The routine was pretty much the same throughout my childhood. Once school was dismissed at 2:45 each afternoon, I would walk home, change out of my Saint Gabriel School uniform and into "play clothes," and walk down to South Sunset Playground, where I'd meet up with other kids from the neighborhood to play basketball, strikeouts, kickball, or to engage in some other recreational activity. For most kids, during the school year, it was expected that we be home by 5:00. In the summer months, however, the expectation was that we come home when the streetlights came on.
Generally speaking, if we weren't in school, and if it wasn't raining, most kids would be outside playing with other kids -- on the street in front of their homes, at the playground, or, perhaps, climbing the trees which lined Sunset Boulevard in The City.
I am well aware that times have changed. I know all too well that it's not safe to just let kids "go out and play" the way we did in the early 1960's -- and that's unfortunate.
When my own kids were born, I felt fortunate to live in the very back of a West San José condominium complex. It was safe for our kids to play outside with other kids who lived here. The complex consists of seven buildings, front to back, with a gated swimming pool outside Building 5. In their early years, the rule for our boys was, "Don't go past the pool." And, not surprisingly, they spent lots of time at the pool, with the required adult supervision.
By 1995, Kathy and I had three boys, then ages 9, 7, and 3. It was about that time that the boys, when visiting the homes of their friends, were introduced to video games. We didn't have video games in our home. In fact, we had only one television… with a 13" screen. I didn't want video games in our home. I wanted my boys to engage with each other, and with their neighbors and classmates, in physical activities. All three of the boys played year-round sports -- soccer, basketball, and baseball. They played capture-the-flag with the kids in our complex. They went swimming on hot days and built forts in the living room when it was raining.
I was able to avoid having video games in our home until the summer of 1999, when, through the generosity of friends, the boys were given Nintendo 64, five video games, and a 27" television. They thoroughly enjoyed the games, but they played them sparingly, continuing to engage in formal and informal physical activities with other kids. Unlike so many kids today, they were not consumed by the technology.
I happened to see this video online today. Please take a moment to watch it: 3 Generations. In three short minutes, we see what has happened to so many in the generation of today's children. Video games have taken control of their lives. Some prefer their virtual world to the environment in which they live. Too many kids today seem to be spending far less time with their peers, while investing incredible amounts of time to online gaming. It's alarming.
I'm grateful that my boys' exposure to video games was somewhat limited during their childhood. I'm even more grateful that my son, Tom, and his wife, Hillaray, clearly understand the importance of human interaction for their son, Liam. They understand that television, iPads, and cell phones are not the appropriate tools for keeping a young child busy. They read to Liam every day! Books!!!
Over the past few years, I've seen ample evidence of the harm excessive gaming has had on today's youth. I've taught no small number of high school students who, while boasting of their gaming feats, displayed less than age-appropriate social skills. It's time for people to step back and recognize the social damage being done to our children by reliance on this gaming technology to keep our kids busy. This can't be good!