I was intrigued by G.T. Jones’ article on, for lack of a better phrase, “electronic children” and the new free range kid movement (See “Endangered Species,” Feature, 5/29/08). As a former school teacher, I can well attest to Jones’ various observations on children’s abandonment of the natural world in favor of electronic stimuli of every kind. The adverse physical and psychological effects of a diet too rich in TV, video games and computers are now well-documented. We know who the culprits are who push this lifestyle with its attendant attitudes onto our kids.
But who lets it happen, turning blind eyes to these problems which are already proving to have devastating consequences not only to children in particular but society in general? Business entities with products to sell, of course, schools whose governing bodies and administrators just want to keep kids on the system’s conveyor belt without falling off, but all the rest of us too, for failing as role models even though we know better.
Many readers may have seen the bumper sticker in recent years which reads “Kill your TV.” I took that advice, disconnected my cable service three years ago and have not missed the mind-numbing wasteland of television. Even the so-called “educational” channels are rife with serious factual inaccuracies of every kind and saturated with social propaganda advertising. I limit my computer time to four or five hours a week no matter how curious I may be to find out the number of luna moths on the island of Madagascar, and I haven’t played a video game since Pac-Man. I don’t take pictures with my cell phone and I don’t send or receive text messages which must surely be one of the most absurd, time-wasting inventions ever. I’ll send and receive a few short e-mails each week, but I make a point of writing hand-written letters, too.
Where do I find the time to cook “slow food” and read books and write letters? I don’t watch TV! You’d be amazed to find how much more rich your life will become in every way by substantially limiting your time with electronic media.
But my point is that you should set this example for your kids and enforce it with them. Parents need to engage their children with nature themselves, or at least show the way.
Robert Bly’s "The Sibling Society" (1996) should be read by all parents. In it, the author details the many sinister changes in our culture, giving examples both ancient and contemporary, which have led us to where we are today. By using mythology, metaphor, history, art, politics and neurology, Bly composed a masterpiece of prescient sociology. He brilliantly unmasks the deep psychology of the active forces working singly and in concert to enslave children to mindless, rapacious, acquisitive materialism, just like we have been, but we children’s guardians and mentors can recognize what has happened and continues to, and stem the tide, partly by showing kids it’s good to make mud pies and climb trees.
The hardest part for so many of us will be simply taking a look around and seeing the spiritual and cultural decrepitude of our lives, evident in the staggering amount of stuff we possess which has insidiously displaced the more thoughtful, natural pursuits of truly shared community and culture, of play — hard because the local neighborhood park, plopped down on the undulating grid of the developer’s plan as a legally mandated but profit-losing parcel of land, looks like not what it should be but what it is: not an open or natural space for kids to explore and create secret paths within but a perfectly manicured but above all safe, sunny field with safe jungle-gym atop safe rubber and as dead and soulless as any industrial park. Not a blade of grass out of place, hardly any trees and none to climb. Now, kids growing up in the more modest municipal flatblocks of “townhomes” or the more affluent suburban houses, all painfully conformist in architecture and attitude, are each at the same disadvantage when it comes to having real nature easily accessible.
My final point here is to remind us that it is not the kids who made themselves into the Internet-addled, Game Boy-crazed, Barbie-obsessed TV-and-text-message-addicted lot they are. We did it to them through our own greed and ignorance. We can, and must, do everything we can to undo the damage, and the best way to start is to take your kids for a hike in the woods as far away from “civilization” as you can get.
Roger Osborne lives in Ventura.