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Kids Playing: Slingshots vs. Video Games

Is The Dangerous Book for Boys really that dangerous, or is it just what we need?
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Does your mental picture of kids playing conjure paper airplanes, tree houses, and slingshots -- not video games, DVDs, and other high-tech gadgets?

You're not alone. The nostalgia in part inspired and in part propelled The Dangerous Book for Boys. Written by British brothers Conn and Hal Iggulden, the book is a manifesto of everything and anything that boys liked and apparently still like to do --  from building go-carts, tree houses, and fortresses to playing stickball and poker. Its front-of-book essential gear list includes a switchblade, a box of matches, and fish hooks.

But the new compendium is not without its critics. Some say The Dangerous Book for Boys is, well, dangerous -- and promotes activities with questionable health and safety implications (see essential gear list above). Others chastise its gender-specific premise that boys should be boys and girls should be girls.

This is obviously not how the brothers Iggulden see it.

Kids Playing Video Games vs. Kids Playing Stickball

"The boys of today get a raw deal," contends Conn Iggulden. "Yes, they have incredible computers, but the trade-off is that they are rarely allowed to test themselves outside. They are overprotected by litigation-fearing institutions. And of course, they are subjected to noncompetitive sports days, coursework, oral schoolwork," he gripes.

Slingshots aren't dangerous, video games are, he says.

"Video games are dangerous in the sense that they make boys into passive consumers instead of allowing them to develop their imagination," he says. "Give me a day playing war rather than a PC war game any day!"

"My father’s generation thought nothing of ... going off for the day unsupervised to swim and climb, build camps, ride bikes, and everything else that kept them fit and strong," he says. "Spending six hours a day with a PlayStation just gives you a sore thumb."

It's not that computers are intrinsically evil, he says. "The problem is when it is used as a babysitter/pacifier at the expense of raising boys to be the sort of men we want in society."

Columbus, Ohio-based parenting expert Brenda Nixon, MA, author of Parenting Power in the Early Years, agrees. "Slingshots and other activities mentioned in this book are probably less dangerous than video games as far as development, because they foster social skills, language development, and motor function, which solitary video games do not," she tells WebMD.

Keeping an Eye on the Kids

Another plus of this old-fashioned type of play is that parents will likely keep a watchful eye on kids playing if they are setting up camp in a tree house or playing war games, she says.

"It's too easy to let a child play with a computer game or a CD-ROM as your electronic babysitter, while building a fort or learning how to tie knots, build tents, and play with a slingshot usually involves supervision and parental involvement," she says.

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