Our Kids Are “Dying on the Vine”, Even in the South

I have spoken out about this before, but it seems it needs to be “re-visited.” Our kids’ brains are going to “mush” with all the lack of opportunity for real imagination and creativity time. Most people I know have kids that not only have school activities, but multiple after school activities. When do kids get time to just play? If your kids have no time to get “bored”, then how are they supposed to learn how to create fun? How do they have time to dream up stories or create new things?

I see so many kids trying to “keep up” with demands of their parents and teachers. I watch kids who cannot “entertain” themselves for five minutes without someone else telling them how to do so. How are we to teach our kids to be “leaders, movers and shakers” if they are not given the opportunity to think for themselves.

I know kids need structure in order to thrive. My dad’s solution was to send me outside into the yard to rake leaves. Boring! Yes, it was. However, I remember in those times that when my mind was painfully numb to the monotony of the raking of leaves, my mind would wander into different stories to explain my plight. One was I was enslaved by an evil king that would not let me have food if I did not rake leaves. Another, I was an enchanted princess under a spell that could only find her release from imprisonment if I raked leaves. Do you see my point?

I know people’s lives are very fast paced and stressed, most of the time. But, do you want this for your children?  Ask any kid today about the pressures in their lives and you may be shocked to hear their responses.

I remember being young and at home with my folks on a “slow” weekend. I would slothy drag myself into the living room to see what was going on and tell my parents that I was bored. My parents would say, “boredom is the inability to use your brain and gives you the opportunity to create” or “boredom shows a lack of imagination.” Well, this sounded like “bunk” to me. I would then slink off to my room to contemplate how to entertain myself.

Surprisingly, after a short time, I would be off on adventure with either toys or games that I made up in my room. Sometimes, I would go outside and find friends that would play all sorts of running games or searching for insects. I discovered that a large cardboard box could be a castle, a spaceship, a lemonade stand, a “hideout” or a secret lair for a good or an evil lord. I could also “dig a hole” into the dirt in order to reach China. (That one never worked out.)

Every generation says that the next generation is spoiled. That is because it is true, from their frame of reference. My grandparents told us our parents were spoiled and my parents told me that my generation was spoiled. This will continue until the end of time with humans.

Conversely, I have also heard elder generations state the pressures and social expectations on the younger generations is more severe than when they were young. It presents a “social dichotomy” for parents. (I made this phrase up.)

As parents, we always want what is best for our children. There are all sorts of old books and “parenting” articles published to tell us what we need to be doing as parents to help our children. Most of these books were written when The Beatles were famous. I say, toss those out! Reach back in your own mind, to what made you happy as a kid. Remember your fun times with family, friends and school mates that made a day great. Then, re- create that for your kids! If one idea fails, try another and then another. Give your kids time to “learn to play.” It is a skill that has to be learned. It may take time for the kids to “change their mind set” and learn to create without being directed.

We have reached epidemic proportions of troubles with children, from bullying, poor grades, heavy homework loads and suicide. I do not think that I would survive the pressures kids are under to perform today. It has been scientifically proven that the more kids get outside, and off electronics, allows them to build confidence, perform better in school and are less susceptible to bullies and depression. I guess raking leaves was for more than just lawn care.

Take a moment and really look at your kid(s). Are they happy? Are they getting enough sleep? Do they get outdoors at least once a day? (This does not mean getting out of the car to go into the house.) Teach them how to use a lawn mower and you have “killed two birds with one stone.”

I just recently had a conference at my daughter’s school to review her performance for the previous semester. My daughter got to lead the conference! What an empowering event this was for her. Remember, my daughter goes to this wonderful “tree hugger” school, as I call it, but this works for her! She has no homework that is required to “turn in” to the teachers. However, the teachers give recommendations for reading assignments, typing on the computer and math activities that we can do at our leisure. We use this direction from the teachers to help her learn life skills in her daily life, such as calculating the tip at a restaurant (without the cell phone calculator), reading the entire menu to us before we order, she reads street signs and billboards while driving in the car and she calculates the change after a transaction. This is the stuff the real world is made of. At the same time, she is learning.

Research shows that the United States has the fifth highest rate of childhood obesity on the planet! This puzzles me as I cannot drive down the street without passing at least five work out facilities. There are also all sorts of places that children can be physically active from paint ball games, trampoline parks and rock-climbing walls. There are multiple state and federal parks that have endless walking and hiking trails, many of them are free to use.

I present you with a challenge. Everyone in the house gets off all electronics for a few hours. Show your kids what a good time really is by doing something as a family. Be “present” for your child to allow them to feel like you really hear what they are saying. It may be uncomfortable, at first. Change always is.

After your “fun” is over, look at the faces of your family. Notice some relaxed shoulders and small smiles. Feel the renewed sense of “connectedness” with your kids. It is in this space that your kids know you love them and feel comfortable talking with you about anything.

Don’t believe me? Try this idea at least three times and see what happens!

Happy No Electronics Day!

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