By Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press
“Tell me a story about when you were little,” she asks almost every day.
I hold her in my arms, though she’s getting a little big for that — all elbows and knees and long, skinny feet hanging down from my lap. She looks up at me with blue-gray eyes nearly identical to my own, and imagines.
I tell her stories about racing Huffy bikes up and down the dusty street, about fireflies in mason jars with holey lids and mud pies. (Yes, I made my brother eat one. And no, he still hasn’t forgiven me.)
I tell her about sliding down the sledding hill and running back up over and over again until our legs felt all rubbery and about drive-in movies and penny candy, which she’ll never see in her lifetime ( unless the economy really tanks).
I tell her about how we flooded the backyard to ice skate in winter and how we’d spend summer days in the swimming pool until our skin resembled peach pits—brown from too much sun and wrinkly from too much water.
The other day, I began a tale about the hot summer evenings when we’d wait for the sun to go down so we could hunt with flashlights for night crawlers to take fishing the next day. She sighed, and declared that she doesn’t even LIKE fishing or worms, so could I please tell a different story.
What I won’t do to oblige.
Before she started asking for them, many of these stories had faded to the outermost part of my mind. Rarely recalled, too seldom relived.
But with each retelling, it feels as if I’m going back to the place that straddled small town and country, one room over from my little brother in our tiny ranch house with pale yellow siding. I remember the musty smell of his old toy chest, and how hot our living room would get on the most frigid of winter nights as the fire cackled in the woodstove.
Sometimes, I wonder what she’ll recall looking back on her own childhood years from now, with her little one curled up in her lap asking for stories. Will there be warm tales of fireflies in mason jars, hopscotch and freeze tag?
I hope so. But new national statistics paint a picture of a very different childhood for today’s kids. It’s one with virtually no puddle-jumping or pollywog hunting; rather, it’s filled with big-screen TVs, high-tech video games, iPods and laptops.
A study released by the Kaiser Family Foundation in late January found that kids ages 8 to 18 spend an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes using entertainment media in a typical day. That’s more than 53 hours a week! By comparison, kids average just four to seven minutes outside per day, according to the National Wildlife Federation.
As we’ve all been plugging in, texting each other, earbuds in place, outdoor play has slipped away.
The result not only has implications for building lifelong memories of skipping and tree climbing in youth, but also for the nation’s soaring obesity problem and for instilling a love of nature in our children.
Sure, it’s convenient to stay inside and this time of year; it’s warmer, too. But it’s far healthier for kids to get that blood pumping outdoors, even if it means mom and dad need to get off their keisters and play with them.
The NWF has launched a public campaign to get children outdoors, and offers a plethora of fun activities to try with your kids, even in the winter months.
It’s easy to blame technology for our sedentary lifestyles, but the problem is within us, and is so easily solved.
Shut off the TV. Put down the Wii controller. Go outside and play.
For more on the NWF and its Be Out There campaign, go to www.nwf.org.