Dear Mr. Ethicist: My eleven year old son is a huge fan of the Ohio State football team. On Monday night they are playing Oregon for the National Championship and he really wants to watch the game. Problem is it doesn't start until 8:30 and will not end until after midnight, which is obviously past his bedtime. Should I let him stay up and watch and, if I do, is it OK to let him sleep a little longer on Tuesday and take him to school an hour or so late?
I am assuming that since you took the time to write this question, your son must be a very big fan of Ohio State and you are struggling between being a responsible parent and making your son happy. Some people will say, "It's just a stupid football game," but kids miss school for all sorts of teachers' days and religious holidays. Really, that line of argument places one person's values ahead of another's and holds little water. What's a crazier reason to miss school: a football game or a religious holiday? On one level they are both absurd, and yet on another level both are valid in the eye of the beholder.
Since you didn't mention any poor grades I assume your son is a relatively decent student, so it seems unlikely that he is using the game as an excuse to miss class. He just really wants to watch this game, which seems reasonable. It's like letting him read a book to the final chapter and then saying, "Go to bed and I will tell you how it ends tomorrow."
Who would be happy with that arrangement?. Yes, he can stay up and watch the game.
As for sleeping in, there is no clear-cut solution.
On the one hand, dragging yourself into work after a late night and half-assin' it all day is a cornerstone of the American economy. I suppose the sooner he learns this lesson the better. You play, you pay. Besides, tax dollars are going to pay for these schools, so by allowing your son to skip class for football you are cheating fellow taxpayers out of their hard-earned money.
On the other hand, if you have the ability and means to get out of work after a late night, good for you. Having the foresight to ask for a day off before another employee; making sure your shift is covered; or simply bullshitting your boss for a couple extra hours of sleep are also part of the American tradition. Capitalism in its truest form. Let the market decide who gets the morning off.
In this case, you - as the parent - are the boss. If your son has built up enough good will and knows how to bullshit you properly, he is taking advantage of his assets and skill-set to leverage you into getting the desired result he is seeking. Sounds like a well thought-out business transaction to me. On your end, If you agree to let him stay up and sleep in, I would demand that sometime in the next week you have him write a paragraph or two summing up the football game and how he felt about the result.
He gets what he wants, you to get to see your son happy watching what could very well be a once in a lifetime experience, and for the responsible parent side of you, he has to put in a little work just because you said so.
Colin Gawel is the founder and a contributor to Pencilstorm. He does most of his writing at Colin's Coffee and has spent his life playing in the band Watershed. You can read all about it in the best selling book Hitless Wonder by Joe Oestreich. Twitter @colingawel