Sunday, January 21, 2007

Is Childhood Disappearing?

An uncomfortable thought occured to me last night...was my generation the last to see a true 'childhood'?

When 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.

Child 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 for kids.

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.

Such fond 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.

I 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 is today.

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.

1 comment:

  1. From my brother:
    One of the things I miss from our six years on Cornell Street in Fullerton, (ending sixteen years ago when we moved!) is the Fourth of July Ice Cream Social. That was a real neighborhood, and we'd spend hours out in the front yard on summer nights, interacting with everyone. Kids would bring their bikes to my front porch for a tune up, or Ellen Jane would drive her electric wheelchair down the street with three of four of the littlest kids hanging on it, park ,and chat about old times in Fullerton. I'd bring the telescope out to the driveway and set it up and let the kids look at Jupiter, or play guitar or the neighbor's saxaphone while other neighbors drifted in and out of their houses, or took walks down the street.

    Our new place has no sidewalks, and that has made all the difference in the world. Nobody likes to walk down the middle of the street to visit, so the neighborhood has a completely different feel.

    Try organizing an Ice Cream Social on your street! Pick the house with the best summertime shade. And start a neighborhood scrap book for the event. I think that might be the best thing about our old neighborhood; sitting around at the Social paging through the scrapbook, looking at photos of people we'd never met while older neighbors described them and told about which hosues they'd lived in, that sort of thing. The Kid's Talent Show was pretty funny, too.

    I've often thought of doing that here, but our street is a high-speed race track.