“Let kids be kids”—it’s a phrase we hear all the time but as a parent of two fifth graders (twins) I’ve come to realize that the idea of children just running around the neighborhood and playing is a thing of the past.
When we first moved to New Jersey five years ago, one of the first things I did was look up all of the local playgrounds. Back where we lived in Brooklyn, Prospect Park was the center of activity for anyone with kids, and we often spent late afternoons that in the summer, bled into evenings, letting the kids play on the swings, run around in the grass or just do nothing and enjoy being together outside. But in NJ, the playgrounds were eerily empty. Seeing one too many empty swing sets I had to wonder—where are all the kids?
After the twins started school in our new town, it didn’t take me long to realize where they all were—being shuttled around in SUVs to various activities. When the kids were little, there was a small group of us parents that actually stayed at the elementary school past 3 o’clock. We sat around talking while the kids played on the playground, and ventured into the small forest next to the school where they played war and house and all of those other pretend activities that spark imagination. But we were the exception and most kids left in the car line, going directly from their desks to the backseat of a car and off to an activity.
Many of these children had schedules so full they required charts to keep up with them—Mathnasium on Mondays, taekwondo on Tuesdays—you get the idea. The one that annoyed me the most was “coding.” Maybe it’s because I’m more creative-minded but the idea of little kids sitting behind computers for fun just seemed so wrong to me. But as my kids got older, I began to realize that maybe my idea of them just running around the neighborhood or meeting up at the 7-11 on bikes was some outdated vision from my own youth (or an ‘80s movie). Maybe the reality is that kids don’t “just play” anymore.