Monday, June 30, 2008

Screen Time vs. Make Believe

When I was a kid I spent a lot of time "pretend playing." Of course, we didn't call it that. We called it "cowboys and indians," or "cops and robbers," or "an alien just ate my little brother." The point being: we used our imaginations quite a bit during play.

If you've read this blog before, you know that one of the subjects I like to touch upon (nay, hammer upon!) is how "electronic media" or "screen time" is crowding out "book time." But it also crowds out "pretend time." Do kids spend the same amount of time pretending today as they did in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s or even 90s? There must be something different about pretending to be a dusty town's sheriff trying to run off a ornery gunslinger, than playing a video game in which you blast your way through the OK Corral.

I'm a writer. Without my robust imagination, I might have been forced to become a lawyer. Or, a doctor. Or a politician. (I think I just got really snarky right there—and for that I am truly sorry.) But I'm not one of those people in your neighborhood; I make up stories. Will this generation of screen monkeys have the same kind of imaginations as previous generations? Could TVs, cell phones, computers, iPods, video games, hand-held gaming devices and DVD players installed into car headrests be robbing our short ones of a future bolstered by an active, rigorous and productive imagination? It's something worth thinking about—if you still have the imagination to do such mental hijinks.

These questions about pretend play started firing off in my head like a lost cap gun after reading an interesting interview with Susan Linn about her new book "The Case For Make Believe" in the USA Today. You can read it here.

If kids no longer cram bath towels into the necks of their pajamas—for the perfect poor man's cape—and run careening through the house as a superhero with certain incredible but mysterious powers, what will become of us in the long run? Just use your imagination.

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