Did I Really Spend An Hour On A Dodgeball Debate?

by Leslie Morgan Steiner

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I am not sure how parenting has sunk quite this low, but last week I actually had a serious 20-plus minute discussion with four other adults about whether or not schools should ban dodgeball.

The arguments went like this:

1. Dodgeball has limited educational or fitness value for kids.

2. It is an excuse for bullies to attack and eliminate the weakest physical specimens.

3. It's not a team sport, it's a mob sport.

Several of us shared traumatic stories from our childhood dodgeball games.  We all clearly did not want our children to suffer the same horrible dodgeball fate.  We want, quite desperately and responsibly, to improve upon our childhoods for our own kids.

Support for dodgeball went like this:

1. Kids need to develop a thick skin.

2. Life is a long game of dodgeball; losing gracefully and without permanent psychic damage, is an important life skill.

3. Competition is natural; that's why humans historically have had aggressive, elimination games such as dodgeball, football and tag.  

4. If we take away dodgeball, kids will just invent another, similar game; one woman explained that her daughter's friends just did, something called Stomp, which consist of kids stomping on each other's toes and seeing who wimps out first.

Then the conversation took a deep philosophical turn.  A parent asked the weighty rhetorical question: if we ban dodgeball, what's next? Banning hide and seek because it's reminiscent of Nazi Germany, when Jews really did have to hide to save their lives?  Football, because it is excessively brutal and animalistic? Swim meets because it's too traumatic for kids to lose by just a few meaningless, demoralizing seconds?

The discussion was interesting, gently humorous, and thoughtful.  We looked at all perspectives: kids, parents, coaches, teachers, psychologists.  We pondered the future of the human race.  We were ever so politically correct.

But still.  We were talking about the damage done to our country because we let children play dodgeball.  Not the political harm done because of the angry black man stereotype.  Or a good way to talk to boys about men's role in supporting a rape culture. Or how to make teenagers more aware of the dangers of relationship abuse. Or even whether Starbuck's coffee ice cream is better than Haagen-Dazs.

Two of my kids enjoy dodgeball.  The third could take it or leave it. I can't believe that any child really thinks dodgeball is a critical debate. It's just we parents who have become delusional as we seek perfect childhoods for our children.

And I must ask:  has dodgeball really become an important enough parenting topic to warrant an entire hour of collective brainpower given all the other issues facing parents?  Or have we parents gone so deep into navel gazing that we are running out of meaningful topics, and turning in desperation to the chaff of parenting dilemmas like which sports our kids play at recess?

We parents talk for hours about poop, for heaven’s sake.  We fret over precisely how long to breastfeed.  Whether to let our young children sleep in our bed.  Whether or not our female children should wear bikinis or one-piece bathing suits.

Why do we worry about all the wrong things?

What if we steered clear of these picayune parenting topics, and focused only on how to make sure 100% of children sat in car seats and used seatbelts?  Or the most productive ways to talk to kids about sexuality, abuse, alcohol and drugs, and how essential it is to treat their and others’ bodies with respect?  Debates over poverty, animal cruelty, racism, the criminal justice system, domestic violence…sure.

But dodgeball?

My vote is no more dodgeball debates.  Let your school ban dodgeball, or not.  If dodgeball truly disturbs you or your children, teach them to recuse themselves if they prefer not to play. (Now that’s a character-building exercise.) In the world of good parenting, and the larger world filled with earthquakes, tsunamis, famine, corruption, and physical cruelty, dodgeball is just a game.

Being a good parent is something else entirely.

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