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Digital hopscotch: how social media revived playing outside


Every now and then, I get tired of hearing the statement “When I was younger, I played in the streets” or “When I was younger, we didn’t have cell phones or laptop – we biked to each other’s houses and played outside.” These statements imply that kids today don’t do that.

Digital HopscotchLet’s cut out the blanket generalizations because ultimately, they eventually turn into blatant exaggerations that usually result in your grandfather boasting that he as a boy, walked fifteen miles in the snow, to and from school. Somehow, both the route there and back were unfortunately uphill.

I will concede that with technology, the younger generations know less about the rules of red rover and more about renting a new video game from Red Box; however, that’s not to say that technology and laziness have conditioned children and adolescents to survive only by the blue glow of their laptops and cell phones.  For years my neighborhood rarely saw a child playing on the sidewalk. For a brief moment, I also generalized that kids today just don’t know how to play outdoors.

But recently, my neighborhood has seen over half a dozen kids outside, playing with chalk on the sidewalks, playing basketball, and riding bikes. Without a doubt, there has been a fundamental shift in the way that children play- not all hope is lost. The new kids on the block seem to have a handle on the outdoors in a way that many of us have claimed was long forgotten.

Instead of blaming technology for why kids today seem to gravitate towards their phones and video games, why not focus on ways that social media and technology can make it easier for them to get outside and play.

Social media, when used for its original intended purpose, shouldn’t replace social interaction, but enhance it. Using tools like Facebook can become a fast way to invite friends out for a game of basketball or a trip to the mall. Foursquare and Facebook check-ins allow friends to find out where to meet you and allow parents to make sure their kids are somewhere safe.

On a broader scale, smartphones give kids the opportunity we never had, to call, text, or check in without worrying if there was a publicly accessible phone available to call home. We all had to tell Mom that we weren’t going to be home for dinner once or twice.

Blaming social media and technology for keeping kids on the couch and making them lazy is a glass-half-empty way of viewing the situation. Instead, the younger generations have millions of tools at their fingertips to give them the ability and motivation to put down the X-Box controller, unplug themselves, and experience the world. If anything, they have less of an excuse to stay inside than many of us ever did. If they try to tell you that they can’t do what they want outside of the comfort of home, let them know there’s an app for that and point them to their bike.

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