Can your inner child come out to play?

Researchers who study children say it's imperative that parents tear their offspring away from the TV and make them go interact with other kids.

Play time, they tell us, is when children learn many of the social skills they'll one day need to become functioning adults.

For instance, kids of my generation learned the rules of social debate from the standard shooting games -- cops-and-robbers or cowboys-and-Indians or (after steady doses of the TV show "Combat!") heroic G.I. vs. evil Nazi. These games went like this:

"Bang, you're dead."

"No, I'm not."

"Yes, you ARE."

"You missed me."

"Did not."

"Did too."



"I'm telling."

At this point, the offended child would run to a weary Mom to complain. Game over.

Nowadays, of course, kids aren't allowed to shoot toy guns. Even whispering "bang" can get a kid expelled from school for life. Instead, children learn social skills by debating which Pokemon is most powerful, the argument escalating until one child runs to Mom, crying and complaining.

The playground is where kids learn to make friends and gossip about enemies. Where they learn to evade bullies. Where they learn to shrug off slights with dignity.

As we grow older, we forget many of those lessons. Or, we water them down. We want to be taken seriously as adults, so we disdain the social tricks that have proven valuable to generations of kids.

For example, we learn to gloat in smug silence when we outdo our competitors or when that jerk in the next cubicle makes a costly mistake. What we'd like to do, of course, is to call out: "Hahahahaha. I win, I win. Neener, neener, neener." But that's not how serious adults act.

We might be better off if we let that inner child go out to play more often. Maybe we're missing something by keeping those playground taunts and tactics bottled up inside. Some examples:

--Are any two words more chilling than "I'm telling?" Try it the next time you catch co-workers filching office supplies or competitors violating federal regulations. See if they don't shape up immediately.

--Remember picking teams on the playground? Was anything more humiliating than being the uncoordinated geek who was chosen last? You can turn that around in your career life. Pick the geek first. He'll be your salvation when the computers go down.

--When your boss is handing out assignments, be the quickest to say, "Not it."

--Turn aside insults by using those old favorites, "Sticks and stones . . . " or "I'm rubber and you're glue . . . " They might not defuse an angry confrontation, but they're better than gunfire.

--Hum background music as you go through your workday, the way boys provide action soundtracks to their playground heroism. When you finish a task, go for the crescendo: "Da-dum-da-dum-ta-DAAAH!" Your coworkers will love it. Really.

--If an irate colleague tries to corner you, sprint away while yelling over your shoulder, "You ca-a-an't catch me."

--Also effective: "You can't make me." (You should have another job lined up before trying that one on your boss, however.)

Maybe you're saying to yourself about now: "Hey, there's a reason I put aside all this kid stuff. My job is important, and it requires me to act like a grown-up. I want to be taken seriously."

To which I reply: "Haha, you're an adult. You don't get to play. Neener, neener, neener."

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