Baby Einstein? Let's just allow kids to be kids

I can't watch TV these days without seeing commercials for Leapster, Baby Einstein, and the plethora of educational toys newly introduced by Fisher Price. As I watch toddlers run around and "learn while they play," I can't help but think of my childhood toys: that little vacuum cleaner with the balls in it that popped when you pushed it, a box of Lincoln Logs large enough to dominate the living room with a Western town, stuffed animals and, dare I say, books?

These are the things that our generation, the 18- to 24-year-olds, grew up playing with, and look at us now. I don't think anyone can say that we are somehow worse off for not having had Baby Einstein when we were young. The people I graduated high school with, and the people I have met here at Geneseo, are generally the same: responsible, involved, intelligent and perhaps with a little more maturity than our ages call for. Then I come across the 8- to 12-year-olds of our population, walking around with their cell phones, dressed like Bratz dolls, and full of attitude and disrespect, and I wonder how much good these learning toys can really be doing in the long run.

It's a growing trend that parents seem more concerned about the intelligence of their infants and toddlers these days, much more so than our parents were. Parents are throwing their kids into childhood and adulthood much too soon, for fear that they will somehow be inferior to their Leapster-toting classmates when they reach school age. It is not surprising that kids are starting other things at younger ages as well, such as drugs, sex, drinking and smoking. The things that middle school kids are doing these days would have horrified me when I was 12. But it is all part of this new culture that says you should always be pushing your children to learn faster, and thus grow up faster. They're missing out on their childhoods.

Also, the fact that toys are educational doesn't change the fact that kids are sitting inside, playing video games and watching TV, even if there are shows on Nick Jr. that teach them words, numbers and Spanish. They are still sitting on the couch. The number of childhood obesity cases is skyrocketing, and keeping children planted inside, engorging their brains along with their bodies, is just not responsible. There is more to parental involvement than fast-tracking your kid to valedictorian status.

Kudos to our parents who, as a generation, seemed to understand that there was a compromise between a concerned, watchful eye and letting us be kids. I think we turned out just fine, despite our lack of learning toys at the age of 2. It saddens me to see the generation following us, lacking drive and the sense of responsibility and respect that we had even at their ages, walking around like miniatures of the worst kinds of adults. I wish they knew the joys of Eureka's Castle, Lincoln Logs, Doug, The Boxcar Children, and every other thing 10-year-olds look at me quizzically about when I mention them. Adulthood isn't always as fun as they seem to think it is, and they aren't as ready for it as they choose to believe. Some days, I would much rather be them.