Monday, August 07, 2006


THE FUTURE BEYOND THE PERSONAL FORCE FIELD


When I was a kid the open playground, like the open world, was fun, but it was a tough place. Bullies hung out there, where there were no parents, only bigger and smaller kids. Kids got hit by swings. Fell off of sliding boards, were injured one way or another almost every day. No doubt some of them were afraid they'd never make it.

But somebody had to go out there, somebody had to swing to the very highest height possible, then walk across the cross bar without holding on to anything; someone had to do the fastest, the highest and/or bounciest seesaw possible; that was what life was all about, wasn't it?

So what if you had to jump up in the air to punch a bully on the jaw. In figuring it all out, taking it all on and handling it all ourselves every day, we got bumped and scraped on heads, knees and elbows, with spit for antiseptic. We got poison ivy, slivers, pinched fingers, lumps on our lumps, lost baby teeth, chipped new teeth, sprained everything and (rarely) broke something (usually playground equipment).

That was the nature and the price of play in those days. We'd never have done it any other way, and we never arrived home in the condition we'd gone out in. That was what fun was all about, it was adventure, the very nature of going out to play.

And then there was school, which was much the same: it was tough, it was hardnosed; in my case with nuns wielding pointers and rulers for prodding and whacking, chalk and erasers for throwing, as the disciplinary sisters worked to shape us living expressions of freedom. But we survived it all, all the stronger for it (not that I'd recommend that approach, exactly), and were ready for whatever the inevitable drill sergeants and pointy-haired bosses waiting in the future might try to lay on us.

So what happened? They still call it play? And school? And life?

"No one doubts that there are significant economic forces pushing parents to invest so heavily in their children's outcome from an early age. But taking all the discomfort, disappointment and even the play out of development, especially while increasing pressure for success, turns out to be misguided by just about 180 degrees. With few challenges all their own, kids are unable to forge their creative adaptations to the normal vicissitudes of life. That not only makes them risk-averse, it makes them psychologically fragile, riddled with anxiety. In the process they're robbed of identity, meaning and a sense of accomplishment, to say nothing of a shot at real happiness. Forget, too, about perseverance, not simply a moral virtue but a necessary life skill. These turn out to be the spreading psychic fault lines of 21st-century youth. Whether we want to or not, we're on our way to creating a nation of wimps."

Sorry kids, the real world is nothing like you expected...

5 comments:

Maya's Granny said...

And the children are the losers. Not only are they missing the skill development for adulthood, but they are missing out on the joy of childhood.

When I was doing home visits to coach parenting skills and the children would still be clean at 2 in the afternoon, I would feel sad and worried at the same time. Childhood is for climbing and running and digging and getting dirty.

The human brain is developed by the use of the human body. Doing things is what counts. Climbing a tree makes our bodies strong and improves hand-eye coordination and binocular vision and opens connections in several parts of the brain. And today's children are missing it. A crime.

Robert Brady said...

I remember falling from the top of a tall tree and catching the bottom branch with my hands; was I ever proud of that kind of expertise!

Todd said...

If things are looking bad for childhood in the US of A, they might be worse (in the sense the article mentioned) in Japan. Or better. Maybe in between...

Kids have very little time for play here. Before school sports practice, school, after school club, cram school, music and judo classes, and don't forget the homework. Somewhere in all that they must eat, spend time with friends, family, and pursue any interests outside of school. Forget about a part-time job.

On the other hand, kids are often left to play (when time is found) and settle disputes on their own. Problems like bullying are allowed to get out of control on occasion, but generally kids do need to work out those sorts of situations as the article says.

Is it good anywhere anymore?

Winston said...

I wonder where tomorrow's innovators will come from. We learned to make fun while we learned to make things for play. Oh what we could do with an empty oatmeal box, string, clothes-pins, junk we found lying around. Todays kids each have 4,743 toys that are all identical to the 4,743 toys that every other kid on the block has. They never learn to make do, to innovate, to create. And from my limited observations, they are all bored to death, and live for one thing, the same thing ... someone to give them number 4,744.

Robert Brady said...

Yeah, in those days we developed the talent for making our own fun, that nothing manufactured could ever outdo...