John Muir, Hear Our Prayer

Are you at a restaurant right now? You’re probably not.* But if you were, I would bet my dad’s baseball card collection** that you could look up and see at least one child at the table playing with mommy’s iPhone or daddy’s Android or (God forbid) their own iPad. And if you think that I’m wrong, then get in your car and drive to Bazbeaux’s or Pizzology and see for yourself. Then bring me back some ‘za (sausage and mushroom please) for thinking that I’m mistaken and giving today’s youth too much credit.

Somewhere, a tree’s branches are too stiff.

A sandbox sits dry and crusty and vacant and might as well be filled with cement.

A swing set has forgotten what the back and forth motion and pumping of 4-year-old legs feels like. It can’t remember the last time it gasped when a little kid leapt from its seat and soared through the air, hopefully to land on two sneaker-clad feet.

Meanwhile, broken screens are more common than broken arms and children run out of battery more than they run out of breath.

Am I too young to start a sentence with “When I was a kid?” Because when I was a kid we mastered cartwheels and monkey bars, not iPad games.

A few weeks ago I went to the Indianapolis Zoo, a magical, world-class place filled with magical, world-class creatures. A place where children should be so enthralled and captivated by exotic animals as they press their noses to the glass, oblivious that their parents paid an astronomical price for the animal-shaped juice box in their hands. I expected to see younger versions of myself, fascinated by the polar bear and searching, as I often did, for the eels in the corner of the marine tank. I saw a great deal of fascination, but unfortunately this excitement was filtered through an extra lens. Plenty of the youngsters were snapping pictures and videos of the animals through iPads and smartphones, reminding me of John Mayer’s song “3×5” off of an early album. Yes, I write/live to the tune of John Mayer quite a bit.

My mom (who’s an occupational therapist) and I were talking about the impact that all these screens have had on kids. In addition to missing out on what’s going on in front of their faces, she thinks that children are having more trouble focusing in the classroom because teachers don’t light up and change colors and spin around like virtual games and apps do.

A lot of things have already been said about pre-teens and teenagers and their devices regarding social media. All I have to add to the conversation is that I’m glad Instagram didn’t exist when I was in middle school and I hope this “Generation Like” phase is over before I raise children. There’s nothing more worrisome than 12-year-olds basing their self worth on a number of likes. Don’t get me wrong, I quite enjoy Instagram but I’m 20 years old and feel like I have a good grip on what builds me up and fulfills me. Am I flattered by a couple Facebook likes here and there? Oh by all means yes. But if that was my main goal in taking a picture on the top of the Swiss Alps, I think that’s where the problem arises.

I’m not here to negatively call out social media and technology, because the power is definitely employed for a lot of good in our world. Health technology, virtual learning tools, and positive online connections? Fantastic. In fact, there’s a movement called Project Wild Thing that I found online. There are like-minded people out there who believe in swing sets and tree climbing, which gives me hope.

This conversation is like kale: important but kinda old and hyped-up but also unknown (I recently heard that kale inhibits metabolism so I don’t know if I trust it). I’m probably just adding more blabber to the blabber, but I’m scared that kids are missing out. I’m scared that they’ll grow up not knowing how to creek stomp and that the Internet will teach them how to make s’mores in the godforsaken comfort*** of their own home instead of nestled by a real fire. I’m afraid they won’t remember how the stars really looked as they curl up in sleeping bags because Instagram captured the moment rather than their naked eyes.****

Bottom line, I want kids to embrace nature and keep playing outside. I could have just written that one sentence and deleted the rest I suppose, but that’s not why we’re here now is it?

Please enjoy the ungodly amount of asterisks I set up…

*And if you are at a restaurant right now, then you’re giving my blog way too much consideration. Chances are you’re with cool people whose company is way more important than what I’m saying. Put your screen away, honeybunch. (And if you’re at a pizza place, see the parentheses in ‘graph 1.)

**just kidding, Dad.

***There’s nothing wrong with the comfy indoors. In fact, I am a huge supporter of comfy. Ask anyone. But when outdoor activities are morphed and limited and displaced to the indoors, that’s when I get feisty.

**** I’m not saying that we shouldn’t take pictures. I for one love pictures and grew up with a film-enthusiast father.

*****Is this many asterisks even legal?

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