Friday, February 18, 2011

The Good Old Days

When we were kids our playgrounds consisted of the vomit-inducing merry-go-rounds, metal monkey bars set in concrete and the child-launching teeter-totter. The swings were slabs of splintered wood with cracked and peeling lead based paint suspended from a wobbly frame by rusting chains and the slides were steep with shallow sides and a metal base that would heat to boiling point in the summer, seering off a layer of skin with every slide down it. We played tether ball, dodge ball and lawn darts with our friends and cousins every free moment we had.

This was where we played, unsupervised from sun up to sun down on weekends and through out the summer. We would pack a peanut butter sandwich and some Koolaide in our backpacks and spend the day running wild with our friends. We explored the woods near the school, played in the creek that ran through the park and biked along the highway for miles, without helmets, adults or reflective clothing. We never thought about bug spray or sun screen, we were explorers, pirates and renegades. We were kids and this was our world.

Nowadays kids are helmeted, padded and bubbled wrapped while playing in their own yards and we would never even consider letting the precious wee ones bike to school alone, or play at the community park unsupervised. Kids aren't allowed near a puddle without a life jacket and a certified life guard in tow. Every time our kids step out the door we make sure they are slathered in SPF 900 and coated with deet free organic insect repellent. We feel like bad parents if we forget to pack a sunhat, hand sanitizer and a nut free, wheat free, gluten free, sugar free snack for our kids.

I know times have changed. I know that the world isn't like it was when we were kids and there are new dangers we have to protect our children from. We also have new technology, new research and a new understanding of childhood injuries and illnesses. These are good things to be aware of but sometimes I think we are doing our kids a disservice. We are protecting them rather than teaching them to be aware and self sufficient.

After the first time a wooden swing came at you didn't you learn to be aware of your surroundings? Didn't you learn to read a person's facial expression and the meaning it held when perched on the high end of a teeter-totter with your scheming cousin sitting on the low end? Didn't you learn the impact of weather on metal when you sat on a hot slide or touched your tongue to a cold monkey bar? And didn't you become more self aware, more honest about your physical capabilities when spinning at mock speed on the merry-go-round after lunch?

I'm not saying we should throw the kids to the lions and see how they do, I'm saying ease up a little. A scraped knee or bleeding nose won't kill them. If they fall off their bike, don't put the training wheels back on, pick them up, dust them off and get them back on the bike. Don't squash your child's natural curiosity and sense of adventure because you are trying to protect them, teach them how to assess the risk, make the necessary adjustments and let them give life a shot.

Just living is not enough. One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower. ~Hans Christian Anderson