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.