In the old days, kids could play anywhere and keep themselves entertained. They didn’t even really need specific toys. They could amuse themselves for weeks with nothing but a ball, a box, and a stick. Those were much simpler times, and in some parts of the world, this kind of play still exists. In quiet countryside communities with small populations, children still go outside and play until dinner time.
Unfortunately, city dwellers don’t really have this luxury. There are many unrelated factors that collude to make it difficult for young ones to bond with their peers. The first reason is urban life itself. Many children live with their parents in huge apartment blocks that have hundreds of tenants.
Few people know their next door neighbours, and as a result, their kids don’t know each other either. These kids don’t get a chance to play because technically, they have no one to play with. Between their isolated lifestyles and our modern sense of privacy, they might not even know there are kids next door.
Children sometimes make friends at school, but not many kids attend schools near their homes. This means their school friends probably live in entirely different neighbourhoods, so there’s no way to get together outside class.
Ideally, the kids could ask their parents to organise a play date or sleepover. The gymnastics involved in getting this done can be taxing though. The parents would have to meet each other, develop a bond of trust, and feel safe having their kids in someone else’s house. In essence, the parents would have to become friends, and making friends as adults is even harder than doing it as kids.
Even if the parents were willing to get acquainted, there’s a bigger issue. Time. Parents and their children just don’t have time for outdoor leisure. Parents are often working multiple jobs to maintain their lifestyle. Kids are at school, or doing homework, or being shuttled between after-school activities. They have no time to for unscheduled play.
City living creates an added challenge of safety. We no longer live in an era where we trust the people around us. We worry that if our kids play outside unsupervised, they might be harmed by unsavoury people.
And it’s not just the people that are the problem. Cities are full of traffic, ongoing construction, litter, debris, and other symbols of the urban jungle. Children could get into all sorts of accidents and hurt themselves. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare.
One factor we may have overlooked is that children no longer seem to know how to play. They’re exposed to technology, media influences, and parents that need their emotional help. These kids are often in such a rush to grow up that they have forgotten how to be kids. They look, think, act, and dress like short grown-ups.
Getting kids to be kids again is an essential step in the development of mankind. Children that skip their childhood end up being immature adults, and when these ‘little big people’ end up in positions of authority, the whole community suffers.
We could begin by offering kids a safe space to play. As part of any city’s construction plan, there should be an outdoor playground where kids can spend time in fun and safety. If you live in an apartment block and have no space, maybe you could assign a section of the parking area as a kids playground.
Playgrounds don’t need to be particularly large. With some clever design and professional planning, you could turn a few square feet of land into a kids’ paradise. All it needs is sand or turf, some colourful kids’ equipment, and a few responsible babysitters to keep an eye on the kids and make sure they’re playing safe and having fun.