Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sympathy for Children: An Outmoded Concept?

Last Saturday, my cousin and I headed out to Parramatta Stadium to watch our beloved Eels take on Manly. The Eels lost (as expected), but that wasn't the only thing that sent us home a bit aggravated. My cousin, who is 25, entered one of those 'catch-the-ball' competitions that takes place at halftime. The competition works like this: a guy launches a few balls high in the air, and each competitor takes turns in trying to catch the ball. It works out like a spelling bee - you are eliminated once you make an error (in this case: not catching the ball). Well...that's how it SHOULD work out. You see, there were three other competitors lining up against my cousin - two adults and one child. I'm guessing the child was aged between ten and twelve, give or take one year.

In the first round, my cousin caught his ball, as did one other competitor (one of the adults). Despite this, the two people who failed to catch the ball were given second chances. It soon got out of control, and I lost track of how many times various people had caught or dropped the ball. All I know is that my cousin caught every single ball that was kicked. He even beat the other three in a race to catch the ball (which was dubbed 'the final round'). This was the point where the competition runners, comedians Tahir and Rob Shehadie, should have ended the competition and declared my cousin the winner. However, they informed the competitors (and the crowd) that there would be one more round! The final round would be contested between my cousin and the child. The kick from Rob Shehadie went up. It was a fairly shocking kick, and neither competitor had a chance of taking it on the full. Despite this, my cousin was chasing the ball along the ground, and was just about to grab it until it was kicked away from him by Tahir. Can you guess where the ball ended up? Yep, you guessed it! In the kid's arms. The kid was declared the winner of a Parramatta Eels jersey which could be signed by a player of his choosing.   

My cousin later revealed to me that Tahir and Rob even admitted that they would let the kid win, that "that's just how it works." Well, my cousin was fuming. And so was I. My cousin has supported Parramatta for his whole life. He bleeds blue and gold. He attends practically every home game - not just for the first-grade clash, but for the Toyota Cup match as well. He even made sure that his engagement would not take place on the day of an Eels game. And what does he get in return? He gets robbed of victory by two guys who think it's 'cute' to let the kid win. "Oh, he's only a kid." TOUGH FUCKING LUCK! When my cousin entered this competition, it was stipulated what he had to do to win. I'm sure the kid was fully aware of the rules, too. It really doesn't matter what the prize at stake was. It's a matter of principle. My cousin did what he was told to do, expecting to receive what was promised to him, but was hard done by in the end. How is this fair? Why don't they just open the competition to kids only if they're solely interested in pleasing the younger fans? Or, if they really had to, they could have given my cousin the prize on the field, AND given the kid the same prize behind closed doors. It's just wrong to lay out a set of rules or guidelines and then tweak them at your discretion because you're persuaded by sentiment. My cousin said he'd be ringing the club to complain about the incident. I'm not sure if he's gone ahead with that yet, but if he has, I hope they've given him what he deserves.

Now for some general thoughts on the topic of kids always getting their way. I realise that children have especially fragile emotions, and sometimes we are required to give them what they want so they don't complain...or throw a tantrum. But the issue here is not how we should treat children individually; it's how we should treat them in comparison with adults. In essence, we should not give kids an air of superiority just because they're kids. We should not assume that, as children, they agree to being given unfair advantages. Some precocious kids would argue that it's unfair to be given the upper hand based on age. What do we do when we want to reward a kid but that kid happens to be a disrespectful little rascal? And yes, there are plenty of children like that. Should we just ignore the more righteous, older person under the assumption that "they won't want it as much"? As a society, we need to stop judging people based on demographical information, like age, and start judging people based on character. If children grow up getting everything they desire, then how are they going to adjust to adult life, where borrowing a dollar off your parents for the ice cream truck becomes sitting down with your partner, pondering how you are going to pay off the mortgage? As children, we need to learn that, in life, not everything will be clear skies and rainbows. There will be hard times when only you, the individual, can solve a problem.

I've always loved Red Symons' role on Hey Hey It's Saturday, as the mean-spirited, cynical judge in the 'Red Faces' segment. When a child comes on stage and sings, Red does not fall to his/her charm. He assesses the performance realistically, and if it is less than satisfactory, he is not afraid to say so, and may rate the act a two out of ten. We need more people like him in the world.   

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