As a parent, I have often heard, and said, “Things are different now. We can’t let our kids do what we did as children.”
I’m not sure, but I might be lying both to myself and to my kids.
When I think back to my summers growing up in what could only charitably be called “the suburbs” of Mobile, Alabama, the environment is very similar to where my kids live now.
- My childhood “Pine Run” community spanned a linear mile easily, with numerous side streets. Today, we live in a similarly-sized neighborhood, albeit with a few more hills.
- Riding around on my little Huffy bike growing up, there were always people around. Today, there are probably more people walking around my community because we have sidewalks, where there were none when I was little.
- We had our share of weirdos and pervs in my youth. In fact, growing up, I lived just through the woods from the “Albert P. Brewer Development Center.” Closed now, the Center was a hospital for the mentally challenged. Now and again, one of the patients would “escape” and the local police would drive through the neighborhood keeping a lookout. We all knew then not to talk to strangers or, God forbid, take candy from them. None of that has changed today.
So why do we kid ourselves and pretend like we’re protecting our children from “the times” when things are little changed from when we were kids?
I don’t know for sure, but I think it comes down to awareness. Awareness of what’s going on around us. Awareness of the “statistics” around child trafficking and homicides and heaven forbid, the awareness that our every move is being watched, and judged, by other parents.
During this COVID lockdown, my three children, led by my 16-year-old, have taken to 10-15 mile bicycle rides during the day. I showed them a good circuit once and they’ve repeated it just about every day for a week now.
But, along the route, they pass a couple of my daughter’s friends’ houses. One of which, includes a helicopter mom who simply cannot believe we allow our three kids to roam around on their own.
I can’t help but recall my summers growing up. Dad would leave for work. My brother and I would eat breakfast and then we were either doing chores or kicked out of the house for the next 4-6 hours, returning only for lunch or a Band-Aid. If you were thirsty, there was a hose on the side of the house.
We spent our days riding bicycles all around the neighborhood, and yes, often where our parents told us not to go. But that’s what being a kid is about; exploring on your own and taking risks and hoping you don’t get hurt or worse yet, caught.
If my parents had seen the poorly constructed bike ramps I jumped or seen some of the disgusting bodies of water we skim-boarded in with our pilfered bits of plywood from our father’s garages, they’d have been furious.
But they didn’t see it; we did it anyway, and we survived. And we made some pretty great memories along the way.
Still, though, the thought of allowing my 10-year old daughter to ride her bike alone in the neighborhood terrifies me–as it should. But that’s on me, not her. She knows what to, and not to, do and that’s the best I can do at this point.
Let your kids go out and just “play.” They might surprise themselves, and you.