21 / February
21 / February
Kidz Stuff

When I was a child, any kid riding a bicycle with a helmet would automatically have been assumed to be mentally retarded. Today, of the few kids I see riding bicycles, nearly all wear helmets. The bike riding habits, or lack thereof, of children reflect two trends--overprotective parents and outdoor-averse children--in the overall transformation of what it means to be a child.

The Boston Globe a few weeks back ran an interview with CUNY professor Roger Hart who studies the changing nature of childhood in America. Hart notices a "tight intermeshing between parents' and children's lives" and the rarity of children involved in unstructured play. Children get treated like children without getting to act like children.

When was the last time you saw a group of children engaged in a pick-up game of stick-ball or an all-neighborhood game of chase or some other hide-and-go seek variant? Children now go on something termed "play dates," in which parents schedule meetings between children and watch over them. This is all too structured, all too lacking in sponteniety, no? It's almost enough to make you welcome the return of kids lighting off M-80s, getting into fistfights, and, well, maybe not. But between there is a happy medium.

Children walked to school. Now, their parents drive them, even if the school is within walking distance. Children used to play football, tackle football even. Now they play Madden. Children used to work paper routes. Now they homework. Paid activity apparently is considered exploitative. What happened?

Part of the problem is that people are having fewer and fewer children. Roaming bands of adolescents don't roam because the adolescents have been decimated by abortion and birth control. It's an adult's world, and children just live in it. Homework is often onerous. Adult-organized after-school activities absorb time. Molestors, drugs, bad kids, and other boogeymen haunt parents into becoming Big Brother instead of Mom or Dad. This monitoring and uber-involvement, some argue, is good parenting. But can children become adults if they're not even trusted to be children?

In the aftermath of the illegitimacy boom of the 1960s and '70s, society discovered what happens to kids without fathers and with neglectful mothers. What happens to the sheltered kids who never got to be kids? Check back in fifteen years.

posted at 12:56 AM
Comments

Correct. Every word. And along with being nannified by Mom and Pop, electronic entertainment has replaced creative play. Computers/Internet, Cable TV, ipods, cell phones, have all helped to distance kids from family and from other kids. Interaction is not a group event anymore.

Posted by: asdf on February 20, 2008 10:00 PM

Hey now...I like Madden.

Posted by: Ben-T on February 21, 2008 07:33 AM

You must live in a completely different neighborhood than I. This past summer, the kids in our townhouse community organized kickball games (sometimes they even invited their parents to play with them) on an almost nightly basis. When it got too dark to see the ball, they started playing "graveyard tag." We even had some parents that broke out a "slip-n-slide" on the 4th of July.

Posted by: Jason Trommetter on February 21, 2008 08:04 AM

Off topic, now that the nominees from each party have been chosen, didn't take the NYT too long to diss the Repbublian candidate THAT THEY ENDORSED. Leftist f'ing rag.

Posted by: asdf on February 21, 2008 08:39 AM

While I think you make some excellent points, I think this post overall paints a picture that is grimmer than the reality. My son walks home from school unless it's really cold (He is 7.) In our neighborhood there are lots of kids and spontaneous play happens. So do playdates - but this is often for the benefit of stay at home moms who need some adult interaction. (I am speaking from personal experience.) And the playdates themselves often involve unsupervised, unstructured play - it's just something planned ahead of time so the moms can have some fun time together too. (ie the kids play outside and the moms chat over coffee in the kitchen.) I don't think it's a bad development.

I do agree, though, that we've become overprotective to the detriment of our children, and the American spirit as a whole. Our kids aren't fragile, they're resilient. They can meet challenges and be better for it. We can treat them that way.

Posted by: Veronica on February 21, 2008 09:09 AM

I partly agree with you. But some of the reason for increased protection is that there's more to be protected from. For example, go to the local police department's website and do a sexual predator search for your zip code. If you live in a big city, you will be astounded to find out how many there are living amongst us. When I was a kid, I rode my bike over an area stretching many neighborhoods, and was gone for hours. I would never dream of letting my kids do that now, not in the city.

Posted by: Ralph on February 21, 2008 12:50 PM

I think there were as many sexual predators in the 1980s as there are now. They get more attention now, but as a kid in Massachusetts--with a priest from my church caught being a diddler, the Tookie Amirault case (which turned out to be a massive hoax), and rumours of a white clown van abducting kids through LSD-laced candy--I was very much aware of the molestor menace, particularly when I went collecting on my paper route.

Posted by: Dan Flynn on February 21, 2008 01:12 PM

I just have to wonder if the molesters and human scum in general aren't more emboldened these days. Urges and motives are the same, but I think a lot of the pervs in years gone by were more careful about picking their pray.

Used to be in my day, with rare exceptions, the diddlers kept a very low profile cause' if caught it was understood that they would likely end up floating in Boston Harbor. Justification for doling out street justice by either an angry group of parents or the cops was acceptable.

These days, the pervs are 'victims' and need to be 'understood' and itís somehow important to find out what made them that way. The system protects them thus the world is their candy store.

The proliferation of porn has changed the landscape in this regard as well and has made being a kid more dangerous.

Posted by: asdf on February 21, 2008 01:27 PM

Maybe this is why "children" who are 25 today remind me of me when I was 16.

Posted by: Mike on February 21, 2008 02:30 PM

Its not just that asdf, its also the increasing centralization of the all-encompassing state as the sole judicial authority. Community justice used to be the norm in this country, now its treated as some kind of abomination.

Posted by: Ben-T on February 21, 2008 04:01 PM

Certainly would agree with that. Just more control that our government has wrested from the individual.

Posted by: asdf on February 21, 2008 04:10 PM

"The bike riding habits, or lack thereof, of children reflect two trends--overprotective parents and outdoor-averse children"

This is such a perverse statement full of pig-headedness. Have you ever been hit by a car??? I have, and if I wasn't wearing a helmet I would be talking like Sloth from the Goonies. I can only thank God that I have 'overprotective' parents, !toidI

"Roaming bands of adolescents don't roam because the adolescents have been decimated by abortion and birth control."

This is almost as perverse. Hummm, maybe people have just DECIDED not to have kids because they feel the world is falling to sh*t because of people like YOU!

Posted by: angrymob on February 22, 2008 01:26 PM

You probably don't talk like Sloth angry, but it's evident that that accident sure had some effect.

Posted by: asdf on February 22, 2008 01:55 PM

As a long-time reader of Flynn Files, I'm going to pretend you didn't really write that abortion and birth control have "decimated" the number of American youth.

Posted by: mojorisin24 on February 23, 2008 09:57 PM

Decimate, in addition to the more literalist definition of taking one in ten, can mean just a general reduction or destruction. If your quarrel is with the notion of abortion as a population reducer, just look at the birth rates in countries where it is legal versus the countries where it is illegal, or, more to the point, look at the post '73 birth rate versus the pre '73 birth rate in the United States. More than 1 in 5 pregnancies end in abortion. Obviously, stats on general birth-control methods are harder to come by.

Posted by: Dan Flynn on February 23, 2008 10:38 PM
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