When I was a kid, I used to play.
I would wake up on a Saturday morning, watch an hour or two of Bugs Bunny, and then my father would look at me and ask, “Are you going outside, or what? It’s a beautiful day.”
It could have been 20 degrees outside, and he would still maintain that it was a beautiful day.
So what would I do? Well, I got the hint, and I went outside to play.
Outside was a wonderful place to be. My friends and I would ride our bikes (undoubtedly too far), we would hang out in the park, get together an impromptu game of baseball, and generally have a great time wasting away our Saturdays.
The key factor, though, was that this incredible, beautiful waste of time occurred outside. We were in the fresh air, enjoying the sunshine and talking to our friends, face to face, in real time.
Now that I’m all grown up, I still enjoy getting together with friends. I like the anticipation of seeing people I haven’t seen for a while. I like catching up on the local news I’ve missed, and I love just wasting away a perfectly good Saturday with my grown-up friends.
I was talking to my 11-year-old about this the other day, and after my long explanation of just how much fun it is to just “hang” out with friends, he looked at me and asked, “Why don’t you just send them a text, or set up a Hang Out session on Google+?”
I was appalled.
I tried to explain that it just wasn’t the same, but he insisted that it was. In fact, he was just hanging out with his friends on Xbox Live, and he didn’t even have to leave the house.
I sat back and slowly realized that we, as a society, had a very serious problem. We’ve forgotten how to go outside and play.
Nowadays, my son has organized playtime. He competes in a few different sports which have several practices a week, usually around dinner time. Games are scheduled for the weekends (usually far away), and if he does have any free time, it’s usually taken up with homework.
Whatever time he does have left, he devotes to his fellow gamers in the world of Xbox. Everything is scheduled, and very little time is allocated to just hang out.
He argues he gets plenty of fresh air. He spends hours on practice fields, or running to and from school, so why should he be made to play outside during his precious free time?
He brought up some interesting points.
And so I went on about the downsides. I explained he never has the opportunity to discover something new, or to share experiences with his friends. He never has the potential to conquer fears, or to even figure out what he’s afraid of. If he doesn’t go outside and play, he’ll never see the sunshine.
And that’s when it dawned on me. Am I making the same mistakes that I’m talking to my son about?
When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is grab a cup of coffee and turn on the computer. I scan the news, check my Facebook and Twitter accounts and settle in to the check on the Seattle sports scene.
On my way to work, I check Twitter often. I conduct telephone meetings and update a blog I administer. When I get home, I hurry my son off to practice, where I engage in casual conversation with the other parents, and once I get home, it’s time to get in front of the TV for the Mariners game. I also spend very little time playing with my friends.
Oh, sure, my friends “like” what I’ve posted on Facebook, or they re-tweet something of mine, but we rarely actually see each other face to face.
I guess the lesson learned is that there’s a lot of value in organizing that barbecue with friends, or that group trip to the movies. There’s conversation, laughter and social engagement. We should never let that go. It’s the glue that binds our friendships together. It’s what true friendships are made of.
So, on that note, I told my son to go outside and play. Go enjoy the fresh air and the trees and the ground beneath your feet. Go conquer your fears, and find some new ones.
And while he’s at it, I’ll organize a barbecue with all of our friends, and maybe we’ll make some new ones, too. Maybe we can all go to a concert, or to a baseball game. Maybe I won’t even turn my computer on that day.
You know what? It’s about time I go outside and play.A Time to Talk columnist Doug Pfeffer can be reached by email at email@example.com.