Free Play vs Play Dates

These days when you look outside your window at your neighbourhood, you will notice something has changed since you were a kid – there is an absence of kids hanging out. I notice myself looking twice when I do see kids out playing on the street in groups, or just hanging out – it’s so rare these days. So why the change ?
At our book club recently we talked about this apparent shift, there was a common agreement amongst us all that the media has had a lot to do with this. Once upon a time we were not bombarded with the horror stories of missing and or abducted children that we are now. Going outside to free play for hours on end was just what you did back when we were kids. That’s not to say the danger was necessarily lessened, just that in a way ignorance really was bliss. Although there appeared to be a greater sense of community then. Someones mother or father or other family member would be watching from a distance- a common and unspoken invested interest in all the kids in our community. But of course it’s not just the access we now have to the media, but rather the way In which we interact with it – cell phones, iPads etc the list is endless. Information is available at the touch of a button, no need to wait for the paper boy to drop the local paper off. Children now spend a lot of their time hooked up to one gadget or another and less time outside.
‘Play dates’ is the new phrase you will often here parents use. Twenty years ago this was unheard of. So I wonder what affect all this organization will have on our children. How will children learn to problem solve if we are constantly organizing everything for them. Will they somehow lose their appreciation and awe of nature if they are not left to explore – digging in the dirt, building dens and climbing trees. All of these activities help build character that better equips us for trials and tribulations later in life. Will our children and our children’s children be so removed from their natural environment that they will be even less likely to want to preserve it? After all it is my belief that direct contact with nature in particular,helps to Instil values and beliefs that carry on through into our adulthood.
A friend of mine once asked me if I will let my son go off into the woods or park when he is deemed old enough or sensible enough. I have to admit that right now the idea fills me with horror – all those ‘hidden’ dangers in my mind. I have given it a lot of thought since, trying to figure out how I will allow my son the necessary freedom to grow, whilst keeping him safe from those unseen dangers in my mind. I am acutely aware that I don’t want to mollycoddle my son or be constantly at his heels. I want him to grow up to have both sense o f place and strong sense of self, but also to be sensitive and empathetic to the world and people around him. I guess like all aspects of parenting I will just figure it out along the way, and hope that I make the right decisions for my son as a individual – until he is old enough to make them for himself.