The idea of letting our kids spend more time playing outdoors away from electronic entertainment has always been a worthy but often unreachable goal. However, the reality of being a parent with never-ending tasks as well as the fear of various forms of injury our kids might encounter when playing outside hasn’t helped in achieving this goal.
We have often bragged about how we spent our childhood climbing trees, eating fruit straight from the tree, running in the fields, playing homegrown games like scotty, exploring the closest water source, catching tadpoles or fish. Sweat and smelly heads were our indicators of a fun day. We recall the time when television only had 3 or 5 channels, and cartoons only showed on Saturdays at 3pm. We were forced to be creative in the way we looked for entertainment. Carton boxes became houses or forts, plants became pretend food, catching dragonflies and other bugs gave us an endless supply of excitement. We were never bored.
Now everything seems so fast. Fast food, fast services, even the procurement of information is now very rapid. Entertainment is as easy as switching on a button. The challenge confronting us is when our children expect the same speed to get them excited and entertained. High technology and electronic entertainment have offered us a means to address this speed void. We try to justify not being able to bring them outside by saying: “at least Minecraft is keeping their brains working,” or “at least they’re happy and not bored”.
Everything is getting smarter as well – there are so called smart phones, smart TVs, smart cars, smart vacuums, smart refrigerators and even smart food. Yet all these fast and smart gadgets doing things for us and our kids are resulting in modern woes such as behavioral problems, attention deficit disorders, child anxiety, gaming addiction, poor mental development and kids not being able to cope with their studies.
As a parent of a 7 year-old boy and a teenage girl having coping problems, I felt guilty of not being able to give them the alternative to electronic entertainment. Beyond TV is providing a way to go back and listen to the best teacher there is – Nature.
I am the mother of 3 fun-loving, rambunctious, mischievous boys ages 14, 12 and 10. It is sometimes a challenge finding activities that allow them to express themselves without damage to others’ feelings or property, especially when they were young. Early on I found that bringing them to the beach or on hikes allowed them to express all their pent-up energy and need to explore. However, as they grew older, I also had to focus on my career as a pediatrician, and their dad got more and more busy with his work as an adult cardiologist. When my eldest was 9, Apple introduced the ipad. We had no cable stations at home because we wanted to regulate the kids’ TV use, but the ipad seemed to be ubiquitous. Pretty soon my husband and I both succumbed, bringing ipads home. And the kids – being the sponges that they are – learned to surf the internet, watch youtube, and listen to music on this device. More ominously, they also learned to play highly addictive games. Then came all the studies warning about too much exposure to electronic devices (now not just TV) and their deleterious effects on kids’ still developing brains. Before the studies came out though, we had already seen the effects on our kids. They became prone to tantrums when we tried to take the devices away. They preferred watching youtube to reading books. They slept later at night due to the stimulant effects of looking at a bright screen. This worried us, and we looked around for activities to wean them away from electronics especially during weekends. We filled the void with structured activities such as football and swimming, which was okay, but seemed too limited. Then the concept of Beyond TV came to our attention, and from the first mention of it – we were hooked. Here was a group of highly dedicated individuals, some parents, some not, some with prior outdoors experience, some without, some professionals, some fresh out of college, united by the goal of showing kids that there was an alternative to the fun they were having in their artificial worlds. That alternative was all around them, if they only had the eyes to look, and the mind to inquire. Most impressive were the credentials of the outdoor professionals in the group, who were actually already doing structured activities in the outdoors with kids from around Asia. And so we enrolled our kids. The biggest test, of course, was whether they would love the program. It was their time we were committing, after all. They did love it. The rest is history in the making.