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Where Have All the Neighborhood Kids Gone?

Image source: Thinkstock
Image source: Thinkstock

When I was a kid in the mid-eighties, my family lived in Woodhaven, New York. I came home everyday from school and plopped on the living room couch for a batch of Giggles cookies and my half hour allotted time of Inspector Gadget.

If the weather was warm enough, I’d go outside to play hopscotch, four square or my favorite old school past time, Chinese jump rope (sometimes if I didn’t have my friends nearby I would put one end of the elastic rope around the leg of a coffee table and play for hours).

I remember being in the second grade and not having any extracurricular activities. All I had to keep me busy were my Babysitter’s Club books, my neighborhood friends and a few broken pieces of sidewalk chalk. There were no pre-arranged play dates. If I wanted to spend time with my friend Gary, all I had to do was walk next door and simply ask.

Fast forward to the year 2015 and while my kids have friends, it’s just not the same.

Last year we moved to a new, cookie-cutter subdivision in the heart of central Florida, complete with a family-friendly community pool, a bike trail and soccer field and several “tot lots,” and playgrounds. Everything is great, shiny and new… but it’s a little lonely.

We were told that there were kids on our street, but we never see them outside after school. We spend time at the park, but most of the time there’s no one else around. And the bike park? Well, the retiree pack is getting a good use out of it.

This all of course begs me to ask: where have all the neighborhood kids gone?

What happened to the impromptu kickball games and bicycle races down the street? Where are the kids signing “I Heart 1D” in electric pink chalk on the driveways??

I know what the answer is, but maybe I just don’t want to admit it.

A new study by the Journal of Psychiatric Research says that a child’s mental health is strongly affected by their family and neighborhood and the potential influences their immediate surrounding has on them.

In simpler terms, kids need a strong community of trusted family members and friends to be happy.

Unfortunately though, it seems like we’re too busy to create one. I’ll admit that I’m guilty of this as well, but most kids these days don’t have the time to play with their friends on their scooters and skateboards because they’re too busy with soccer practice, chess club and Cub Scout meetings. Sure, they might have friends, but their social hours are pre-arranged for certain days and time slots and marked on a calendar along with all of their other engagements for the week. We control our children’s lives because our lives are controlled and it’s a cycle that no schedule can break.

In one sense, it’s a good thing to know where your children are at all times, but on the other hand we’re not giving our children much freedom and independence either.

Sure, we can get into the free-range versus helicopter parenting debate all night long, but if we can agree on one thing, it’s that the world is definitely a different place than what it was in 1987. And that just might be half of the problem.

We’re so preoccupied in arranging our kids’ lives, that the only thing they’ll wind up remembering from their childhood is their iCal full of dance recitals, baseball games and birthday parties that are strictly from 2 to 4 PM.

Now, I can’t just put a “For Sale” sign on my front lawn and move from house to house in hopes of finding a good neighborhood for my kids and going from door to door looking for play pals for my kids might make me look a little creepy, too.

We can’t make kids magically appear on the streets, but we can do our part and at least try. In the meantime, if you want to find us, we’ll be at the park… with my Chinese jump rope.

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