Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Where ARE the kids?

A few years ago, my wife and I visited my sister for a few weeks over Christmas and New Year's. My sister lives near where we grew up, in northeast Ohio not far from Cleveland. Anyone familiar with that area knows that it snows a lot there that time of year. We weren't disappointed. It probably snowed 8 or 10 times in the 4 weeks we were there.

I would often go for walks to get a little exercise, and to take in the winter beauty of what once was known as the Connecticut Western Reserve.  (Northeast Ohio was so named because it was reserved by the state of Connecticut as homestead land for its Revolutionary War veterans.) At some point while walking I realized that I had never seen any kids out playing in the snow. Not even once. Not one. Ever. For four weeks. This was really different from when I was growing up there. New snow was an irresistible magnet for kids then. A fresh layer of new-fallen snow had about the chance--well, of a snowball in the real hot place!--of remaining untracked for more than about 5 minutes if kids were around.

This was creepy. I realized the only places I had seen kids was in cars and stores. What must the modern kid's life be like, and how different it must be from what ours was!

I'm sure a lot of it can be attributed to computerized entertainment. But I personally feel that an equal amount is the result of overprotective parenting. What modern suburban parent would ever allow his/her kids to do what we took for granted:

Walking/bicycling downtown (a mile) or across town (two miles) at a moment's notice. Going on hikes of several miles with only a "I'm going out with my friends" to announce our departure. Going swimming on our own from about age 9 or 10 after we'd demonstrated our ability to swim to our parents' satisfaction. Walking a mile one way to school--from the first grade on! Spending an hour a day delivering newspapers for $5 a week of our own money, which we could spend or not spend as we pleased. Having a slingshot or a BB gun and being able to use them without supervision. (Heck, my Dad taught me how to make a slingshot!) Playing pickup baseball or football games without adult supervision. Playing entire seasons of little league baseball without once having Mom or Dad take us to a game, or even show up to watch us play--can you imagine?? (The little guys--ages 7-9, would have a lot of parents at the games, but as we got older and better, the cute factor diminished, and so did parental attendance. By the time we were 14 or 15, often there would be very few adults present besides the coaches and officials. And we didn't mind--we were there to play baseball, not please our parents. Again, can you imagine?)

We didn't eat a lot of the junk food that today's kids take for granted, to the detriment of their health and physical condition. I hear that it's low-income people these days who buy a lot of junk food.  We didn't have the money!  We were all skinny, with a few rare and notorious exceptions.

We had what today's overprotected kids maybe don't even miss because they've never experienced it--FREEDOM!

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