It used to be that kids played without a play date — they just organized themselves into games played just for fun, like ringelevio, Johnny-ride-the-pony, stickball, and yo-yo. Now, sports and recreation are organized into programmed events with a daily schedule, and I call a week in advance for a movie date with my grandkids.
It also used to be that kids could walk and ride a bike to school safely. Nowadays, it takes a government program for kids to go to school on their own. Children now live in a permanent lockdown, their every moment planned organized and monitored. How did it get this way?
Stephen Mintz, a distinguished history professor at the University of Houston, has written an extraordinary book, Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood. It is an unsentimental, fact-filled, well-organized view of childhood over the last 300 years. Mintz says three big changes account for the current lockdown phenomena. The first is an explosion of anxiety over child abductions, sexual abuse, and a global saturation of events that inspire fear. Danger lurks everywhere, and no community is spared.
The second is parental panic. Parents want their children to get into the right schools; competitive achievement is seen as part of a Darwinian struggle for economic success and social esteem. So Kumon math is in (if you can afford it), but hunting for frogs or playing ringelevio is out.
The third is guilt. Both parents are often working hard and long hours, and they figure they owe their kids. Since their model of life is to be busy all the time, there’s little appreciation for kids just hanging out.
So here you have it . . . fear, competition and guilt are the primary motivators of the current climate. We need stop pushing our kids to be playing our games and give them back the freedom to be children.