Parenting Help

Does Everything Have to Be a Learning Experience 

I love baseball. I love watching baseball. I loved playing baseball as a youth.

I loved playing softball as an adult. I loved coaching it for more than thirty years. In my mind, baseball is next to godliness. So when my daughters exhibited athletic ability, I volunteered to coach their youth team and played catch with them as often as possible.

One day I was playing catch with my daughter Annie when she was about ten. I was throwing her ground balls and coaching her how to field and throw better.

“Get your rear end down. Bring the ball up to your chest. Turn your body when you throw. Keep your feet spread apart. Push off your back foot.

After a half hour of play with constant instruction, Annie simply dropped her glove and asked with a sense of desperation, “Does everything have to be a learning experience?”

“Yes, it does,” I flippantly responded. I coached city championship baseball teams, and I was helping her become a better player. Why wouldn’t she want my instruction? She could be a star with my help. But her question went deeper than a simple statement of frustration. What was she really saying to me? Let me try to interpret her real meaning.

“Dad, would you still enjoy being with me if I didn’t improve? Am I worth your time if I don’t get better? How about if we just played catch without teaching me how to improve?”

I realized playing catch with my children wasn’t the only time I instructed. Nearly every time I was with my daughters, I was helping, correcting, or instructing them to improve. No wonder they were starting to pull back from me.

As I analyzed my conversations with my children, I was almost always instructing or correcting. I helped them with schoolwork. I showed them how to shoot baskets, answer the phone properly, which entertainment was bad, how not to slurp their soup, and a myriad of other things parents teach their children—all good things.

But little of our time together was spent in two-way conversations with me getting to know, understand, and enjoy them.

I had to question if I really enjoyed my daughters. Did I simply want them to get better? As I thought about it, I realized I was more concerned with controlling their behavior and entertainment than I was with getting to know them as gifts from God. They weren’t projects to be fixed. They were gifts from God to be loved.

If I were going to be the positive influence in my daughters’ lives that I wanted to be, I would need to be sure my daughters wanted my input.

Do you want to be around someone who continually tells you how to improve? The instruction may be for your own good, but after a while you start to avoid that person, don’t you? The same is true for your kids.

I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the main attractions of the movies, TV, Internet, texting, and video games is that these forms of entertainment provide a mental escape for our kids. These mental escapes are the few places our children can go where no one is instructing them or telling them to improve.

If we’re going to compete for our children’s attention, we have to learn to enjoy their company.

Many parents see their children pulling away and becoming rebellious and want to blame this rebelliousness on entertainment. Maybe their children’s entertainment isn’t the problem. Maybe, their children are seeking a place where they will be accepted and enjoyed without criticism. Often the electronic media provides children this place of acceptance.

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Al Menconi

Al Menconi founded Al Menconi Ministries in 1982. Since that time, Al has spoken to more than a million people about entertainment and its influences. He has written numerous books and articles on the subject and provides free help for parents on his web site Al and his wife Janice have two grown daughters and reside in Carlsbad, CA.

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