Bob Dylan certainly got that right… This last Christmas holiday, my husband and I spent quite a lot of time watching YouTube on our Smart telly, and some of what we watched was footage of the world in the 1890’s, early 1900’s, and the years up to 1958. It was a fascinating glimpse into a world which has vanished forever, except in those snippets which have been immortalized in family photographs (on which no-one ever wrote names) or on jerky black and white film (any sound has been added post-production and probably was not of the exact event(s) being shown). But still, it was captivating.
Then I saw a post on Facebook which essentially congratulated people born in the thirties, forties and fifties for having been able to play outside rather than sitting indoors on a computer, tablet, or PlayStation. And I wondered, is this down to concerns about safety, or is it because today’s children simply prefer to play in a virtual world rather than the real one? And is the world really any more dangerous than it was when people of my generation were growing up?
I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, when personal computers simply didn’t exist. I was excited to get my first transistor radio! I remember having to perch on the edge of the bath on a Sunday evening to listen to the Top 40 on Radio One, because you couldn’t always get a signal. Mine had a little arial you could extend and move about, but it didn’t always help.
But prior to that, my friends and I would play – quite happily, for the most part – in our back gardens. When we got a little bit older, we would ask permission to go to Rowhill Copse (now a nature reserve). To us, it was the biggest & best playground you could wish for, and we spent many happy days acting out adventures. It often featured in my dreams well into adulthood! To today’s parents the idea of letting your pre-teen child go off into a nearby wood with others of a similar age might seem horrendously dangerous – we had to cross at least one main road to get there, and there were all manner of opportunities to injure ourselves, probably the biggest being a pond deep in the woods. But of course we didn’t worry about that, and I remember being grounded on at least one occasion for going there without first telling my mother where my sister and I were going. As we got older, days spent ‘up the copse’ or in the garden became few and far between, and we swapped outdoor delights for our bedrooms, where we would read books, play vinyl records and moon over ‘Elvis Monthly’ magazines. Nowadays we’d be surfing online, listening to music on YouTube and Googling ‘Elvis Presley images’. (which I just did to get the picture below)
My son will be twenty-five this year. He spent quite a lot of his childhood playing outside with friends, but (just as with my parents) it was very rare indeed that we didn’t know where he was or who he was with. We lived, for most of his childhood, in a cul-de-sac, and his playmates mostly lived in the same road. But as he got older, he too opted to play indoors more often – and when we got our first home computer (in 2001, and it cost in the region of £1,000 for not very much processing power at all, really) that was – mostly – the end of outdoor play! Even now his preferred free time activity is an online game. He recently bought himself a ‘daylight’ lamp… I wonder why?!
So do today’s children ever ‘play out’ like we did? I’m of an age now where most of my friends also have grown-up children, and since we’ve not yet been blessed with grandchildren, I am a bit out of touch…
Will the children of today make tutting sounds when their attempts to get their own children outside for some fresh air fail miserably, or will they see nothing unusual in it? Perhaps they will be trying to convince the younger generation that laptops and tablets are a safer/healthier option that virtual reality games! My parents used to stand at the gate and call our names – and later up the stairs – when it was time for dinner or tea or bed. Now we have a hand bell that we ring, because nothing else penetrates the headphones our son wears clamped to his head most of the time… I sometimes worry that things might grow in the warm, dark interior between his ears and the ‘cans’ -but perhaps that is preferable to worrying about him being attacked in a nightclub…
Do you have pre-teen children? Do they play outdoors, or do they prefer computer games? How do you feel about that? I’d love to hear from you!
Thanks for reading!