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Lisa Belkin

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Who Cares If My Child Can't Tie His Shoes?

Posted: 03/16/2012 11:12 am

Today's children don't know how to tie their shoelaces. Or make papier-mache. Or put up a tent. Or prepare a cup of tea.

What DO they know? How to work a DVD player. And get online. And use a smartphone.

So frets an online survey by the British energy company npower, which polled 1,000 respondents who have children between the ages of 5 and 13. More evidence that society is going to hell in a handbasket, the authors seem to conclude -- though they do not give statistics on how few of today's children ever use that expression, or even know what it means.

Me, I see these numbers and I see progress. Darwinism at work. The march of time.

Back in high school I used to wonder whether adding something new to your brain made something old fall out. After all, there's only so much room in that three-pound organ (the idea that we only use 10 percent of it is a myth, by the way -- I read that once and actually remembered it...) So when you cram for your European-history exam this year, are you overwriting your American history class from last year? Or when a new parent becomes a walking encyclopedia of baby knowledge, what gets replaced? European history, probably. Or how to tell cute stories on a first date.

It works the same way for the whole of society. We add new things and old ones fall out. My father was a whiz with an abacus. His father wrote with an inkwell pen. My sons use their laptops to take notes, write letters, and do math. Is our job as parents to raise our children to master the world we grew up in or the one that is on its way?

So, 45 percent of British kids can't tie their shoes? There are apps for that. (No, really. Have you seen Terry Moore's three-minute TED talk titled "How to Tie Your Shoes"? Or Ian's Shoelace site, which provides 18 different kinds of knots? ) And 81 percent can't read a map? There likely won't be paper maps by the time their own children are born.

Many of the numbers in this survey, I should point out, reflect the tendency too many of us have to become overwrought at what has been lost. After all, it's not like everyone is walking around with shoelaces flapping. (Apparently 55 percent are tying just fine.) The authors wring their hands, for instance, over the fact that 59 percent of today's kids don't know how to climb a tree. But doesn't that mean 41 percent do know how? Similarly, while the 37 percent who can search for clips on YouTube is certainly higher than it was when I was their age (think about it ... there you go ... ), it means that 63 percent haven't mastered that great Satan yet, so civilization is still safe.

Yes, there is Velcro on children's shoes, and, no, children can't identify different species of birds and butterflies, and, yes, it is more than a little disturbing that 37 percent of kids in the survey said they don't care about the environment. But that means 63 percent do! And, when you ask those who don't, they have a most interesting reason -- more than half think they will be living in outer space by then.

Maybe they will be.

I imagine moon boots won't have shoelaces.

According to the survey, here are the top 10 things kids ages 5-13 can and cannot do:

67% CAN: Work a DVD Player
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