When I think back to my youth, one memory comes to mind: Mom announcing to all three of her kids to go outside and play. The command was always followed by a warning—we were to stay within eyesight or hearing distance. If Mom couldn’t see us, holler for us, or hear us, we were in big trouble. Being children in the 80’s, we were freely-roaming spirits. The caution to stay within sight, sound, or hearing meant, to us, that we could wander anywhere in the neighborhood, including, but not limited to, every neighbor’s backyard.
Shhh, don’t tell my mom.
Well, it’s okay. I mean, she’s probably reading this right now.
… Insert angelic halo here.
If we ventured farther than the neighborhood, or sometimes even down the street to a friend’s house, we heard this expected stipulation, “Call me the moment you walk through the door to let me know when you’re safe.”
When we went to school, our daily trip included a twenty-five cent coin for emergencies, in case we had to use the pay phone to call home. The eighties seemed like such a simpler time. Play was expected, so long as a parent received their phone call, or could lean out the door and holler, “Dinner time!”
Back when I was growing up, the television was used as background noise. It was rarely watched, except for nighttime gatherings, after Dad came home. Radios were played on the weekend, along with the record player. Computers—the old Apple, black-and-green screen type—were only to be touched by adults, even then it was barely used. The only gaming system we had lived in the basement, and it was an Atari. Children, meaning the three of us girls, were not allowed to touch the Atari. It belonged to Dad. But, man, as children we dreamed of the day we would be able to play with some sort of video gaming system—any video gaming system, including the Atari. For those who don’t know why I keep referencing the Atari, look it up. I believe the main game was “Frogger.”
Try explaining such antiquated ideas to today’s youth!
“Your dad wouldn’t let you touch a video game? Why? What did you do? Throw the remote through the LCD screen?”
Well, the remote was a joystick, the TV was a huge boxy thing, and gaming graphics, like what the kids have today, hadn’t been invented yet.
Days were spent playing with toys, siblings, and neighborhood kids. Exploration was the key—and goal—to every day. What could we find? What could we climb? What could get us in trouble … and how would we talk our way out of that trouble?
Life was tactile. Toys only made sounds if we dubbed in our own voices. No one had a cell phone, let alone a smart phone, except for the characters on Star Trek. CD players hadn’t even been invented yet, … and now they are obsolete.
Enter the twenty-first century, toddler style. What a different world it is!
From the moment my son was born, I knew that the world now doesn’t compare to the world back then. Sure, kids still roam; they even occasionally play in the street with balls, bats, and gloves. But, for the most part, everywhere I look there are children pulling out tiny, little, electronic devices. Kickball, Facebook, phone calls, and texting … all of that is the norm for today’s youth.
It gives a whole new meaning to walking and chewing gum at the same time.
Staying in touch with Mom no longer includes remaining in eyesight. There isn’t a, “Call me when you get there,” mentality from my generation, since the implementation of texting and social media now allows parents to know where their children are at any given moment. And if the kids don’t check in through social media, there are always phone tracker apps, like Find my iPhone.
It seems like before our children even fully learn their ABC’s, they know how to type, Skype, and FaceTime. Learning is no longer limited to flashcards and workbooks, thanks to mobile devices. Games are countless given the App Store on all Smartphones. Video gaming from the 80’s and 90’s has been trumped by the mobile phone, though on a smaller, handheld scale. No more Atari; no more Nintendo. Those systems are considered ancient relics now.
Having grown up in a world without games, computers, or television, I do notice the vast difference. The generation gap has been made into a chasm due to technological advancements. But, even in today’s world, I never delved into games and gaming. Writing and reading were always my “thing,” and clearly continue to be my main hobby. However, I have played a few games on occasion, with Tiny Tot. He is the one who really loves them, and I am the one who monitors his time with them.
He’s not so keen on that last part.
We did find one learning game that is really cool. It’s called Scribblenauts. I’m still not sure exactly how it works, but it entertains at least ages three to twelve. The game creates every dinosaur in Tiny Tot’s vocabulary, and almost every noun known to man. Adjectives can be used to transform the noun (big shining Aha! moment for children when they catch onto that concept), and the kids get to watch the scenes play out from the object they created.
However, until the child learns how to spell, this game is mostly adult-run. Or, toddler-driven slave labor for the parent. However you want to view it. I perceive the latter, but I still think the game holds learning value, so I’m keeping it around. What other game allows my Tiny Tot to have a nice, giant velociraptor playing with a mean, giant, rideable worm on a green, giant helicopter?
That stuff only existed in my imagination as a child, though not on such a giant scale.
Even the toys these days aren’t limited, allowing children to pick up a toy, and have it blast off into outer space, with neon flashing lights, sound effects, and plastic projectiles. Some toys—I’m thinking of trains and dinosaurs, since that is my entire household collection—sit and talk to each other. Granted, they still have the same five or six speaking phrases, but the chips in them detect when the other toys are near, and allow them to gab back and forth.
I mean, who needs playmates; the toys practically play with themselves.
But, even though most of our children sit with their faces attuned to video games and other electronic devices, which—to the outside observer—pretty much does the thinking for our children, I have begun to notice something incredible. Yes, I know. I know. Everyone is shocked. I’ve busted out with a blog on technology, so it has to be going somewhere, right? Especially since I’m an observant person, I think in excess, and I love a great parallel.
With all the modern technology, all the motorized distractions, and all the animated gaming systems, our children are still learning the two greatest qualities they can possess in life: creativity and imagination.
If given a plastic toy, like a dinosaur—one without all the modern contraptions—our children don’t sit and wait for it to make a noise, or deem it a boring toy because it doesn’t sparkle rainbows. They smash it against another plastic, nonspeaking dinosaur, and utter forth a guttural growl. Dinosaurs stomp around, eating, maiming, and destroying. Barbies still talk fashion and boyfriends. Super heroes rescue innocent civilians from the evil super villains. Toy soldiers will forever be involved in death-defying escapes. Helicopters never survive—those suckers always explode in a blaze of toddler glory.
Our babies still play. They still create. They learn, they imagine, they consider.
Tiny Tot may have his nose stuck in an iPad at some point during the day. He might even steal my phone with abandon—sometimes without permission. But, the concept, the very premise of play, has not been lost on his generation. Which might mean, as parents, we are teaching our children to think outside of the Apple, Droid, and Kindle box. We teach them to believe in their imagination, and explore the world around them.
Technology is prevalent, we all know that. It’s only going to advance in our children’s worlds, and as parents we have to learn to accept that inevitability. Though, it will be monitored as much as possible for learning value in my house.
Last night my tiny human barely poked his head out of his new iPod screen—but he was still learning. He asked me to make cop cars for his policeman. Two cops cars, because there were two policeman. Then I needed to make five nice Velociraptors for all the people to ride, because, well, Velociraptors like to eat people, but if they are nice, they won’t try to eat everything in sight. That makes sense, use an adjective to get a tame flesh-eating dinosaur. At some point during his iPad play, my tiny human worried that the boy on his screen didn’t have on socks, so his feet might get cold. The solution? I commanded the game to provide socks for the main character.
Yes, we live in an age of technology, but I’m not worried. It’s not holding Tiny Tot back; it’s teaching him to think in terms of number concepts, cause and effect, and critical thinking skills.
Though, the moment he learns how to spell, and types me a message saying, “I M HERE. B BCK L8TR,” he’s grounded, without his phone.