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The End of an Era: Why Neighborhood Kids No Longer Play Outside

I grew up on a dead-end street. We were the last house on the right, the yellow one with yellow lights and two yellow dogs out front. My backyard was a fairy land to me and the woods that settled at its heels were like Neverland. Barefoot, tick-filled, and happy as hell, me and my neighborhood friends would get lost there for a while. Until the street lights came on, the world was ours to discover.

I remember the pungent smell of grape juice, or at least what smelled like grape juice. Broken rays of sun filtered through the trees. We were covered in shadows, running wild-eyed, and we didn’t care what day it was. All that occupied our minds was what game we should play. We liked hopping fences, scraping our knees, hiding in our neighbors’ vine-covered canoes, and being careless. There was not one time I can remember playing outside that ended badly… because nothing bad ever happened. Other than the run-of-the-mill cuts and gashes, we had our own little world, and everyone knew us there.

There were lemonade stands, fake weddings, rocket ships made out of Fed-Ex boxes, snow forts, jumping off porches, tournaments and trophies to be won. Every now and then, I’ll be walking up my street listening to music and I will get the urge to sneak into my neighbor’s backyard and sit on the swing and wait for them to arrive. Over the years, I realized I was waiting for ghosts. I feel like it was just yesterday we were knocking on each other’s doors, ready for another adventure. It makes me mad that I can’t do that anymore, but even more so that the younger generations today have little to no idea what growing up outside was like. I spent so much of my youth wishing I were older… maybe because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Now that I have, I find myself envying the kids walking off the school buses at the end of the day– except they aren’t holding class projects or sticks in their hands, but iPhones and tablets.

Quite rapidly, the disconnect between kids today and the outside world has grown wider each time a new piece of technology comes out. The newer the device is, the smaller their worlds get. The worst part is that it’s practically impossible to separate kids from technology because so much of society is run by it. However, there are parents, such as my old next-door neighbors, Julie and Mark Devaney, who raised their three young kids with boundaries and restrictions when it comes to “screen time,” as they call it.

Me and my older sister, Emma used to babysit the kids on occasion and one of the first rules was to have the computers, tablets, and televisions on for no longer than an hour while we watched them. Although this may seem like a long time to some people, it went by quicker than I thought. What was even more shocking was how compliant the kids were once me and Emma told them screen time was over. There were rarely tantrums or arguing over the matter; in fact, most days the kids wouldn’t even take up the entire hour. Their minds wandered elsewhere to places such as outside with chalk or in their playroom where there was a very impressive collection of Playmobil.

This is the kind of example parents desperately need to set for young people in 2019. There is such a divide from their minds and reality to a point where the outside world is no longer appealing, the only one that matters to them is made up of pixels and moving parts. As if it hasn’t started to happen already, the real world will become neglected and forgotten about, leaving humanity with only the screens we hold in front of our faces for hours out of the day. The importance of sending the message that technology can only teach us so much is an absolute necessity– one that humanity needs to not only hear, but practice throughout their days, in an effort to get back to the roots of society: communicating with one another in person in the hopes of reaching a deeper part of their souls than a screen is capable of.

 

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