One of the negative consequences of our high tech- and fear-dominated modern culture is the systematic withdrawal of children from independent and exploratory play, in natural social and physical environments. Our fear culture frustrates outside, unfettered exploration for the developing child. Parents can be arrested for leaving their children to play on their own, in any location away from their direct visual observation. That is in striking contrast to my own childhood, where our only explicit rule beyond the age of 7 or 8 was to come home in time for dinner.
As a result, as children, we were masters of our 7 or 8 square-mile physical environments—and were vibrantly independent and broadly capable as little Lords of that realm.
For a modern child, life is mostly about interior spaces, with the child almost always under the protection and supervision of an adult. If rules of plays need to be established, parents or caregivers play the role of final arbitrator. Not so, in our young lives.
And for most modern children, it’s all about operating that young mind in the artificial and highly addictive worlds delivered via small “smart” hand-held boxes—a world played out in a kind of puppet-show fiction, usually predicable, usually rule-based, more often than not stultifying any truly imaginative operations in thought. One could raise the example of the mastery of videogames and the love of videos in general by severely autistic individuals to make this point. At their smartphones or on their smart pads they can be true masters of these artificial media-delivered worlds—but when they stand up and face the real world, full of its surprises, quirks, and unforeseen challenges, they collapse back into severe autism.
In a fear culture, withdrawal from the real world is also being driven by parents and authorities who are appalled by a middle-school-aged child that cares for a younger sibling while their mother goes on a necessary errand; by a child that walks on their own or (horror of horrors) with their little sister or brother all the way to school; by a child caught playing in the park or up the street or down by the pond with no parent or other adult in sight; by children playing an unsupervised game with other kids at a park blocks away from any of their homes; by a child taking her own path through the woods. In many fellow-citizens’ and authorities’ eyes, these behaviors are grounds for taking away the rights of parenting for any mom or dad who would allow such utter recklessness. For many moms and dads, no child of theirs could ever by counted on to play on their own in safety, out of reach of their own protection and authority.
It shall be interesting to see the products of this sharp change, over several decades, in how we raise our children. One can anticipate a slow, steady withdrawal of humankind from the natural world with all its wonders back into our closed artificial spaces and into synthetic, very-unreal worlds. One could predict fewer and fewer visits to city or state or national forest or national parks. One can anticipate the progressive further growth of our fear culture, leading to still greater social withdrawal of every child re every stranger, culminating in a measurable increase in the social distancing between the likes of you and me. One can anticipate a slow deterioration of our appreciation for the richness of our complex natural sensory experiences, and of the crucial benefits for our brains and bodies that come from seeing, hearing, feeling and smelling it all. One can anticipate a society in which every adult continues to seek the support and guidance of avatar parents across the long arc of their lives, always there to guard them, always there to make sure they don’t have too much fun. I’ve predicted in another place that this yearning for a parental overseer shall inexorably result in our election of a long series of female leaders, chosen because most of we Americans shall seek reconnection with that protective and continually instructing mother-figure, who strapped us into our car seat all of those thousands of times, and who watched over us like a mother hen, to assure that every moment in our lives was not exclusively our own.