The boy, you will notice, at this stage begins to argue a great deal more than he ever did before. He wants to argue nearly every question. He likes the debating society. His idea of heaven, it seems to me, is a place where debating is indulged in. A goodly amount of exercise for those psychological and mental powers will do him no harm.
The mortality, or the death rate, is low, but the morbidity is increasing at this time, in the boy at least. Vigorous physical exercise is now needed. Ordinary play is not enough. Gymnastics also for the development and training of the hand and the wrist, training in quickness and precision of movement are all excellent exercise, all the finer muscles should be trained now, and probably less training should be given to the heavy fundamental muscles which are all important in childhood.
Athletics are exceedingly useful. They should be, however, for all, and not merely for a few who join the teams, who need them the very least of all. I think our modern college athletics will some day be looked upon as one of the most ridiculous habits of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. That twenty-two men should engage in mortal combat, with anywhere from one to twenty thousand on the side lines,—if you can get anything more ridiculous than that, I should like to know where you can find it. Athletics should not be too severe, however, yet, the boy ought not to have century runs and long halves of football, especially if the heart is still weak. The tissues of the body have not yet gained the toughness that they will gain at a later time. Every commander in the field dreads to have boys of eighteen, nineteen, or twenty sent to him, because, as Napoleon said of his young recruits, “they die off like flies.” The hard bed, with light covering, the cold room, the cold bath will now aid in toughening the boy, provided he is healthy; but under no circumstances begin that until the pubertal period is fully by.
The danger of over-pressure in the high school, especially after the first year, is to my mind not very great. The boy and the girl now both stand a good deal of work; but the greatest danger for the boy and the girl in the high school is that they will take too much social enjoyment. An evening theatre party, followed by a supper, a late dance, will take more strength out of a boy and girl than three days of study. There is nothing that is so wearing. If you can keep down the social over-pressure, I do not believe the over-pressure from study will do any great harm in high schools.