Thanks to all who answered Dumb Question #1, "What's up with all the tattoos?"
Here's Dumb Question #2: Why can't young kids ride their bikes around suburbs anymore, and why can't older kids hitchhike?
An older friend of mine tells a wonderful story about his 15th summer. He and a pal told their middle-class families they were going hitchhiking, from their suburban New Jersey home all over New England. They'd be gone two or three weeks. Their mothers told them to be careful, and sent them on their way. When they returned, and flung open their front doors expecting a hero's welcome, each was crushed to find his family distracted by something on TV: the first moon landing, in the summer of 1969.
Now, how is it that in only 40 years that story has come to sound so utterly preposterous to us? Have mothers only recently begun to care for their children?
And, less dramatic but even more tragic, kids of my Generation X talk with the glassy-eyed nostalgia of the elderly about riding their bicycles freely around towns and suburbs. And we're not talking ten-speeds; a five-year-old friend of mine was known from one end of Hudson, Ohio to the other as "The Big Wheel Kid."
Another childhood mate with whom I rode on many an unsupervised bike hike, now lives in another Ohio suburb and wouldn't think of letting his children wander farther than next door. Not long ago he asked me: "Why can't our kids do that anymore?"
I didn't have any honest answer. But it does seem like an important question to have at least a theory about:
Have human beings become creepier over the last 40 years? Or were we somehow ignorant of their creepiness until so very recently?
Oh boy! I could go on and on about this one [don’t worry! I’ll refrain] but a few things I think are particularly responsible for this:
1) We’ve shifted from “community/neighbourhood” mentalities to insulated individualists. When I was a kid, we all ran around the neighbourhood like little savages, and anyone’s Mom could yell at us or give us a smack on the butt and tell us to behave. People looked out for other people and their kids. Now, if someone so much as suggests your kid is a bit out of control, you likely find a lawsuit on your doorstep.
2) The internet has not only allowed our kids to access the entire world as opposed to just their own neighbourhoods like it was when I was growing up, it has also, sadly made it frighteningly easy for bad people to find victims to target. When you can’t be completely sure who your kids may have given their location to online, you have to be hyper-vigilent about where they go and who they are with 24/7 to make sure they stay safe. Where kids are concerned the web is really a double-edged sword.
3) Finally, my generation of parents have largely become obsessive about the success they want their kids to have. This has resulted in many cases in kids so over-scheduled with lessons, tutors, activities and play-dates, that many of today’s kids never have a moment to themselves to just run around like savages and scream their heads off simply for the joy of it. I’m always sad when I see that. I’m all for kids being given opportunities, but what about the opportunities for them to simply be kids??
Okay, I guess I went on and on after all! Oops. Well, you did ask.
Like Kristen, I could spend a whole afternoon ranting about this one. I grew up on a rural dairy farm and my mother pretty much fed us breakfast, let us run out the door, and didn’t really worry as long as we showed up back at the door for dinner.
One of the things that sold my wife and me on the house we bought last summer was that the first time we drove done the street there were kids riding their bikes along the sidewalk without a paranoid parent in sight. It was like we had discovered some odd little corner of the city that time had forgotten.
My wife has a radio talk show about parenting, and one of the best guests she has had was Lenore Skenazy. She was branded “America’s Worst Mom” because she let her nine-year-old son try riding the subway home alone one day. Check out her blog at http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/. She’s all over this whole issue.
Ron Shewchuk says
I love Lenore Skenazy! Thanks for pointing to her blog, Rueben. I am now a subscriber. And good points, Kristen. It’s too bad our perception of risk is so twisted out of shape by the media attention the one-in-a-million horror stories get.
David Murray says
Well, that’s the thing: Enough parents have panicked that the parents who don’t panic look like they’re crazy.
It would NOT be crazy or dangerous to send Scout down to the corner store two blocks down to get a loaf of bread. She’d be MUCH more likely to be picked up by the Department of Child and Family Services than by a criminal.
But now she’s growing up in a world where such things are preposterous, and she’s already internalized the bullshit. (On a trip to the country, she and I had a golf course to ourselves and I told her she could go wherever she wanted, all the way to the top of the hill and into the woods. She looked at me as if I’d given her permission to … hitchhike home.
(Which is why we don’t pick up hitchhikers anymore. We assume they are maniacs … because we’ve decided that only a deranged fool would trust a stranger.)
AND WE WONDER WHY WE HAVE SUCH A HARD TIME TRUSTING ONE ANOTHER in the workplace and in political conversations.
We’re all terrified, all the time.
Ron Shewchuk says
From Bowling For Columbine
You’re watching television,
you’re watching the news;
you’re being pumped full of fear.
And there’s floods, there’s AIDS,
You cut to commercial,
buy the Acura, buy the Colgate.
If you have bad breath,
they’re not gonna talk to you.
If you got pimples,
the girl’s not gonna fuck you.
It’s a campaign of fear
And that’s what I think
that’s it’s all based on,
is the whole idea that:
keep everyone afraid,
and they’ll consume.
And that’s really as simple
as it can be boiled down to.
If you were to talk directly
to the kids at Columbine and the people
in that community, what would you say to them,
if they were here right now?
I wouldn’t say
a single word to them.
I would listen to
what they have to say.
And that’s what no one did.