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Monday, 15 September 2008

The End of Musical Chairs: The Pervasiveness of Political Correctness

Alistair told me I had to write this so its all his fault!

Our 7 year old son Noah has a 'girlfriend' who he 'is going to marry one day.' His 'girlfriend' also turned 7 yesterday and had a party. His 'girlfriend's' mum went to a heap of trouble to decorate the house, make the food and plan all sorts of fun activities to make sure their daughter and all her little friends had heaps of fun. She did way more games than I do, I draw the line at decorating the cake and making just one pass-the-parcel (which I make my teenagers wrap and supervise the execution of).

Back when I was a child (did I really just use that sentence?) pass the parcel was completely random; some kids got to remove 3 layers and other kids missed out completely. The excitement and anticipation when the music stopped was all centred on getting to be the person who got to take the wrapper off and hoping you got to take the wrapper off on the very last layer. If you sulked because you missed out, you were a poor loser and got a lecture from your parents about good sportsmanship. These days, in our PC culture, for the kids its all about getting the lollipop or other goodie taped to each layer and every parent I know - including me (well my teenagers) - 'cheats' and makes sure that every kid gets a turn taking off a layer before letting the game run randomly.

The party progressed to musical chairs. My kids have not really played it that much (as I am slack, see above) but they, along with the others, picked up the rules and with big smiles of anticipation got ready to play.

Now unlike pass the parcel, musical chairs does not lend itself so well to PC-ising.

The music stopped, they all scrambled for chairs, one kid missed out, got eliminated from the game and promptly began crying. There were cries of "Oh... poor thing... its just a practice run" and the rules were re-explained and the heat was run again. A different kid missed out this time and promptly began crying. The next round was played and each chair was removed every kid was reduced to tears when they lost, even my children!

I know the families that were present quite well and I know that all of them despise the PC culture and have tried to raise their kids in a manner counter to it, us included, yet seeing all of our kids fall apart because they lost really gave us pause. The host parents were horrified that all the guest were in tears (barring the kid who won), they had been trying to make the party fun for everyone afterall. They categorically stated they would never play musical chairs at their parties again and apologised to the parents who by then all had at least one crying child on their laps.

The episode was really disturbing. We all began questioning how the children of today's culture are going to cope with real loss in life and knocks to their confidence. I wondered what it would mean for their ability to persevere, to believe in themselves when life sent them knocks, Alistair wondered about the impact long term on suicide rates - how will teenagers cope if parents shield them from 'losing' or always try to correct situations where their child 'misses' out? Obviously the musical chairs is just a symptom and not the cause but I think it made us see that despite our efforts to the contrary we are raising a generation of kids whose definition of 'fairness' and 'equality' is something quite different from what it should be.

Last night I really felt for the host parents' embarassment, completely empathised with it and mentally congratulated myself on my slackness of never having more than one party game and that game never being musical chairs! However, on reflection I have decided I owe it to my kids to add musical chairs to my party-games repertoire and I am going to stop allowing my teenagers to 'cheat' at pass the parcel - I might even take the lollipops off the wrappers too!


  1. I agree.

    This is especially true since loosing at musical chairs actually _doesn't_ matter. We should embrace such an opportunity to train our kids to cope with injustice and unfairness in such a safe and unimportant (at least to the on-looking parents) game. Real life isn't so safe and real injustice can be infinitely more harsh and difficult to cope with.

  2. They all cried??

    Can I recommend getting an older child to run the party games? I did that for my 7yo's party, and there was no crying and I think they even played musical chairs. I just gave them food when all the games were over.

  3. I don't agree with the labelling, PC, but I understand the concern. All the kids parties we host involve games that ensure each kid gets a toy. I haven't analysed it much, but in brief the motivation is to ensure they have fun and don't feel left out. All experiences are learning experiences, but a party is about principally about having fun.

    Calling it PC implies that something more than is at stake here and extends that label unreasonably. We might disagree, but political correctness, to me, is about being inclusive, respectful and avoiding prejudice. It is not about excluding the inherent risks of life from any and every event. That's simply overly protective parenting, but I'll still make sure every kid I have something to do with is encouraged, supported and praised first before anything else.


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