Catholic Husband

Love / Lead / Serve

Play-Based Childhood

My first phone was the Motorola Razor. I vaguely remember getting it as I was entering my sophomore year of high school, but it could’ve been my freshman year. With its T9 keyboard, and limited minutes and messages each month, I don’t believe I used to all that much. I called my parents and friends, but I was nowhere near tethered to it. The original iPhone was released the summer of my freshman year of college. I was an adult, with a mostly formed brain, and received that phone as a gift shortly after launch.

The iPhone marked a fundamental reorganization of the childhood experience. My Razr had little function outside texting, which was arduous, and phone calls. The iPhone, and really the App Store that rolled out the following year, changed everything and no one thought twice.

There’s no argument that kids and teens face a harsh world today. There’s plenty of reason to be anxious and unsettled, but it’s always been that way. Nostalgia clouds the mind as we try to go backwards in time, but the reality is that every generation of young people has faced its share of existential challenges.

As the research continues to pour in, we’re learning more about the troubling drop in happiness among youth and its decline into despair. The last 18 years, an entire generation of children, have been involuntarily enrolled in a social experiment. The results of that experiment will be a burden they carry forward for the rest of their lives.

Childhood, adolescence, and puberty are critical in the development of rational, productive adults. These are the times when we safely learn the rules of living in community, we curiously explore what it means to be a person, and we come to understand our place in the world. For the last 18 years, our children have instead spent less time playing and learning, and more time sedately staring at a rectangle.

Now, as teens and young adults, they continue to stare at the rectangles. Predators and charlatans no longer have to go to the mall to hawk their ideas and wares; they’re right in our children’s laps. Through a steady diet of anger and fear, then conscript these kids into their virtual army, child soldiers fighting for the agenda of a person they’ve never met, ruining their lives and worldview while enriching their new generals.

Parenting is a whole-of-self endeavor and entirely exhausting. Between work, taking care of the house, and raising children, it’s no wonder many houses are a mess, we eat out more than we should, and parents’ physical health is largely neglected. But, like the best things in life, doing the hard thing counterintuitively brings satisfaction.

Giving our children their devices as on-demand babysitters is the easiest thing to do. Fighting for them, protecting their innocence, and giving them the gift of a play-based childhood, although objectively harder, is objectively the right thing to do. It’s the childhood they deserve, and the childhood that will prepare them to be happy and satisfied adults.