Cat Stevens had it wrong, our continual development of roads and high rises haven't stopped the children from playing, it's an over-protective society. (Which ties in neatly with the continual hyper-ventilating about our obese kids.)
Almost every week my wife tells me of a new rule on the playground at our kids' school for one activity or another they are not allowed to do. If there's snow, you're not allowed to kick, pick-up or roll it. If there's ice patches, you're not allowed to slide on them. Don't bring any toys to share. Just stand there at recess for 15 minutes and look at each other. Sheesh.
Actually, our school isn't as bad as the separate catholic school around the corner.
At the catholic school, mini-sticks are banned, hell, balls are banned. Essentially anything fun is banned. After school, the situation is even worse. Unless parents organize a "play-date", kids don't get together and play. If they do, they're inside the house. My eldest son is 6 years old. I remember that by that age I was free to roam the block I lived on. I'd go to a friend's house, ask them to come outside and we'd play. That just doesn't happen anymore. I'd love for my son to go ask a friend to come out, but their parents would more than likely haul him into their house and report us to children's aid.
Play is supposed to be unstructured and slightly hazardous. Over the Christmas break, I re-read my entire Calvin and Hobbes collection. What struck me was how nostalgic it made me for my own childhood, and what my own kids are missing out on. My childhood involved exploring woodlots, creeks, ponds and old abandoned houses. There were neighborhood wide games of hide-and-seek, tag, war, kick-the-can, whatever that involved everyone from age 5 to 13. We tobogganed down tree and fence lined hills, climbed trees and raced our bikes everywhere. Jsut like Bil Watterson's depiction of Calvin, we were free to explore the world and our own imaginations without parental unit involvement. (On a depressing note, Calvin would be 32 now.)
Growing up I hated school. My only solace is that I grew up in the 70s and 80s, when we were still allowed to have fun. With the new intense curriculum and the fun removing attitude of our administrators, I would hate school even more now. I feel sorry for my kids. Which is a reversal of the usual "In My Day!" rant that parents get to indulge in. My rants are going to be "In My Day, Kids were allowed to be kids and were allowed to have fun!"
A common parental lament these days is how dependent kids are on their patents to entertain them. It used to be you wanted a family vacation once a year to reconnect with your kids, now you want a parental vacation to get away from them. Parenting now-a-days is almost a 24/7 endeavor. All activities have to be structured, organized and chauffeured, and you have kids with pent up activity from being inside all day bouncing around the family mini-van.
'Tis a weird society we are creating here in the West. We're so focused on eliminating all risks that we're removing the fun as well. It's so much work to create fun that it is understandable that we plop our kids in front of TVs, computers, and video game systems to have them entertained by something else.
And then we wonder why kids are out of shape. When fun becomes work, it isn't fun anymore. For anyone. And what is the solution for our couch potato children? More structured activity.