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Kids spending time outside still happens, of course, but it just seems like the hours have grown shorter.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Jason Chaney, Central Oregonian EditorGrowing up, summers were a magical time of year. Nine months of academic grinding gave way to a three-month, sun-soaked reprieve and us kids reveled in the time out of the classroom. For me, it meant endless hours testing my bike-jumping skills, my fort-building prowess, and how late into the twilight of the summer evenings I could stay outside.

More than 30 years later, I don't want to say that times have drastically changed. Kids still pack the local swimming pool. On hot days, the splash pad is bursting with activity and as I look out my office window at the Ochoco Creek bike and pedestrian path, kids still cruise past, seemingly without a care in the world.

But things aren't quite the same, are they? Kids spending time outside still happens, of course, but it just seems like the hours have grown shorter. It feels like fewer kids are roaming the neighborhood streets or the parks. I have two kids at the prime age for lengthy bike rides, town exploring and fort construction — yet they spend a lot of the time in the house, smartphones in hand, playing games and communicating with friends in cyberspace.

I wondered, am I doing something wrong? Maybe I should take the phones away. Should I be mandating a certain number of hours outdoors? Why are their bikes collecting dust? And perhaps there is something to that, but a story that my colleague wrote for this edition about a little, organically formed bike club has reshaped my opinion. It's our culture, our society that has changed, and not necessarily for the better.

I won't reveal the entire story and spoil it for people who want to read it, but the basic premise is a local resident took notice of a group of kids spending much of their playtime outdoors, particularly on bikes. They dubbed themselves "the bike club" and the group of eight youngsters has committed to playing outside. When they aren't on their bikes, they indulge in kickball, jumping on a trampoline or having lunch in the treehouse.

The story brought a smile to my face and reminded me of my youth and all the fun I had. Yet, the editor in me was screaming, "You mean to tell me that this is newsworthy now?!" But it is, isn't it?

Technology and spending a healthy amount of time outdoors have been at odds for decades. During my 80s and 90s childhood, TV was the primary culprit — kids spent hours in front of the tube. Video games also kept us in the house and as technology advanced and brought the Internet into the home, the reasons to stay indoors continued to mount. And now, smartphones, social media platforms and online games have created the ultimate threat to good old-fashioned outdoor play.

Sometimes, it seems impossible to push this cow back in the barn. Technology will continue to improve, which in and of itself is not a bad thing, but it comes with a cost unless we figure out a way to change the tide. We have already reached a point where a group of kids spending the majority of their free time outdoors getting exercise is a novelty — something that was noteworthy enough to a local resident that they called the newspaper to give it some special attention, something that unfortunately, is now newsworthy.

What the kids are doing is great and deserves praise. Us adults need to work on making it normal. Encourage your kids to unplug, to get outside, to soak up the sun and get that healthy playtime that they need.


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