have done and than improvise it." That is very good advice and one I will bear in mind :)

Kaiser_soze : "Addiction to fun oriented activities makes all other activities boring. Child's agenda supersedes that of parent's." Exactly my sentiments and could not have put it better myself!

Vikas Gupta
February 17, 2009
10:21 AM

I see a heated debate here and I am rather surprised at it (though I enjoyed the debate)!

I agree with Heartcrossing's (hereafter Heart) contention and think that those calling it in question are barking up the wrong tree.

Before I actually throw my hat in the ring I willl tell a little about myself. I am a Ph.D. student based in New Delhi, single (never married) and I love kids.

I believe the 'pursuit of fun' should indeed be reasonable. It is for the parents to keep it in mind and ensure that their child is not overwhelmed with fun. However, it is also the parent's responsibility to ensure that the child is not overwhelmed by work or hard work.

The task of achieving a harmonious balance between the above two diametrically opposite phenomena is an arduous task. What is more it is widely impacted by the prevailing culture.

When Heart argues against 7-8 hours of regular outdoor fun, she has her heart in the right place. She has the welfare of her kid (J) (and other kids and the society) in mind; it is valid, thoughtful observation and reasoning and one cannot not agree with it.

If I were a parent I would have behaved similarly under the said circumstance. Or better put, when I am a father sometime in future I will do the same to my J.

Some commentors above have jumped to conclusion and attributed things to Heart that she does not suggest directly, implicitly or remotely in the article. Heart has suitably replied to these comments.

All work and no play made Jack a dull boy is a valid reasoning! But simultaneously it is also true that all play and no/ little work will not be a contributory factor to the cause of the world's greatest nation. Amen!

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