This morning, my mother forwarded an email to me that should have been funny. It was one of those “things we did when we were kids that you can’t do now” sort of emails. Sure, I grinned when I first started reading it. Memories of doing most of the things on the list filled me. I remembered those fun days. I also know that times have changed,but not necessarily in the ways Big Brother and the Nanny State of Mind would have us believe.
I can already hear the cries of outrage from the tiger parents at the thought of letting their kids have any free time that isn’t devoted to advancing the cause of getting their children into the best day car, nursery school, private schools and colleges. The helicopter parents scream in fear at the thought of their kids wandering out of their sight. I’ve never figured out if it was fear of something bad happening to the kids or fear the kids might have fun without the parent or, even worse, they they might find out that their parents don’t have to be involved in every aspect of their lives.
I know the arguments against letting our kids wander like we used to. The world has turned into a bad place to live. You have to be ever vigilant or something horrible might happen. The problem is, there have always been bad people and bad things could always happen. I can’t put my finger on when attitudes changed but no longer do all too many parents teach their kids to be self-sufficient. We teach them stranger danger instead of teaching them to read situations and avoid them. We have zero tolerance, reinforcing in our kids the idea that not only should they not fight back to protect themselves but that it is wrong to do so. I won’t even get into the lack of consequences for their own poor choices, much less bad choices.
Growing up, it wasn’t unusual for a group of us to get together in the morning and go off for the day. Sometimes we stayed close to home and other times we jumped on our bikes and rode and rode. We explored and played and — gasp — talked with one another. There were no cell phones tying us with some invisible umbilical cord to our parents. No, we were trusted to tell them where we were going, how long we would be gone and when we would be home. We might have to check in once or twice and there would be hell to pay if we were late and didn’t let them know.
Today, if a child goes across the street to the park and there isn’t an adult within a few yards of him, some “well-meaning” neighbor calls Child Protective Services. Children walking to or from school alone, heaven help the parent. They might have a visit from the cops and, if they are really lucky (tongue firmly planted in cheek), they will find themselves fighting to retain custody of their kids.
Our kids are prevented from protecting themselves at school from those who would bully them. If they are shoved or pushed, they can’t fight back. Were they to do so, they very well might find themselves in the same alternative school as the student who shoved or pushed them. Yeah, that’s going to solve the problem.
We have to police what we are about to say because it might hurt someone’s feelings. What is ironic, in a sad sort of way, is that so many of those who demand trigger warnings and want safe places are, in fact, the biggest bullies of all. They demand everyone else honor and respect their tender feelings but they have no problem trampling on the rights of those who don’t use the right code words and trigger warnings. They use their victimhood in an attempt to silence those they don’t agree with. We have universities that have basically tossed free speech out the window for fear of being sued by one of the special little darlings.
But what is truly troubling about the attitude so many in our country have that demands we wrap our kids in figurative cotton to protect them for anything that might happen or that might hurt their feelings is that we now have a generation where all too many are incapable of dealing with real life. When a kid grows up without ever facing consequences for poor choices, she won’t know that bad things can happen as an adult when she continues making those poor choices she had been rewarded for as a kid. Worse in many ways, those same kids aren’t being taught that real life includes sometimes failing. You aren’t always going to be picked for the team and you sure as hell aren’t always going to be the best at everything you do.
There are going to be people who don’t like you. Even if they do like you, they won’t always agree with you. We are doing our children a grave disservice by always telling them they are the best at everything they do.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my son and, in my eyes, he is perfect and he should be able to do whatever he wants. That said, the realist in me knows that there are things he isn’t perfect at. Fortunately, he knows that he isn’t perfect and, when he wants something that doesn’t come naturally for him, he works for it. He has learned that there are times when he will fall — or when he will fail. He knows that the only thing to do then is to get up and try again. If he really wants it, he will do whatever he can to earn what he wants.
He doesn’t believe he is owed it simply because he exists. He values himself but he also values the idea of having to work for something he wants. It means more when you’ve actually had to work for something. You value it more than if it is handed to you simply because you want it.
While I don’t want to give up my tech, I do wish we could get back to the mindset of letting kids be kids and teaching them that they need to work — whether it is academically or a job or whatever — to get what they want. We need to teach them that there are consequences to their actions and their inaction. Yes, our kids are precious but they aren’t perfect nor are they as fragile as we have made them out to be.
We need to let them run and play — hell, we need to kick them outside so they will do so. We need to let them walk to the park without fear of being picked up by the cops and the parents being turned in to CPS. We need to tell those well-meaning neighbors (and I use that term loosely) to get a life. While it is nice someone is keeping an eye on the neighborhood, where is the common sense?
Most of all, we need to remember that these special little darlings we are raising are the ones who will be running this country in another few years. It’s not too late with a lot of them to teach them what it means to be an adult. No, what it means to be a responsible adult who recognizes her shortcomings, knows her strengths and who works to improve and overcome. It means a return of common sense. It means we let go of the Nanny State.
It means stepping up and acting like adults and setting the example for our kids. A lot of us are already doing just that. Unfortunately, there are days when I wonder if we aren’t in the minority. Then I look at young adults like my son and his friends and know that we aren’t. It’s just that the others get the press. After all, the media would much rather cover victims, even professional victims, than responsible young adults who are doing their best to be the best people they can without asking for unearned handouts along the way.
But then what do I know? I rode my bike for hours, would be gone from breakfast to night, rode in the back of pickups and played on ball fields with dirt and grass and not artificial turf. I knew I had to do my homework or get a failing grade — and then get in trouble when my parents found out. I had chores to do around the house and had to earn my allowance. I am, you see, a dinosaur but I refuse to die out and, fortunately, there are a lot of others who feel like. As long as there are, there is hope for the future generations.