In Stones From the River, by Ursula Hegi, five-year-old Trudi, the heroine, and her first friend spend long summer afternoons down by the river, exploring, playing with stones and leaves, letting their imaginations roam.
Thinking back to my own childhood, which was not that long ago but definitely before computers, my summer memories center around:
Lying in the tall grass with my friend Naomi, arms and legs akimbo; then getting up and admiring the outlines of our six-year-old bodies.
Lying on the soccer field with Dan, Jerry and Gill, staring at the stars, talking about God and communism, our adolescent minds full of new questions.
Sweating at the summit of the mountain in L.A.'s Griffith Park that my family and I climbed every Sunday to reach the observatory.
Itching all over from rolling down the grassy hills in the neighborhood park.
The half-scared, half-excited thrill as I wondered whether to dive under or jump over the next big breaker the Pacific was offering up to me.
Roller-skating around the block with Claudia, the girl next door, hoping that cute boy from around the corner would come out and join us.
Playing handball against the garage door with a foursquare ball with the kids on the block.
Climbing the trees at La Cienega Park, hands stained red from the berries I had just picked.
Creating a decorated folder of favorite poems, copied by me, illustrated by Claudia.
Filling a cigar box with paper dolls and a full hand-made wardrobe for each one.
Do Computer Games Nourish the Soul?
During summers past, the left-brain took a much-needed break from school and body and soul reigned. I didn't know it at the time, but the activities we kids pursued in these summers before computers nourished the body, the soul, the heart and the imagination. The only thing we knew about computers came from science fiction books -- and TV was not allowed during the day. We had no choice but to find our own fun, to rely on our own resources.
I can't help but ache for what my kids and their friends are missing. It's hard for us and for other parents I know to limit TV and computer time, especially when mom and dad are both working. But with the attraction of The Age of Empires and Pinball on a nearby desk, and the tube and videos to entertain without effort, more kids are staying indoors than ever before.
We're beginning to see the alarming results: Children are fatter and less fit than ever. They are more prone to all kinds of ailments including diabetes and heart disease. I have no doubt that other harmful effects will appear as soon as the studies are done: hand, wrist and shoulder problems from too many clicks of the mouse; back and neck problems from sitting for long periods of time. To prevent these, see Keeping Computer Kids Fit.
But I worry even more about the problems that we can't yet predict: What happens to the developing brain when it is fed a large diet of computerized images? What happens to the developing soul when it is starved for the majesty and wonder of nature? What happens to our sense of empathy and ethics, when with a press of a finger we can wipe out monsters, space ships, planes and yes, people hundreds of times a day? Will imagination and creativity -- those two profound gifts of childhood -- wither with too much electronic input?
There are no easy solutions to these problems. But it's important that we discuss the effects these cultural changes are having and will have on our kids.
Copyright Ruth Mason, 2000