Children Spending Summer in the Hottest Place on Earth
Laila Alkhayat, Kuwait University
I recently moved back to my home country of Kuwait. When I observe my children’s daily life during the summer in Kuwait today and compare it with both my own childhood experiences (from 30 years ago) and our experiences during the four summers we spent in the United States (where I studied to earn my doctorate), I find myself feeling sorry for my children. In the United States, they played outside at a playground with their neighborhood friends until dark. When I was a child, I also played outside until dark all the time. I have many memories of adventuring with my sisters and neighborhood friends in the “paraha”—the large, empty field between homes.
What happened to childhood in Kuwait? What changed in Kuwait during the 30 years between my childhood and my children’s? In the old days, children played outside. Today, however, they are playing inside and their play is often focused around technology.
The weather in Kuwait is extremely hot (60°C, or 140°F, in the sun); in fact, it is the hottest place on earth. Around the world, summer weather has become hotter in recent years. In Kuwait, summer lasts for most of the year. Therefore, many people building new homes in Kuwait forgo yards and gardens and instead invest in air-conditioned areas inside their homes. Thus, children are staying inside to play.
In addition, Kuwaiti citizens’ sense of safety and their trust in others have decreased because of stories about children in the street being sexually abused and kidnapped. Parents who let their children play outside alone are considered by many in Kuwaiti society to be careless. Another reason children are staying inside is their preference for playing with their iPads, iPods, iPhones, and PlayStations or watching YouTube and television.
In the past, children learned important socio-emotional skills during the traditional play they enjoyed, both outside and inside. As an early childhood professional and parent, I believe that “play is the child’s work.” But what kind of play do we mean? Does technology-based play provide the same opportunities for children to learn the skills they need? Most children in Kuwait have technology and consider using it to be play time. What effect does not playing outside have on a child’s imagination?
Educators and parents in Kuwait know the importance of the summer break, and they often enroll their children in weekly or monthly summer camps. Such camps cost a lot, however. As the average family in Kuwait has seven children, the costs can be prohibitive. Furthermore, most parents in Kuwait focus on improving their children’s academics, giving those needs precedence over emotional, social, and physical developmental needs.
Should we strive to increase outside play in Kuwait in the summer? How can we encourage children to move physically? How can the new generation of parents decrease its overprotectiveness? How can neighborhoods be made safe so that children can play outside? Are there any ways to cope with the rising temperatures so that children in Kuwait can have more opportunities to play outside? How can Kuwaiti parents focus on the whole child? Do we understand the effects that increased screen time have on children’s brains and their social-emotional intelligence? Can these effects be measured?
These are some of the many questions that we should consider as we think about what is best for our children. Different cultures, different weather patterns, and different eras all create different children. This is diversity, and we embrace it.
Kuwaiti children consider it normal to play inside and to use technology most of their free time. While parents in each generation may wish for their children to grow up to be like them (today’s children will probably expect their own children to watch YouTube and play with other technology), we should all remember that we are preparing our children for the present and future, not the past.
MacBride, E. (2016). The hottest spot on Earth has a melting economy. CNBC. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2016/10/18/kuwait-is-the-hottest-spot-on-earth.html