Monday, August 8, 2011

Thoughts from a Former Old-Fashioned Child

A couple days ago, my friend shared this article on Facebook:

Intrigued, I read it.  And I can’t say I’m shocked by its findings.

It got me thinking about my own experience with toys.  In a previous post I mentioned that my childhood was pretty fantastic.

Here is my childhood in a nutshell: I had four older siblings.  On not-too-rare lucky days I got to tag along with my oldest siblings, whom I adored; on average days I played with my sister closest to my age.  Stephanie and I rarely disagreed and never fought.  What did we play with?  If it was just Stephanie and I, we’d play with toys – stuffed animals and our “little toy animals” (small plastic dogs, cats, and farm animals).  Occasionally we played with Barbies, too, but we didn’t play with them the way they were meant to be played with; our Barbies were much more adventurous, and as I remember it, quite a bit more magical. If we had friends to play with, we didn’t generally play with toys – just each other.  We’d run around and make-believe -  “I’m a magical fairy who can shape-shift into a bunny!” and things like that.  

Pretty standard for a kid, right?  Well, maybe standard for a kid 50 years ago, but nowadays I’m not so sure.  Sometimes I’m amazed that my parents were able to keep that kind of creative environment for me as a child.  My siblings played video games increasingly as we got older, but video games and television never dominated my life.  They eventually bored me.  I think my general focus on doing when I was a kid made it harder for me to lounge doing something so unproductive and, well, not fun.

Now I see kids spending hours watching TV.  How can they do this?  I wonder.  Sure, I watched TV as a kid, but never this much.  I had too much energy to get out.  Don’t they have any energy?

I worry that TV and video games will become so standard for kids that by the time I have kids, they will be impossible to escape.  Sure, I can try and ban video games from my house, but what if all my kids’ friends are playing video games?  And what if my child gets video games from a relative for his birthday?  What then?  What if I just turn into this terribly strict, rigid parent who forces my kids to have fun in a certain way?

I keep wondering what it was, exactly, that my parents did that encouraged me to play so imaginatively.  The thing is, I don’t remember anything that they did.  I don’t remember any specific encouragement of one thing or discouragement of another.  I just remember that my mom let me do my own thing.  She let me run around the neighborhood on my roller skates all afternoon and drop in on the neighborhood kids, without worrying about me getting kidnapped or hit by a car.  I’d just tell her I was going out to play, and that was it – she just let me play.  

I think that may be one of the problems that parents have these days.  They bemoan the fact that their kids are always watching TV, but they don’t let their kids play outside because it’s “too dangerous” (even if they live in a nice neighborhood).  What they don’t realize is that they’re doing more damage to their kid by keeping them cooped up with video games than by letting them roam free.  Yes, things do happen, but they happen to cautious parents as well as negligent parents.  You can’t avoid every danger in the world.  By all means, teach your kids not to talk to strangers and how to be safe; as a kid, I don’t think I ever went any farther than either end of our street  (whether I wasn’t allowed to or I just didn’t want to, I don’t remember).  But at some point, you have to put some trust in your kids, even if it’s just enough trust to let them out onto the street without supervision (at a certain age, of course).  If you don’t trust them enough to stay in safe situations, then they will never learn to be deserving of that trust.

Parents are getting more and more worried about their kids.  They say it’s because the world is becoming more dangerous.  Is it?  I don’t know about that.  Yes, there are bad neighborhoods and bad areas of town, but that’s the way it’s always been.  Yes, there are bad guys who want to snatch your kids; but those bad guys have always existed.  Sometimes people think that the reason parents didn’t worry about their kids was because the world was perfectly rosy back in the 50’s, or 60’s, or whatever.  Well, it wasn’t.  The world has never been perfectly sweet and rosy, people.  Why not just let your kids enjoy the good things in life when and how they can?!

Okay, what started out as my thoughts on childhood and toys in general has now, apparently, turned into a rant against modern parents.  Sorry, guys.  Any thoughts, as always, are appreciated in the comments.  I know this is a slightly controversial subject in our modern world so please make your opinion known, even if (especially if!) you disagree with me. 


  1. I couldn't agree with you more. Kids spend way too much time in front of screens. Mine spend more than I wish they did, but honestly sometimes it is the only way I can get things done. They don't do video games at all, though, except very occasionally on Daddy dates. I also try to keep the shows more on the educational side, but as this article points out, it doesn't matter so much because the TV is doing the thinking for the kids. They're not doing the self-talk and self-regulation. It's not textbook material they're missing out on, but life skills and maturity.

    I also try to fight my overprotective-ness a lot so that the kids can be outside a lot. I love when they run to friends' houses on their own to play. I went to the neighbor's one day to help in her garden, and the kids played by themselves for about an hour without toys. She was amazed--and I was proud. Although she doesn't have kids of her own, she spends a lot of time around kids as a teacher and very involved aunt, and she was surprised and impressed by Sam and Nellie's ability to entertain themselves. So I must not be doing too badly! Also, in reference to the npr article, I think Sam and Nellie can both stand perfectly still for a couple minutes--but now I want to try it and see!

  2. Thanks for your input, Annette! I'm glad to have agreement from a parent. Sometimes I think my opinions on raising kids might just be too unrealistic in today's world. But you and your kids are proving otherwise! Sam and Nellie are such good kids. :)

  3. When I remember the stuff I did as a kid, I'm amazed that I was allowed to be that free! But I didn't wind up getting killed, so I guess it worked out. It seemed like I was roaming the neighborhood (especially the overgrown areas surrounding the lake) from a pretty young age. I even remember some minor neighborhood roaming at our old house, and we moved when I was seven. By the time I was ten or so, I think I was pretty much going anywhere I wanted that I could reach without a car. I often had Annette or friends with me, but not always. I don't think that's a typical experience for modern kids.

    My memories of TV and video games as a child are fairly positive. I still sing the School House Rock songs to myself sometimes. (All together now: 3-6-9, 12-15-18, 21-24-27, 30!) I really think that those sorts of educational videos are helpful for kids when delivered in modest doses. Since we didn't have a game console when I was little, video games were a social activity that I participated in at other people's houses. I may have been a little too much into computer games, but a lot of them were educational as well. (I could place all the states on their proper places on a map without an outline. I wish I could do that now!) I think Mom and Dad allowed me just the right amount of "screen time."

    When I have kids, I know they'll play video games because it's a major hobby for Ken, but I hope it will be a social activity. I hope I have the discipline to limit TV time appropriately. I think our neighborhood is pretty great for roaming, if I can keep from worrying too much. (I may need to get my kids cell phones so I can check in!)

  4. By the way, Emu, some of my favorite memories are of your imaginative play when you were a kid. It was especially great when we shared the patio room, because I would wake up to you playing, but you didn't know I was awake. I would just lie there and listen! You were so cute!