When Did Children Become Breakable?

A little while ago I was watching a show called House Hunters. This is a show about people looking for new homes. In a typical show, the buyers look at three homes and then choose one at the end. On tonight’s show a young couple was looking at houses in West Palm Beach, Fla. At every turn, they would comment on whether Mia, their daughter, would like a certain feature.

“I’m not sure Mia would like that,” the mother said of the pink walls in the guest bedroom.

“Oh, there’s steps…that’s not good for Mia,” dad said.

“Oh, Mia would love this kitchen,” they both said.

I got to wondering about this Mia person and her strong opinions. Then they showed Mia. She’s two. But evidently she already has strong opinions on paint color, stairs and yards. I don’t remember my parents consulting me on much of anything until I was in college.

On the other hand, I imagine that I had a lot more freedom than Mia will ever have.

Here’s where this is going.

A few weeks ago I interviewed a man for a magazine article I was writing. He is the executive director of a land trust out west. He said that one of the biggest challenges his group faces is that children today are growing up with a total disconnect from the land–they’re scared of nature, scared to explore their own backyards.

He and I are close to the same age. We grew up in what must be just about the last generation to experience the freedom to roam. We lived in the country. We played in the woods without supervision. We caught crawdads in the creek. We were gone for hours on end and no one thought a thing of it. We rode our bikes for miles–without helmets.

The man I was interviewing commented that kids used to learn a lot of useful problem-solving skills building treehouses and forts. But today’s children are so over-scheduled and so over-protected that they seemingly have no time to figure things out on their own. As soon as one problem presents itself, a quick call on the cell phone to mom or dad takes care of it.

Of course, I don’t have children, so my observations should be taken with a grain of salt. We might’ve been the most over-protective parents ever. Who knows.

But I do know this–I fell off  plenty of ponies, crashed plenty of bikes and splashed through plenty of creeks without adult supervision. I can promise you that whatever I did, Husband did ten times as much of–except for falling off ponies.

We turned out ok–and we have a deep appreciation for and love of the nature that surrounds us.

I’m not saying that kids should ditch their bicycle helmets or seat belts. I’m just saying that a little freedom to explore on their own is a good thing. Even if it’s just in their own backyards.

18 Comments

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18 responses to “When Did Children Become Breakable?

  1. i led a classic 1970’s “lord of the flies” childhood – and learned a great many social necessities in those hours without parental oversight. raised my own two to have ‘downtime’ – reasonable freedom to roam, and only one ‘scheduled’ activity at a time.

    how often do you see a pack of kids roaming a neighborhood? playing on swingsets? riding bikes without parents in tow? they are told they are fragile. the world is dangerous. it’s a bit scary…

  2. christa

    Amen sistah! Some of my favorite memories are riding my bike aimlessly through the neighborhood I grew up in–not to mention the creek in someone’s back yard to explore, the flowers to pick, the hay loft to build forts in, and riding my sister’s pony down the country roads. Great memories and experiences indeed.

  3. I don’t have kids either, so take anything i say too with a grain of salt… but i saw my friends living in inner city sydney taking their children to the playground for an hour of supervised “playing”.. ok, fair enough, maybe inner city living is not for children… later, when i lived in london i spent a good part of that time living near wimbledon common, which was a favourite place of mine to walk and shake off the london stress… and it struck me that the common (a perfect place for exploring) was nearly always deserted, except for the occasional lonely rambler like me… there was never an unsupervised child to be seen, except on weekends when they turned up with parents in tow for family outings… the other downside to all this of course, aside from bringing up “breakable” children is that the parents (usually both working) never have any downtime for themselves, they’re either working or looking after the kids… i guess that’s where the scheduled after-school activities come in…. tennis lessons, language lessons, music lessons etc…

    here in small-town spain i’m happy to see that not all of that freedom has been lost and i see packs of kids roaming all over the place… but i wonder how long it will be before here too, it is no longer safe to let children out on their own…

  4. mongoliangirl

    Yeah, and whatever happened to those metal playground slides that could cause third degree burns on the backs of your legs on a hot summer day?
    And, yes darlin’. We see so many kids out here who think a little bit of mud is going to kill them.

  5. Amen to all that. And here’s the strange dichotomy: It seems that the safer the neighborhood, the more paranoid the parent. There are neighborhoods out here that haven’t experienced crime for decades and I meet a lot of people who have a bunker mentality.

  6. Julie Fisher

    People who don’t have children, I think, are often the ones who have a clear view of the whole picture. You’re absolutely right on. Mud is our friend. So are sunshine and bugs and frogs. My daughter (a.k.a. perfect mother) believes in all these things. She and I have noticed that mothers of boys seem to allow for more dirt than mothers of girls. “Don’t get in the sandbox. You’ll get your clothes dirty.” Sometimes boys get this said to them. More often it’s said to girls.

  7. Well, I raised a child, and I’ve been ranting about this for years.

    I’m so grateful to have grown up when I did. My childhood was all about adventure and imagination and freedom. Many summer days, we’d take off on our bikes at 8am and not come back until noon. Or later. We played outside–with our friends and our dogs–until the sun went down. We made up games (and worlds) of our own. We went barefoot and slept in our swimsuits sometimes. We built our own Barbie houses/furnishings; we dug holes; we climbed trees and fences; we walked to the public pool and swam all morning; we played in the park; we splashed around in the mud in White Oak Bayou; we got wet; we got filthy; we got bloody; we got sunburned.

