1) At the Saturday 2nd grader soccer games, there were of course all manner of kids wandering around, exploring the woods and creek near the field while siblings played or waited for their game to start. At one point, my wife told me that some of the other parents on the sideline were becoming concerned about a young boy who seemed to be a six-year old or so who was picking up large rocks and throwing them at other children with impressive force, as well as periodically swinging a substantial branch at them. I watched a bit and sure enough, it was kind of alarming, and it felt as if it wouldn’t be long before somebody got hurt. Some of the other parents had already tried to get the boy to lay down his rocks and sticks, and a few had moved on to sternly telling him to put them down, but he was doing his best Jimmy Cagney imitation and having none of it. Nobody knew where his parents were, though we guessed they were probably on the far field, a long way away.
This is one of those tricky situations. If it was your own kid, you wouldn’t hesitate to grab the kid forcefully and to have a serious talk about this stuff. But you really don’t want to do that to a complete stranger’s kid: all sorts of things can go very wrong from that moment onward. I think a lot of us were edging up to that decision, though: better that than another kid getting a sharp rock to the forehead.
And then another six-year old stepped up to the rock-thrower and shouted, “I KNOW WHO YOU ARE! YOU ARE IN MY CLASS!” The rock-thrower paused. “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? WHAT ARE YOU DOING? YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO THIS!” The rock-thrower kept his big stick but seemed to change his mood a bit: he walked away onto the forest trail. I half expected the mediator kid to start an even more sophisticated line of psychological intervention. Then the game ended and as a lot of us were walking away, we noticed that the father had finally caught up with his wayward son and was bringing him to heel. There was just something kind of awesome about this kid stepping in like a hostage negotiator to defuse the situation.
2) We went down to a local Philadelphia museum that was having a superhero-themed event this weekend as a way to get kids to come in and look at the exhibits (and, I suspect, to entice parents to buy memberships as a way to get around the long line). It was fun to see the kids, some adults and some staff members in costume while going around the museum. There were some good theme-related events for the kids as well as a couple of nice lectures by Penn faculty.
Still, I was struck by two things. One is just a basic issue that I see at a lot of events that are intended to attract or entertain small children. Event planners often don’t anticipate fully where the heaviest traffic flows are going to be (and how upset children can get when they don’t get to do something that looks like fun because of competition for places or spots), and they don’t break up events or activities into sufficiently bite-sized components. Planning a successful event for children is a really difficult art, far harder than for adults. You have to have a lot of fast-paced activities, a surplus of materials and adults to help children, and you have to think ahead about what most kids are most likely to want to do. One thing in particular: if you have an activity or entertainment where the kid gets to take away something (balloon animals, to use one example from this weekend), you can expect that to be intensely popular, and you need enough people assisting with that if you don’t want some upset kids (and parents) by the end of it all.
One other thing: event planners need to think carefully about lowest-common-denominator standards for what’s appropriate while also keeping a bit of fun and maybe even parent-tweaking trangression in the mix. In the case of this weekend, I have to say my jaw dropped a bit when it turned out that the prize for kids who completed a scavenger hunt involving clues from the exhibits was…Watchmen posters of Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan and Nite Owl. As my daughter said, “I don’t think I’m allowed to see anything else about those characters, am I Daddy?”