"You are worried about seeing him spend his early years in doing nothing. What! Is it nothing to be happy? Nothing to skip, play, and run around all day long? Never in his life will he be so busy again." ~Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1762
"It is never too late to have a happy childhood." ~Tom Robbins
Becoming a grandma has given me much to think about this past week. When I was holding baby Aven in my arms yesterday, I began to wonder about how her life will unfold. I tried to imagine her at three...at seven...at twelve, so curious about what her childhood will look like. She is so fortunate ~ she is off to the best start because parents couldn't possibly love a new baby more than our son and daughter-in-law love little Aven. I know that her talents, passions, and dreams will be met with great enthusiasm and support.
I got to thinking about how different things are today than when I was a child...and when our own children were small. It seems that, in our determination to shelter and protect our kids, we as a society have forgone common sense and lost touch with some of the basic things that kids need. The end result is that so many kids are growing up in a "bubble".
When I was young, we didn't have cell phones or computers. We could go off with our friends all day and have good old fashioned fun. We explored the hillsides. We played in the park for hours, unattended. We walked to school and back home. The rule was "be home before dinnertime". I remember having the freedom to go off with my friends in second grade. We built forts and played in them for hours. We caught every insect known to man. We went on treasure hunts. We rode bikes and rollerskated all over town, even on the school property. We went swimming. We saved our allowances and walked to town to buy a candy bar. This was how I grew up defining "childhood".
When I became a parent, the world wasn't as safe a place as it had been during my formative years. While I tried to give my kids a measure of the freedoms I had enjoyed, I had a very watchful eye on them. Still, we encouraged our kids to enjoy the outdoors daily ~ we supplied them with bikes, rollerblades, sports equipment, whatever outdoor activity they showed an interest in. But I could see a shift occuring as my kids grew up. More and more of their peers were not allowed to play in their own front yards. Instead, they were using their free time to play video and computer games. Kids in general were growing more and more sedentary. I grieved when our community removed the swing set and jungle gym from the park, claiming they were too dangerous and a legal risk. When did swing sets become a hazard?? It seems that so much of what makes childhood precious was vanishing before my eyes.
I know I do not stand alone in my thoughts. Just today, our local newspaper had a featured article about this very topic, saying:
"Play is serious business. Children need it. Daily. Study after study shows that playtime makes them happier, healthier, smarter and more social. But in America, children are suffering from a play deficit. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that only one in five kids live within a half-mile of a park or playground. And today's kids spend less time playing outdoors than any previous generation, according to the Stanford University of Medicine."
I know ~ it's a dangerous world out there. And it seems that it's getting worse as the wonder of the computer age is being used for evil as well as good. The number of child predators keeps climbing. But there has to be a better solution than locking our kids inside and instilling such a high level of fear in them, that even a swing set appears dangerous.
Here's how I see this trend impacting today's kids ~ the obesity rate is off the charts...kids aren't developing that wonderful part of the brain called "imagination"...they have pent-up energy from being so inactive, which can lead to an ADHD diagnosis...they aren't developing the social and communication skills gained from spending consistent free time playing with peers...they are growing into adolescence frustrated, bored, with low self-confidence. Is it possibly because we have taken away the essence of their childhood in our attempts to keep them safe? I believe we have got to find a way to bring back the joyous, carefree daily expression of "play". Not just for the scoreboards ~ real, genuine, get-dirty, have a blast playtime. That's what I think. How about you?
"The essence of childhood, of course, is play, which my friends and I did endlessly on streets that we reluctantly shared with traffic." ~Bill Cosby
"Childhood is that wonderful time of life when all you need to do to lose weight is take a bath. ~Author Unknown