Tuesday, February 1, 2011

After-school luddites

One of the suggested causes of the increased number of fat children today is technology - that instead of running to the baseball diamond when class is out, kids are running to the flat screen to cruise the Internet or blast aliens. The lack of physical exercise is sapping the strength of today's youth, we are told.

I think that is probably a factor, absolutely. But instead of labeling these new activities as a problem, let's try to understand them a little more.

First off, things like video games are fun - and apparently more fun than kick the can, since the whole premise is that kids are choosing the virtual world over the real one. There's something to be said for letting people - even young people - spend their time they way they want to. If stickball can't compete with Gears of War, why make kids play it?

Granted, missing out on exercise is a notch against these physically-undemanding activities. Sports like baseball and football have a positive side effect in exercise that you don't find in video games, Internet activities and yes, wholesome old-fashioned book reading. Sports are a great way for kids to spend their free time.

Assuming, of course, they can walk.

But that isn't true for all kids. These "good ole' days" of outdoor childhoods may have offered a lot of choices to the general public, but not to the unfortunate kids with wheelchairs or seeing-eye dogs. If the do-gooders of today had their wish and pushed all the children outdoors, where would these children go? Should they just roll themselves home, hidden from the able-bodied world?

Technology has given children a lot more options of what to do with their time, and the tails have been long. Instead of every kids sort-of enjoying baseball, modern children can spend their time doing something they truly enjoy. Handicap children don't just have books anymore, they can learn HTML and build Web sites, they can start a video blog or climb to the top of the leaderboards*. Above all, they can do more things today where other kids will aspire to be like them.

I think another factor is the awful overprotective parenting culture of today and the institutionalization of sports. Keep in mind that the pick-up game of pee wee baseball is dead - there are no longer mobs of 10-year-olds roaming the playground unaccompanied anymore to start an impromptu game, and why would they when adults organize the sports for them. Sometimes kids wants to be left to their own devices, and indoor activities offer a lot more breathing room these days.

Don't forget that the days of active kids had more child freedom - the tails were shorter because kids had less choices for what to do with their time, so it was easier to find teammates when they wanted to play, and it was mostly up to them to organize their own games anyways. Today's culture is very different so we shouldn't be surprised that kids will make different choices.

It's easy to find fault with the modern world if you have an idealized concept of the past. For all negative things associated with today's children, there are a lot of good that gets overlooked.

*I do want to caution that one of the most disturbing things I have witnessed was an autistic child playing a crude World-War 2 game on the PlayStation 2. Someone put the difficulty on really low and all he would do is run up to the enemy soldiers and stab them in the chest over and over before moving onto the next one.

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