When I think about my kids’ (boys, 3 and soon-to-be-born) futures, I’m terrified. I’m not terrified that they will have inferior educations or live in an unsafe world. I’m terrified that they won’t have very much fun.To illustrate my point, take a moment to think of the ten best memories of your childhood before high school. Chances are, if you’re over 30, most of these memories involve playing outside your house with friends, not scheduled events with adults around. To jog your memory, I’ll offer my list from my childhood in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, PA in the 1960s and 70s, not in any particular order:
- organizing and running a carnival w/ my friends for a Muscular Dystrophy charity in the Weiss’ backyard
- stickball in the Bruces’ backyard w/ the neighborhood guys everyday one summer
- building a tree house in the woods behind the Allens’ house and hanging out there w/ the guys one summer
- hiking w/ the Weiss brothers in hip boots through the stream at their farm
- my first hit in minor league baseball, a triple to deep center, after many games without swinging at all
- seeing Pittsburgh Steelers’ home games with my dad, especially Franco Harris’ immaculate reception in 1972(!)
- golfing with my dad on Sunday mornings
- pickup softball and tag football in the street next to our house
- pickup hoops and H-O-R-S-E on the court behind the Morrisons’ house
- kill-the-guy-with-the-ball games, especially the one where the guys conspired to not tackle me on purpose, fooling me into thinking I had become the next O. J. Simpson
[Feel free to offer the best ten memories of your pre-high school childhood in comments!]
Now that you have your best ten memories in mind, ask yourself, how many of those are possible for your kids? For most American children, memories that involve unstructured play with no adults around are simply not possible today. For instance, I live in Palo Alto, CA, and I can tell you that for kids here, all but 5, 6, and 7 from my list are practically impossible.
Now you might say, of course, times have changed, so the American childhood today isn’t better or worse. It’s just different.
Yes, it’s different, but it’s worse, too. A whole lot worse. Sure, we had organized sports practices and games and piano lessons back then, just a lot fewer than kids have today. Would I trade all my kill-the-guy-with-the-ball games for Youth Soccer? Not on your life. One thing we didn’t have back then that kids have now are “playdates.” How about building a tree house and hanging out there all summer vs. a dozen “playdates?” Are you kidding?
Sad? I’d say so. Actually, I’m angry more than sad. In general, we have more money than our parents did, but for some reason, collectively as a society, we’ve chosen to create worse lives for our kids. That sucks. In fact, I just can’t accept it.
That’s why I’m writing this blog. I and others will try to show what’s wrong with the ultra-structured, adult-mediated American childhood of today. As we’ll argue, the negative effects of this go far beyond mere lack of fun. Because of this change in lifestyle, kids of today have fewer opportunities to develop social skills, leadership skills, and creativity, and they’re a heck of a lot fatter than we were.
More than just whining, though, we’ll explore solutions to this problem. I’m a five-time Silicon Valley entrepreneur, so chances are, you’ll see me take one of the solutions we propose here and try to make it happen. Stay tuned…