'The Playground' (B&W Ed.)

by Crosley John

the playground bw ed photography street crosley seeking critique john

Gallery: Black and White: Then to Now

Tags: photography b&w street crosley seeking critique

Category: Street

Exif Information:
Model : NIKON D3000
Date Time Original : 2011-04-23 21:21:46
Focal Length : 24/1
Shutter Speed Value : 1/199
Exposure Time : 1/200
Aperture Value : 5.6
F Number : 5.6
Iso Speed Ratings : 100
Metering Mode : 5
Focal Length In35mm Film : 36
Orientation : 1
X Resolution : 72.0000000
Y Resolution : 72.0000000
Software : Adobe Photoshop CS5 Windows

Published: Sunday 8th of May 2011 01:23:21 AM


John Crosley
Helicopter Parents are Not Exclusively American -- the Worst I Ever Met Was a Muscovite

More on 'helicopter parenting' and more about cross-cultural parenting


This series of paragraphs about 'helicopter parents' is not directed at Americans, French and Western Europeans, solely, but about 'helicopter parents' in general.

One woman I was very close to had a son who was a music prodigy -- he could fall asleep composing beautiful piano sonatas in bed as he began his slumber, awaken and begin to play them, in the morning all at age 11, as though they were being played from something written by Beethoven, Brahms and on occasion, Chopin.  Really, it was weeks or even more than a month before I learned he was self-composing, and the beautiful music he played he just 'made up' the night before, then played beautifully, keyboard perfect on my beautiful grand piano(s).

He was such a prodigy that when I took him for evaluation to the nearest university -- the University of Washington, Music Department -- the head of the music department sat with him at opposing 9 foot concert grand Steinways, tested him on tones and playing, then said 'this boy needs nothing more than practice performing, plus good mentoring.' 

Where can he get the mentoring?

The music department head, a full professor recommended that he, the head of the Music Department at the University of Washington, Seattle, be tutor, or  failing that, his wife, also a professor, and if that was not satisfactory, another professor, a Russian born piano professor, who also was considered superbly talented could do the job. 

All for an 11-year old boy, who had normal wants, desires and wishes, and whose school was a special 'music school' in Moscow but whose mom and he were planning to move to the US to be family with me.

His mother and I never really legally were married, though we gave it a good try, and everything was interrupted when the ruble crashed and her center ring Moscow penthouse was under attack by bankers and the Russian mafia trying, she said (truthfully I think), to cheat her out of it.   (They underestimated her if they thought they were going to get such a prize out of her hands.)

Things didn't work out, and we went our separate ways.

This mother, aware her child was a prodigy, gave him little time to attend a 'playground' or any other play . . . . he was confined to practice.

He loved his practice and he excelled beyond the ability of any individual I ever have met in my life -- we became fast friends, and I looked forward to co-parenting him, and he felt the same about me, he told me (and showed me too).

But the ruble crashed, and he and mom returned to stay in Moscow, and mom always had her iron thumb over everything that the boy did.

She also was a 'helicopter parent' in the same sense that American parents are deserving of that name.  She chose whom he could see, (the few times he could), what he could do, and left him literally no unstructured time, in my recollection though I was not much present in Moscow.

That may have changed substantially after he was 11, but up to that time, I was told by him it was was piano practice, piano practice, piano practice, piano practice.

The neighbors, I understood, in Moscow, loved his playing.

He filled their building with beautiful music, as he did my then home in the USA when he was there.

But he had no unstructured play time -- no time to develop himself as an individual outside of school, that I ever was aware of.  Mom directed everything. Mom also was pushy - it was dangerous to stand in her way as parents at Disneyland found out when she wanted to sit in the front for the nightly parade -- she just shoved herself in - despite foul comments from others who  had waited hours for curbside seats.

So, if you feel on reading the above paragraphs that there's something anti-American culture in my feelings, there's not -- it's anti-free play time for kids.

