Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Imagination Drain

Before I am accused of contracting the sickness of "Good Old Days-itis" let me say that I understand that fond recollections of one’s own childhood can be misleading. The grand adventures we recall now probably did not seem so wonderful and enchanting as they happened. I get that. But this pediatrician discusses what he views as a trend away from allowing children to develop their own games and imaginations and toward adult hovering and over-thinking (and, as he sometimes sees it, over-commercialization) of everything from classrooms to playgrounds. I have often thought that so much of what my kids experience today is just a bit too "scripted" compared with the fun we used to have as kids. But I think there is a long list of causes (commercialization being probably the least among them).

I will just throw out a couple for consideration: first, people are having kids much later in life. I wouldn’t say that older parents have more invested in their children than younger parents, but they probably have more invested in the decision to have them. It is possible, on occasion, that they may have over-thought the thing--thus the delay. Further, such parents may not have one foot in the grave . . . but they are more keenly aware of the graveyard. There is a pressure to do right in more urgently felt time constraints. Plus, they’re often wealthier than younger parents. They tend to be more indulgent materially. Birthday parties in the backyard with pin the tail on the donkey for a few friends won’t do. They can and do have marvelously and extravagantly scripted events at places created specifically for the purpose.

A second reason for this "scripting" may be that neighborhoods tend to empty out of children and mothers during the daytime. I remember wandering through the neighborhood as a young child (i.e., 5 or 6) and chasing the ice cream truck, riding tricycles, searching for treasure, pretending to build clubhouses, etc. My kids don’t really do that and, if they wanted to, they wouldn’t have anyone to join them. No one is ever home during the day. If the mothers aren’t working, they’re out with their children on scripted outings.

I’m not saying that all of this is a bad change, but it is a change worth considering. On the up-side, I think my kids have seen much more of the world than I ever did at their ages. They’ve been to classical concerts; Broadway quality plays; first class museums, zoos and aquariums and; of course, to some really amazing birthday parties. But I do worry sometimes that there is such a thing as over-doing it. And sometimes, late at night, when I sneak into their rooms to give them one last kiss for the night, I wonder if they’ll ever know how much fun it is to build a fort in a tree and fight the battles of a mighty empire of princesses and pirates.

Discussions - 13 Comments

Julie,

I agree with a lot of what you say, here. My dad first pointed out the difference between tee-ball, little-league, etc. and his childhood where kids played pick-up ball in the vacant lot.

His way was much more fun, he thought, than a bunch of over-zealous coach wannabes drilling the finer points of baseball into a bunch of uniformed 6-yr-olds who would rather be throwing sand at each other.

Another point: my city has a "Play Museum." On one hand, that's pretty cool. On another hand, it's a little scary!

Fung is dead right.

And if he had accompanied me last night, to see my nephew play his first all-star game under the lights, he would have seen the wisdom of his observations play itself out right before him.

Here's an example. A kid rounded third too far, the ball arrived behind him to third base, which set up a classic run-down situation. But there was a little problem, NONE of the kids in the infield had EVER been in a run-down situation. So what happened? The runner immediately put it together that the infielders didn't know what they were doing, and he sprinted back to the bag.

Kids who play pick-up games confront all kinds of situations. But kids who only play the game at practice or an actual game, don't have the playing experience that previous generations enjoyed.

Watching that game last night, {and the one just a couple of days ago} demonstrated to me how much the kids today are hurt because they're not able to go out and play.

Imagination is needed, so I decided that I'm going to coach my nephews next year. Towards that end I just purchase a wiffle ball set for 'em. My nephews have plenty of kids their age right on their street, yet more around the corner. But they almost never play anything together. To do so requires some prearranged "play date" I suppose. So I waved them all over, and explained to them the wonders of wiffle ball. And of course they enjoyed themselves immensely. And now they're playing it all the time, {when they're not swimming that is}.

I recall hours of enjoyment as a child playing with wooden blocks, Lincoln Logs and Legos. No structure ... just build stuff and tear it down. Then build something again, and for good measure run a Tonka Truck into it. That's play time.

The 1992 film, The Sandlot, (which was supposed to take place in 1966) demonstrates everything that Dan and Fung are saying about the superiority of pick-up games to organized sports. My son (who just started little league T-ball this year) loves this movie and I now have to hide our DVD so that I am not pestered to turn it on every other day. I think the reason he is fascinated by it is that, although the game of baseball is known to him, the concept of kids being in charge of something is so foreign and wonderful to him. It's like a magical world into which he'd like to escape. I think adults sometimes forget how powerless children can feel. When we butt out of their way sometimes (not always, of course, but sometimes) it helps them to grow and develop the fortitude they'll need later to stand up to life's inevitable challenges. Ironically, the little league organized a "Family Movie Night" at the end of the season and they showed The Sandlot. Of course, we went. The best part of the evening was that all the kids went to the outfield while the parents worried over getting good seats and stuffing faces with free hotdogs. And guess what they did . . . ? They played a pick-up game.

But I am still of two minds here. If it weren't for little league, my son would never get to play ball for lack of playmates. If they weren't arranging it, I'd have to do it.

I'm not saying that one is "superior" to the other; what I'm saying is that both are necessary. But today little kids don't seem to be playing pick-up games. They play on their own; they play with their electronic games. If they're lucky, they'll have a brother to play with. Only one of the kids that my nephews know actually has a brother. So my nephews don't really understand how lucky they are. Families more often than not seem to consist of one boy, one girl. And that's it. But there doesn't seem to be kids playing together on the street. To play together takes prior arrangement; you have to set up a "play date." I've asked other parents if what I've seen is unusual or par for the course. Everyone has said it's par.

