Fear for the children

Instapundit offers this:

THE PLAY DEFICIT: Children today are cosseted and pressured in equal measure. Without the freedom to play they will never truly grow up. “In his book Children at Play: An American History (2007), Howard Chudacoff refers to the first half of the 20th century as the ‘golden age’ of children’s free play. By about 1900, the need for child labour had declined, so children had a good deal of free time. But then, beginning around 1960 or a little before, adults began chipping away at that freedom by increasing the time that children had to spend at schoolwork and, even more significantly, by reducing children’s freedom to play on their own, even when they were out of school and not doing homework. Adult-directed sports for children began to replace ‘pickup’ games; adult-directed classes out of school began to replace hobbies; and parents’ fears led them, ever more, to forbid children from going out to play with other kids, away from home, unsupervised. There are lots of reasons for these changes but the effect, over the decades, has been a continuous and ultimately dramatic decline in children’s opportunities to play and explore in their own chosen ways. Over the same decades that children’s play has been declining, childhood mental disorders have been increasing.”

I was born in 1953. By ten, I was spending half each summer’s day alone on my sailfish on Long Island Sound, no life preserver, no adults. Between ages 11 and 15, a friend and I spent summers at his sister’s farm in Lowell Vermont, and we’d go off on our own all day, fishing in streams, hunting bullfrogs by wading chest-deep in swamps and blasting them with small caliber rifles  (hollow point .22s do the job, if you’re curious – they send the frog fifteen feet into the air, and what comes down are the two edible legs, loosely attached to a bit of the lower carcass.) and just idling around, learning to drive the farm truck, reading books, and talking with the “grown ups”,  who must have been all of 22 or so, but they treated us as reasonably mature, sentient beings. During winter vacation when I was fifteen, another friend and I took the midnight flight to San Juan, then bused and hitchhiked to the western end of the island and camped on the beach at Rincon, spearing lobsters for dinner and drinking the occasional beer (there was no minimum drinking age for gringos in Puerto Rico back then). By the end of my sixteenth year I’d repeated that Puerto Rican trip, hitchhiked across the country three times, spent a few days in the San Luis Obispo county jail (youth wing) and lived on Big Sur.
All of this stuff was pretty normal for kids back then (maybe not the jail bit, but I’d done nothing wrong so they eventually let me go, and I was the richer, if a tad embittered toward authority, for the experience). Today, any parent who let his child do any of it would be arrested for child endangerment. I tried out for little league, was cut for my demonstrated lack of talent, and found other things to do. Today, I suspect no one gets cut, at least from the kind of low level teams I tried for, and if they were, the lawyers would be on the field faster than the coach could flee it. We have playdates, scheduled three years in advance, math tutors, travel teams, friggin individual lacrosse coaches, fly fishing camps in Montana, summer school – summer school! – and on and on and on. There’s not a minute of down time, and if by some fluke an opening appears, the poor child is rushed off to an SAT coaching class (as I recall, we sat for the SAT once; you showed up some Saturday morning, did the thing and forgot about it. I did very well, as did some of my friends, and the ones who didn’t, I fear, almost certainly wouldn’t have been helped by a tutor – senior year in high school is late to be learning to read and write).
Is there a point to this self-indulgent screed? Not really, but it’s Friday evening and I have nothing better to do, and the article Professor InstaPundit links to struck a nerve, because I watched the slow denial of downtime to my own children, and now see it constricting even more quickly, ever tighter, squeezing the fun out of childhood. That can’t be good, and the article above says it is not.
Bah humbug.


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24 responses to “Fear for the children

  1. Anonymous

    On point! Times have changed, and not for the better!

  2. maybe Bat Dad will cheer you up:

  3. Anonymous Citizenette

    My mom would have been arrested for the abuse of kicking us out of the house all day to play and giving us the occasional whack in the ass. Hell, I haven’t seen a kid riding a bicycle in my neighborhood in years. Without exploring and making mistakes, how does a kid learn things? And we actually had to learn valuable facts in school, things that helped prepare one for making a living. Not speaking for myself because I don’t have any, but America sure has screwed its kids up.

  4. Walt

    Dude –
    I have news for you. As much as we would both like to go back to the Donna Reed days, and bang her senseless, it just isn’t going to happen. Those days are gone. So you can pine about it all you want, you sniveling little twit, but it ain’t coming back.

