Kids playing without screens, or, Why would you bring video games to a park?

When we were in California in October, we met up at a park in the city of Woodland with my wife’s sister and family. It was a nice, large park with several playgrounds, decent expanses of grass to play in, pockets of trees here and there, and several areas for picnicking or parties. When we arrived, a parking lot was blocked with a make-shift sign stating that the spots were all reserved. We parked elsewhere. While sitting in the grass, Afton on a blanket and Patrick in the sandy playground, another car pulled into the reserved area. A woman walked over from a covered picnic area and told the woman she could not park there because they have it reserved for guests to a birthday party. I heard the woman in the car tell the other woman how rude she was but that she would park elsewhere. I had noted the make-shift sign was NOT a city or parks sign, headed over to the woman in the car and asked her what the woman had told her. “She said they need the parking space for their party guests, and I asked if she had permission from the city to reserve the parking. She said no.” I encouraged the woman to not move her car, as she has no obligation to. From a distance I could see the other woman displeased at my interjection. She pushed no further.

A little while later, as Patrick played with his cousin and Afton slept softly under some trees, I saw a rather large van – or bus, what was it exactly? – pull into the parking lot and slide into the area that was self-reserved. A group of young boys, probably in the 10 to 12 year old range, ran toward the vehicle, excited for what was to come. Amidst a beautiful clear, blue sky, a warm October afternoon, Red-tailed Hawk flying overhead and several dragonflies whirring just atop the grass, I saw this:

California-Oregon road trip 2012

What was I witnessing here? A group of kids gleefully jumping into a darkened truck to simultaneously play video games against each other. When the weather outside was so beautiful – it could not have been a better day! – they were encouraged to escape the fresh air and enter a stale cabin of flashing screens. I was already annoyed with that woman for thinking she could do want she wanted at the park; then she brought this in. The other father with us was rather shocked, and exclaimed to me, “Why even bother bringing it to the park?” To me, it seemed rather an insult for a company to pull such a vehicle up at an outdoor play space, but I guess this is their business: gametruckparty.com. The website actually says, “Moms love GameTruck because… It is easy!” Way to put a little effort into your kid’s birthday party! The sad thing, really, is that many of those kids will go home thinking that was the best birthday party they have ever been to, and will in turn tell their parents that’s what they want, and the company has sucked them in. When I had my son’s birthday party at a nature park here in Portland two years ago, I had parents telling me that they never knew such places did parties and that they loved it!

I was saddened to see such a display of disregard for what parks are all about – and what being outside is all about – during our visit to California. Our visits to a beach in San Diego, several redwood parks inland and on the coast, and a few state parks along the Oregon coast all made up for having to witness that. Here’s another picture of the truck – you can just see my group hanging out in the background, to the right of the playground, enjoying the air, grass, and trees, watching kids play without screens:

California-Oregon road trip 2012

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11 Responses to Kids playing without screens, or, Why would you bring video games to a park?

  1. Completely agree. This is just awful!

  2. Kim Silva says:

    That makes my stomach hurt. Blech!

  3. Christie says:

    I try not to judge too harshly. I mean, what if that was what the kid really wanted and they met at the park because the parents were trying to get the kids outside (even if only until the big bus showed up)? Still, it does seem an odd choice. For Hen’s 1000th day party, we met at a local park. Most kids were still around two and three years old so we didn’t have any structured activities but they all had a great time just running around, playing on the swings, and some even had bikes! There is much fun to be had outside, and to me there is nothing easier than grabbing finger foods and hitting the park. It’s probably a heck of a lot cheaper, too.

    • darwinsbulldog says:

      Christie, maybe the kid really did want the GameTruck. But, to me, here’s the problem, that kid then has been conditioned – by his parents, by his peers, by media, by society – to think that it is the greatest thing in the world. It is a deep problem that cannot easliy be reversed. I am not a big sports fan, but how awesome that day would have been to see those kids playing soccer or baseball!

  4. Brutus says:

    Wow!(hopefully they we’re playing W.O.W) Genius business move, but terrible for the kids. There is no REAL interaction going on between them.

  5. UNBELIEVABLE…..I cannot express how SAD this is….it’s actually made me determined to get my nature bus up and running….

    • darwinsbulldog says:

      Marghanita, at the nature center I work at in Beaverton (just outside of Portland, OR), we have a nature mobile. It goes to local parks throughout the summer time and staff teach kids who visit about local natural history, it travels to schools and does programs for classes, etc. Here’s a picture of it:
      Tualatin Hills Nature Park, Beaverton, OR

  6. Erin Bark says:

    This is so sad and what is wrong with people today. I work with children with ASD and this is a big problem. Lets not shut our kids down so young. Why even start with the video games. It is so sad. My sister just let her son buy a PTSD or whatever those little handheld games are called with money I sent him for his birthday because he wanted one. What is the world coming to? He is all of six years old. She is a really good Mom too. But the little boy across the street had one and now instead of playing together, they can play on individual screens with no one at all….Great way to learn social skills. Parents get some brains and say No to these evil companies that are taking your child’s social skills away from them. Give them some dirt and water and a shovel. Please let your children interact with the earth. There will be far less depression and isolation this way. I know they get dirty but children are washable! And baths are the best busy calming time I know. –

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