Kids don’t play like in the olden days

Do you remember the games you and your friends used to play as a kid? Hopscotch, tag, marbles, red rover or just climbing trees or building a treehouse?
Are these memories that our kids will never have? Now referred to as ‘how kids played in the olden days’.

Also, has ‘run out and play and come back for lunch’ or ‘come inside now it’s time for dinner’ been replaced with ‘you can play on your screen till lunchtime’ and ‘get off your screen and come down for dinner’?

But it’s not just the fact that computers, gadgets and mobile phones have changed the way our kids play today – we also have a responsibility to take here.
Because we as parents have changed too: we are much more aware of our kids’ wishes, needs and emotions and kids have more rights today than ever before.
Family is now more about teamwork and agreeing than the old authoritarian, dictatorial style of parenting. While this is all good (we should not be the ‘big boss’ of our kids and try to control them) it also means that we are more protective and easier to give in to what our kids want, but don’t actually need. Kids only know what they want, not what they need – that is our job.

Helicopter parenting
One of the concerns I often hear from teachers and parents alike is that many kids nowadays are just not equipped to deal with everyday issues or problems. They aren’t independent or responsible enough to make decisions, get things done for themselves or even to think on their own.  

One of the reasons for this is that a lot of parents are raising their kids to become part of the new Snowflake Generation: a term that refers to children or young people who constantly seek to avoid emotionally charged topics or dissenting ideas and opinions.

Kids from this generation find it hard to work on their own and make individual decisions, even when it comes to everyday tasks such as packing their school bag (because mum does it). But ‘snowflake kids’ also find it hard to solve problems when they encounter them and often react to everyday issues and problems i.e. nobody to play with, can’t put clothes / shoes on, don’t like food, want to watch more TV, find homework hard etc., in an ineffective way. They may cry, hit, scream, give up, be discouraged, walk away, throw things around, become aggressive, go silent, or won’t come to you at all.

They often find it hard to know what to do with their spare time if they’re not in front of a screen as they have become so used to that, or being entertained by their parents, rather than coming up with activities and things to do themselves.

As helicopter parents we hover over our kids all the time, making sure they are OK, don’t fail or get it wrong, get into trouble, be late etc. If we see something is not right we zoom down straight away to fix it in order to avoid battles and an emotional tantrum. We don’t allow them to experience ‘getting it wrong’ and ‘fixing things the natural way’.

We tell them to ‘be careful’, ‘don’t climb too high’, ‘get home before it’s late’ – maybe we don’t allow them to cycle, because it is dangerous, and with all of this we can simply take away the fun of play. Furthermore we can now track them on their mobile phone at all times: ‘text me when you are there’, ‘call me on your way home’, ‘how are you doing?’ – and so we send a signal that says ‘I don’t trust you’.

I was working with a parent who admitted that she would much rather have her kid at home playing video games than out in the world playing: ‘at least here I have control over him and know that he won’t get into trouble’.

And that’s the thing, ‘go and play and come back for dinner’ has gone. Is it that we don’t trust them or the world? But maybe we DO need to trust them and simply make them more ‘street aware’: strangers, traffic lights, bike helmets, staying with their friends at all times etc.

And maybe we need to ‘allow’ them to get it wrong, fix it and experience the pleasure of solving a problem, i.e. friendships. We don’t need to fix everything, in the ‘olden days’ kids mainly had to work it out for themselves. Of course there are times when we DO need to step in but there is such value in allowing kids to figure stuff out wherever possible.

Boredom is good but a dinosaur for our kids
And yes, as mentioned above, we often forget the ‘entertainment trap’ that so many of us parents have fallen into these days. One of the things I hear parents talk about a lot is that children have become really reliant on them to entertain them. 

And it’s such an easy one for good parents to fall into.  As parents we often feel we have to entertain our children all the time, assuming it’s our duty to occupy and engage them while they remain mostly passive, waiting for us to entertain them.

The good news is that your kids don’t need to be entertained all the time. In fact, the most important thing you can do for your children is to give them free, unstructured and unplugged playtime and let them figure out what to do…just using their own imagination! So, put up with some nagging and let your child enjoy the pleasures of being unscheduled - soon exciting things will happen.

Letting your children be bored can be terrifying the first time you do it, but it’s a lot easier than it seems. They’ll complain at first. Just wait a few minutes and they’ll find something to do on their own. That’s more than just OK, it’s an essential skill they’ll need for the rest of their lives.

Boredom is something we fear, but it’s a major part of our lives. And making our kids handle it head-on just might be one of the best things we can do for them.
Kids are more creative when they’re bored! When their minds are bored, they start to daydream, and that daydreaming sparks creative thought. When our kids have nothing to do, they use their imaginations, the most important skill they can develop.
Boredom helps find meaning in life; when our kids are bored it helps them find value in their own experiences and develop their own unique world view, which makes them psychologically stronger for the future.
Only boring people get bored. That’s one of the most important life skills a child can learn. When we spend all of our time entertaining our children, they never have to learn how to entertain themselves.

Golden rules of parenting

The more we do (or screens do):

•         the less our children do
•         the more our child thinks they need us (or toys)
•         the less confident, capable, creative and fulfilled they feel

Let’s talk screen time

Of course, we have to blame tech for some of the changes in the way that our kids play. The most distinct change in kids’ play today is that the body is often no longer needed, except for the thumbs on a mobile, game or remote control!

And while there is nothing wrong with screens or computer games, they are here to stay and have huge benefits, we need to get the balance right. Kids getting together in their home to ‘game’ is a lovely way for them to be sociable, have fun and share something between them. There are great games for kids where they can learn and have fun; I remember my boys used to love playing Minecraft with their friends, a bit like playing with Lego online. But kids need to have space and time to play AWAY from screens too.

Physical play is so important as it involves movement (running, falling etc.) and touching (tag, pushing, pulling and hugging). It creates laughter when we do something funny, make a pretend fall etc. As soon as kids physically play, something happens inside of them and between them that just cannot be easily obtained by playing a game on a screen.

How we create that balance

• Get the balance right by having agreed screen time.
• Create free space to do nothing and where you don’t interfere with this time – even when they are bored.
• Trust them to be street wise and go out and play without hovering over them all the time.
• Stay curious instead of furious about their new world of online play. Try to sit with them and understand what they get out of the game, or from social media, this can open up a discussion about the topic.
• Bear in mind that there is also a new bully on the block; cyber bullying – so they are not always safe online either. But when you get involved in their world and have open conversations you can help them become ‘streetwise’ and savvy online too.

Show them how to play

We might have lost touch too. So maybe it’s time to play with our kids in the old fashioned way and show them what we used to do. Create a treasure hunt. Draw a hopscotch grid on the pavement. Sell lemonade to the neighbours. Maybe have a conker fight. Try to find YOUR love for play, join in and have some fun!

Good luck and have fun..

Best wishes Mette Theilmann, Director of Predictable Parenting & Founder of the Parenting Community App