What's wrong with kids these days? Or perhaps a better question is what's wrong with parents these days? Kids don't seem to know how to play. Have parents over-programmed them to the point that they can't think of anything fun to do without parental intervention? The one thing they seem to be good at is playing video games. That's not even in the category of healthy playing. In fact, it can scarcely qualify as playing.

Video games don't offer the creativity of interacting with other kids that happens automatically when they're sledding down a nearby hill, playing hide-n-seek in each other's yards, dashing around playing flag football, roller skating or even playing a board game with in-person friends who know how to laugh and have fun in real life. Sadly these are being replaced by kids glued to screens, knocking out whatever enemy is in their path. They're sitting there, mesmerized and mostly alone.

Something needs to change

We're not suggesting that kids never play video games or use their other electronic devices. We're just saying that a steady diet of this is taking over too many kids' lives. They're turning into couch potatoes before they've hardly sprouted.

This isn't a laughing matter. Besides the health problems this less-active life style is leading to for our kids it's equally serious in other areas of their development. Dr. Peter Gray, a psychologist at Boston College believes the loss of free play impairs children intellectually and socially. We need to allow our children to be children and provide free time for them to just simply play.

A few play ideas

For ideas for your kids, start with remembering what you did as a kid for play time - not forced play contrived by well-meaning adults. Just some things you used to do with friends that got you out and actively having fun. Kidshealth.org suggests that "No matter what the weather is like or how many friends are around, there's always a way to be physically active and have fun." They suggest a few things your child can do if he or she is alone or with friends.

If your child is by himself or herself, they suggest, "Try hopping on your bike, strapping on your skates or grabbing your skateboard. Don't forget your helmet and pads! Or, try jumping rope and counting how many times you can jump before you miss. Jumping rope is a great way to get aerobic exercise." There are so many options. Your kids may just need a few suggestions. And, maybe, a parent who is willing to play with them to get their play juices started.

Recently we were at a neighborhood grocery story and saw a small group of junior-high-age boys having fun on their skate boards in an empty part of the parking lot. They were laughing and trying new tricks on their boards. When they would succeed they'd give each other high fives. More than competing, they were helping each other learn a few new skate board tricks. It was obvious these boys were not seasoned skate boarders, just having fun trying a few simple moves with each other. It was a happy sight. They were playing.

Schools and parents can help

Our granddaughter recently told us about a program at her kindergartner's school. She said parents can sign up their child to be in the "100 mile club." It's getting kids out and running, playing, walking, doing active things - 100 miles worth of activity. The parents and kids keep track of the miles their activity took them, and are rewarded with points. After a certain number they are awarded a T-shirt. At the end every child who did the 100 miles gets a medal. Her son is highly motivated by this activity. He wants to be on the move. Not just sitting. One trip to the zoo netted five miles of fun as they walked around enjoying the animals. Her son gives suggestions as to what activity he wants to do, which sometimes is, "Can I run around the track after school today?"

Kids don't need money to have fun playing. Keep in mind these wise words of Henry David Thoreau, "The man is richest whose pleasures are the cheapest." Remember how he enjoyed being at Walden Pond? His time there stimulated so much of his creative thinking. Being in nature can provide that stimulation for everyone. It can be a huge playground for adventure, exploring and mental development for your children.

Just go have some fun

It's important for your children to see you having fun, too. Watching you and other family members involved in activities other than those that require electronic devices will let them know there is another, much more fun world out there.

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