Monkey See, Monkey Do—Olympics Style

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gymnastics.JPGMy family and I have been watching the Olympics over the past week.

A lot, actually.

You see, my wife started swimming competitively when she was but a wee lass, and she continued doing so all the way through college. (I, in contrast, mostly just played Marco Polo.) Her history, combined with all the drama surrounding Michael Phelps that began four years ago in Beijing, means our family has paid close attention to the Olympic swimming contests.

But NBC knows we—and lots of other people—are interested in swimming. So they judiciously intercut swimming coverage with stuff like beach volleyball, gymnastics and diving (in the first week of coverage, anyway). And it’s those last two things I want to talk about. Specifically, how my children have responded to gymnastics and diving.

In a word, they’ve copied everything they’ve seen—or as much as they can, anyway, for children who are nearly 2, 4 and 6. Which is to say, they’ve been jumping around.

A lot, actually.

Last night, my nearly 4-year-old daughter Annabeth was doing mock “dives” off the couch. She would stand on the couch, facing toward it with her back outward, then jump backward onto the floor—just like the divers on TV were doing off the platform.

Meanwhile, Maggie, who’s almost 2, was rolling across the floor (somewhere along the line she started calling her barrel rolls “hot dogs,” and I’m not quite sure why) as Henry, almost 6, jumped from couch to floor to chair … and back again.

Suffice it to say we’ve had to rein things in just a bit to make sure we don’t end up in the ER. Mostly, though, it’s just been good, clean, romping-around fun as my children imitate, to a limited extent, what they see on TV.

Still, they are imitating what they see.

In this case, their imitation is innocent and aspirational. Annabeth, especially, has been quite taken with gymnastics, and that has led to some conversations about whether she might be interested in taking lessons. Meanwhile, both Henry and Annabeth have been in swimming lessons the last two weeks, and it’s been terrific and inspiring to have some concrete reinforcement of skills they’re learning.

But watching them imprint so deeply, so naturally, so easily with what they’re seeing onscreen has reminded me that sometimes children—as well as those of us who are a bit older—imitate things that are far less admirable than the Olympics. Because not all the messages we absorb via TV, not to mention through movies, music and video games, are so worthy of imitation.