Left to Our Devices
“Dude, this is so much better than sitting in front of the Xbox!”, J says to my son as we’re hiking in. “I know, right?”, he responds.
Overhearing this brief exchange brings a slight smile to my face. Right now, they get it.
Every adult I know is guilty of, at some point or another, griping about “kids these days”. Most often the complaints center on how they’re constantly plugged-in, only interested in games and gadgets and low-attention span gimmicks. Or about how they’ve become entitled and lazy, how they lack imagination in play, how they seem to be losing the desire to even go out and play.
I have been working with children for my entire adult life, primarily as a high school teacher for the last 13 years. I do everything I can to listen. Throughout my years of interaction, I believe “kids these days”, regardless of age, deserve far more credit and much less blame than we give them.
Last I checked, 9 year olds don’t have the ability to buy gaming systems and flat screen TVs for themselves. The iPod and smart phone were not invented and marketed to children by teenagers. 11 year olds don’t have the ability to take themselves hiking and it takes a parent to plop a toddler down in front of an “educational” DVD. The devices that increasingly keep them indoors and disconnected from the natural world and creative, physical play have been provided for them by adults, marketed and pushed upon them by adults, and profited from by adults. Left to their own devices, I’m not sure the world adults have created would be the world kids would choose.
Sadly, they’ve been increasingly left to our devices, quite literally, left alone and handed screens and phones and games instead of attention, bikes, or adventures.. Combine this with the reality that many parents are increasingly adverse to letting their kids out of the house for unstructured playtime, despite all statistics pointing to the idea that our streets are safer than they ever have been, and we have a recipe for the most sedentary generation we have ever seen.
And adults have the nerve to wonder why kids are disconnected, why they don’t build forts anymore, why they choose video games over going outside when going outside was never really an option they were given in the first place.
What’s wrong with “kids these days”? Nothing is wrong with our kids.
We, the adults, the people in charge, are the problem.
We have to take them. We have to show them. We have to teach them. We have to find ways to engage them.
We have to make time for them.
I speak passionately about the mountains and share countless outdoor stories with my students; I’m met with questions and excitement…and too often the let-down that soon follows as many realize they have no way to get there, nobody to take them.
This has to change and kids are not the ones that can change it.
Get your own kids out. Get someone else’s kids out. Get involved.