Murawski: Are kids too busy to play?

STAFF WRITERAugust 26, 2011 

On Fridays, The News & Observer runs guest columns from staff members. John Murawski, who has worked at The N&O for nearly six years, is a business writer.

Here in our little corner of northwest Raleigh, the kids have disappeared.

And I suspect my neighborhood is not unique.

Drive around any time of day, any day of the week, any season of the year, and you will unfailingly be struck by the conspicuous absence of children playing outside without adult supervision.

By my estimate, every block here has school-age kids, and our community has all the requisite amenities to keep youngsters occupied: cul-de-sacs, emerald lawns, wooded areas.

But aside from an occasional sighting, an entire generation of kids seems to have gone AWOL. They're indoors playing video games, I suppose - not shellacking mother's parquet floor for their allowance.

I've asked adult neighbors whether they've noticed this silent spring phenomenon, trying to gauge whether it bothers them. My queries are usually met by a shrug, a hmmm or a puzzled look. In this day and age, they tell me, kids are just so busy.

And then there's this nagging little problem that lurks in slow-moving automobiles: bullies, predators and other suburban boogeymen.

Could it be that times are more dangerous now? Based on my informal interviews, the ringing consensus is yes. A quarter-century ago, who ever thought about lunchroom massacres or missing children or terrorist attacks? These modern anxieties would explain why we're all doing Google searches on other parents before dropping off our kids on a prearranged play date.

I've caught myself boring my 9-year-old daughter with fatherly recollections of childhood. When I was your age, I begin, neighborhoods and playgrounds were atwitter with children. When school let out, I was out the door like a flash, playing pickup football, traipsing through vacant fields, or just hanging out and doing nothing. That's what we used to call playing.

About that time, a parenting revolution was set in motion. It was abetted by that grave voice in the well-known public service announcement on TV, intoning: It is 10 o'clock - do you know where your children are?

The voice is still with us, more insistent than ever. And today, we know all too well where our kids are. Let's see, according to this month's schedule, they're signed up for cotillion and piano and ballet and soccer camp and ...

All this may be nothing more than a freaked-out generation of moms and dads overreacting to the laissez-faire parenting they witnessed, producing high divorce rates and latchkey children.

But each generation is destined to rebel against the excesses of the last. When our own children vow not to repeat the errors of their parents, they well may instruct their kids: Go outside and play, and don't come home until dinner.

When that day returns, neighborhood streets will once again come alive with the sound of children.

john.murawski@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8932

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