    We were kids, and we acted like it. We were goofy and happy and loud and inventive/enterprising and totally fearless.

    I had homework, chores, piano and ballet lessons, but beyond that, my life was never scheduled or planned for me. Playtime was PLAYtime, and it was up to me to make it fun. Fortunately, that was never a challenge.

    I feel so sorry for kids today. They’re being robbed, plain and simple.

    (Have you ever seen Elvira Kurt’s stand-up routine on this subject? Hilarious.)

  8. I am not a parent, so I don’t know. All I know is people drive their kids to school when it’s four blocks away. This is weird to me.

    I hate the thought of people growing up disconnected from nature. It makes me want to breed out of sheer spite, so I can raise dirty, sassy, troublesome children who don’t have their own phones.

    I find that weird.

  9. On the same lines, I’m always amazed by the multitude of people who say “oh, I’d love to have a dog, but we live in a flat and it wouldn’t be fair to it” – but it’s ok to have a child cooped up in a flat all day?

    As for Wimbledon Common in London, Mondraussie, I’m not surprised that there are no unsupervised kids to be seen. I grew up in that area, and I can tell you from experience that nasty things happen to unsupervised kids there.

  10. Also, with the exception of a few bloggers with kids, the majority of the people I know who have children are the kinds of people I don’t think we need more of. The people I like, the population of personalities that I want to grow? They aren’t having kids.

    It’s very depressing.

  11. Karen A

    My favorite is the line of cars at the school bus stop so the kids can wait in the car until the bus pulls right up. Keeps the kids from getting cold or wet. They only live about a block from the bus stop! I can’t imagine my parents driving me to the bus stop! We had to stand out there – snow, cold, rain, whatever. (after walking 5 miles uphill both ways to get there, of course)

  12. I think what I had to say, without the personal references, was said above; though, no one mentioned walking your bike five miles home when the tire blew out and you forgot to bring the patch kit.

  13. Wow–I hit a nerve with this one! Thank you all for such thoughtful comments.
    Daisy–Lord of the Flies? I hope you didn’t have a Piggy!
    Christa–Your sister let you ride her pony? She’s much nicer than I would’ve been.
    Mondra–Glad to hear that the children where you are can ramble freely. There’s just something wrong with scheduled playtime.
    MG–I hate to hear that even in the middle of the Ozarks there are kids who are afraid of mud. That’s just wrong.
    UB–That’s a great observation about the neighborhoods. What’s the point of living in a gated community if you have to worry about riding your bike down the street.
    Julie–Only the perfect mother would have a zip line in her back yard. Aren’t those dangerous?
    Elise–Sounds like we had a lot of the same experiences. And OMG–barefoot! We were barefoot all summer unless we “went to town.”
    Rass–I know…generations of kids who could care less about trees and land conservation–it makes me crazy. So please breed. The world needs more list makers.
    PG–Very good point regarding the dogs. Also, I understand that there are very real threats to children out there. It’s such a thin line.
    Rass II–Well, you’ll be getting no children from me, but I encourage you to go forth and propagate.
    KA–I wish you were kidding. Of course, the one parent who would let their child get cold or wet would probably get reported to protectives services or something. Plus, their kid would be out of the birthday party loop.

  14. Dave–You mean you just didn’t whip out your cell phone and call someone to pick you up? 🙂

  15. You’re right. Kids are wrapped in cotton wool these days and it means that we’re raising generations of kids who live in fear. I wish I could say that I’m bucking the trend, but it’s hard to let go. Hard to chuck them out the back in the morning and say off you go, see you at lunch time because as parents we’re brainwashed that the world is a dangerous place with pedophiles behind every lamp post. It’s not.

  16. Amen! Except that my best friend and I married each other to dead people in the abandoned graveyard on our adventures. Something’s not right about that.

  17. Luna_the_cat

    Amen! to all this.

    There’s another dimension to this as well. It seems to me it’s not just that we’re raising a generation of kids without the experience of figuring things out for themselves, or familiarity with the world — we’re raising a generation (or almost two, now) of kids who haven’t developed a sense of what they can or can’t really do, didn’t have any chance to figure out at, say, age 7 that falling off things -hurts- and isn’t necessarily the best way to go about things; so as teenagers they go do extremely stupid things –without any conceptual framework for “this will genuinely hurt”–. Teenagers are famous for not thinking things through to their consequences anyway, I honestly cannot see this helping.

    And, ironically, just yesterday I was reading a paramedic’s complaints about the new generation of kids (and parents) who are pathologically incapable of dealing with a bump or scrape or minor cut without calling emergency services — none of this “wash it off real well and slap a band-aid on it” nonsense — apparently everything now requires a trip to ER, just to make sure that one’s precious offspring will not bleed to death and has not acquired permanent nerve damage. There is a sort of acquired helplessness to deal with minor injuries and illnesses *sensibly* at home.

    Sorry, had a bit of a rant there. Done now.

  18. it´s even worse here in spain because people don´t have yards. especially for my generation, because the in the generation before, everyone had a country summer house. nobody can afford that nowadays, we can´t even afford small flats.

    I often worry about where the hell my future kids will build forts. We´ll just have to go camping a lot.

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