I saw this t-shirt at the store and it gave me pause. It has a picture of a video game controller on it, and next to it are the words: “Outside can wait.”
At first glance, one might not think anything of it and just keep walking. Which is what I did initially. But then I went back to it in my mind and started thinking about why it didn’t sit well with me, what was wrong with its message.
I found many things wrong.
Firstly, the modern sedentary lifestyle is hurting kids. That t-shirt is in the kids’ section, meant for young boys. Kids generally, and especially boys, are supposed to run around and play outside.
They’re supposed to jump, climb, play in the mud and the sand, get dirty. This type of free outdoor play comes naturally to kids. It’s also incredibly important for the sound development of young children, not only physically, but also mentally, cognitively, emotionally, psychologically.
Kids who do not spend sufficient time outside doing things that come naturally to kids, like jumping, hopping on one foot, twirling, running, hanging upside down, etc., have trouble with the balance due to underdeveloped proprioception and vestibular system.
Feeling the sun on your face, grass under your feet, and being in green spaces has a direct impact on our mood, with an increase in natural mood-boosters like serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Being out in nature has innumerable benefits for both children and adults.
In the past, kids used to spend much, if not most, of their waking hours outside. In the time of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and even before, it was an ancient Arab custom for the families of Quraysh to send their young babies to be raised for the first five or six years with Bedouins in the open desert, so they can grow up in the clean air of the desert away from the polluted air of the city and so the harsh desert life can toughen them up. They did not want to raise soft, spoiled, sedentary kids. (The other reason was linguistic: so that their children could learn the most correct, pure form of Arabic from the desert-dwelling Bedouins, who did not intermingle with the traders and merchants of the city, which diluted language.)
Juxtapose such an ancient custom with the modern custom of keeping kids indoors, sedated with chemicals from Big Pharma, weighed down with junk food with little nutritional value, seated on a chair at school or a couch after school at home, and staring at some sort of screen. Smartphone, TV, tablet, video game. Some kind of screen that emits light and sound, parading flashing images before the child’s eyes.
Why should the child move when the stuff on the screen is?
So we end up with what we see today: a generation of maladies. Childhood obesity, an array of physical diseases like heart disease and diabetes, emotional dysregulation, unhealthy obsessions and addictions, laziness, a lack of discipline and resolve. Soft males. Weak people. People who are afraid of hard work or physical exertion, who want to sit down on something soft and play with something or watch something on a screen. Passive instead of active. This is not good for the individual or for society.
Secondly, the message on the t-shirt is an apt summary of what is wrong with the modernist mentality: a smug over-reliance on technology and casual contempt for the natural. Being overly attached to and dependent on the man-made and the artificial, while dismissing the divinely created and real.
Instead of admiring and respecting nature and reflecting on the vast creation of Allah to feel a sense of awe and humility before the Creator, the modern human is instead immersed in his own concoctions of “science” and “technology.” Instead of gazing up at the heavens as Allah commands us to in Surat Al-Mulk to observe the magnificence of the creation and its Creator, the modern human is staring down at a screen inches from his face. This seems to be a larger theme insidiously threaded throughout the tapestry of the modern consumerist, hedonistic, materialistic lifestyle.
And it can be summed up in a message on a t-shirt telling kids to stay indoors and play video games because “outside can wait.”