TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

February 28, 2013

Explore the outdoors with your children

How 'about this?


The Times-Tribune

CORBIN — As I continue to climb the crumbling age ladder, I am forced to be thankful of the time when I grew up.

Let me explain.

I guess you’d consider me a child of the 1980s, and since a mix of Guns N Roses, Prince and Bon Jovi is blaring out of my MP3 player as I write this, I guess those considering are correct.

I see the various activities available for today’s youth, and frankly, it seems to be pretty boring. And much of it appears to be indoors.

That would have driven me crazy as a kid.

My mother was adamant — ADAMANT — about me and my sisters getting outside to play. Now, whether it was to get us out from under her feet or not, I’m not sure.

(Although I would say with the three of us, more often than not it was to get us out of her hair.)

But when we were sent out, we weren’t worried about dirty sex fiends lurking around every bush and corner — we weren’t worried about getting snatched off a street corner and shoved into a stranger’s car — and neither were my parents.

Some of the things I did as a kid would terrify a parent in today’s dangerous society. I remember as an 8-year-old going hiking in the woods where we lived in southwest Virginia, and making it all the way to the top of “Radio Hill,” where one time a DJ in the little radio station there let me and my friend chat on-air. (At least, we thought we were on the air.)

I remember many times taking a fishing pole and climbing over the neighbor’s fence — they had a huge piece of agricultural property. About a half-mile or so back there were a couple of fish ponds I’d drop a line in — and more often than not I’d go by myself.

I would spend hours playing in this little creek fairly close to the house, building dams and drowning my Matchbox victims — all alone, without much supervision.

I walked hundreds of miles through those woods, both alone and with my friends. Sometimes I was allowed to take snacks with me, especially when we planned to go “deep” into the woods.

But never once did I get approached or bothered by a “stranger” or a “pervert.”

When I was a little older, it was nothing for my mother to send me to the store on my bike — which was a couple miles one way. Never did she worry about me getting snatched from the street or something worse — although any time I left the house, my mother was forced to push her automatic worry button. That’s because more than one time I would leave the house intact — but return either broken, bloody or both.

I was able to do a great many things on my own, or with other neighborhood kids. I remember one time — it was, coincidentally, the same time I learned about running through a field of corn — an entire day of ducking and running from a couple older kids whom I’d made angry. Besides getting sliced to pieces on the corn, I also learned a lesson about electric fences. I dove headfirst under an electric fence and my back caught on the bottom wire — jerking and contorting my body until I could lay flat on the ground.

They never caught up with me, either.

Now I see kids hovering in front of a computer screen, or a TV screen. I see more and more kids with signs of developing back problems from staying hunched over in front of these devices. I see childhood obesity climbing at alarming rates.

Yeah, I had an Atari. But I was only allowed about an hour a day playing with that because my mother wanted us outside.

And that was after chores, after dinner and definitely after homework — if we hadn’t gotten in trouble for something else.

Now kids are given the run of the house, to do what they want, watch what they want, and get into things that more observant parents would shudder over.

Of course, any more you can’t let your kids wander freely — almost every day there’s a new story somewhere in America about another youth going missing. My mother, if she were forced to raise us now, wouldn’t just have to worry about what condition I’d come home in — she’d have to worry whether I’d come home at all.

There is no viable solution to this problem, at least, not from a government standpoint. I hear politicians talking about getting out to play for an hour a day, but is this realistic? In most modern households, all the legal adults in the home must work to maintain the bills. That leaves most kids, unfortunately, to fend for themselves.

So as parents, time needs to be taken. No, we can’t send the kids off gallivanting to do whatever with whomever, but we can take them there. We can hike with them, and enjoy them, before those years fade away.

We can even just sit outside while they get out and play. We can be involved.

But if we don’t start curbing some of these indoor, sedentary, mind-numbing activities, we’ll see a generation of backwards, socially awkward adults who have little ability to think without a joystick or a mouse in their hands.

This same generation will also face “Computer Hunch,” a back problem that occurs from too many hours hunched over a computer screen or behind a television set.

Of course, that affliction will be shadowed by an extreme obesity issue, followed by soaring numbers of diabetes patients.

We’ll never again be able to allow our kids to wander freely so they can explore the world on their own like my parents were able to do 30 years ago.

But we can explore it with them — and get them out of the house.

John L. Ross is a reporter for the Times-Tribune. He can be reached at jross@thetimestribune.com