Empty Lots and Building Forts: Why Electronic Devices Suck!
I never met David Gelernter in person. I became acquainted with him by way of several articles I read in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago. He is a respected professor of computer science at Yale University. I, on the other hand, am technologically challenged and of a different era but, we share a similar position when it comes to the use of electronics solely for entertainment and social purposes. I’ll let him explain,
“Many children will settle down with the latest iStuff, each like a happy dog with a big bone, and all those pads, pods, smartphones, video games machines and computers look like good useful fun. But look again. We ought to group these machines with alcohol and adult movies. They’re fine for grown-ups but no good for children under 13 except for on-line learning when they are at home and simple cell phones when they go out.” Mr. Gerlertner also believes that these digital toys represent a “mental purgatory” that harms a child’s ability to concentrate.
Professor Gelernter and I are in good company, namely, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP’s recommendations regarding the use of electronics for entertainment include: establishing a family use media plan, banning all electronics at mealtimes and after bedtime and eliminating TVs from children’s bedrooms. According to Marjorie Hogan, co-author of the AAP’s recommendations and a pediatrician, “Excessive media use is associated with obesity, poor school performance, aggression and lack of sleep. Do I have to even continue? OK, one more tidbit.
Even preschoolers are being rewarded with iPads. A working parent told me recently that she bought an iPad for her kindergartener and he spent six hours on it in one day. He was not doing research. The mom also informed me that her child’s teacher informed her that James, not his real name, was not making as much progress as the other students in his kindergarten class. He was falling behind. I’m not sure what that means in kindergarten.
In ancient times, before these devices existed, parents usually plopped their kids down in front of the boob tube. This allowed mom some precious free time for mom. What free time? You know, free time to clean up, do the wash, vacuum and take an aspirin for that impending headache. This was not the case in my house.
I spent most of my early childhood, the late 40s and 50s, growing up in suburban New York City as a latch key kid. I was not tempted or subjected to today’s electronic madness. We didn’t own our 12 inch black and white TV until 1953 and when we got one, the novelty wore off quickly. How much Howdy Doody could a cool guy watch?
Unlike my grandchildren , whose fixation on all things electronic are robbing them of precious time and adventures, I was lured to the outdoors by a neighborhood dotted with empty lots, a bunch of like-minded kids and a cornucopia of exciting adventures, games, activities and relationships yet to be discovered.
Each lot had a separate purpose. We used one for our pick-up tackle football games; one was our makeshift baseball field dotted with stones, coats, and hats as bases, and one special vacant lot where we built our fort using empty wooden vegetable boxes, scrap metal, tar paper or any debris we could find. This was our ultimate hiding place where we forged friendships, plotted activities, made up the rules for our games like stoop ball and stick ball and dreamed.
When we were not hiding out in our fort, we were playing games in one of our other lots, hunting frogs in a nearby brook(sorry PETA), riding our bicycles, flipping baseball cards,(oh, where are all those Mickey Mantle rookie cards?), fending off my sister who wanted to hang around with us, and, in the winter, throwing snowballs at kids from other parts of the neighborhood, sleigh riding and ice skating.
I never had a set of Legos but, I do remember playing occasionally with Lincoln Logs. Boring! What mattered most to me was being outside with my friends and making up stuff to do on the fly. These days too much time is spent indoors engaging in sedentary and often solitary electronic activities that seem to mesmerize and hypnotize kids away from the cool stuff like building forts.