July 14, 2015
I love those memes that talk about growing up before the internet. You know the ones that say things like: I grew up when lightning bugs were my curfew. I recorded songs from the radio on my cassette player. We didn’t have video games, we had outside. We rode bikes, played ball in the street, talked on phones in the kitchen while wrapping the cord around our fingers. The lists are usually comparative between then and now, with an overriding theme of simplicity and playing outdoors. That’s the world I wish my children had.
When we were young, summer meant leaving the house as soon as we finished breakfast and chores. We popped back in for lunch, came home in time to help with dinner, and then ran off one more time until the lightning bugs blinked. We knew to get home as soon as we saw those first flickers otherwise we’d be grounded the next day. On the weekends, we would beg for more time at night so we could play a game of ghost in the graveyard or kick the can. When 9:00 came, we’d pair up and run each other halfway home, then split at the halfway point to go to our respective houses, shouting conversations back and forth until we couldn’t heard our friend any longer. We’d sprint the rest of the way home, more afraid of the bogeyman than anything real.
Sometimes we played in our own backyards, setting up slip and slides, throwing frisbees, or we’d get a big group together for running bases. On sunny days we’d slick up our bodies in search of the perfect tan, and brush lemon juice in our hair for those natural looking highlights. Boredom set in within 15 minutes, or we’d get too hot, and the sprinkler would come out. We’d forget about sunbathing as we ran through the sprinkler and had hose wars.
We had a prairie, an abandoned farmer’s field across the street. At one time someone started grading for houses, but the land had stood empty for years. We dragged boxes to the prairie, old sheets, discarded wood, milk crates, and anything else we felt we could use to build a fort. We brought notebook paper and pencils so we could draw plans before we built. We shared ideas, incorporated thoughts from everyone, and set out on our task. When we finished, we hung out all day. For the rest of the summer, or until another group of kids knocked it down, we had “our fort.”
On rainy days, or days when we couldn’t think of anything else to do, we were allowed to cook. Not only were we allowed to follow recipes or make box cakes, we were encouraged to be creative. We made smoothies when smoothies were called fruit shakes. We ate raw eggs in homemade eggnog and never got sick. We made frittatas when it was called eggs with stuff from the garden, and we had to grate our own cheese. Sometimes we set out to make the most disgusting dish we could think of and then we dared each other to eat it. We were free. We were independent, and we didn’t expect anyone to entertain us.
I think back to those days and I weep for all we’ve lost, for all the adventures and excitement my kids will never have. Whether the world has really gotten more dangerous or the advent of the internet and immediacy of information has only made it seem so, kids today don’t leave the house in the morning and come back at dusk any longer. Instead, most play adult monitored sports, go to camps run by adults, or they sit at home and play video games. Kids post pictures of themselves up online, looking for “likes,” for attention, moving motivation from intrinsic to extrinsic, thus solidifying their need for the internet.
As a teacher, I witnessed creativity and critical thinking decrease at a correlative rate with the onset of video games and the internet, not to mention No Child Left Behind and my favorite, Common Core. Given brain twister problems, kids gave up without trying. If they couldn’t see a clear cut answer, they didn’t have the experience, ability, or desire to think outside the box. How could they when they’d never had the freedom to think for themselves or the need to solve a problem if they wanted to continue playing? Their innate curiosity never had the chance to fully develop. Media, video games, and anime filled their free time and boredom never threatened. Boredom is the mother of invention and creativity. Now, we spoon feed our kids what we think they should know, monitor and guide the majority of their day, and never allow them the freedom to figure things out for themselves.
I wish I could provide my kids the world I had before the onset of the internet. I wish they could go out after breakfast and play until the sun goes down. I want them to learn how to problem solve without the aid of Google. I want them to feel sympathetic to the plight of others, develop empathy, and understand what it means to be a friend. I want them to work creatively and cooperatively, and do it because it satisfies something inside them, not for the accolades they’ll get when they post it to social media. That’s the world I want for my kids. The world in which they experience life by living it.
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