Active kids vs. the digital age- The skies were finally clear in Edmonton last night after some harsh rain during the day and what has felt like weeks since we saw a clear sky. I’m not complaining as there has been far worse conditions in other areas of Alberta over the past ten days and I don’t mean to minimize the hardships being felt by others. It was just a relief to see blue sky yesterday evening and I couldn’t resist the urge to go running. I headed out last night with the intention of maybe running 8-10 kms, but because it was such a nice evening and I was feeling really good, I ended up running just over 15. However, the distance I covered wasn’t the surprising part; it was what I passed during my run. I passed some teenaged boys out on a field playing a spirited game of ‘500’.
I didn’t know that kids played games anymore which aren’t attached to a battery or plugged into a wall. The surprise I felt actually disappointed me as I realized how much things have changed and not for the better.
My family and I moved into a temporary living arrangement (i.e. with my parents) about a month ago while we wait for the completion of our new house. Prior to that, we lived in a townhome across from a narrow river and a trail system. The trail system is comprised of about 15-20 km of trails and passed baseball diamonds, parks, and green spaces. When running on the trails, I would never see children over the age of 8 out playing sports just for the fun of it. What regularly witnessed was organized sport (such as baseball and soccer), but never just a pickup game with whomever could be rounded up from the neighborhood. The only unorganized sport I witnessed was when my route took me past the local skatepark. Those kids were there because they loved it and there was rarely a parent in site.
When I have spoken to and visited with friends of mine who have pre-teen to teenage children, and in particular male children, the battle always seems to be around getting them to play less video games and do more homework and be more active. This is why I was so surprised to see a group of young boys, somewhere between the ages of 10 and 12, out on a field with baseball gloves just chucking the ball around for the fun of it. It was obvious it was a case of, “hey lets meet around 7 a thow the ball around.” I can count on one finger how many times I have witnessed something like that while running in recent memory. What was more surprising is that I past them just after I started running and when I came back about an hour and a half later, they were still there. Apparently video game addiction doesn’t have every kid.
I found some comfort in what I witnessed. As the father of a two year old daughter and a soon to be born son, I have been worried about the impact our digital age will have on my children. With the startling increase of childhood obesity, diabetes, and ‘lifestyle’ disease in young children, as a parent you can’t help but be concerned. My wife and I have already noticed a problem with out two year old watching videos on a tablet computer. It had escalated to the point where our daughter would demand videos at every meal. We quickly realized we had to put an end to it and luckily have been able to reduce the amount of TV she watches to very little.
It is so much different now then when I was a kid. This isn’t me lamenting ‘the good old days.’ It is a comment on how different the world is for kids now. I am 36 years old and when I was 5 in 1981-82 we had four TV channels and one of them was the french language station. There was no VCR in our house and I don’t believe there were many people who could have even conceived of the internet and instant global communication. Video games existed in arcades, but they were blocky two dimensional games that had little in the way of plot or real action. The best we had was, ‘hey watch out for that blocky ghost looking blue blob and get the power pellet.’
I remember throughout my youth I spent most of my time outside. To be fair, if I grew up in the current time I would have had a good chance of being addicted to video games and electronics myself. I just didn’t have any of this stuff, so I had to entertain myself outside the house. This usually came in the form of a sport or other outdoor activity.
All through my childhood, even right up to high school, I played road hockey. Loosely assembled games with neighborhood kids where the end of the game was either determined by darkness or a angry mother or two demanding our teammates come inside. There were also neighborhood wide games of hide and go seek and after school football games. When I reached my teenaged years, living in British Columbia, mountain biking with friends became the pass time of choice. The one constant was I spent more time outside than in even when I received my first Nintendo console, but lets face it the games on that thing sucked and weren’t enough to convince me to routinely stay indoors.
The games now are immersive 3D online worlds which border on virtual reality. It is easy to see how kids get sucked in.
Because activity is so important to me and my battle with my disease, I’m very passionate about my kids staying active. Just after the birth of my daughter, I got rid of my XBOX. I would love to say it was because of foresight on my part, but it was more because I realized the impact it was having on me being able to affectively parent. When you are playing video game hockey you aren’t paying attention to your wife or you child and I realized (after the fact) that was no way for an adult to behave. Since there are no video games in the house now it is easy to keep our daughter occupied with other distractions. Currently she is hooked on puzzles. I know it won’t be easy for long and as the kids get older the outside influences will potentially accelerate the drawing of the battle lines. My hope is that if my wife and I set the example, the kids will follow. Naive? Maybe. Currently I take my daughter (in her stroller) on runs and we take her to our ultimate games. As the kids get older we also hope to incorporate real camping (in a tent outside and not in a campground) in hopes of fostering a love of activity and the outdoors. I really hope it is possible to combat the effect of the digital age.
Witnessing a simple game of ‘500’ last night gives me hope.
Until next time,