It bothers me that I seldom see kids engaged in unorganized play any more.
Granted, I may not go to the right places, but whenever I run into children these days, they seem to be acting like grownups in young bodies.
For a considerable time, some educators have been raising a question as to whether the fast pace of modern life has deprived boys and girls of their childhood.
More and more, I'm seeing evidence of it. Sidewalks in the neighborhood where I live are pretty much clear of kids on tricycles, roller skates, or playing games on the cement. When I catch a glimpse of them, usually they are emerging from their homes to be transported by family car or public bus to some central or group point for organized activity.
One sees them on television, often as talented musicians, actors, or actresses, and at the very least, as skilled or more so than adults at delivering a message.
Television, I think, has had a role in educating children in the ways of adults, and youthful activities, especially athletic and musical endeavors, have taken on far more ambitious aspects.
Guided by their parents, it seems that fewer and fewer children enjoy sports merely for the fun of it. If they show the slightest talent, they are pushed to become competitors and if possible, champions.
Classes in acrobatics, dancing, skating, tennis, and nearly every physical endeavor imaginable are pushed on them - then private lessons and hours of daily practice, if they show any talent.
Organized activities take up so much of a child's time that it leaves little leisure, and practically no time for reading or planning one's own activities.
My own childhood, which I regarded as impoverished at the time, bears slight resemblance to the multitude of organized activities available to children today.
Born in a small town with a high school curriculum almost devoid of athletic or enrichment activities for young people, I and others in the community were forced to develop our own amusements.
As a small child, I can recall hiking in the woods alone, wandering in areas that now would not be considered safe even for an adult. These isolated jaunts, sometimes to gather wild flowers, or in winter to test the river ice with my skates, were mentally stimulating. My imagination definitely was stirred and I never found it boring to explore alone.
Some educators argue that the brain forms neurological connections during a rough-and-tumble childhood and the exploratory play that is now disappearing with the speed of maturation. Children need to have idle time to just ponder, and most aren't getting it.
Kids becoming mature at too early an age isn't one of the most serious problems facing society today. The effects, however, can be far-reaching, and may be at the root of adult problems which foster crime, sexual sophistication, and warped viewpoints.
We would urge that parents and society do everything possible to let children be children.
Millie Benson is a Blade Columnist.
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