Children are meant to be running free in open spaces, climbing trees, finding frogs and turtles, biking to the playground, and being hard to find at dinnertime.
Today’s child is most likely to be found sitting in front of a screen — TV, video games, computers. 8-10 year olds reportedly spend an average of 6 hours a day staring at a screen. Given an additional 6 hours spent in school plus eating, sleeping, homework and we have taken our children’s worlds and turned them into tiny, structured spaces with little physical activity and almost no free play time.
Organized sports have become the play of many children but actually only about a quarter of all children are playing an organized sport during any season of the year. So the vast majority are just sitting around, growing obese at an alarming rate and missing out on important socializing.
How did we come to such a place where the lives of our children are so restricted and isolated? Well, we can start with the lives of their parents. American adults, as chronicled in Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone,” have become isolated from their community. Participation in all aspects of community life has dropped dramatically over the past 30 years.
One of the interesting points in Putnam’s book is that bowling remains very popular, but bowling leagues have virtually disappeared. Adults no longer feel they have time to make commitments to be with others on a regular basis. A colleague of mine just remarked about how she wanted to start playing bridge again, found some friends with a similar desire, found a teacher, and then discovered her friends were unable to commit to a regular time for lessons.
What has happened to American adults? Changes in family structure are a major factor. With so many divorces, we have a much higher percentage of single heads of households and blended families, resulting in much more complex life schedules for parents and children. Further, dual career parents have become the norm and work has increasingly encroached on the privacy of home life with the advent of cell phones and computers. Americans work longer hours than any other industrialized nation.