Sunday, October 27, 2013

What our children have lost

This week's Monday Listicles theme is "trappings of modern life." I've been thinking about how things have changed since I was a child, and how my kids' childhoods are SO different from mine because of the trappings of modern life. It's a bit sad, actually, although in many ways their lives are better now. They do have it easier in many ways, but this week I am going to focus on what we've lost in the 21st century:

1. Blissful ignorance
When I was a child, we were aware of some environmental degradation (for example, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson), but we had no idea just how damaging global warming and climate change would be on our planet. We didn't know much about the deadly exposure of DDT, plastics, nuclear power, coal, chemicals being pumped into our water bodies, or asbestos. Because I work for an environmental consulting firm, I cannot close my eyes and be ignorant about the havoc we are wreaking on our planet. Sometimes I wish I could.

2. Young independence
The other day my 10-year-old cycled about 1/2 mile to a farm stand and bought a (heavy) pumpkin, and then brought it home in a backpack. I was really proud of him, and I remembered how much more independence I had at that age. We rode our bikes all over kingdom come (WITHOUT HELMETS)...every allowance day we'd ride up to the 7-11 a couple of miles away (across several busy roads) to buy candy. When I was in junior high, I rode my bike to school (3 to 4 miles away) and nearly got wiped out by a truck one day while cycling along a really busy road. Bicycle helmets are one of the best trappings of modern life!

3. Kids running things
When I was in high school, my friends and I ran our church youth group completely on our own. Every Easter, we'd put on a massive Easter breakfast, shopping and cooking for our entire congregation. Nowadays, the adults seem to run everything. The kids have to work, but the adults often do the organizing. I see this everywhere, and it's a shame. I think we do too much for our kids.

4. Less temptation
When I was in junior high and high school, the wild kids drank alcohol and smoked. The "stoners" would smoke pot, but that was about it. It might have been because I grew up in the suburbs, but the hard drugs didn't seem to be as plentiful or accessible as they are now. No crack, no meth...less temptation for kids craving an escape. Remember "Saturday Night Fever"? They were smoking and drinking, not doing drugs.

5. More time outside
Most of my great childhood memories were from being outside--playing in the backyard, roaming the neighborhood, camping, going to summer camp, running free. Nowadays it seems we have to make a conscious effort to get our kids outside, and because of heightened awareness of the dangers out there, we are less likely to let them roam freely.

6. Less scheduled time
I played intramural sports in grade school and junior high, took music lessons, and participated in Girl Scouts and Campfire Girls, but that was about it. There just wasn't anywhere near the variety of after-school activities when I was a child, and the sports didn't take nearly as much time. Now the overscheduling starts when they are in preschool! I was going to add as #7 that Americans had more family dinners together, but the good news is that myth has been disproven: "A study of a nationally representatives sampling of adults or guardians of children under 18 found that 71 percent of respondents said their families eat dinner together as often or more today than their families did when they were children."

7. Less fundraising
I remember selling Girl Scout cookies and Campfire candy (door to door), but that was the extent of it. The Girl Scout cookie fundraising wasn't anywhere near the huge production it is now, either. We never had to raise funds for our schools. No auctions, run for the arts, readaloudathons, wreath sales, cookie dough sales, wrapping paper sales, etc., etc. I long for those days!

My simple Christmas presents--dolls and a tea set!

8. Less crap
We didn't have as many possessions or toys to choose from. Mass production in China and other countries means that Toys R Us carries a huge volume and variety of toys. We didn't have that kind of selection, and toys were not as cheap either.

9. Less to watch
I remember the excitement when MTV came out, around the time that we were going to the video store to rent videos. It was such a novelty to be able to rent movies! Cable didn't exist, and if the video store didn't have "The Exorcist" available at the time, you had to come back on another day. 

Now kids watch on cable, Netflix, Hulu, illegal streaming sites, by DVD, etc., on TVs, computers, iPads, and iPods. There's no shortage of content or places to watch. We are really mean parents because we don't have cable. We've found when we've had Netflix occasionally, it increases their TV addiction. The less available, the less they're drawn to it.

10. Less pressure
The young, carefree me 
We had no "tiger moms" in the 1960s and 1970s! No parents were trying to create the perfect child (at least, not in Oregon!). Preschool and kindergarten were optional--my parents enrolled us in both because they believed in early childhood education, but they weren't required and most certainly were not "academic" preschools! And there was certainly no "no child left behind"! Many kids didn't learn how to read until first grade, not kindergarten. We took standard tests, but teachers didn't teach to the tests like they have to now.

High school kids had never heard of AP or honors classes (AP was brand new when I was a senior in high school), running starts to college, or 
baccalaureate programs. When I took the SAT, I took it ONE TIME (now many students take it more than once to try to improve their score). No one ever took it more than once back then unless there was something wrong. I applied to one college where I knew I wanted to go, not 10 or 15 like some kids do now. 

Sometimes I think we've lost some things along the way. Our kids are under more pressure but they have less independence, less time outside, and more crap and time online (the trappings of modern life). 

On the other hand, girls have far more opportunities, and we have a black president. LGBT people are in a much better position. My teenage son has a couple of classmates who are gay, one of whom is out and the other one is out only to a few friends, including my son. Being gay is totally normal to my sons. This is a VAST improvement over what it was like when I was a young person. Things have improved in many ways. With progress comes loss, I suppose.

Join in the fun at Monday Listicles at The Good Life!


  1. So true on this list. I often wish for simpler times for my kids. I'm dreading the teenage years - I think they will have more to face than back in the day when I was teenager for sure.

  2. wow...each of your lists always makes me think. I started to are so right. Dino is growing up in a world where he will never get to experience the childhood I did. I'm sure my parents felt the same way about me...sighs. On the many wonderful new changed and acceptances out there too...with the good always comes the bad.

  3. The one I think of as the biggest loss -- both to kids and parents -- is the being able to bike everywhere. I biked to the library once or twice a week during the summers when both my parents worked. I would never have read as much if I'd had to wait for a ride from a parent. My kids lived closer to the library than I did, but didn't go on their own -- and they love to read -- just that difference of not being allowed/expected to be that independent(?) or it not being safe to be out alone.

  4. So true. We walked or biked to school, played outside until dark, walked to friends' houses a few blocks away... even in the heart of Toronto, I had a lot more independence at a much earlier age than my kids will.
    I also mourn the shrinking nuclear family. It takes a village, and we have lost ours. The effect on our kids is devastating.

  5. I love this. Yes to all. It's like we are sisters! I just wrote a check to my son's school cause I told them I am not pimping my kid out to the world to sell cookies. His job is to learn how to read and write this year, not earn $200 bucks in exchange for a stuffed monkey. So I gave them cash instead. When I was young our fundraiser was more like collecting newspapers around our neighborhood to recycle them for cash we would spend on a end of year trip.