As I enter the waning years of my 30s I can’t help but fondly remember some of the crazy things my friends and I used to do growing up. I imagine that these were not special to just those of us in South Philly but things that happened everywhere.
Going out for Halloween meant that, along with a few friends, we would canvas what must have been two square miles of houses — without a parent in tow. Our costumes were plastic and flammable and were sometimes so generic they had to show pictures on them of who we were supposed to be. We would end up gathering so much candy that we would not only have to use pillowcases, but also need to stop home halfway through to empty them.
Playing outside meant that we would play football in the street using car bumpers and telephone poles as end-zones, stopping only when either a car came barreling down the block or when one of our parents dragged us in for dinner by our ears. We would be filthy at the end of the day. Knees that would get scraped on the asphalt would crust over with blood and dirt, but we kept on playing.
In school, our lunches were packed with calories and carbohydrates. Peanut butter and jelly were considered food groups. Tastykakes weren’t a treat, they were a pre-requisite. And if you were given your meals by the school system then ketchup was a vegetable, the meat was a mystery and the ice cream was always served to you with a wooden spoon. It was all delicious!
Recess meant that we would run around for 45 minutes on a playground, playing tag or jailbreak or kickball. We would keep score, even when only playing for fun. We would crush soda cans and play hockey using our feet. There was nothing quite like playing goalie and catching a squashed and jagged disk of aluminum with our bare hands to prevent a goal.
Now kids have it differently.
Halloween is something that must be coordinated during daylight hours and practiced only at the shopping mall. Instead of knocking on doors and getting treats, kids end up getting candy from Victoria’s Secret. Costumes must be bright and safe and candy must be triple checked for saturated fats and allergens. Kids dressed a cowboys can’t carry cap guns. All costumes must be sanitized for social acceptance and in school the Halloween parades have been replaced by October Optional Costume Galas so as not to offend.
Playtime must be done only while wearing the appropriate safety wear. Helmets and kneepads must be worn not just for sports but also while riding bikes. Playing in the street is deemed too unsafe so everything must be done at the park or at the playground and only with the parents present.
School lunches are sterilized and preapproved by the Surgeon General for maximum health standard. The food pyramid has been replaced by a complex food dodecahedron. Kids are scanned at the door upon entering schools not just for weapons but for something far more deadly: peanuts. Can’t chance it that Timmy in Mrs. Green’s class would go into anaphylactic shock knowing that there’s a Snickers bar on the premises.
Recess is handled like a police state. No running. Children may only walk or dance merrily across the school yard. Kickball and dodge ball do not exist. No one is allowed to keep score because no one is allowed to lose. Swing sets and jungle gyms have been replaced with fancier equipment that is safer for kids and the ground beneath their feet must be made from recycled tires. Even wood chips are far too deadly a surface to consider.
For Heaven’s sake, America! Open your eyes and grow a pair!
This latest generation of children is being raised to be nothing but a bunch of wimps! We’re creating a community of cowards; a population of the over-protected. It’s as if the only epidemic we really need to worry about as a society is not the bird flu but Obsessive Parenting. Kids aren’t allowed to be kids anymore. They have to be protected 24/7 by all means necessary, and that’s doing a bigger disservice to them than even the most painful budget cuts to education ever will.
Part of what made me the man I am today is all of the cuts and scrapes I had as a child. I broke both of my wrists when I was 13 years old when I jumped from the hood of a parked car while wrestling with some of my friends. After that day I learned never to jump from the hood of a parked car. A simple lesson, really, but clearly one that I needed to learn.
A lifetime of full-fat bologna and cheese sandwiches with lemon pies and chocolate pudding for lunch led me to the palate I have now. I eat sushi and tomatoes and mushrooms and shrimp and countless other foods that I wouldn’t have dared to touch when I was a youngster. And, God help me, I even ate peanuts. So many peanuts that I could have sent a school bus full of Autism Spectrum prevalent adolescents to the ER for life.
When I was bad I would get spanked. Or slapped. Occasionally even a hard plastic or wooden brush was used. Whatever was in my mother’s hands was a weapon because it at least kept her from breaking the blood vessels in her palms. Does this mean I was abused? Hell no! If I was being a brat I deserved it. Today, eight-year-olds are using their iPhones to text CPS to report their parents for child abuse.
It’s time to wake up. It’s time to let kids know that it’s OK to fall because that’s how you learn to get up again. It’s OK to lose because that’s how you learn to become a gracious winner. It’s OK to get scraped and cut because that’s how you learn to deal with adversity until you are healed. It’s OK to not like the things that other people like, or be the same kind of person that someone else is, because being different isn’t a challenge to be overcome. Being different is what makes us unique.
Stop being over-protective! Let your children be children! In order to let them learn from their mistakes you have to let them be able to make a mistake in the first place. This isn’t to say that care should not be taken when it comes to the life of a child. But being over protective does nothing more than mold a person into someone who cannot handle the twists and turns that life puts in front of us.
I’m grateful for my childhood of mistakes and the lessons my parents taught me. I’m thankful for the opportunities I was given in school, both to succeed and to fail. Those situations helped form the basis of my intelligence and my street smarts and frankly one of those two are something that this country is in short supply of lately.
Far be it for someone who has no children to tell you how to raise your own. But considering that I spent a good part of my life as a child I still think I’m entitled to an opinion on the matter.
Wounds heal. So do hurt feelings. And unless you allow your children to learn these things on their own and give them the opportunity to do so, then you’re not allowing them to be the best potential adults they can be. Stop being so overly-cautious and see what happens.
Your kids may just surprise you.