It's anti 'structure everything' for the kid, because mom or dad or mom and dad know best about how the child should do everything, and thus leave the child no room to explore his/her own capabilities and abilities to interact with other children of the same age, as well as those younger AND older.

How is an adult going to know how to deal with adult strong arm tactics, if one has not had someone try to bully him on the playground, and tried (with success or not) to resist the bullying? 

Lessons learned by me as a kid, on how to avoid bullies, hostile dogs (which roamed all over my town and attacked me as I rode my bike), and all sorts of other adversities, taught me many strengths. 

I rely on those strengths today in protecting myself as a 'street photographer' often in entering the most dangerous neighborhoods and interacting with people I am told are supremely dangerous, but for me often are just the opposite.

I doubt I could take the photos I take now, if I'd had a helicopter mom, or structured play dates and organized sports for all my spare time.

How does a kid get to develop his interpersonal strengths if a kid is chauffeured to and from this and that 'play date' -- this and that 'lesson' and this and that 'organized sports activity'?

Worse, what happens when a kid is not allowed sometimes to fail?

What about teams where everybody is a 'winner' because somehow 'losing' is deemed 'wrong'?

So, somehow today in some places scores are not kept -- unlike real life where everybody earns a salary, gets a better or worse spouse (or none at all), has a better or worse house, apartment, (or none at all these days), same with cars, and everything else.

I had a woman friend who attended a university where there was no grading -- just a written evaluation by faculty, but it was a thorough and personal evaluation, and caused the older students who attended this self-directed university/college, to drive themselves to work harder.  

The small, elite college had a small student body and a huge faculty to student ratio -- no giant lecture classes ever -- everything was one-on-one and everybody knew everybody else.

If you don't happen to know the name of that college, think 'Civil War' and the man who brought the 'Civil War' to public television, then 'Baseball' and so on -- videographer Ken Burns. 

He went to that college -- which was experimental and for those who didn't need regimentation --  for those who might thrive without regimentation and thus direct their energies to individual projects. 

My one time friend ended up with two Fulbright scholarships and no college grades ever, I think. 

But that didn't mean nothing was competitive -- anything but -- the main competitiveness there was with one self, and directed by faculty. 

To shield a kid from competitiveness, from sports where scores are kept, where everybody is judged by how much positive 'self-esteem' they have, and where everybody is a 'winner' even if they are not excelling, is somehow to stand reason and reality on its head, and in my mind ill-prepare the kids for the adult world to come.

Russian kids, as Sting for 'The Police' wrote and sang 'love their children too' -- often to great excess, as least a decade ago when I was more familiar with the Russians and their kids. 

It was not uncommon for a Russian family to have a child crawl into bed, or just be in the adult bed most or all the time -- communal beds in Russia are quite common . . . . parents sleep with children in Ukraine too -- things that would have neighbors calling authorities in the USA are accepted practice in Russia, Ukraine and other Slavic countries.

That does not mean 'hanky panky' - just a different set of parental rearing standards, in part because quarters are small, not everybody has a room, often one person's bed is a hideaway couch or hideaway chair, maybe in the kitchen, and in the winter, sometimes communal heating is insufficient, and a communal bed can provide sufficient warmth to keep everybody more comfortable.

As an American who did not have experience with this sort of thing (and never a communal bed when I lived in any country), I judged this behavior badly, until I learned that there simply is another side. 

I grew up in a house where everybody had a bedroom, and kids were separated from parents almost right after birth, placed in a bedroom and taught to sleep alone.  It doesn't have to be that way.  In history it probably seldom has been that way, except for the very well to do.

That's not written in any Bible or any book that it must be so, either.

That part of American life is part of affluent American history and much of that heritage stems from post World War II culture for the vastly expanded American middle class with widely available housing.

American middle and even lower middle class somehow after World War II, had a very elevated standard of living, and certain standards became built in to the collective American psyche as 'givens' -- with 'transgressions' being viewed as somehow illicit. 

