I read an article recently which reported that when given a choice between playing inside or outside, a young boy explained that he chose inside, “because that’s where all the electrical outlets are.” How sad that videogames have won our kids’ attention over activities in which they interact with other children in an active setting (what used to be called “play”). Our kids can operate gaming controls like fighter pilots, but they are deficient in gross motor skills that used to be developed by engaging in activities like playing tag or dodge ball, or jumping rope. So some parents, in an effort to counter this sedentary choice of their children, enroll them in numerous organized programs. But these well-meaning choices too can have a negative effect.
I’ve worked with children for over twenty years; I’ve observed them at play and at work and in recent years, I’ve become concerned by their lack of creative expression. While video games, TV, computer games and other sedentary activities in which the choices you make must fit into a structured pattern, their prevalence in our youth’s activities are not the only habits which contribute to this lack of imagination. While some organized sports or activities may be good for physical health and may provide other benefits such as encouraging cooperation and honing some social skills, children who engage with each other only through adult-organized activities seem to lack innovation and imagination, and are lacking in self-direction. When they’re not staring at a make believe world on a screen, many of today’s children are being chauffeured from one afterschool activity to another. Whatever happened to going to school and then coming home to figure out what you were going to do with your afternoon?
Yes, I know working mothers happened, but it goes beyond that. Well-meaning parents are micromanaging their children's schedules. They also seem to believe that the little left over leisure time can be filled with a child’s choice, and today that often seems to mean video or computer games. Especially in young boys, electronic games contain addictive factors that encourage them to relate to an animated screen rather than to other people. For those that are already socially challenged this creates further isolation from society. So what to do? Stop micromanaging schedules and cut back (a lot) on the amount of time allotted to electronic games if you want your children to grow into interesting, imaginative adults. If parents don’t start turning off the electronics and encouraging their kids to “go out and play,” to make up their own games, to direct their own play, our country will never generate future leaders with any original ideas and imaginations needed to ensure the success of generations to come.