Where Has Childhood Gone? (Society’s Lost Investment)

(Picture courtesy of Iwakuroleplay.com)

The other morning while listening to my favourite morning radio show, the hosts were discussing Childhood and how vastly different it is nowadays from way back when, which really isn’t that long ago.  The callers were asked to relate stories of things that they were allowed to do throughout their own youth which would NEVER fly today.  NEVER.  Story after story, I heard tidbits mostly of people playing outside as youngsters enjoying the freedom of:  trampolines, bike riding, running through & drinking from the water hose, climbing trees, rafting down rivers, exploring ravines, etc.  While some agreed that it was a miracle that they hadn’t seriously hurt themselves (though, a few had admitted to broken bones) you could almost ‘hear’ them smiling through the radio, as they happily recounted their many adventures and misadventures.  As I was listening, I could identify with much of what they said in relation to my brothers and my own time as kids.  It brought back many treasured childhood memories of playing outdoors ‘until the street lights came on’–apparently a common household rule, as I heard others also make mention of it on the radio.  What fun the three of us had!  Tenting in the backyard, having water balloon fights, playing basketball, skipping, ‘taking off’ on our bikes, gathering in a neighbour’s yard, organizing a game of football or street hockey, setting up teddy bear stands (similar to selling lemonade), picking flowers (aka weeds:-) for our moms, sailing toothpicks down the gutter after a rain, listening to music, waiting for the ice cream man, splashing in puddles…all the while laughing, arguing, playing, being!  Being a kid.  It was glorious.  Every minute of it.  Notice that I didn’t use the word perfect as we had our fair share of trials and tribulations along the way as life and family happens, but overall, we lived the epitome of a middle-class childhood, for which I am ever grateful.

Here is the thing, though.  That is how it used to be.  It is NOT how it is anymore.  Not in our part of the world, anyway.  Not based on what I see and have experienced for the most part, which seems to be the point agreed upon by the radio callers.  Many of them, who are parents themselves by the way, admitted that their own children have (had) a much different experience.  Playing outside?  NOT like we did.  Maybe a little.  The freedoms we had?  Nope!  Rather, they are limited freedoms.  The opportunity to learn, play and experience hurts together with our neighbours?  Uh-uh.  Safety being a primary concern these days.  Now, has it all gone bad?!  No, it hasn’t.  And, times have changed along with the world around us, whether or not we are willing to accept it.  Things will never be the same as they were, nor can they be just by necessity of the fact that change is the only constant around us.  Change does not mean that it’s bad either.  Just different.  Nonetheless, my heart can’t seem to stop hurting a little for how vastly different things have become, and not necessarily for the good.  Now, maybe I am just old-fashioned (or old and grumpy:-) and/or maybe my opinions are skewed, but based on what I have heard from the radio listeners and many others over the past decade or more, I am not alone.  And, I also know that the topic of an ‘entitled’ generation ‘who live in a bubble world’ is not an uncommon subject amongst professionals who have expressed concerns with children’s resiliency, psychological, physical and cognitive development.  As someone who has worked closely with little ones all day long for two decades, I can attest to some clear differences in the aforementioned issues over the course of my career.

At the heart of it, we ALL want our children to live an ideal childhood wherein they can live, learn and flourish at a rate that’s appropriate for them–hopefully, a slow rate.  You know, a chance for them to really be kids and to stay kids for as long as possible.  I know that’s all I want for the youngsters that I work with, along with the fact that I want them to be healthy and happy and to feel loved and that their thoughts, feelings and voice matter in this big ol’ world of ours.  And, in return, like the rest of us, they just want to feel loved for who they are and to know that we CARE.  That we CARE about them.  Do some of the changes in childhood reflect this altruistic attitude?  Of course!  I wouldn’t expect anything else nor would you.  Most ideas are implemented with the best interests of children in mind, and some things like helmets, seat belt restrictions, etc. are clearly for the good.  Other things, though?   Not so much.  In essence, I am talking about three things:  technology (including social media, TV and video games), lack of outside and/or creative, inventive play, and that sense of shielding them from almost everything including making mistakes/failing, taking personal responsibility for their actions and growing from their ‘faux-pas’ situations.   Should we do all that we can to protect our kids and keep them safe?  Well, that goes without saying I would think, though I’ve learned never to make assumptions.  But, I am not sure that we are doing them any favours with respect to the areas that I have mentioned.  Really, my point is that I am seeing less opportunities for children to be children, and obviously others are feeling the same as me.  In saying that, I value technology (I am using it right now) for example, but I also possess the ability to discern what’s good for me and what’s not, what’s real and what’s not as well as when enough is enough.  Our little ones do not!

Part of what I see that is going a bit sideways with things for our kids is that our world has become a whole lot busier (if that’s possible and apparently it is) than ever, which means less time spent with them.  An increasing number of children that I work with are silently, or outwardly in some cases, screaming for attention…any kind of attention, be it good or bad.  So, whose fault is that?  It’s all of our faults.  It is the society that we have created for ourselves fault.  We live in a world now where things and money matter tend to more than people, I dare say.  Just look at government funding…well, in Canada, anyway.  Less and less money has been set aside for education (and healthcare) over the years considering inflation, etc. reflecting a decrease in time and resources invested in kids.  In our general society, increased costs have forced more families to be stretched, which means more time given to acquire things that we need and want.  And, well…you know what that means.  Our youngsters suffer the results because even though they want things too, they want our time and attention more than anything else.  Guaranteed.  But, in the interests of keeping this post to a one-read document, I best stop here.

So, where does that leave me as I near the end of this blog entry.  I honestly don’t know.  Just pause for thought I guess at where we have been and where we are going.  For our children’s sake.  For their childood.  Please.

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