December 26, 2012

Playing with your parents instead of on your own

Every time I see my nephew, who's now 4 years and 9 months old, it crystallizes something I'd already seen more broadly but not as vividly. For example, children these days have almost no interest in playing on their own or with others their own age, especially if it's playing outside.

Instead, they want to stay indoors, and they keep bugging you to join in their activities -- not just here or there, and not just to bring something to your attention for approval, but like you have to play along with them whenever they get into something. And they don't just single out a particular family member -- everyone present has to drop the grown-up things they're doing and play with or supervise the kiddies.

Back in the '80s, all I wanted my parents to do regarding toys was to buy them and if necessary put them together. On special occasions they might take pictures, shoot a home movie, or have us speak into the microphone for a tape recording. But on the whole, we wanted to play with our toys, run around the yard, and play in the sandbox without adult supervision, let alone adult participation. Even better if we could take off altogether on our bikes, skates, or on foot, to go visit a friend's house, the park, the pool, the arcade, the mall, or any other place our parents did not control.

And our parents were only too happy to leave us be. They had socializing of their own to carry on, TV shows of their own to watch ("aw man, the grown-ups are hogging the TV for Jeopardy and Matlock again), or just relax on their own free from the distractions of Hey look at this! and Hey look at that! Yeah, they interacted with us here and there, but mostly they left us to our world and we left them to theirs. The only times that they would usually get involved were those where we couldn't do something by ourselves, like reading us a book.

These kinds of dependent behaviors show that the social isolation of children over the past 20 years is not only due to helicopter parents struggling to lock up their kids, but just as well to the stunted goals of the kids themselves. In the good old days, if our parents wanted to imprison us when we really wanted to have fun, we might've just flown the coop.


  1. Generational differences seem to be determined really early on - like before the age of 5.

    People must treat their babies differently in rising-crime vs. falling-crime.


  2. I have a nephew about that same age and it was the same way over the holidays, he demanded adult attention practically every minute of the day (only thing that could distract him was video games). It's getting to be a quandary for me: I want to spend time with him and store up memories of his childhood, but also to set reasonable expectations that other people don't just exist to entertain him and he needs to respect that adults have other interests too than just playing with him.


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