26 April 2010

Non-Tech Urban Life

I'm not sure if I am up to an essay tonight, but I've had a thought that I wanted to try to express, and I'll get to it in a round about way, starting with a question.

Who spends more time outdoors: children in the city or children in the suburbs?

You would think that the answer is pretty simple, as one of the key reasons people prefer the suburbs is so that they can have a large yard in which the children can play.

But how much to the kids really use that yard? And how much time do they spend at video games or watching TV? And how much time do they spend as passengers in cars going to malls or the movies?

It just so happened, that I was watching a lecture on Youtube, and the guy referenced this statistic, which I followed up with a Google search. The result is a graph from 1990 showing where 11 year old children in California spent their time. The graph represents an average for all seasons and thus includes the school days but despite California having a temperate climate, the 10% of time spent outdoors does not surprise me at all. In fact I would suspect that today the number is even lower, maybe significantly lower.

But the graph is just a crude way to approach my subject.

Think about when you were eleven years old. What are the places in which you spent your most memorable times? For me they were all outdoors, and they are all times and places that had almost no technology involved. It would be playing outdoors, ice-skating, building forts, pickup baseball, bike riding etc... I do also have some fond memories of this time playing board games and card games inside, but for a child of this age, memories are forged mostly outdoors away from computer screen or TV screens.

While there are certainly exceptions, it seems to me that most suburban children today are raised indoors. And certainly you can do the same if you are living in the city. You can surround yourself with distractions such that you are barely aware of the changing weather outside your window.

But a family can make a conscious decision to not take this path. And an urban household could be one with few electronic devices. And, while you can live downtown, and still drive almost everywhere; if you make a decision that you don't want to live that way, then each walk to the store or to the museum is an adventure.

For example, my kids were pretty miserable walking home Saturday in a downpour. They complained as I extended the trip home to stop for a few groceries. But as usual, they forgot their misery, they loved the puddles, and the banter and the chasing. And when we finally got home they almost begged for a hot bath. And an hour later, completely exhausted they were washed and asleep in a dry bed probably dreaming of the fun they had. (or cursing me, I'm not totally sure)

There are few things that kids really crave. And after a loving, stable family the next craving is just the chance to run, climb and play. And in this century when schools are handing out homework in kindergarten, and organized sports take over most of the evenings and weekends, kids just don't have the chance to explore and play outdoors as was the norm when we were children.

But for many children (and this is certainly true of my son) they have another craving, and that is peace and quiet. I can see my son sometimes, getting frustrated with the constant assault for his attention. And when the chance comes, and he can be quiet, and draw, or walk in solitude, finally, he can clear his head and regain some inner peace. I'm not saying he will be denied use of the computer. No, but it will be limited, and I am thinking of completely ditching the TV, and keeping the radio off... and of course, walking evermore places.


Unknown said...

Feels wrong saying this via the Internet, but AMEN to the low-tech urban life. My 5-year-old and I get along fine without TV or Internet at home, though she does have those, plus a Wii (and too much of all of it, in my view) when she's at her dad's house in the 'burbs; we do have a projector for movies, which we use quite a bit, but we're plenty busy doing other things, or happily doing nothing, inside and out. I agree that the "you need a yard if you have kids" thing, which I heard a lot when I moved downtown, reflects a sad myth of modern parenting. A lot more time and energy go into yard mantainence than actual yard enjoyment, to say nothing of the ecological costs. And yes, there's all that car time...
Also appreciate the idea of giving our kids quiet space. I used to turn on a CD for background music whenever we sat down to a meal or some other activity; now I ask E if she'd rather have music or quiet, and often, she'll choose quiet.

Radarman said...

Your children will, I promise you, eventually thank you for seeing to it that they are a little out of synch.
You're on the right track.
Stick to it.

Quimbob said...

I don't understand the hatred of the TV. My grade-school headmaster was really into it. Of course back then there were less than half a dozen stations, they all signed off overnight & even a small to medium sized town had multiple newspapers.
Before ditching the tube, wouldn't it make more sense to just program off the offending channels?
PS, one of the reasons my generation spent a lot of time outdoors was because moms told us to get the heck out of the daggone house.

Unknown said...

I agree about living in the city with children and just had a similar discussion with a good friend who lives in the suburbs. She pointed out to me that she had noticed how intentional we are about getting our daughter outdoors in a way that most parents she knows aren't. As she said, it's as if they just think that seeing grass out the back door somehow counts for something. The yard in and of itself accomplishes very little if it isn't being *enjoyed*. That said, we are moving soon from the heart of the city to just outside of it. Our daughter will have spent her first 2 years and 9 months calling the Central Business District her home. But, our priorities for our new home were a direct result of our time in the city. The "big three" - diversity, a walkable community, and some green space.