That headline isn’t entirely accurate. Any time I hear about horrors in the news – and there have been plenty lately – I feel absolutely rocked. The feeling of devastation is more pronounced if children are involved, and I hug my kids extra tight and count my blessings that we’re safe.
Because my kids really are very safe. And while that’s a good thing, I can’t help but feel that the adventurous spirit is missing in an entire generation who live part of their lives in Minecraft or other fictional screen worlds.
When I was a kid, I revelled in exploring. At the cottage, a new trail through the woods was fascinating. Growing up in Toronto, I was keen to try new things. I remember as a child guiltily – daringly – taking some of my allowance money to head to the corner store after school to buy a bag of Hickory Sticks and two sour keys. It was only a seven-minute walk, but it was thrilling.
At a slightly older age – maybe 11 – many Toronto youth participated in Saturday morning classes held at a high school in the core. I remember groups of two, three or four of us taking the subway together to these classes, and navigating a change of trains to get there. One week we even ditched class to stroll along a main shopping district street to check out stores and sights new to us. Riding the subway, we delighted in running up the “down” escalator, darting from subway car to subway car at each stop, and generally finding our way all around the transit map.
We may have been annoying kids, but we were learning great life skills – how to read maps. How to get places on our own. How to be independent in a safe way – never travelling alone.
Although my kids aren’t quite at that age right now, I don’t think they’ll have any of those skills by the time they are tweens or maybe even teens. And that’s in part because they don’t seem to have any desire to be adventurous, to go places that are new to them, or to try things without a parent handy.
Our home backs on to a conservation area with great trails, rock formations and a pond. It’s the perfect place for exploring, and it’s right behind our house. But although I can convince my kids to go there with me a handful of times a year, they’re not clamouring to explore, and certainly not there on their own. As a kid I would have been there if not daily, then at least weekly. And it’s not that my kids are lazy, or don’t like nature. It’s just that they prefer to be directed. They want me to organize their experiences. And if there is an option to play Minecraft or watch Netflix instead, then the screen will probably win.
Because I have teenage stepdaughters, I also have a glimpse into how this plays out as kids grow older. Our teens are safer than ever before, because instead of going to parties, or out for coffee, or taking in the latest movies, they’re likely on the couch with their phone in hand, communicating with all of their friends via that tiny screen rather than in person. And while that’s safer – less chance of drunk driving, or binge drinking – I don’t think it’s teaching them any life skills. College and university, if they go away to school, are bound to come as a huge shock. And maybe that’s why kids are less inclined to move away. The recent census shows than more than 1 in 3 young adults aged 20 to 34 still lived with their parents. There’s a money factor, yes, but in addition, their development and life skills may just not be far enough along to live independently before then.
All this is great for family togetherness, except I don’t feel very connected when everyone is on a device. I feel better when the kids are inching their way towards independence, slowly but surely, in a safe manner that still allows them to grow and experience the world.
So what to do about it? I’m saying less screen time, more experience. Less Netflix, more life skills development.
I’m teaching my kids to read a map, explore a trail and live in the world outside of our cozy four walls. Because I think it is the only way to ensure that they are safe when they finally do leave the nest.
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