What happened to our neighborhoods?

As mentioned yesterday, am reading “The Anxious Generation” that is quite startling in terms of the subject matter – children are being rewired (actually have already been) and have transitioned from “play-based” childhood to “phone-based” childhood. A transition that will have lasting repercussions on the human race in general.

I will write separately on the book once I finish reading it – but I did take a step further and read up on what possible alternatives can be created. Jonathan writes – “If parents don’t replace screen time with real-world experiences involving friends and independent activity, then banning devices will feel like deprivation, not the opening up of a world of opportunities.”

Reading further, I found more insight into what laid the grounds for this transition in the first place.

It’s worth noting that many of our current “caution and control” norms were established long before smartphones—laying the conditions for screens to take over childhoods. Kids used to play in the streets, wander neighborhoods, visit classmates, stop at stores, and gain daily life experience in the community. Changes in everything from cars to careers to churches to schools to the built environment to shopping patterns had largely emptied streets of children by the 1990s. With fewer adults around the neighborhood and with those who were left feeling little obligation to keep an eye on their neighbors’ children, parents were already instructing kids to come straight home once school got out rather than hang around the streets or parks, unsupervised.

Another commentator noted:

In the 1950s they [residents] considered the streets to be their home, an extension of their property, whereas today [1995] the streets are, for many people, an alien place. A block is not really a community in this neighborhood anymore. Only a house is a community, a tiny outpost dependent on television and air-conditioning, and accessible to other such outposts, even the nearest ones, almost exclusively by automobile.

Children are developing shallow online connections because they don’t invest time and effort in creating real-world friendships within walking distances of their houses, within their own communities. Observes the writer:

So, let’s circle back around the block to play-based childhoods. Letting children go off on their own is much easier when you know and trust your neighbors and have a relationship with local businesses, congregations, and community groups. My kids regularly play with their neighbors even though the ages do not match. My 11-year-old knows the homes of many of her classmates and walks 5-20 minutes away to reach them on her own. She sometimes goes with a classmate to pick up a pizza or goes alone to buy a few items at the grocery store—both places are several blocks away and a busy street away. No one questions such behavior in our neighborhood because the streets around us are an extension of our home, not an alien place to be avoided. This was once the norm everywhere.

The collective action we need will go beyond getting kids outside (off screens). We will only restore a play-based childhood on a large scale when we recreate a supportive community that calls parents, kids, and neighbors to rediscover the joys of embodied relationships and communal institutions.  

A much-needed call to clarity – and a lot of work needs to be done collectively to get our lives back on track. Read the book!