    But I have a few questions for you, if I may be so bold. The trips to Puerto Rico? Did you go there because the hookers were cheap and the Senoritas easy? Or do you just like girls with mustaches? Did you learn to speak Spic? Do they have donkey shows like Tijuana? When did you give up your Latino fetish for the Asian school girl’s addiction?

    Anyhows, todays structured society is all part of the progressives game plan. Get them young, and then you are done. Read Bill Ayers, Barry’s commie tutor. Hitler did the same thing with the Hitler Youth. It is all part of the plan. A structured, controlled environment, dictated by Central Planning.

    Today, would I be able to feel up Mary Ann McCarty, her of freckled face, strawberry hair, green knee high socks and plaid school girl skirt, with training bra tits, at a sixth grade birthday party? It actually may have been fifth grade. NO!! Could I go to Florida for Spring Break at 15 and go to wet T-Shirt contest? NO!!

    That was all an outlet to let hormone crazed boys to get it out of their system. In a non violent way. Today they play video games, and shoot people in simulated reality.

    I take the training bra titties all day long.
    What do you pick? Shooting frogs? You loser.

    Your Pal,

  5. Mazama

    I was recently recalling going on 15-20 mile hikes by myself or with someone from my Boy Scout troop on the C&O Canal towpath, riding the bus into Georgetown (DC) or along then back roads to a lake where we camped in rural Fairfax County when I was in the 7th-8th grades. And riding the bus into DC on summer afternoons to see the old Washington Senators play and selling Christmas cards on my own door-to-door in about the 5th-6th grades. Seemed like normal things to do. Now it would be considered insane I suppose.

  6. Anonymous

    I wonder if in another 20-30 years there will be a backlash and kids will be accorded the same freedoms they used to have. Maybe the iphone ios7000 imbedded chip will allow everybody to keep track of each other.

  7. Earlier this evening one of my sisters mentioned a news story about a high school football player dying from being stung by ants, and she wondered how they couldn’t have known he was allergic to ants by that age. I told her something along the lines of this post — so many kids now so rarely play outside any more that football practice may have been the only time he ever got outdoors; it may have been his first exposure to ants.

    Which is a shame, as ants can be the source of some quality entertainment:

    1. Plant firecrackers in ant hills and light them.
    2. Get your face down inches away from an ant hill and yell as loudly as you can.
    3. Use a shovel to transplant occupants of one ant hill to a nearby hill and watch the ensuing battle.
    4. Magnifying glass on a sunny day…

    Can an iPhone do any of that? I don’t think so.

  8. Once

    When I was in eleventh grade my parents flew to England to visit my sister. I flew to Denver and from there hitch hiked around the Pacific Northwest to look at colleges. When done I flew back home from San Francisco. My parents didn’t know until they came back.

  9. Lifer

    Born in 1956, lived in Old Greenwich until I was 12. Me and the neighborhood kids spent a lot of time playing Army or just messing around in what we called the Dump, the landfill off Edgewater and the adjoining marsh that backs up on the OG school. We drank water from the swamp (brackish in addition probably to somewhat toxic), cut ourselves on the shredded trees, discarded appliances and other junk in the Dump, built forts, bunkers and trenches that sometimes collapsed on us, made fires (one of which got just a little out of hand…). So far as i recall no-one suffered any lasting ill-effects.

    We never had beach closures in those days but LIS was a lot dirtier than it is now. One of the “highlights” of Larchmont Race week was sailing by the sewage outflow pipes and seeing an upsurge of raw human sewage and used condoms (we called ’em Coney Island Whitefish). But i don’t remember anyone ever getting sick from swimming in the Sound.

  10. Anonymous2

    In 1954, when I was eight, my parents took me to the train station in Wilmington, North Carolina, gave the Pullman sleeping car porter a $5 tip and put me on the overnight train to New York where I was met by relatives the next day. Two weeks later I did the same trip in reverse.

    When I was 14 during holidays from boarding school and living in a tiny village about 100 miles out of London my mother would give a pound and a return train ticket to London and I’d spend the day in the big city wandering around and catch an early evening steam train back to the country.

    At 15 I’d get from New Jersey to school in Maine by taking the Eastern shuttle to Boston (a four-engine gas powered DC6), checking into a hotel for the night, and catching a bus to Augusta the next day.

