This past holiday season my 10 year old stepson wanted a chemistry set in the worst way. It was an item near the top of his “wish list,” and as things turned out his Grandma and Grandpa eventually came through with a nice set that should have made any kid his age quite proud.
Yesterday he finally got around to playing with it in earnest and I watched as he sat somewhat befuddled and with waning interest in the particular gift idea. You see, in his young mind it didn’t turn out to be as much fun as he imagined it to be. He figured a chemistry set is something that you can quickly mix a few things together and see some cool results. He never expected that he would have to read some lengthy instruction book and learn about each chemical reaction.
After playing with the set for about 15 minutes looking through the contents and casually reading the instruction book…he declared to his mother and I that the chemistry set was no fun. He just never imagined that it would be so much work…and such little fun. Particularly in the early stages of playing with it.
Hmmm…as I quietly watched this little scenario play out I thought back to my youth when I got an electronics set. I made transistor radios, timers, buzzers, literally hundreds of different experiments with a kit that required me to learn about using capacitors, resistors, etc. Thirty years ago I accepted the fact that to use the toy it would require me to self-teach myself and to stay committed. My, oh my, how times have sure changed.
Nowhere has it been more obvious to me than watching my stepson require immediate gratification from the toy or it simply gets relegated to the back of the closet. Perhaps his mother and I are partially at fault as we always spoil him a bit too much during the gift-giving season. When I was growing up I generally got just a couple of prime toys…and I quickly learned to appreciate them. Nowadays, there are way too many options in life. If something is boring…well, a kid of the 21st Century simply moves on to another toy that has proven to provide more fun.
I’ve written about it before in this blog but I will say it again. Today’s kids largely find hunting and fishing boring. I know this is a terrible blanket statement to make, but I challenge you to prove me wrong. Given the choice to sit indoors and play some electronic game…I would bet money that most kids in the influential age bracket would much prefer playing Tony Hawk on the PlayStation than walking out in the woods learning about nature. You see, the one option provides immediate satisfaction simply by picking up a joystick and becoming mesmerized by the visuals. The other…well, it requires physical effort and a desire to be inquisitive about various curiosities of nature. After all, to really enjoy nature and the outdoors requires a concerted effort on the part of the enthusiast…or it simply will not happen repeatedly.
This past week outdoors writer Chris Niskanen wrote an interesting article in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. It discusses the how the Minnesota DNR is deeply concerned about the lack of youth hunters and fishermen in the younger age groups. Most of the decline in numbers seems to be attributed to a lack of time with so much going on in the lives of today’s youth…and I don’t dispute that fact one bit. I still maintain, however, the main culprit preventing even more youth from getting involved in our beloved sports is the instant gratification component.
Let’s face it…a child who has such a short attention span and interest to stick with something for only ten minutes would not be a pleasure to have out in the boat. And we all know how fishing can at times have some long lulls in the action. Same with hunting. How can a kid justify in his or her mind sitting for hours on end in a deer stand when they know a more comfortable chair and guaranteed fun awaits them back home in the form of a video game.
Folks, I don’t have the answers…other than I know we all have to do a better job at marketing the outdoors fun. When I was growing up coming home from the woods with frozen feet from leaky hip boots didn’t deter me…rather, it embolden my outdoor spirit to dry out and get back outdoors to what I enjoyed doing the most. Today I fear that many kids would use such a discomfort only as reasoning NOT to go outdoors again. I could be wrong, but as a youth I made my fun by being outdoors exploring and discovering. Catching a daytime glimpse of a big buck mink was my sense of accomplishment. Today, accomplishment is more likely measured by what level the kid has achieved in the video game being played or how many points got racked up.
All I know is kids “not having enough time” is a big cop-out excuse. Sure, life seems busier today than it was perhaps in years gone by…but is that the real reason? My hunch is kids today want to be able to take the chemistry set out of the package and immediately derive pleasure. To hell with reading owners manuals and learning about chemical reactions first…they just want to see things explode or do extraordinary things. I fear, to some extent, our generation only has ourselves to blame for allowing all of this to happen right before our eyes with the youth. I just hope it’s not too late to turn back the negative trends we are now all witnessing.
© 2007 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction Allowed Without Prior Permission.