Here is my column in today’s Greenville News.

We need to help youngsters learn The Game of Life!

A game worth learning

A game worth learning

Three of my children love to play the game ‘Life,’ where players choose college or career and are paid, take out loans, pay taxes, have families and all the rest as they navigate towards retirement.  I especially love playing with them when they each become frantic, not for the highest income, but to finish the game with the most children.  Along the way, my daughter is even naming her kids as the tiny blue and pink pegs fill up her little plastic car.  (Talk about your parental validation!)

But after playing, then thinking back on my week at work, I fear that we could easily make a new game that was more familiar to many modern kids.  I suppose we’d have to call it ‘The Game of Death,’ or maybe just ‘The Game of Pain.’

Instead of starting with college or career, kids would have the option to drop out of high-school and live in abject poverty, obtain money illegally or take extremely unstable, low-paying jobs.  We’ll need parent-cards, since the concern or neglect of parents, and the level of achievement and motivation of parents, usually has profound effects on the lives of their children.

Instead of ‘Pick Salary,’ we’ll have ‘Pick Reason For Disability.’  Because for many young people, disability is the ‘Golden Ring’ they reach for; having learned it from friends and family members.  Disability for poor reading, disability for personality disorder, disability for back pain, disability for anxiety, the very idea seems to have become the dream of many kids.

Instead of ‘See Doctor, Pay Fee,’ we’ll have a card that says, ‘See
Police Officer, Go To Jail.’  Misdemeanors and felonies are standard fare among many of the patients I see.

When getting married, we can have ‘Spouse Abuse’ cards, since I’ve treated far too many lovely girls with bruised faces or broken ribs who ‘just fell down, that’s all.’  Our young players of the new game will also have the option to either ‘Be Baby-daddy Of Several Girls,’ or to ‘Have Unwanted Pregnancies By Multiple Fathers.’

Instead of changing careers, or changing salaries, we’ll have cards that say ‘Lose Job Due To Illicit Drug Addiction.’ And the number of cards we can have! Methamphetamine, Marijuana, Cocaine, Crack, Ecstacy, Heroin, Morphine, Ketamine, just to name a few…the list of possible chemical land-mines is pretty long these days!

Of course, we’ll need another set of cards just for prescription drugs.  They might say ‘You take Lortab for recreation,’ or ‘You buy Ritalin to cope with your job.’  The game might end for the player that pulls the ‘You Take Too Many Pain Pills By Accident’ card.

We could have a series of internal pain cards.  One could say ‘You Begin To Cut,’ or ‘You Will Have Multiple Suicide Attempts.’  Our new game will also have ‘Tragic Death’ cards.  Young people are exposed to far too many risky behaviors for us to call the game ‘Life’ anymore.  The cards could say, ‘You Start A Fight And Are Stabbed,’ ‘You Have Unprotected Sex With Multiple Partners And Get HIV,’ ‘You Drive While Taking Drugs and Texting,’ ‘You Ride Your Motorcycle Without A Helmet,’ or ‘You Abuse IV Drugs.’

It’s a difficult time to be young.  All too many kids come from parents who have neglected or frankly abused them; physically or sexually.  Many youth, urban and rural alike, have come to disdain learning, or were taught to disdain it.  They have never had hard work modeled for them.  They see older people living on disability (and often making extra income on the side).  Young men and women have far too many negative interactions with a legal system they consider irrelevant.  Our culture seems to teach them that marriage is unnecessary and sexuality the ultimate goal, so they end up with unwanted children, life-changing or ending diseases and lonely lives.  Their few relationships are punctuated by violence, dishonesty and cruelty.

Their internal pain leads to self-harm, substance abuse and unnecessary risks.  They have never been taught to cope with stress, to endure difficulty, to work for a long-term goal or to walk away from the abuse others heap upon them.

These are hard truths; but I’m speaking from experience.  I have seen the evidence, in person, and felt the sorrow in these young hearts.  And I can tell you, no government program will ever fix these broken, lost young lives.

Only if we love them, and teach them eternal truths, can they start to play the Game of Life once again

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