Sandboxes to X-Boxes

At age 6, I married a policeman and had twins. At age 8, I ruled over a complex society of acorn people. At age 11, I was Sabrina Duncan of Charlie’s Angels, ready to follow Bosley’s instructions from my diamond transmitter ring.

A typical child of the 70’s, I spent hours immersed in elaborate pretend play and hair-brained schemes, usually clad in cut-off jean shorts, red-white-&-blue Converse and an awkward haircut. It was not unusual for me to be seen chopping earthworms into segments on the stump outside our house. Or, standing ankle deep in a large drainage pipe under Route 286 belting out Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together.” Or dressing the cat up in doll clothes until she hissed.

Thank goodness, today’s kids don’t have to resort to standing in drainage tunnels and chopping up worms. With the advent of modern technology, parents today can keep their children entertained with a vast array of sports, clubs, music lessons, computer games and amazing toys.

We’re so lucky to have all of these modern conveniences to help us raise our kids today . . . or are we? Are abundant choices really better for our kids in the long run?

On my 9th birthday, my prized gift was a Barbie Camper. Even after my brother ripped the tent off the side, I adapted my pretend play scenarios (grizzly attack) to account for the alteration, and enjoyed the toy for years. A friend down the street got the Barbie Townhouse for Christmas, and I often went to her house so my Barbies could experience the high life. For boys, the attitude toward toys was similar. Any kid with a couple Tonka Trucks and a sandbox was someone to befriend, especially if you had your own bargaining tool like a GI Joe with the Kung Fu Grip.

But today’s child doesn’t have to butter up the kid down the street or muster extra brainpower because they’ve got toys coming in from holidays, special events, and the birthday party circuit. They need toys to be entertained and they get them because they are cheap, plentiful and way cool. But when you consider the inevitable atrophy of our children’s creativity and resourcefulness, the cost is quite high.

As a kid, I remember going to a schoolmate’s birthday party on her back porch. I wore a dress. We played pin the tail on the donkey. We tossed beanbags into a target. We sang, ate cake and drank Kool-Aid. It was a TOTAL blast.

Today’s kid would deem that party a “snoozer” and consider it a total rip off that he didn’t get a free movie, theme park admission or bowling game out of the deal. It is simply unheard of these days to have a party without a substantial meal (usually pizza and unlimited sodas) in addition to ice cream cake, and a goodie bag with trinkets worth at least $9.50.

When the toy box exceeds its capacity, parents entertain their kids with camps, sports, classes and hobbies. Will the extra enrichment of our children make up for the detriment to their self-reliance? I recall my mother pulling the station wagon up to the community pool (she couldn’t get out with her rollers in, of course) to drop me off. As she drove away, cigarette smoke trailing behind, I heard her yell, “See you at four-o-clock, dumpling!” I had an entire day to make friends, avoid drowning, figure out how much I could buy at the snack bar with $2, and be waiting out at the curb at four-o’clock.

So what am I saying? Are we turning our kids into materialistic, over-indulgent, unimaginative little brats? Should we give them each a pack of matches and tell them to go entertain themselves? Probably not, but perhaps we should not always avail ourselves of the modern conveniences designed to make parenting easier. Instead, we should teach the simple life lessons we learned as kids.

Like how to get the nectar out of honeysuckle. That you can only keep a jar of tadpoles and creek water a couple days before it starts to stink up your room. That it’s fun to play in the rain. And that a cardboard box has endless possibilities.

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Comments: 14

  1. lauriebest June 20, 2012 at 7:39 am Reply

    I know of a couple of families trying to raise their kids to experience the thrill of the cardboard box and the kitchen pot and spoon! I admire them and hope they are able to continue to encourage originality and creative play as their kids are inevitably exposed to the electronic world. Good luck to them — I’m afraid they’ll need it!

  2. i mayfly June 18, 2012 at 1:43 pm Reply

    My children still reminisce about “throw-berry wars” in our backyard. They built forts of whatever odd building material was around and stripped the privet hedge of its small, hard, green berries. They formed alliances, strategized, ran around and made noise, able bodies/ minds and friends. It was also a lot of fun to watch. 😉
    I agree with you – too much “scheduling” can squeeze out the opportunity for independent play.

    • Lisa Smith Molinari June 18, 2012 at 9:00 pm Reply

      My brother used to make me hide behind floor pillows while he pelted marbles at me. Not sure how that game was fun for me!

  3. Simon June 18, 2012 at 9:13 am Reply

    I love this Lisa, such true words. Our house is bursting at the seam with pink plastic and tangled doll hair that rarely get more than a second look. last week I brought a big cardboard box upstairs, they got scissors and crayons and it was the greatest thing they had ever seen for 3 days.

    • Lisa Smith Molinari June 18, 2012 at 12:52 pm Reply

      So true Simon — I remember when the kids were bored as toddlers, I’d let them get out all the tupperware and pots and pans, then I’d give them wooden spoons and they’d create their own percussion band. It was noisy but cheap and fun!

  4. Maz June 17, 2012 at 10:14 pm Reply

    I sure hope that simple childhood pleasures never change! Like sipping honeysuckle nectar, making mudpies, tying clover chain necklaces, catching lightning bugs, and smoking horseweeds.

    • Lisa Smith Molinari June 18, 2012 at 12:47 pm Reply

      Maz, I was with you until you wrote, “smoking horseweeds”… I’m not sure that’s on the approved list of playtime activities these days!

  5. energywriter June 17, 2012 at 3:35 pm Reply

    Great story and excellent points made. I agree 100%. I worry that my great-grand received a Wii for his 4th birthday. And the two little ones have tech savvy potty training games. Okay, I bought those, but not the Wii.

    • Lisa Smith Molinari June 17, 2012 at 4:07 pm Reply

      We have those things for our kids too — it is unavoidable, and frankly, the kids who don’t have at least some kind of technology toys end up going over to the kid’s house who does!

  6. Mike Farley June 17, 2012 at 2:07 pm Reply

    When does a kid ever get to sit in a yard with a stick anymore? Do today’s kids even know what a stick is? You sit in a yard with a f… stick and you dig a f… hole. And you look at the hole and you look at the stick and you have a little fun. — George Carlin

    • Lisa Smith Molinari June 17, 2012 at 3:39 pm Reply

      My brother used to chase me with a stick upon which he had speared fresh doggy doo. Quite a resourceful young man!

  7. Jumping in Mud Puddles June 17, 2012 at 10:06 am Reply

    So glad I found your blog. Great post. I was a child of the sixties, where at eight,I ruled over a complex society of tent caterpillars. Nice to meet you! 🙂 Vickie

    • Lisa Smith Molinari June 17, 2012 at 10:44 am Reply

      Thanks for stopping by! Hmmm…I wonder what might happen if my acorn society met your tent caterpillar society? If only we were eight again…

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