Warmest Regards: The changing face of childhood
By Pattie Mihalik
I just read a magazine story that lamented the way today’s children have computer games and electronic gadgets that gobble up too much of their time.
The writer concluded that while today’s kids have more “things” than any previous generation, they don’t have the wonderful childhoods of past generations.
One mother was quoted as saying it isn’t true that today’s kids no longer play with other kids as they once did because they keep themselves engrossed in computer games.
“My son and his friends play games with others, just like previous generations. The only difference is now it is done online. Perhaps that’s better because they play with kids across the country — not just in their own town,” said the mother.
In other words, there is no person-to-person contact.
I’m sure you’ve read or listened to research that shows the harm of too much electronic gaming for children. Studies show that causes poor social interaction and even changes the way brains are wired.
Psychology Today claims children’s brains are much more sensitive to electronics use than most of us realize. It cites studies that show interactive screen time is more likely to cause sleep problems, mood changes and cognitive issues that can have a major effect on a child.
None of that is startling news. We’ve heard it all before. But it doesn’t change behavior in most households.
A good friend of mine complains his computer-addicted son stays up so late at night that it’s hard to get him awake for school. The son is a smart kid who used to get good grades. But not anymore.
But the father tells me he’s OK with all that computer gaming time.
“I would rather have my son at home where I know what he is doing,” says the father.
I recently read a Wall Street Journal article about the changing face of childhood that made me so sad I could barely finish reading it.
The conclusion of the article was that kids today no longer have a childhood. At least not a childhood as we once knew it.
In an attempt to protect children and keep them safe in what has become an unsafe world, many parents have had to resort to restricting kids from going outside without supervision.
The Journal calls it “The overprotected American child.”
I was a bit stunned to read about the American Academy of Pediatrics advising parents to wait until a child is 10 before being allowed to walk to school, or anyplace else, without adult supervision.
Some states have passed laws stipulating at what age children can legally be left alone at home. According to the article, in Maryland that age is 8. In Illinois, it’s 14.
The article also talks about the “Let Grow” trend that encourages parents to develop Play Clubs where children can play freely in a gym or playground with only one adult to act as a “lifeguard.”
These are not preschoolers. They are 8, 10 and even older.
Until I read that extensive article, I had no idea how badly things had deteriorated for today’s kids. I had no idea that in order to protect our kids we’ve had to take away their childhood.
I used to think the parents in my neighborhood that wouldn’t allow their kids to walk one block to the bus stop were overprotective. Now, after reading the article, maybe they are just normal parents trying to protect their kids. Or are they? Is it overprotective to not let middle school kids walk a block?
I did ask one friend who lives near the school bus stop why she gets in the car every day to drive her 15-year-old son one block to the bus stop. She says it’s because it’s too hot to walk here in Florida.
I feel like I just got up from a decadeslong sleep only to discover it’s a different world out there.
I’ve always believed childhood is one of the most precious gifts we are given in life. For those of us in what I call “my generation,” childhood was a special, happy place.
Back then, we had so much freedom.
No one had to worry about us walking a few blocks. In my case, I walked from one end of the town to another. My only requirement was that I had to be home before dark. As I got older, even that restriction was lifted.
When I was a kid, none of us were given so-called toys or gadgets. We were given something far more precious — the freedom to go outside and make our own fun.
I was an avid reader from an early age. When I wanted library books, my mom didn’t say, “I’ll drive you there.” I walked six blocks to the library, remembering to cross the busy highway at the red light.
When I wanted to go swimming at the pool a few miles away, I rode my bike.
It was all part of sweet, wonderful childhood.
It grieves me that many of today’s kids are growing up without knowing the real wonders of childhood.
Those thrills and wonders aren’t found on a computer screen. They’re found in something magical called “outside.”
I wish every kid could experience that magic. It’s a magical world I still embrace, because once you’ve found it, you never want to let it go.
Contact Pattie Mihalik at firstname.lastname@example.org.