Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Perfect Childhood?

This past week both Book World and Big A little a posted on some articles in the British Press that were critical of the culture in which children were growing up.

Is childhood being destroyed by too much junk food, electronic gizmos and pushy parents?

I guess that depends on what you decide it means to be a child.

Visions of idyllic childhoods come to us from any number of places, primarily books and movies (though now that I think about it – in a lot of books, children have a substantially less than idyllic life.) I think it’s easy to picture the ideal childhood: children romping through meadows (as an aside, I was reading a book to my children the other day and in it the mother dog says to her pups “Go romp.” My daughter promptly said she didn’t think she’d ever been told to ‘romp.’ I figure they do enough ‘romping’ without being told.), girls with daisy chains in their hair, boys building forts and tree houses; kids going fishing or bike riding for hours on end. Pick-up games of ball in the vacant lot. Days at the beach or the lake with no one to answer to.

Did these days ever exist?

When was the perfect time to be a child? Was there such a time?

I think that everyone (providing they had a pleasant life) thinks that the time of their own childhood was just fine – ‘the good old days’ – but every age has problems.

The sixties and seventies were a nice time to grow up – provided you stayed out of contact with the drug culture and race riots.

The post-war fifties give us lots of images of “Dick and Jane” perfect childhoods – but what about the polio scares that kept people isolated and indoors for whole summers?

The first half of the forties was a time of war – a war that impacted very much on the home front.

The thirties had the depression – I’m sure there are children who have wonderful childhood memories – but some of those memories include having to get up before dawn to sell newspapers or apples, or work in fields.

They enacted child labor laws at the turn of the century for a reason – and it wasn’t because kids were being told to clean their rooms.

That said – what about now – are our children over-scheduled and over-burdened? Maybe some are. Sometimes the kids are in eight weeks of various summer camps because both parents work, and you can’t just leave a kid home alone all summer – and most jobs don’t give eight weeks of vacation.

Are there a lot more organized sports – and a lot less pick-up games in the vacant lots. Well, there are also a lot less vacant lots – and less kids home and available to play at any time (remember the kids in eight weeks of camp because the parents work?)

So, is childhood being destroyed? That depends? How do you define childhood and where can you find it?

Childhoods are as individual as children.

Should children eat less junk food, play less video games, spend more time exercising. Um – yeah – and so should adults.

Most parents want what is best for their children. What that is changes with the ages. Maybe in the fifties a child could leave home at breakfast and not show up until dinner. Now if a mother has no idea where her child is for the entire day, she is likely to be reported to child services for neglect.

Kids need to interact with other kids – if that means Thursday afternoon French class, then so be it. But they also need time to be alone. Time to be bored (Sandra at Book World goes into this) because it is when a child is bored that he gets creative (depending on the child this can be either a good or a bad thing.)

I don’t think we are destroying childhood. There are a lot of places in the world where ‘childhood’ as we know it doesn’t even exist. Childhood changes – with each new generation it changes – and there is always another generation of people looking back going – “things were better when I was young?”

But were they?


Kelly said...

Very nice post, Christine. I agree with what you've said.

Liz B said...

True that, Christine! (And I think this should be the post you offer up for the Carnival at Wands & Worlds.)

My mother will talk about her childhood and those who listen may start to sigh and think, oh, the good old days: freedom to roam the city (she grew up in NYC, blocks from Central Park); and then when she moved to the Jersey Shore in her teens, growing up at a shore town.

BUT: there were the "dirty old men" exposing themselves daily in the park (ignore them, her mother said) and the rats who lived under the tub. As she says, they never had a pet cat; but they always had cats. Not as pets, but to keep the mice & rats away. And while the shore was great in some ways -- other issues existed, from prejudice, to being stranded & isolated because of no access to transportation, money issues.

Nancy said...

This is a great post!

One thing that always fascinates me is this question of what happened that the world started getting more dangerous around the time I turned 12. I used to think it was simply that I had gotten more aware of the danger that was always there. Then I thought maybe the world got more aware about the danger that was always there. Now... I think the world is more dangerous for kids today than it was 25 years ago, and the awareness is higher among both the kids themselves and society in general. And I think that does mean kids have a different kind of childhood today than I did in 1980. I am sorry for what kids have lost, and I wonder if things will only look worse in another 25 years.

That said, you make good points about the decades before, and how each came with its problems. Perhaps mine is simply an involuntary nostalgia, founded only in my own reality. Perhaps kids are just, in their very make-up, able to create "perfect" childhoods out of the materials they are handed.