Do video games and increased screen time signal the impending death of childhood in our society? What happens when children are deprived of outdoor play in nature? These questions are tackled in the new documentary film “Play Again“, by Ground Productions, which is currently being screened around the country. I’m hoping it will come close to my town so I can see it soon, rather than having to wait for it to come out on Netflix. I’ve enjoyed the small clips I’ve seen so far, and was particularly chilled by some footage that shows 3 and 4-year-old kids identifying commercial logos, like Apple and XBox, but unable to do the same for a single type of plant.
It sometimes feels like an enormous battle to try and fight against the intense commercialization of childhood. We really limit what the kiddo sees in terms of television, even so-called “educational” programs, because we are trying to set habits that will lead him away from situations where he’ll watch program after program and commercial after commercial. However, we already notice that he is drawn to the screens. Sean and I are both borderline computer-holics during the week, and often spend our evenings working on our respective projects. Already we see our son trying to imitate us, grabbing at the laptop, and the remote control, and reaching for our glowing cell-phones. We will most likely have to look at limiting our own project work time to after he is in bed in order to be better role models for screen-free time. But this is our culture, and we aren’t quite sure how to walk away from it. I know that he will have friends and go other places where he’ll watch shows and play games we don’t like, and he’ll be influenced by friends to buy-buy-buy. It’s a tricky situation. We will try to counter it as much as possible with time outside, time spent creating and imagining and exploring in the woods fields and shorelines we are lucky enough to have access to.
There is a memorable quote in the clip above from the director of the Nature Conservancy, “What they do not value, they will not protect, and what they do not protect, they will lose.” THIS is the reason we do what we do, why we get outside every chance, and bring the kiddo out into the backyard to roll on the grass, and into the mountains, despite the snow and mud and bugs. This is why we will pack him into a canoe and paddle him all over the northeast, even before he can walk: the enduring hope that he will learn to value and protect the natural world around him, despite the odds.
Here is a longer clip from the film:
This was what we were up to only 2 weeks before we had 80 degree beach weather! Photo by Sean Donohue 2012
I live in New England, which means that even though it has edged into the eighties a few times in the last few weeks, I’m not sure I can get away with declaring that our outing last weekend involved the “last of the snow”, but I certainly hope that’s the case. Our little man-cub had a great time rolling around in the snowbanks with the dog, but is still confused by his mittens. He has outgrown his snowsuit, so we had to improvise and put a second set of mittens on his feet. I just tucked the thumbs in to keep them from catching on something, and he was good to go.
Around here we are gearing up for spring sports, which in our case means hiking and paddling. Since I was pregnant last year at this time, I haven’t done much paddling other than sit in a canoe in over a year, so it will take a bit of work to get my skills back in line enough to prepare for some of the trips we have planned for the summer. Each trip we have planned is supposed to be an easy one; some go to islands less than a mile from the put-in, some involve easy treks down flatwater. But, much like the weather itself, the easiest trip can become a challenge if the wind kicks in, or there is a lot of rain, or something critical in the gear fails, so I am beginning both a physical and a skills-based tune-up. I’ve been going through drybags, planning meals, and researching the few critical pieces of baby gear, such as a life jacket, that we still need to buy. I’ll get out on the water with Sean a few times in the next few weeks and work out the kinks on some warm-up paddles.
So far the kiddo loves any and all water he’s come into contact with. Our goal for the summer is to keep it that way…
I’ve seen this article , published by the UK newspaper The Daily Mail, popping up all over the place on the internet lately, and it always makes me pause. The article describes a report published by Natural England and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds that looks at the distance from home that subsequent generations of children were allowed to wander on their own. As you can see in the illustration, which shows the range of children in four generations of the same family, kids today are lucky to be able to wander a few hundred yards from their own front doors, compared to the range of several miles that their great-grandparents were allowed.
This hits home. Every time I think about my own son and where I’ll allow him to go, I wonder if I can manage to be as permissive as I want to be. As a child, I lived in a rural setting surrounded by fields and woods. I often wandered by myself in our own yard and the hayfields bordering it. As I got older, I rode my bike a few miles to friends’ houses, or went on long nature walks into the woods near my home. Now, my family lives in a more suburban environment with a lot of traffic. I can’t say I’m comfortable with the kiddo wandering very far on his own. If we lived in a wilder place I would want him to have the kinds of adventures I did, but it still makes me nervous.
In Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv documented research that showed that the dangers of children being abducted or molested have not increased in the last 50 years, but the media hype associated with them has, and this is one of the main reasons parents restrict children’s movements. I would add concern about injury and getting lost to this, even though I know that as a kid I rarely lost my way, and only sustained minor injuries during my wanderings. But what if can be a nerve-wracking thought.
Where we live is not very kid-friendly. There is a playground within walking distance, but to get there you have to cross a busy road. There are no sidewalks. A lot of other parks in our area have rules about how old children have to be to go there by themselves, and I expect I’d get a call from the police if I let my son play on his own. Our society has created so many barriers to children’s’ freedom, it seems like fighting a losing battle. I think my family is going to have to set some priorities, and decide if the convenience of our current location is enough. I think we are going to have to head to the woods if we want the kiddo to have the same kinds of independent experiences we had when we were young.
Categories: Ideas, Our Story