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I work as a "playground assistant," but that doesn't really describe what I do. I do spend a lot of time in the playground, but most of my job is conflict resolution. I work at an expensive private school in Manhattan, with kids from pre-K to middle school. So a lot of the day is spent moderating freeze tag, blowing my whistle at naughty children, and closing the slide at my whims. I help out in the library too, and with getting the kids on the bus.
There's a lot of money at the school. I had a kindergartener show me his iPhone, and I thought that was crazy, since he can't even read. But the next day, he said his 3-year-old brother had an iPhone too. The middle schoolers are really addicted to their phones and social media.
"Gangnam Style" was actually a big problem here. See, it's cute at first, with the really little kids dancing around. But you forget that they don't know what they're singing. A few weeks ago, this little boy was crying because his friend made him a card that said "Hey, Sexy Lady." So first of all, I threw away the card, and then I told the boy that he needed to ask people if it was OK before calling them anything other than their own name.
Speaking of cards, it's funny, I always notice that half the kids are writing "I love you, Mommy" cards and the other half are writing cards to their nannies. We also have a lot of kids who get picked up by drivers. I've made the mistake of telling a kid, "Your dad's here" at the end of the day. The kids are all excited, but then they see it's actually the chauffeur. I don't think they have much of a clue that this is uncommon.
One weird thing is that some moms come to school at the end of the day and ride the school buses home with their kids. They'll be in fur and gold jewelry. And then they get on the school bus. The drivers don't like it — they're like, "This isn't my job." I don't really understand why the moms do this. It's a free ride home, I guess?
And another thing, some more evidence of kids who are a little too coddled is this: A lot of the little ones have trouble walking. They can barely get up the stairs because they've been carried and pushed around in strollers too much.
For the most part, the kids are really well-behaved, but every kid that isn't is diagnosed as being "on the autism spectrum." The parents are looking for a medical explanation and diagnosis for everything — for why their kid slapped another kid or couldn't keep quiet in class. When I was growing up — perhaps in environments where parents were less involved — these kids got labeled as bullies or jerks. You hear about things like dyspraxia and occasionally borderline personality disorder, but forms of autism are what I hear about the most. People like to hear that their kid has some diagnosis for which he or she can be put in therapy.
As told to Hillary Reinsberg.