Growing up in the early 90s was so much fun for my siblings and I. As children, we played so many outdoor games that it was always difficult to get us to come inside the house. What made it easier was technology was not as advanced then as it is now. We didn’t have the tablets, game consoles, cool gadgets, you name it. In fact, cartoons and other kiddies shows were only televised from 4pm, every weekday for about 2 hours, and after that, adult shows and news.
We had tree climbing, grasshopper hunting, the merry-go-rounds, the “ten-ten”, “fire on the mountain”, football, hide and seek, playing house…. I can’t even mention half of the games we played while growing up. It was exhilarating, imaginative, and I dare say, we learnt a lot!
But kids these days are not playing. Infact, most schools in Nigeria don’t even have playgrounds for kids to play in during break time. Some of the schools that do have a playground do not even prioritise games and fun activities for these children. The focus is more on studying. In some schools, Wednesday or Friday is PE day, and students wear their sportswear to school. But they don’t even play any games. The least they do is sing around for a few minutes before the children are herded back to class. Most parents, in addition to the normal school hours, also pay for extra lessons. Children come back from school tired, grumpy and begin to detest the whole concept of education.
Last week, the famous American toy store, Toys R Us, filed for bankruptcy, and one of my very close friends was devastated. I couldn’t relate because I didn’t grow up playing with toys. Like I said, my siblings and I were the outdoorsy type. Anyway, she said something like, “Why am I even bothered? It’s not like kids these days play anymore?” It was then I realised that I was not the only one thinking about this. After reminiscing, we concluded that we were not going to be that parent. Our kids must go outside and play. They must climb trees, run around with the dogs, do everything fun, and sometimes, come home with scrapes. We were so sure of ourselves, and for half a second, felt sort of superior to today’s mothers.
We hadn’t even concluded our discussion, when someone started laughing. It was one of our colleagues. She couldn’t help herself. She laughed and laughed till tears came. When she recovered, I wanted to know what could have caused such laughter. The first thing she said that struck me was, “what gives the both of you the right to sit here and judge parents?”. She then went on to tell us that she had fun too as a kid; she did all of those things we mentioned. And she feels bad that she doesn’t let her children play as much as she would have wanted, but that’s because the current society we live in makes it a bit difficult for parents to allow their children that freedom.
High cost of living, so parents have to work extra hard to educate and give their children a great life. Insecurity and so many other vices also make it impossible for you to leave your children outside unsupervised. At the end of the day, there isn’t enough time to do the fun things. Sometimes, she said, the only thing that can keep her sane and her children quiet is the television. She puts it on for them, and is able to do other chores.
In a way, I agreed with her cos I could understand a bit about being overburdened with chores and having no help. But my point still remains that our kids are not playing enough. I used my little cousins as examples (well, they are not so little anymore as they are in college). When they were still in elementary school, and I was staying at their home, I had to teach them some games to play. They didn’t even know the simplest game. And this wasn’t their fault at all.
Let me break down their routine. So, they wake up as early 5am on weekdays, take their shower, dress up and eat. After breakfast, they leave for school, and this would usually be around 6:45am. They get to school as early as 7:10am, and their class teacher already has the “morning assignment” written on the board. Get this, the “morning assignment” is not for everybody, only the early birds. The assignment is wiped off the board by 7:45am, and everyone trudges out to the school assembly ground for morning devotion.
What happens to kids who come later than 7:45am, you ask? Their loss. According to the school, this was an incentive to get the children to come in earlier and do some assignments before school starts. During school hours, my cousins will have their normal 30 minutes break around 11am, but they don’t go outside to play. When I heard this, I just couldn’t understand it. Why won’t you go outside to play during break? During my time in school, break times were the best. You run outside once the bell goes and play to your heart’s content.
Well, for one, the school does not have a playground. Two, break time was just for eating your snacks, or talking with your friends whilst sitting in class. Anyway, school dismisses at 2:45pm. But it doesn’t end there. They start another round of studying – this is called “After School Lessons”. It could be for as long as 2-3 hours. When they finally get home, take a shower and eat, they have to complete the numerous homework given to them in school. Then by 6pm, a private tutor comes. This tutor helps them to understand what they learnt in school, and then gives them additional homework, or goes through their school homework. After he leaves, the children spend the rest of the night trying to complete the homework. By the time they are done, and had their dinner, they are so tired that they just tumble on to their bed, and the cycle continues the following day.
It was really sad and depressing for me to watch. These my cousins were (and are still) brilliant children, and I couldn’t understand why my Uncle had to put them through all that. I didn’t have enough liver (a colloquial way of saying I didn’t have the guts to ask him) to ask my Uncle anything, but I spoke with another elderly parent. She said, and I agree with her, that the reason why parents are placing more emphasis on studying is because the world has made it seem as if you need to have a degree to excel in life. This principle was drummed into them ages ago, and so most parents have also passed it on to their children.
Another reason could be that the parents had it tough, intellectually, while growing up, so they thereon decided that their children will do better than them. Again, another valid point. But, what has that got to do with allowing your children to play? I think the reason why some parents don’t allow their kids play is because they, in some way, believe that when you allow children to play all the time, they tend to become dullards. I’ve had someone say this to me, as an excuse for not letting his kids play. I disagreed wholeheartedly. Some of the great, brilliant minds I know today (who are my peers) played even more than my siblings and I. I played a lot as well, and I’ve turned out great (if I say so myself).
I came across this article All Work and No Play: Why Your Kids Are More Anxious, Depressed, by the Atlantic.com and it really hit me. Most parents do not know that they are causing more harm than good by denying their kids playtime. The article lists so many reasons why children should be allowed to play. And the last statement by Peter Gray, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology (emeritus) at Boston College struck me:
“We have not only taken away the joys of free play, we have replaced them with emotionally stressful activities. “[A]s a society, we have come to the conclusion that to protect children from danger and to educate them, we must deprive them of the very activity that makes them happiest and place them for ever more hours in settings where they are more or less continually directed and evaluated by adults, setting almost designed to produce anxiety and depression.“
The sooner parents realise that children need to play more, the better it will be for the society at large.