©2018 Kari Carlisle
During my first year of college, I wrote a paper for my Psych 101 class on the dangers of watching cartoons on children. I cited examples of kids jumping off roofs to be like Superman. I wrote about the impression that animated characters can have because children identify with them more than live action television. What did I know? I was barely climbing out of childhood myself.
I’ve never had children of my own and quite honestly tend to avoid them, so I can’t say I know much more today on the subject than I did when I was 18. But I know my own experience, and I think it’s interesting how times have changed so dramatically in the last 3-4 decades.
Occasionally, I see a meme or video on Facebook that points out this fact. It usually goes something like “Share this if you remember staying outside playing until the streetlights came on” or “Like and share if you rode your bike without a helmet and lived.” Well, that was me and my brother and all my friends. We went trick-or-treating by ourselves, we caught snakes in the desert, and we rode flattened boxes down dirt hills. This is what I call “having life experiences.”
What life experiences are today’s kids having? There’s an epidemic of latchkey kids stuck inside playing games on devices and growing overweight. I get it. Both parents typically must work to make ends meet, and the dangers of unsupervised play outside are greater today than 40 years ago.
The problem goes deeper than just the lack of outside play. I think kids today are not being taught critical thinking. When I was in school, field trips were a regular experience. They exposed us to all kinds of things beyond what can be conveyed in the classroom. Today, field trips are almost non-existent due to budget cuts, overworked teachers, liability concerns, or whatever excuse the schools have. That leaves the responsibility to overworked, budget-crunched, tired parents.
More on critical thinking – the whole education system has changed and is broken. The plan behind “No child left behind” is completely flawed, focusing education on rote learning for the sake of passing tests to continue school funding. “Nonessential” education such as art is being dramatically reduced or eliminated. Teachers don’t have time anymore to teach kids how to research, how to evaluate, how to be creative.
And then there are those darn devices. Oh yeah, I’m just as dependent on them now as everyone else, but I can go a whole day (a non-work day anyway) without looking at my phone. Can kids today do that? I can have a logical conversation with a colleague and reach a jointly satisfactory conclusion without drama. What kinds of communication skills are kids learning? Are they developing emotional intelligence by restricting their communications to texts? I doubt it.
Video gaming may be a fun pastime, but I’ve seen kids (and adults) become thoroughly addicted, spending hours, days, and a small fortune playing games. To what end? Do kids today even know how to play Go Fish using real cards or Monopoly with a real board and real fake money? I guess after the fast-action excitement of video games, they would find these utterly boring. But are they getting the same problem-solving and socializing skill sets?
Physical fitness is going out the window, too. Sure, I watched my fair share of TV (still do), but I don’t know that a day went by that I didn’t walk to friend’s house, ride my bike, go skating, or play in the playground. Today, there are schools that are doing away with recess and playgrounds. This liability thing is getting out of hand. I stepped on a piece of glass in the schoolyard and needed stitches. Did my parents sue? No. It was a freaking accident.
Nutrition is lacking. When I was a kid, soda and dessert were occasional treats, not every day expectations. I can’t say I was as excited about peanut butter on a celery stick as I was about a Snickers bar, but I generally ate healthier, I believe, than kids today. It wasn’t ideal (lots of carbs and sugary cereals), but at least high fructose corn syrup was not widely used, and there were no GMO’s. Today is much more about convenience than nutrition, and the statistics show kids are more overweight and experiencing more health problems like type 2 diabetes than ever before. I learned my way around the kitchen as a kid, and I think all kids should learn some basic cooking skills. Fast food will be the death of us.
Is there a solution to all of this? If there is, it’s complicated. Some people like to solve problems these days through legislation. If that’s the only way people will comply, then maybe that’s what needs to be done. Some places are outlawing the selling of fountain drinks over a certain size. Will it work, or will people just keep refilling their small soda?
Others advocate for more education. If we educate people about the problem, they will be motivated to change their behavior. Anti-smoking campaigns have clearly been successful, according to statistics. But are teens just switching to vape?
The problem is certainly in part economic. If both parents didn’t have to work, or if they could afford for one to work part time, more attention could be given to raising kids. Community services could also be developed to provide after-school and summer break programs. I fervently believe in the benefit of such programs and urge you to support them.
Ultimately, the current situation will change. Things change. It will get better. It may get worse before it gets better. And then it will get bad again. Heck, there are places in the world today where children are forced laborers. Throughout history, children have had work to do from the time they could walk. Survival depended on it. Families all over the world today need their children to help support the home. Although that wasn’t the case in my home growing up, we still had chores to do, and we’d get in trouble if we misbehaved. I’m amazed at the disrespect and laziness that kids get away with today.
This problem may not be the case in your home, and I hope not. Maybe this is all on a long, sliding scale. Is there something you can do – as a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, or other caregiver – to slide the scale in the right direction just a little? Be a role model, take the kids to a museum, play a board game, go for a hike and examine animal tracks, turn off the devices. Every little thing you can do to make a difference in a young person’s life will help turn the tide of these troubling trends.
I like the advice of filmmaker, Christopher Nolan (Interstellar), who had his young children watch 2001: A Space Odyssey. His point was that they may not understand all of it (even adults have trouble with that), but exposing young children to something like that stretches their minds and their imaginations. I have to agree. Like Nolan, I saw 2001 as a youth enamored with Star Wars, and I had the same reaction of excitement about the potential of humans in space.
A simple thing like a movie, a zoo, or an antique shop can have a huge impact on a growing mind. You may even learn something yourself. It doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. Kids just can’t learn everything they need in life from the classroom or on the device. They will learn the most important things from “having life experiences.” If we don’t expose them (or ourselves for that matter) to things bigger than them, they will never develop into their full potential.
What life experiences do you remember having an impact on you? Tell us in the comments…
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