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By Mac Bledsoe

Far too many people in the world today speak of children as if they had nothing to do with them!

Just last week we went to watch some young neighbor kids play in a youth football game at our beautiful athletic park here in Kalispell, Montana. It was a glorious morning! Six football fields and six soccer fields filled with hundreds of kids competing in some very healthy physical activity and learning some great lessons in teamwork and sportsmanship. It was such a delightful experience for us because the conduct of the coaches, parents and kids alike was so positive, supportive and appropriate. The parents and other spectators sat on the side of the fields opposite the benches and coaches. The kids play the game.

Because we were having such a great time, we stayed to watch another young friend of ours participate. His game was very much like the other game we had just watched and was equally enjoyable.

We witnessed so many positive things going on during these games. The focus was not just on winning. There was a whole lot of teaching going on with coaches sometimes right on the playing field behind their athletes. Parents were knowingly or unknowingly modeling positive behavior for their children and what we saw was that the kids imitated the behavior of the adults! Simple concept. Young people will act the way they see adults act. Children will live up to the expectations set for them by the adults in their world.

Kids between the ages of 8-12 were playing these games and were fully capable of competing within the boundaries of the rules of the game. They were also totally capable of playing the games within the unwritten rules of sportsmanship. We saw many instances of players helping opponents up off of the ground and applauding outstanding plays by their teammates. We did not witness any instances of players yelling at officials, teammates or coaches.

As we watched this day of competition, we witnessed numerous teams getting ready to compete at both soccer and football and at every warm-up we witnessed coaches giving instructions about sportsmanship. Sure the coaches were also giving instructions about playing hard and hustling but it was all couched in the context of sportsmanship! Is it any surprise that as we watched the games we saw that very behavior from the young athletes? The kids had been taught how to act and they were doing it.

As we walked around among the parents, grandparents, and friends watching the games we did not hear one person yell at an official but we did hear many people talking about the code of conduct for parents. The parents were positive in their yells and cheers for the players. Is it a surprise that the players were yelling similar encouragement for their teams? The young people were imitating the conduct of the adults! The adults had taken on the responsibility of controlling their own behavior and the kids were imitating that behavior. This is not hard to understand.

Then just to point out how easily it can go the other way, a couple sitting right in front of us had two young daughters come to them and ask for money to go to the snack shack for a candy bar. Each girl was given a dollar to go and pick out candy for herself. When they got back with their candy, the girls proceeded to take off their Hershey bar wrappers and throw them on the ground right in front of their parents. A garbage can was no more than30 feet away. The parents did nothing and the wrappers just lay there to be blown away and litter the beautiful grounds. I only bring this up to point out the difference between this behavior and what we had previously witnessed. On one hand we saw kids exhibiting the best of behavior as they had been taught and then we watched the contrast when the adults chose to not teach. What a difference.

Now this may have been just be a day of football and soccer games and two little girls with candy bars but it is so instructive of the way our society is going. Everyone seems to bemoan the fact that our younger generation is out of control like somehow the problem is the kids'. Clearly the problem is not the kids… the problem is the parents who taught, or more likely, failed to teach them.

We must teach our children. We must teach them that we in America are a society of rules and laws. Freedom does not mean that we have no rules or laws. Freedom means we are gifted with the privilege of selecting and writing the rules and laws that we will live by. When we have the right to choose, right along with that right to choose comes the obligation to teach the rules and laws of conduct to our children.

We cannot talk about the younger generation as if we have nothing to do with them. We must accept our obligation to teach them how to live in our world. We must teach them how to act. We must teach them to choose to act in the manner that fits the standards of our society.

Kids will become what we teach them to be and they will give us just about what we are willing to accept! Let's teach well and hold up high standards for our youth.



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