In fact, the word 'transgression' implies illicitness, but it needn't be so.

I learned in college from a woman friend who attended high school with me the HUGE number of her (and my) high school young women friends who had been molested by their fathers and stepfathers.

I was absolutely astonished.  It was an open secret among the women high school students in prior years when she and I had been in high school together, but the male students never were allowed to know about that. 

I was horrified. 

My friend had been a good confidant, and knew how to keep secrets - and I think went on to a career as

John Crosley
Don't get me wrong, I've been one of a pair of 'helicopter parents'

Don't get me wrong, the term 'helicopter parents' might easily have been coined initially to define how my own children were raised, although it was not nearly so structured then two decades ago, as it appears to be now in some communities, but there were lessons, play dates, being chauffeured everywhere by 'mom',  'dad', or one of numerous nannies -- then conveniently called 'au pairs'.

I grew up differently, and here compare the two upbringing styles, now that it's been revealed that childhoods were far more dangerous in the '50s and early '60s in the US than they are now.

It's mainly the Nancy Graces of this world who are the irresponsible ones -- holding mock courts nationwide on television short hours after every childhood disappearance and asking prying, accusatory questions with bald, unsupported innuendo even before there's often real evidence of any crime. 

In a nation of 300,000,000 people -- the USA - statistically there is bound to be one abduction in a regular basis -- enough to allow the Nancy Graces of the 24-hour news cycle to hype up public fears to unimaginable levels.

Are you a photographer, and ever go near a playground without your own kids, or just with a camera?

I'll bet you were treated as a pariah . . . . in most urban societies in the USA (and France), though you had nothing but the best of intentions and even in your own way were providing a good measure of protection for the youngsters by your being here with a camera.

In Ukraine it's different.  Parents often are proud to have their kids photographed in a professional manner . . . . . so long as the photographer's behavior is within normal bounds.  You'd be watched but not suspected.  Just like everybody else -- everyone watches everyone else.

(I introduce myself to the moms, pops and the inevitable gradmothers, shake their hands and demonstrate to them I'm  just like them, show them photos where approrpiate and never have had any trouble . . . . I'm judged on my behavior and obvious good intentions, not some 24-hour news program that plays bad stuff over and over).


John (Crosley)

Svetlana Korolyova

Yes, children's playgrounds among high-rise buildings - this is a good place for social adaptation of children. Although in recent years, these playgrounds are often captured by the builders of new homes.

John Crosley
'Play Date'? What's a 'Play Date' -- It's every afternoon after school

In praise of free-form play and 'The playground'.

Although children in the United States are several times more safe than they were in the supposedly 'cherished '50s' the perception in America is that children are being abducted by molesters everywhere, all the time -- victim of the 24-hour news cycle, newfound awareness of the awfulness of certain horrible individuals who Do Bad Things (however rare they are), and irresponsible news people,  all preying on parental fears, often to boost TV ratings.

As a consequence, many American mothers and fathers shepherd their children to and from 'play dates' and structured sports and other after-school avocations -- leading their children to experience life of planned 'happiness', which often turns out anything but.

These children here, Ukrainian, and similar in upbringing to those in other former Communist countries, don't have the luxury of structured 'play dates' and frankly most of their parents would recoil in horror -- as would the children -- at the thought of such structure.

Free time is free time, and the only 'helicopters' to be seen are not 'helicopter moms' hovering over their children, but the one that one imagines one is when one jumps from a high place, as leader of a bunch of jumping kids, and that same group may turn the next minute into parts of a giant dragon or snake, then morph more as the afternoon progresses.

'Helicopter mothers' hardly not exist in such circumstances, but there is supervision -- one parent or group of parents is always present, watching out after the whole group of kids, informally, so there is safety . . . . in an unwritten, almost undeclared understanding that some adult will be present . . . . .in the thousands and thousands of playgrounds spread out in this country. 

