Why Kids Weren’t ‘Better Off’ Back in Your Day

girlsI’m starting to cringe when I hear a sentence begin with “well, when I was a kid.” I know what’s coming next: a diatribe about the current state of American childhood, and some high and mighty judgment of their parents.

It’s a sensitive area. I’m a parent raising an American child. I confess freely to being more than a shade biased.

And yet.

And yet …

I was a child in a different time. I remember all too well what it was like to grow up in a time before entire families sat in restaurants staring at screens rather than talking to one another, a time when a kid could play outdoors alone dreaming dreams and climbing trees without the nosy neighbor down the street calling CPS on his mom.

It was pretty dang awesome to grow up in the eighties, lusting after jellies and rocking a pair of LA Gear. I didn’t need video games; I had a Cabbage Patch doll.

We ate our sandwiches on white bread, and when I say ate, I mean we gobbled down the whole darn thing because there were starving kids in Ethiopia.
We practiced to get good at things, even if that was just hitting the “record” button at the exact right moment after Casey Kasem introduced “the” song you wanted for the perfect mix tape. And if we wanted raw cookie dough, gosh darnit, we ate raw cookie dough.

Oh those Halcyon days.

Those were the days when kids gnawed on the slats of cribs covered with thick layers of lead-based paint, and 4-year-olds learned to “drive” by steering the car from Dad’s lap during the family vacation. When kids were left in cars while Mom grocery shopped, and if she was feeling particularly generous, she might crack the window a wee bit.

Oh. Wait. A. Second.

I’ll be the first to admit that we modern parents have yet to figure it all out. If someone out there can tell me how to convince a 9-year-old that a winter coat works a whole lot better when actually zipped shut, I’m all ears.

And if someone could just go ahead and invent a contraption to remove the child’s school lunchbag from her bookbag, empty it, pack a new, healthy lunch, and then stow it in the refrigerator, I’d be awfully grateful.

But in the meantime, I’m pretty sure there’s a thing or two that we’re getting right.

Car seats, seatbelts, and lead-free paint being rather obvious (I hope?), but also connections to the world wide web that allow a small child in a small town in the middle of nowhere to access the same sort of education that their big city counterparts get and remembering that our kids aren’t just tiny adults. They’re children who need to be guided, but loved and respected too.

And if that means they’re nothing like kids back in your day, well, hey, maybe they’re the lucky ones.


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