When I watch shows with retro vibes like Stranger Things, I feel a certain nostalgia for being a kid of the 80s. Aside from fighting monsters, the childhood vision is true. Gangs of friends would ride their bikes around town, looking for or creating adventure. Sure, they played videogames, but they rode to arcades to get there. They took buses to the mall, as malls still existed as hang-out places. Sadly, much of the fun we had in the 80s was owing to being latchkey kids. That is, most of our parents worked and, hence, couldn’t pay that much attention to what we were doing. So we did what we wanted.
This lax parenting caused a swing toward hovering, helicopter parents who dragged their kids to appropriate educational and social activities. As a “helicopter” generation parent, I homeschooled and enrolled my kids in Irish dance and took them to art classes or math classes or what-have-you. And I can guarantee you I’m an extreme case of being an antisocial homebody. Yet, I still acted in step with the parenting culture around me.
Because of the big age gap between my eldest and youngest children, I’m now parenting with the next generation of parents. And I don’t know what to make of the world. We’ve swung back to latchkey, except the kids really are locked unside. They don’t hang out as frequently. They don’t ride bikes in packs to the arcade. There are no arcades. Nobody goes to the mall. Instead, they spend upwards of twelve hours hunched over Xboxes. The only saving grace is the social aspect of the games, as they can talk to each other on headsets. Occasionally, they will go to each other’s houses and play videogames there. Even more infrequently, they might play ball together in the park. But their lives generally revolve around slouching in front of an Xbox screen.
If you force them to take a break from gaming, what are they going to do? By the time they’re preteens, they have no other interests. Books and building things like robots are no longer fun. No toys. No reading material. TV shows and movies are okay, and I find it ironic that I’m relieved when I see a child eating their Hot Cheetos while staring at a movie for a while instead of rubbing their orange-dusted hands all over the gaming console.
Please understand, I’m speaking of trends I see around me. I know there will be all kinds of exceptions. Parents with money or time on their hands might take their kids to daily martial arts or CrossFit — but for the poor or busy, that’s not really an option.
I wonder what the consequences will be for this new world we’ve created. I know there have been some physical consequences in extreme cases, like bone spurs in the neck, giving the appearance of a hunchback at way too young an age. Will this generation find a way to fight their way out of this lethargy, to develop real world skills and not become obese diabetics?
I hope so.