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Thoughts on the Lives of Children

Original post made by Freyja, Palo Alto Hills, on Aug 3, 2007

There was a time when children raced home from school to struggle out of the uncomfortable clothes and hit the streets (yards, playgrounds) until called in for supper. When summer arrived, shoes were left in the closet for 3 months and each day started with the satisfying 'whack' of a screen door slamming behind you. Summer days were filled with a glorious sensory amalgam: freshly mown grass, pickle-weed, hot bubbly tar under your toes, tinkling popsicle truck, hot sun, peeling flesh.

Today things are different. Parents worry more: Your kids might get kidnapped/raped, might do something bad and 'get in trouble', or take drugs, or get a sunburn, or not make it into the college of (your) choice. The horror. The horror. The horror. So summer is filled with classes, sports, music lessons, and family cruises. As many as possible conducted indoors.

Related to this, I think, is a change in the distinction between "indoor" behavior and "outdoor" behavior. In my childhood, using a 4-letter word or burping in front of others was the height of ill-breeding, and could only be enjoyed beyond the earshot of adults. When outside and running the neighborhood, each child could vanish into the special world of childhood for some or all of the day.

To hear my father (born in 1920) tell it, in his generation the gradient between indoors and outdoors was even steeper. For boys, at least, you were either sitting in auntie's parlor in a starched white shirt, or you were outside smoking cigarettes, starting fires, stealing stuff, and getting into fist fights.

Today, burping and bad language are ok everywhere, but fist-fighting and cigarettes are ok nowhere. Are things better now, or worse? As a parent, I prefer today's approach. But that's probably just because I've fallen prey to the parental paranoias.

I sometimes worry that today's kids lack the free time needed to discover oneself. Or ... are we living in a world today for which "discovering oneself" has become as outmoded a concept as starched shirts in auntie's parlor?

Comments (5)

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Posted by whining parent
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 3, 2007 at 6:12 pm

I doubt you'll get any positive responses, because everyone on this forum is the type of whining PTA parent that has abolished all forms of fun so they can keep their kids sealed in a bubble where nothing can affect them. kids cant get into fistfights because whining parents will sue each other. kids cant run around and fall down and scrape their knees because whining parents will sue the city for the cracks in the sidewalk. kids cant get drunk and rowdy because whining neighbors will put up a stink about noise pollution. as long as parents and neighbors keep whining and squabbling about lawsuits, nobody will have any fun.


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Posted by childAtHeart
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Aug 6, 2007 at 8:59 am

You give your children the sort of childhood you wish you could have had.


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Posted by natasha
a resident of Meadow Park
on Aug 6, 2007 at 9:14 am

Last summer we moved from a very busy cut-through street with no children to play with (children yes, to play with, no) to a great neighborhood in South PA. I feel like I have stepped back in time. I expect to see a big old Rambler station wagon cruise down our street any time. My daughters stopped having a jillion activities and went to girl scouts, the swimming pool and that was basically it. They have a neighborhood friend and I was thrilled when I saw them all sitting up in a big tree, chatting and relaxing for an entire afternoon. It's hard to find other kids who aren't overscheduled, but when your kids can ride around the neighborhood on their bikes, cruise to the library and local park to play (independence!) and make up games to play together, it's the best. Far from giving them the sort of childhood I *wish* I had had, I am thrilled that at last they can experience a little of the childhood I DID have, growing up in College Terrace.


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Posted by freedom of childhood
a resident of Atherton
on Aug 13, 2007 at 5:55 pm

i agree to some extent. Childhood used to be about getting outside, now its about being "online" all the time! and they have summer home work! I thought the entire point of summer was a break from school! and the devide between school, after school and the weekends has gotten to be less and less prominant each year. homework after homework! ARGH! i never have anytime with my son anymore. hes always busy


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Posted by Parent Squared
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 8, 2007 at 6:01 am

I refuse to fill up my children's personal free time with any "scheduled activities" that they don't actively beg for, or their summers with loads of day camps etc. They go to the library, ride bikes around town, chill at friends' houses, swim at the local pool, read books, do personal art projects, etc, and spending too much time on the computer is discouraged (despite its inevitable appeal.)

That being said, their homework load often borders on the truly ridiculous, and they are often found doing homework until near (or in the case of my HS student) sometimes way past midnight. It seems that each teacher does not really care at all how much work all the other teachers have assigned to be done for the day / week. You know something is more than a little wrong when a school feels it actually must schedule a mere once-a-year -optional!- "no homework night" (which not every teacher follows.)

What gives?? There's plenty of time when our children are older (read: college and post college) to adjust to less time for themselves in life due to the necessity of working. Why can't kids have sufficient free personal growth time and a decent amount of self-driven discovery of life outside of "schedules" or "requirements" while they are still kids? When else will they have that chance?

PS; "Whining" most likely does not personally know everyone who posts on this board, and it is misguided at the very least to presume things about others whom one does not know. I myself would not presume to make all sorts of assumptions about "Whining", and "Whining's" life and choices, simply based on "Whining's" locale of residence alone.

Though, seriously; if one talks about "kids getting drunk and rowdy" - um... one cannot legally be a "kid" at all and actually do that. One must be a legal adult for a minimum of 3 years to be legally drink alcoholic beverages. Simply a fact established by current state law, be it just or not.


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