Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Do our kids need us that much?

While I was visiting my mother in New York last month, she told me a story.

"When we lived in Wisconsin, you used to go across the street and play in the schoolyard," she said. "One day, the kindergarten teacher stopped by the house. She said, 'Did you know that Darrell has been going to class over here? He just invited himself in.'"

Shortly thereafter, I was officially enrolled in kindergarten at age four.

A cute story, I thought, until I pondered for a moment.

Wait! I was four years old, and my Mom didn't know where I was? What about pedophiles, psychopaths, rabid animals and trolls? This was, after all, the state that later produced Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer, who became infamous for eating people.

"You were with the other kids," she said, "so I knew you were alright."

When I returned, I began asking friends around my age how much parental supervision they remembered as children. Almost invariably, their recollections involved interacting with other kids in an adultless world, especially in the summertime.

Back then, parents didn't barricade their kids inside the house -- they kicked them outside.

"Go play with your friends," they'd say. "Be back for dinner."

No wonder all those stay-at-home moms were able to maintain their sanity.

So has society devolved since then? Is it really all that dangerous for kids? I wonder.

The Virginia State Police Website on child safety warns: "Don't leave your child unattended in a car, even for a minute."

There are two ways of looking at this. One is to say: "The odds on my child being snatched up by somebody are very long, indeed, so I'm just going to go on about my business." Or, you might say: "Sure, it doesn't happen very often, but one time is too many if it's my child."

Now, if a parent has his or her attention diverted even for an instant from a child who then wanders off, the news stories always make a major point of it.

Granted, it's lunacy to leave your young children in the house alone and, say, go out to an all-night disco. But we act today as if the really responsible thing to do would be tether your offpsring to you at all times with a stout rope, lest something awful happen to them and you be blamed by the local TV anchorperson.

Child molesters, you know.

Moreover, we have become terrified that our children might come home from school and find no adults there. If that happens, then they're "out on the street" with, God forbid, their friends.

Maybe if we gave our kids a little more space, they might develop more maturity more quickly.

Anybody have any thoughts on this?


Anonymous said...

Excellent article, Darrell. There is an ancient book titled "Where Did You Go? Out. What did you do? Nothing" about kids playing together without constant adult supervision. Probably out of print these days just as the idea of kids playing alone with their friends is out of vogue. My son once broke his leg while I was right there!

Bedford Hawk said...

Yes Darrell, looking back 50 years plus, there is a big difference nowadays in child danger /safety. During the mid 50's until about 1960 when I lived in a lovely old home, Halsey Terrace, at 220 Madison Street, recently destroyed by fire, I had a morning paper route 7 days per week usually before dawn in the morning darkness. That paper route for The News ran down 5th Street, down Church Street to 12th, down to Main , Commerce, and Jefferson Streets back up to 5th Street, then up Madison Street to home on the hill before getting ready for school. In those days there was very little concern or discussion about dangers or my safety because I suppose we all felt pretty secure. Nowadays, I would not walk that route alone during those early hours, even with my skills as a former warrior or with my licensed gun, fearing I may have to shoot someone in my self defense. At my age my awareness of potential dangers lurking in the alleys, etc., etc. is just too great. And I would not allow any of my four children, the oldest an LC senior, walk alone one block down there in early morning. And that perception is not from an over abundance of fear of the unknown. The world we live in now is just different, much different, from the one I played and worked in as a child and teenager. For one thing, dope was virtually unheard of around Lynchburg. I wasn't even exposed to it until I entered the U. S. Army in 1966 at Fort Jackson when I overheard a bunch of New Jersey / New York trainees talking about how they wanted a hit. I had to ask what a hit was, and was literally laughed at. I really believe the illegal drug stuff, porn, generally loose values, and perhaps even "Rock and Roll" music helped turn our national and local society into a jungle during the past 50 years. Who is to say what really caused it, but it happened for sure. Lynchburg ,like most U.S. communities our size and smaller, was just safer in all aspects, for all ages in "the good ole days". I frequently remind myself of the old native American Indian drifting along in a canoe in the "pollution" ad on TV a few years ago, with crocodile tears as he observed what mankind has done to his wonderful world and environment as he once knew it. Sounds negative, but I guarantee I'm not alone in this perception out there in Lynchburg among Lynchburg natives who are a little senior in age, at least those who are old enough to remember and to make a comparison. No children are not safe by themselves in my opinion. We just can't risk it!