What do our children need, and what do they get?

Published 3:09pm Monday, November 1, 2010

This summer Alicia Henderson gave our 8-year-old granddaughter, Emma, two riding lessons on Emmas pony, Thatll Do. Emma is a timid child and she is not particularly horse crazy even though she does like being around the horses and helping out at the barn.

These lessons with Alicia were basically walking and steering lessons, with the primary focus being on Emmas position and balance. It has been a long time since our sons were little and I may have forgotten a few details, but it seemed to me that Emma is nowhere near as strong, balanced or agile as our boys were at that age, though she is an excellent little dancer and quite coordinated when it comes to using her fine motor skills. When I asked Alicia about it, her answer was that nearly all the young riders she sees these days have the same problem: they have well developed fine motor skills with very poorly developed gross motor skills. It certainly creates a challenge for young riders and their instructors.

Before writing this column, I spent some time reading parts of Richard Louvs book, Last Child in the Woods. In his book, Mr. Louv discusses the problems that we are now seeing in childhood development caused by modern cultures detachment from our natural world. He talks about a generation of container children who are moved from one controlled (air conditioned or heated) environment to another, in a car seat or stroller or other containment system designed for our childs safety.

Emma is 8 years old and still has to ride in a car seat; its the law. Children dont have free (from adults) time. Can you remember just how much you learned walking to school every day? And did we complain because our legs got tired? Yes. And did we have a problem with our gross motor skills? No! And did we learn how to solve problems ourselves, so that we would not have to tell our parents? Yes. And did we melt if it started raining on the way home and we got wet? And do we remember our outside experiences now much more than what our favorite TV show was at the time? Our children are being short changed.

We know that our children are spending too much time in front of the computer or TV, which is leading to obesity, depression, and all sorts of unforeseen developmental problems. Yet we keep on buying our children new gadgets from Ipods to fancy cell phones to laptops and MTV players. Why do we keep buying these things when we know deep down that our children need real experiences, like what we learn being outside and being with real people, animals, and nature, rather than simulated electronic experiences? Is it the old keeping up with the Jones syndrome: whose kids have the latest gadgets? Or is it that we cant say no to our children?

I think that the answer must be that its all about marketing. Marketing experts are very good at what they do. Since they know that we know that our children are turning into obese, sedentary zombies in front of a computer screen, they are now marketing nature itself so that we can buy nature and not have to go outside where it might be hot or humid or cold. We can buy butterflies under glass, or nature scenes with plastic covered pinecones. Technology has come so far that marketers can actually change the color that appears on a butterflys wing. There are countless possibilities for moving ads out of the virtual world and into the real one. Sponsorship-wise, its time for nature to carry its own weight.

How does this statement set with you? To me, its a sign that weve lost it as a society. Nature gives us water, air, sun, and life itself; yet now were asking nature to support our materialistic culture. Maybe some day nature will take back its precious gifts, and life itself.

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