“We don’t allow tag”
Kristen and I looked at one another yesterday and giggled. It was more of a silenced snort. I looked down to hide my grin of disbelief.
My 10-year old son had gotten into trouble for playing tag in the school yard at lunch. Even his teacher knew how silly it sounded. (For the record: We love his teacher. It’ no knock on her. School rules. Law & order you know.)
The school banned the game of tag. Tag. Banned. A game played for centuries by school-aged children in every country in the world. Banned!
“So why can’t kids play tag?” Actually, I didn’t even have to ask the question. His teacher answered it before I asked. “The school doesn’t want kids running around, acting wild, on the asphalt.”
She then went on to share that her students haven’t enjoyed the new structured recess. In short, they hate it.
Yes, the term structured recess is an oxymoron. Somewhere someone went to a conference that told schools that free play at recess was bad and that structured recess was good. So now instead of kids running and playing they are put into groups and are forced to play games.
You see, structured recess counts as instructional time… so schools do it.
So now my son is a criminal. His heinous crime? Be tagged “it” and daring to challenge the taboo of chasing another student to tag him as “it.”
First comes tag. Next comes buying and selling organs on the black markets in South Sudan.
It’s a slippery slope to destruction, Paul. And it starts with a simple decision. If tagged “it” what will you do?
God-forbid he gets a cootie shot. Circle, circle, dot, dot… now injecting yourself with a fictional drug will get you expelled.
“Kids don’t ride bikes”
A couple years ago I walked into my neighborhood bike shop and bought a very cool bike for Megan.
I don’t know why. She never rides it. And I never… EVER… see other kids riding their bike around our neighborhood.
Bike riding in our neighborhood is not a thing.
If we put her bike in the minivan and we drive over to a park where there are lots of people riding bikes, she will ride. We will ride together and it’s wonderful.
You see, that’s a fundamental difference between her childhood and mine.
My mom bought me a bike when I was 10 and she didn’t see me again until I was 13.
If it wasn’t raining we weren’t home. I’d come home and my mom would ask where I’d been. I’d just say “around.”
Why? Because that’s where I was. Around. Everywhere and nowhere and up to nothing. We spent hours… days even… climbing trees and building forts and jumping off things.
I rode my bike around my neighborhood. Then I started riding my bike everywhere. I went miles and miles and miles around my community on my bike. And no one called the cops. My mom was not contacted by Child Protective Services.
I was doing something perfectly normal.
But today? My kids do none of that. I don’t know if they’ve ever climbed a tree. They’ve certainly never just gotten out of the house and been “around.” No hide-n-seek. No ghosts in the graveyard. No days lost to playing twenty-one until your hands turn white.
I always know where my kids are. They are either at home, school, or church. When they go to a friends I know all the details. When they go somewhere else, an adult is there.
To make it even creepier I’ve given my 12-year old an iPhone with GPS features. If I wanted I could track her all day, every day.
It’s very, fundamentally, different than how I grew up.
The death of free play
I’m not saying any of this is good or bad. I’m just saying it is.
It is our kids reality. It is the world they are growing up in. This is the way education and parenting are today. Very high levels of control. Very low levels of childhood autonomy. And the absolute eradication of free play.
Free play, as you and I knew it growing up, is dead.
And free play is continually buried one-inch deeper with every news story about a child abduction or kid bullied on the playground or some idiot at the state capital decides that structured recess can count as a replacement for gym.
Fear did this. Parents are so scared that their child will get hurt that they’ve eliminated all of the fun stuff about being a kid.
One day the rubber band of fear we’ve strangled our children’s childhood with will break.
One day, our kids wake up as adults to the reality that the absence of danger was the most dangerous thing that could have ever happened to them.
And then what?
Question: Has your school banned free play? Do you think this is a good thing? Why or why not?