I don't know. When we tell the kids to "go outside, get moving and find something to do" my first thought isn't that they will go outside, phone in hand, looking for digital creatures on a screen.
Yes, my kids have jumped into the Pokémon Go phenomenon. Sort of. Anna doesn't have a real phone with a data plan, so it's more like a "borrow dad's phone for brief stints in the backyard" or "take a nice evening stroll as a family to look for Pokémon."
Don't get me wrong. I'd rather have them outside than lying upside down in a chair, pondering their next Minecraft move (as Ethan was doing for a dangerously long time the other day -- hello, head rush!). I'm just a little amazed at what constitutes as outdoor play these days.
I am going to try to not make this another one of those blog posts about how things were different, back in the day. We've heard it all before. But I've been thinking about play, freedom, and summertime a lot lately, especially as Anna has turned 12 and is simultaneously not wanting to "go outside and play" so much while asking for more freedom outdoors.
When I was a kid I remember riding my bike all around town and building forts in the woods. We played hide and seek and wandered from backyard to backyard, and it's only as I've become a parent that I've realized that meant there were big chunks of time when my parents had only the vaguest of ideas where I actually was.
And when I was Anna's age specifically I remember:
- Sitting in the car waiting for long periods of time while my mom was in the grocery store.
- Taking my brothers down the street to a field most people ignored and walking through a small patch of woods. Alone.
- Walking by myself a half-mile down a busy road with no sidewalk to buy a treat at 7-Eleven.
Yesterday Dan gave Anna his phone and told her to go chase Pokémon up on the hill/field behind our house. You can't see this area from our backyard. It's completely obstructed by trees. After a few minutes I started to get tense. What if there were some of those weirdos up who are luring kids with the game? What about the fact that I wasn't sure if I wanted her alone up there, anyway? How long was too long? I ended up going after her and of course she was annoyed, especially because she never found her Pokémon.
Later that evening a friend online was talking about how furious she was that her 12-year-old daughter's friend's mom dropped off the girls at the mall alone. Everyone agreed. "Maybe years ago, this was okay, but we live in a different world today," was the common theme.
I haven't left Anna at the mall with a friend, but I have let her and a friend wander the mall while I hung in the food court and they checked in with me.
It's really hard. We DO live in a different world. We live in a world where chasing electronic creatures is entertainment. When our kids have phones that expose them to way too much, yet aren't allowed to ride their bikes a few streets over.
Or DO we live in world not that much different than years of old, but thanks to technology and the media we hear of every horrifying story that happens thousands of miles away, and have become convinced that our kids just are not safe?
What about the fact that if we did decide to go "old school" with some of these parenting decisions, to let the kids go the "free range" route, we as parents could end up in trouble? I always wonder: if I leave the kids with Anna in charge in the car while I run into the post office, is someone going to report me?
Is Child Protective Services going to come knocking on my door if I let Anna and Ethan play alone on the playground behind our house? Which I wouldn't do. Because I can't even seem to let Anna go there alone.
How can we ever teach our kids responsibility and independence, in these times? Are the gripes about today's coddled millennials in part the result of such "helicopter parenting?"
There's a part in the movie Finding Nemo that's always stuck in my mind. Somewhere in the journey for his lost son Nemo's guilt-stricken dad laments to Dory,"I promised I'd never let anything happen to him."
That is the eternal question: How do we look out for our kids' safety, while simultaneously letting things happen to them, so that things happen to them?