    Can’t recall an adult ever considering my activities to be noteworthy.

  11. Miles Standoffish

    You sound like a typical right wing hooligan.

  12. Martha

    I read this article elsewhere too, and I have to say, fear is really a paralyzingly issue for the general human condition. I think the amount of fear you suffer from is directly related to the size of your ego (bigger ego=more fear, and fear feeds the ego). I suffer from this, but am noticing fear vs love more and more, and trying to consciously choose love over fear. On the bright side, I do believe the world is beginning to wake up to this and the vibe, so to speak, is switching back around, however slowly.

    I am so greatful for the opportunity to homeschool my boys, and this is one of my core reasons. Schools are definitely fear driven, and even if things change drastically, school will never have the love that you do invested in your child(ren).

  13. Anonymous

    My husband and I raised our two sons here in Greenwich (they’re now in their early 40s and each very successful in individual ways) – my best memory of “tough love” incidents with my elder son (who was a bit more challenging than his younger brother) was when he was being particularly obnoxious on our way back home from a tennis lesson (I think) I was so exasperated I told him to get our of the car (a VW Vanagon at the time) and walk home by himself. I knew he’s be able to get home on his own (about a two-mile walk)) and had no problem with this. He was shocked, but does recall that it was a good lesson! Being a stay-at-home mom I never had “help” with the boys, so when I’d “had it” I let them know. We’re still very close, and it allowed me to keep my sanity. Greenwich Old Timer

  14. Peg

    Chris, you are entirely correct. You learn by doing – and most of us learn from our mistakes. If we are coddled and protected, then we are never able to achieve and dream and create and learn all that we need to be successful and innovative adults.

    I’m hoping with Anonymous that we do have a backlash (and SOON) – and that our potential for greatness won’t be snuffed out by an army of Barrys – as it is being today.

  15. Anonymous

    Back in the 1960s, 13 year olds went from Martha’s Vineyard to Nantucket for a regatta in their Vineyard Haven 15s – a 21 foot sloop.

    The mothers packed extra sack lunches and instructed the boys to sail the twenty miles home that afternoon if the wind and current were still fair after the races.

  16. Flash Back

    These 30-40 something parents are just doing what their parents did.
    So who were their parents? They are today’s 50-70 year olds. Whoa, is that me? You?

    • My kids were not raised by helicopter parents, but raising independent kids in this current world, especially, I suspect, in Greenwich, is increasingly difficult because the helicopter mode is self-perpetuating. You may encourage your own children to head outside to play and come home for dinner, bury who are they going to play with? Their peers are all off at after-school travel team soccer or special tutoring sessions or god knows what else. So parents enroll their children in those activities by default. Personally, I think the kids would be better off learning how to entertain themselves, alone, but I’m an introvert and have always preferred my own company. For the 70% of children who want company, that’d be tough.

  17. Balzac

    Chris, you’ve touched some good memories. In our neighborhood in OG, we played stickball in the street – the manhole cover was second base. Gee, did we have a thousand games? The baseball only ended when the touch football in the street commenced: two complete passes is a first down.

    What a lot of fun. And zero adult supervision.

  18. Greenwich Gal

    Well if it makes anyone feel better – they are screwing up the kids way worse then we are in Asia…. They may be math and science wizards as they are beaten if they don’t know it cold – but they can’t think creatively. At least that is what I am hearing from the business types who hire them.

  19. The Duke of Deception

    The Duke spent 5 straight spring vacations (4th thru 8th) canoeing the Green River in Kentucky with an old Scout Master friend of his fathers and his Boy Scout Troop. Flew down there by himself, no problem. He still remembers the last trip when he had a few sips of beer (Oertals 89) and felt like he had finally made the big time.

    We had a big flat lot next to our house in New Jersey, and every day about 20-30 kids met there for touch football etc.When it was dinner time, each kid’s ear was trained to recognize the bell (or bullhorn) coming from their house and head home.

    Thanks for letting the Duke recall some good, no, great, times…

  20. Anonymous

    For anybody feeling a bit of nostalgia for the freedom of youth, I recommend the movie Mud, released earlier this year and currently available on demand.

    It is a great story – it starts out with two teenage boys exploring a small island in the Mississippi river on their boat.