Paintball6Our son loves paintball. I don’t. But I believe in play, because play is good for the imagination. (Facts are easy. Imagination is rare.)

He regularly invites me to join him on the Field Of Battle. He’s a very talented debater, making the case for being outside, enjoying the excitement, conversing with people from all walks of life (“from war veterans to hillbillies”). And he’s probably darn good at it. Plus, paintball is popular. I no longer wonder where all the bowlers went; they are outside, shooting each other with paint.

I just can’t leap the main philosophical obstacle…

I don’t want to point a gun, even a toy gun, at any living thing. I’m not into hunting and I think shooting at humans should be left to real soldiers in real wars and real police in real confrontations. I know that there are parents who think I’m out to lunch, allowing our son to play paintball. (Inconsistent parenting? We permit paintball, but forbid tackle football, because football is too dangerous. Here’s a disturbing report from last week’s New York Times.)

I’ve seen our son do wonderful things with paintball. As he maneuvers with experienced veterans in a battalion, he learns strategy and teamwork. He’s outside in the fresh air. He’s focused, because even a moment of daydreaming can get you painted. He can look to additional role models: real men in camo, not just a geeky guy in a bow tie.

There’s a book I like about kids being outside. In Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, author Richard Louv offers a couple of thoughts that are quite disturbing:

He describes how increasingly rare it is for children to spend time outdoors, especially in an unmanicured environment. Like him, I spent magical moments in the woods and on day-long bike rides. But today, Louv reports, kids are told that “technology is the future, nature is the past, and the boogie man lives in the woods.” As a result, our kids spend too much time indoors, developing what he (somewhat tongue-in-cheekly) calls “nature-deficit disorder.”

He quotes one young child who says, “I like to be inside. That’s where the outlets are.” When you think of the meanings of “outlet,” beyond electrical ones, you see how troubling this really is. One’s outlets for play, for expression, for social and physical development — surely they can’t all be indoors.

I don’t know if nature-deficit disorder is real, but I am troubled by reports of the decreasing incidence of bike riding among children. If those reports are true, what a loss.