An uncomfortable thought occured to me last night...was my generation the last to see a true 'childhood'?
I was a kid we couldn't wait until after school to get outside and play
with our friends. We'd roam freely to each other's yards to play
(actually going into the house required parental permission
and/or notification), roller skate, ride bikes, climb trees, play in
playhouses. If we wanted to go down to the elementary school (back when
the schools would never THINK of locking up their playgrounds), a
friends' house or park to play, we'd just stick our heads in the door in
passing and yell out to our parents where we were going. In Summer, we could
basically leave the house in the morning and not return until nightfall
and our parents wouldn't worry. We could even make an impromptu trip to
the drugstore for ice cream with our friends' parent via car without
concern. On holidays such as the Fourth of July, we'd have neigborhood
block parties where we'd set up sawhorses to block off the street and
everyone would bring out pot luck dishes to share and the kids would
play. We could wander through orange groves and investigate now housing
developments (collecting bits of discarded kitchen tile scraps,
brightly colored bits of telephone wire and metal 'slugs' from
electrical boxes). We could roam the outdoor halls of the school,
peering through the windows of empty classrooms and playing baseball--or
even tetherball or foursquare if we found a stray ball laying on the
playground. Beyond the basic warning of 'don't talk to strangers' and
'don't get into cars with strangers', there was never a concern.
Things are different today.
predators, razor blades on playgrounds, evil neighbors, drugs or
drive-by shootings. Terrorism. There are security cameras, metal
detectors, lockdowns and metal detectors. Sirens scream and helicopters
circle the neigborhood almost daily.
I don't live in a really
bad area. I live on a typical southern California residential street,
with many families with kids of various ages, some houses have older
folks with kids grown and gone.
But rarely do we see any
kids playing outdoors. It's almost as if they are trapped indoors.
Kids here never skate, ride bikes, jump rope, play hopscotch or do
anything else out front. Or out back, for that matter. My next-door
neighbors only allow their kids to play out front when one of the
parents is present, because of child predators, drug dealers and the
like. And I hate to admit it, but I am the same way. There simply
aren't enough neighbors out in their yards during the day, I can't count
on the typical neighborly folk that might help warn off anyone cruising
So my neighbor and I have kind of formed an agreement
to try and help get the kids out of the house and playing safely. She
shoos her kids outdoors as I do mine, so they can interact with each
other. Our daughter has an array of outdoor toys such as badminton
racquets (we got 8 cheap ones at the dollar store so the neighborhood
kids could join in), a jump rope, Frisbees, a bat, ball & mitt and a
pair of roller skates. The skates she just got at Christmas, because I
remember how much I LOVED skating with my siblings and friends when I
was a kid--we would lace up our steel-wheeled skates as fast as we
could, then zoom up and down the street for hours...until the street
lights came on, that was our signal to go home.
memories, and knowing how fun it was, we got N. skates. I have been
walking up and down the street with her, helping her to learn to skate,
balance and fall. What's downright creepy is that there are never any
other kids out there playing in any way. It's been almost a month now.
Quite frankly we have been hoping that if we ventured out more often
and played, the other kids would naturally emerge and join in...maybe
we could get something started. There IS hope, today the next door
neighbors bought their son (same age as N.) a skateboard, and several
other little boys have been around on bikes and skateboards.
realize that most kids nowadays spend their time playing video games.
We didn't own any until recently, when my sister in law gave my husband
her sons' old PS2. He now has three different games, but as they are
adult games, N. doesn't play them. And I can't say that I want her to
get started on video games, I've heard nothing but horror stories from
other parents whose kids are addicted to them.
Kids today, out of
necessity, are warned early on about the dangers they face. My
daughter learned the slogan 'Just Say No To Drugs!' in Kindergarten.
I nearly cried when the school held Red Ribbon Week (an anti-drug
campaign) and she came home educated on the dangers of drugs and
alchohol. She was FIVE. FIVE! I've had to have
discussions with her on what to do if someone tries to hurt her or
abduct her. Good Touch and Bad Touch. How to deal with bullying,
racism, what to do in an emergency and whom she likely can and cannot
trust. Good God, it gives me the willies and breaks my heart to think
about how different her childhood is from mine, and how SHORT childhood
I'm going to give her the best childhood I can, with
simple fun and good times, and make it last as long as possible. She's
got the rest of her life to be an adult with worries and issues.
That'll come on soon enough without rushing at it headlong.
Hopefully we can spread it to some of the other kids, too.