In my day, we roamed wherever we felt like. If we felt like climbing trees, then we climbed as high as humanly possible. And if it was 75 feet up, then we were up, on our own, 75 feet up, with no one to gainsay our decision. If we decided to sneak into the Army Reserve site, which we often did, then it was off we went. And we'd crawl through the trucks, the jeeps, we'd crawl through and over every vehicle on site. Barbed wire fences we'd go over with as little thought, or difficulty as getting a quick drink from a garden hose. And as for pick-up games, during the Winter we'd play football every day. During Summer, baseball. And when I got a bit older, basketball. We played street hockey too, but usually when it got colder.

But today, parents are simply too paranoid about letting little kids wander off on their own, to explore on their own, to have adventures on their own. And not without cause. Not without good cause.

Whenever I watch my nephews, which is often by the way, I watch 'em like a hawk. And if I lose sight, or rather awareness of where they are, what they're doing, who's hanging around them, for so much as a heartbeat, I get nervous fast. There's simply too many stories of missing kids. Too many horror stories.

As for the movie Sandlot, I've been forced to watch it several times. My nephews love to make me watch the movies they're all worked up about.

Of course as a kid I had my own run in with a vicious dog. But I could run like the wind. One day, I forget what the reason was, I ran deep into the lair of some blackhearted beast, who from previous run-ins I knew full well to be as fast as I was, if not a shade faster. And we became aware of one another simultaneously, and he long wanted to bury his teeth into me, and our eyes locked. I still recall the satisfaction in those dark eyes of his.

And then the chase was ON! And there must have been over a dozen kids watching and waiting for the outcome of that one. That was a chase for the ages.

Recently we moved back to my hometown of Warren, PA. We bought our dream home out in the woods with substantial acreage. Growing up in a suburban style development, with kids all over the place to play with, I wondered how my two girls (ages 6 and 4) would adapt to being out in the middle of the woods. What I have seen is absolutely amazing! Instead of me planning everything for them, they are using their imaginations!!! A rope swing by the creek is now their bridge to their magical land (we just read and watched Teribitha)...they are constantly in the woods searching, exploring, asking questions about what things are. I hear them making up stories about what they are doing... what adventure they are going on next. And, while I still have them involved in sports at the Y and little league, it is this "free time" in the middle of the woods that I think will be more memorable to them than anything else.

Julie, you don't have to say the change is bad. I will.

Why are we paranoid about our kids and their safety?

Simple ... media.

If a heinous crime is not covered in your area, it will be covered from another area.

I do not think that crime has truly increased since I was a kid. I do think that the coverage of it or rather the focus from local to national or regional coverage and back has made us more aware of the dangers that lurk out there and, thusly, we have become more protective.

Is that bad?

In some ways, yes, but in others, no and I think, overall, it is a good thing!

We live on a couple of acres of land in the country. My son never really fit in with anyone at his school because instead of playing video games and cruising the malls, he rides quads, shoots guns and bows/arrows (under adult supervision) team ropes, steer wrestles, raises 4-H animals, goes to 4-H Camp and Cowboy Camps, bass fishes, swims in the canals and ponds, climbs trees, flies kites, did his 7th-grade science project on whether different paintballs affect the accruacy of a paintball gun, mucks stalls, paints fences, drives the tractor, mows lawns. He has pulled calves, raised rabbits and does volunteer work at a local Animal Shelter. He knows that the eggs and milk at grocery store come from cows - not the store's frig. He knows that the meat at the store comes from beef cattle and not from the butcher in the store. He can change the oil on tractors and trucks and is pretty good at driving the dually and horse trailer on our property. Next year when he turns 14 he will be working at the dairy down the road. He is a true-blue American boy - a rare find in this day and age.

I strongly suggest the following books for anyone with boys:

Dangerous Book for Boys and Backyard Ballistics - much better than Mortal Kombat

Dale,

Glad to have a chance to agree with you. Social Psychologists refer to the "availability heuristic," which refers to the way low probability events (like school shootings, kidnappings, and high profile crimes) make the headlines, often thousands of miles away from where they happened, thus leaving in peoples' minds the images of those crimes, which are very difficult to think rationally about.

At the same time, we tend to underestimate the probabilities of all sorts of "boring" but very real dangers: riding a bike with no helmet, playing on a trampoline, getting bullied and hazed by the soccer team, and so on.

The accumulation of "stuff" is starting to drive me a bit crazy. We spend dollars and hours every summer maintaining an above-ground pool which gets used less these days, because we now have two window-unit air conditioners. So, the pool stay empty, and Play Station gets used inside, because it's nice and cool in the house!

And, next Christmas, I will add to this cycle because I want my kids to have "at least" one more great Christmas.

In our small, suburban neighborhood of the years 1955-65 there were about 45 homes and maybe 55-60 kids at any one time. The grand total of children kidnapped, mutilated, murdered was zero. Between then and now, was there any upturn in such statistics that would justify the ongoing universal lockdown? Maybe there was. I've never seen any numbers.

When I was ten or eleven years old people would ask me why I didn't want to play in the Little League, which had been organized recently. "I don't believe in organized activities for children," I explained. The whole point of getting out of the house was to leave tiresome adults behind. Why would I want to be supervised by that overbearing Knute Rockne wannabe and coach of the Rumson Wildcats, Mr. McCann? And then, adding condescension to caging, the Adults decided that three teams, competing in a league with teams from other towns, were too exclusive. What we really needed was a league with nothing but local teams, so everyone who wanted to play could play.

No child is ever so unmanly as to advance an idea like that.

I can see that you are still trying to peddle the left-wing notion of a proposition nation, which, as a real conservative, I must reject. As an authentic conservative, I support a nation of kith and kin, blood and soil, and genophilia (instinctive attachment to family and tribe). 'Nation' as the Latin 'nascere' suggests implies link by blood.

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