Here it is Ukraine, but it might be Russia, Belarus, or many of the many former Soviet countries where the Communist built their high rise buildings, but wisely put playgrounds in front of or between almost all of them.  An advantage:  parents could just look out the window in many cases to ensure their child's well being.

Nobody is safe all the time, and children are to be cared for and watched over carefully, but fear of childhood danger, statistically in the United States is vastly, vastly overrated, according to education and childhood researchers who keep the true statistics, causing the 'perception of childhood safety' to be at major odds with its reality in the US and Western Europe.

This is also a country where in many cases, kids go to and from school in groups -- reminding me of the '50s and early '60s in America, before the 24-hour news cycle intruded on every parent's fears.

(There are bad, horrible, people world wide, but present statistics say American and Western European children are many, many times safer than they were when I was a child in the supposedly cherished '50s.)

I went out in the morning and came back at dark (or shortly after) and when mom asked 'where were you', I answered 'Out' and she said 'what did you do?' and my answer was 'Nothing' (and I never got into trouble').

I've been parent or parent figure in both societies where there were 'structured play dates' and organized lessons for children to this, free form playground and routine outdoor play with groups of kids running around interacting . . . . and I also grew up in the '40s, '50s, and '60s.

My views are now well-formed, surprisingly. 

When I first encountered such play, I was horrified, as most American parents would have been -- but now having observed such play for some time, I feel quite different.

What is your view?


John (Crosley)

John Crosley
The children

One of these kids is the child of a well-known politician, another might end up a criminal, another may easily become an adult beauty, and one is having troubles because he's too easily picked on.

The children all play together, and somehow, they work it out. 

At least as they grow up, they know where they stand, and on 'the playground' they learn to stand up for themselves.  Personalities flourish in such play, I've observed.

Ukrainian adults -- except for a Communist and post-serf culture that does not value honesty as highly as in Western countries -- end up remarkably well adjusted and civil.  Gangs hardly exist,, although the danger of drugs has been spreading -- something that has become almost an epidemic in neighboring Russia.

Parents watch their children in Ukraine, but sometimes it's not the actual parent, but the neighboring parent or grandparent who does the watching -- it's informal, unstructured, and seems to work rather well, with playgrounds (except in neighboring Kyiv where buildings are wall to wall) everywhere the now defunct Soviets built their rubber stamp and often otherwise reprehensible apartment blocks.


John (Crosley)

Meir Samel

Yes! What happened to "let's play doctor"? Stupid kids!

John Crosley
Svetlana Korolyova

I was unaware of 'disappearing' playgrounds, 'captured' by builders. 

Are these owned by the builders from the start or do they just happen to gain title to them by 'interesting ways', then build on them.

In other words, are they public and then end up in private ownership mysteriously? 

Or were they always private and the private owners just tear tear them down to build new buildings?

I am aware there may be more than one answer, but Ukraine is Ukraine and business is reputedly and reportedly often conducted in 'interesting ways'.

Of course, I have little interest in Ukraine politics or business - I'm a photographer.  Ukraine and its future is for Ukrainians and I have no political, social, moral or other agenda -- it's your country, and I'm only a frequent visitor who keeps to himself and uses my own freedom to take interesting photos, documenting wonderful and/or interesting people as a purely personal project.

I'm not out to 'reform' anyone or even to snoop and even seldom read newspapers or other media about Ukrainian business/politics (the people interest me, and especially how they behave as seen through my various lenses).

Still, I find your comment most interesting.


John (Crosley)

John Crosley
'The Playground' This is 'The Playground' -- one of thousands spread out among high rises buildings where mothers in one Eastern European country leave their children for hours to play and develop good social skills. The 'standard of living' measured in material goods might not be high, but social skills are quite well developed among children as they interact in free form play on the playground. Your ratings, critiques and remarks are invited and most welcome; if you rate harshly, critically or wish to make an observation, please submit a helpful and constructive comment; please share your photographic knowledge to help improve my photography. Thanks! Enjoy! john

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