According to a study in the journal Nature, there is a worldwide epidemic of nearsightedness affecting children and young people. In fact, one third of Earthlings may end up needing glasses or contacts. The usual suspect, electronic screens, is only an accomplice this time. The actual cause is children not spending enough time outdoors. The journal reported that natural light stimulates healthy growth in our eyes and helps them from becoming deformed.
I remember the eye doctor telling me that my eyeballs were the wrong shape after I flunked the fifth line of the eye chart. I was about 10 and had spent much of that first decade outdoors. However, I had inherited my eyes from my bookish mom, so maybe she was the culprit. Perhaps she felt badly about my weak eyes and wanted to strengthen them because she was constantly shooing me outside.
Not that there was much to do in the house. The black-and-white box with the five channels didn’t hold much attraction. Despite our crappy climate, my friends and I had a sport for every season. We’d play basketball in weather so cold, the ball would barely bounce. Baseball was a constant from March to August. Football was for the fall. Even as an adult, I had a personal rule that I wouldn’t watch sports on TV if I could play one.
Now our weather is more severe than ever and houses are filled with colorful screens in various sizes. So children around the world are choosing a virtual environment over the real thing. It’s hard to blame them. If I had grown up with so many gadgets, I might have been a pale, bespectacled kid, blinking in the sunlight like a mole.
Thankfully, my own kids spent their days outside. Forest Park’s communal spirit allowed us to raise free-range children. They explored the village on their bikes, splashed around at the pool and played pick-up games at the park. They even played sports in the street, like our old “sewer to sewer” touch football games. Needless to say, they all have excellent eyesight.
There are still kids like them in town, although they are increasingly scarce. I see them on the school playgrounds in the summer. They play organized sports at The Park and a few play baseball and soccer on their off days. They don’t play sports in the street, which is probably a good thing.
The kids I really admire, though, are the ones who live across the street. They are throwback kids who remind me of my own childhood. It takes more than a polar vortex to keep them inside. Blizzards don’t faze them either. They used the Super Bowl snow to build a very roomy house. When they tried to illuminate its gloomy interior, by installing a skylight, unfortunately, it collapsed.
I decided to cross the street to find out why they didn’t have their eyes glued to screens inside their comfy house. Samantha, 12, likes to play baseball and ride her bike. Curtis, 9, prefers playing sports and hanging outside with his friends. Ari, 6, also likes to toss the old horsehide around. Janiah, 5, prefers swinging on the swing set and drawing with chalk on the sidewalk.
Just for the record, none of them are nearsighted.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. He grew up playing on the streets and alleys of Oak Park.