A nationwide survey of seven-to-ten-year-olds has found that 64 per cent of them cannot hop. Whatever happened to playing hopscotch?

Kids don't know how to be kids any more. This is the kind of declaration you often hear from people of my generation. We moan about how we lack the muscle to prise children from their chairs, sofas and flickering screens and thrust them into the fresh air outside. We speak, with a faraway look in our eyes, of sticks and tops and Seven Stones. Now, to add grist to our mill, a nationwide survey of seven-to-ten-year-olds has found that 64 per cent of them cannot hop.

Kids who can't hop? You've got to be kidding. You'll be telling me next that they can't skip or jump. The survey has revealed that most kids can't balance, or catch or throw an object (presumably a ball). In short they have poor motor skills. We moaners stand vindicated. Furthermore we have studies about rising childhood obesity in India to back us up. Portly sedentary kids will tomorrow turn into portly sedentary adults. Maybe motor skills aren't as important in the long run as motoring skills, what say?

Those simple playground games of ours needed no pitch or court; any reasonably level patch of earth would suffice. During the school Games Period we weren't engaged in individual or team sports so much as just horsing around, accumulating copious amounts of sweat and dust, our knees festooned with the scars of yesterday's bruises. Besides hopscotch there was hop-and-catch, a game that only girls seemed to play, like skipping (correct me if I'm wrong). If I close my eyes I can see the champion hopper fiercely pursuing a bunch of screaming girls as rapidly as if she were moving on two legs instead of one. The weak hoppers would periodically call out “Times” and pause to rest on both feet before being ordered to carry on the chase.

If kids can't throw and catch, our future cricket team is in jeopardy, which doesn't bother me so much as the mortal danger posed by kids with no balance or limb co-ordination to three very vital games: the sack race, the three-legged race and the lime-and-spoon race. What would be the fate of humanity, ladies and gentlemen, if they were to go extinct? Balancing acts were intrinsic to one's childhood. You needed balance even when you did something as simple as twirling around to draw ‘vaccination mark' circles on the mud with your big toe. You could easily spend hours balancing your body on an object or an object on your body — the upright stick on your palm and, once that had been mastered, on the tip of your forefinger; the narrow plank between two tall supports; the entire length of the top of the compound wall. There were no kiddy cycles with training wheels; you either learnt to balance on an adult bicycle, or didn't.

Competition wasn't as important as having fun. Playing pranks. My best friend and I spent the greater part of our early teens devising ways to break the rules and testing the limits of our principal's tolerance. Once we filled our pockets with tiny raw mangoes plucked from trees that were out of bounds and sneaked into the principal's office to place them on her table. As an afterthought we arranged the mangoes so that they spelt out the initial letter of her name. In a state of high excitement we peeped through a window to watch her reaction when she entered the office. She looked at the table, frowned, pushed the fruit aside and continued working. It was such a letdown! Twenty-five years later when we met her and caught up with old times we confessed what we'd done, only to hear her tell us calmly that she'd known all along. More disappointment.

Youngsters reading this are bound to snigger at the tameness of the prank, while adults might sigh and wish that pranks remained as ‘innocent' as they used to be. I'm going to go out on a limb here and disagree with the adults. As times change, so does the nature of tomfoolery. What I'm worried about is that adults today treat kids' pranks as crimes. A child who steals something on a dare is not going to turn into a bank robber tomorrow. Whether the theft is of mangoes or mobile phones it's still a prank, done just for kicks. A prank is harmless by definition, carried out without malice or twisted motive. Pulling a chair out from under someone was a common prank in our time, but would you now look upon it as an act meant to cause grievous bodily harm? How about a SMS of a nude? I would call it a prank if it were a picture of a celebrity, and a prank gone wrong if it were a teacher or a classmate, but a prank none the less, to be treated as part of growing up. A teenager I know who wrote some rather graphic love poems to a girl in his class was expelled. I think the punishment was undeserved. (Teachers, stop glaring at me.)

Maybe there's no point in my debating the whys and wherefores of children's pranks when they hardly have time for mischief these days.

I should change the first sentence of my column. Kids have no time to be kids any more.

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Keywords: hopkidsmotor skills