The Digital Playground: When Devices Replace 'Real' Play

Sure, kids play games today, but they’re usually not face-to-face.

Sometimes we got a busy signal. Sometimes no one was home. Sometimes Judy’s cranky grandmother, who only spoke Italian, answered — and hung up.

“The games we knew growing up are gone,” my husband complained to me a few days ago. “You know: stoop ball, Kings, even basketball. They’re all dead.”

He's right. Kids don’t seem to play anymore. To go outside and wander around aimlessly. To “call for” each other. To hang out in the park and just… do nothing. Once upon a time, kids were never home — now they never leave.

At the risk of sounding ancient, I blame it on the Digital Age. Cell phones, the Internet, video games.

Everybody’s so electronically accessible these days; it’s almost too easy. Want to connect with your BFF? Just text them, FaceTime them. (Is it me or is it weird that it’s even called FaceTime — because it’s not. It’s DigitalTime!) Now, I like Facebook as much as the next gal, but it’s no substitute for a personal connection.

When I was a kid, back in the Stone Age the 1970s — “Did they have phones back then?” my snarky 16-year-old asked — we actually had to ring people’s doorbells! (Thus the archaic term “call for.”)

Or, we picked up the (gasp!) house telephone (which we shared with the whole family), dialed a rotary phone (that had a CORD) and asked to talk to our friend. Sometimes we got a busy signal. Sometimes no one was home. Sometimes Judy’s cranky grandmother, who only spoke Italian, answered — and hung up. Sometimes your bratty little sister hogged the phone so Bryan Johnson couldn’t call. It was a real crapshoot!

Back then, kids actually had to plan activities with our friends in advance because the above mentioned modes of communication were so dicey. Sometimes it was like planning a covert military operation, but somehow, we ended up getting together. We passed notes in class with sweaty palms instead of sneaking texts. We played. Outdoors. And had fun!

The beauty of it was that we were in control. We set up everything. By ourselves. By talking to people. It honed our communications skills, our social skills. It taught us how to work things out unassisted. It helped us figure out stuff. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, but it was all on us.

Were you going to run into that cute guy John Williams on the way home? Would you see Anne Marie by the lockers and sort out what to do for the weekend? It was hit or miss — that was the beauty of it. The breath-holding chance of it all.

Now, our kids’ friends are as close as a keyboard stroke away. It’s too easy.

Sure, kids play games today, but they’re usually not face-to-face. While it’s cool that they can play Terraria with their buddy 100 miles away, they miss nuances like facial expressions — and smelling the rotting gym socks in someone’s room. And making them laugh so hard milk comes shooting out of their nose. Is online gaming really being “together”?

The art of the “meet up” has been lost. Case in point: On a mini-cruise to the Bahamas a few months back, David met a cute girl named Miracle in the ship’s teen club. They hung out that day and had a blast. They made plans to meet at the Constellation’s theatre the next night to catch the comedy show together. Only they didn’t.

Did these star-crossed teens suffer a Romeo and Juliet-style tragedy? Did they stand each other up? No. Even worse — their signals got crossed — and they didn’t have their cell phones to fall back on. The theatre had two levels. David waited expectantly for Miracle on the first level, while Miracle waited for David on the second. They were like two ships that passed in the night (pun intended) and did.

Were they that dumb? Not really. Without technology to communicate, they were lost. They weren’t used to making plans in person so their directions weren’t clear enough and they messed up.

What’s the answer then? Maybe we should force our kids — and ourselves! — to unplug every so often. To exercise those face-to-face communication muscles.

Have Non-Digital Days. Enforce them. And enjoy them!

If you like this article, please share it! Your clicks keep us alive!

Articles You'll Love