The only thing to do was play which we did prodigiously - I was part of a large mix-aged group (6-12 kids, 5 years age difference) and we would play everything (sports, house, building things, demolishing things, raising stray animals, foraging fruit, fighting other kids). It was a great childhood and neither I nor my childhood friends (most of us are still friends, even across continents) would trade it for anything. Interestingly, it was almost the same childhood my mom and dad had.
My sister (the de-facto leader of our group) now has children and their childhood could not be any different - constantly shuttled from home to school to organized activity. Play only for a bit under heavily supervised conditions (ie, birthday party at another kids house) and filled to the brim with tablets, phones, computers etc.
I feel very bad for my nephew's effective lack of childhood, even more so because it seems that doing something differently is a big social taboo. My mom, siter and I have talked about this, and my sister described being almost powerless - who would they play with? Where? What are other parents going to think? etc etc.
When I go to places like rural Belize or small-town Costa Rica I see kids still playing and I wonder if that's not the best place to raise a small kid (4-10 years old).
* That was a proverbial you, no you specifically OP.
The reason why this is relevant is that he would often rail against the same university that was cracking down on underage drinking because parents were worried about their kids. It was typically the same parents who partook in these shenanigans about 40 years before - yet didn't want their kids to have the same experience.
Talk about complete hypocrites.
I'd still call them hypocrites, or at least accuse them of lacking in the critical thinking department, but hypocrites to a much lesser extent.
(I got drunk first time when I was 14 and have no strong opinion on when it should be legal to buy alcohol.)
I suspect many would also oppose dropping the legal age for MADD inspired reasons (god I hate that organization.... bunch of neo-prohibitionists...) even though they think their kid is responsible enough.
I do agree though, most probably do think that the age could be lower.
An example is with the revelations about the concussions in football. Some parents, even ones who may have played football in their day, may not want their kids playing football. This doesn't cross that line and is not hypocritical.
Another example is with a fair number of religious fathers that I've met as a young man and and adult. I dated a girl who's father was overly concerned about her safety. Fair enough. We met at a Dairy Queen so I could ask her to a dance. He proceeds to tell me that he knows 'how boys are' because he partied and caroused when he was younger, before he found 'the Lord'. Now, I know how boys are as well - I was one at the time, heh - but I wasn't that boy. I wasn't him, yet, I was lumped into a group I wasn't a part of and lectured on how to be a gentleman. That's hypocritical.
Another example. I fucking hate 'The View' yet still end up seeing way too much of it due to my wife. One of the hosts has said that she's had multiple abortions in her lifetime but now that she's had a kid she leans pro-life. So while it was fine when she was poor and had no way of supporting a child (multiple times I remind you), now that she's rich she would've chosen differently. That's hypocritical.
I guess the line is where you don't own your previous decisions instead of making excuses for them. I think we can all accept the 'we didn't know the consequences' as not hypocritical but the 'I just don't want you to do what I did' is right out.
I don't know which is the case, though I do know somebody who goes with the later. I can't say I respect them very much.
I had this discussion with my mother (who went to school in the early 70s) when I entered school. Her position boiled down to it being reasonable for her to drink because it was legal, and unreasonable for me to drink simply because it was illegal. Now, I don't equate legality to morality, in no small part because she didn't raise me to do that. When pressed to actually explain her disapproval, she relented and admitted that her position was hypocritical.
Hypocrisy isn't about changing your mind. It is about holding yourself to a different standard.
I would describe her position at the time as slightly hypocritical, or at least poorly considered. To be clear, I don't think anti-kids-these-days-drinking attitudes are categorically extremely hypocritical, just often so.
Considering their changing minds can lead to people being convicted for crimes they themselves were guilty of, does that count as hypocrisy?
Of course it does, because such opinions don't come with a disclaimer. Any conversation with a child or a school principal about drinking should start with "You know, I got wasted several times in college...".
Now, I do see this schedule-every-second-vibe from my generation and am not liking it one bit. My younger brother is trying to find or build decent play equipment for his boy as he grows up.
1) some organized sports is fine, but this scheduling every waking minute of your child's time is psycho
I've lived in East Asia for the last 25 years and was appalled to see what educational systems in Japan and Hong Kong did to children, and the kind of employees they make later in life.
Later I moved to SE Asia and in the countryside you still see children leading healthy childhoods, while the middle class, especially in the cities seem hellbent on screwing up their children's lives. When I first moved to Thailand things were okay, now they are terrible. Now that I live in Cambodia I am seeing the same processes happen. It's very sad.
The exception, and it's a very small exception, is in some of the International schools you see scattered around Asia. There are a few very good schools out here, where children are brought up in a mixed culture and linguistic environment, are given a great deal more freedom to explore and time to play, and choose for themselves. International schools are set primarily to educate children of expat families living abroad. But it's becoming common to see more and more local children being enrolled in the better of these schools. I know a school in Hong Kong who has had to limit the number of local children that they enroll because otherwise there wouldn't be any expat children in the school at all.
Because I so rarely visit the States, I didn't realize until the last five or six years how bad things had become. Most American children now are subject to the worst of the old American industrial education system and the worst of the eastern, the student is an open vessel for the teacher to pour his wisdom into, all in one package.
I would never raise a child in the States, because IMHO it would be tantamount to child abuse.
This comment is bad math, bad history, and bad analysis.
Please. Try. Harder.
[NB: GP was <10yrs old in 1990. He was not the parks comissioner of New York City in the 1990s. Etc.]
“I grew up on the monkey bars in Fort Tryon Park, and I never forgot how good it felt to get to the top of them,” Mr. Stern said. “I didn’t want to see that playground bowdlerized. I said that as long as I was parks commissioner, those monkey bars were going to stay.”
His philosophy seemed reactionary at the time, but today it’s shared by some researchers who question the value of safety-first playgrounds. Even if children do suffer fewer physical injuries — and the evidence for that is debatable — the critics say that these playgrounds may stunt emotional development, leaving children with anxieties and fears that are ultimately worse than a broken bone.
Right. We can infer in 1990 that in the power structures of NYC, people were motivated to de-risk playgrounds. Agreed. The larger point is that the earlier post was written by someone who was ~10 in 1990, and still in middle school or so during this quote. The people "in the power structures" in NYC and the ~young kids (in the schools out in the country side), are non-intersecting sets in a venn diagram. As a point of history, The destruction of playgrounds was a byproduct of Urban politics, and then became a political/cultural issue that was a holy-cow of school administrators. Again, this is a venn-diagram (urban, teachers) that is not overlapping with the accused (rural, student).
Plus, policies are not made by a generation but politicians and social and economic circumstances. There's never been a meeting of whatever generation to decide policy, that happens elsewhere. The narrative is in the "not even wrong" category.
> There's never been a meeting of whatever generation to decide policy, that happens elsewhere.
Of course there's never been a meeting. The generation doesn't meet. But it does decide policy. Who meets to set the price of copper?
"In today's America, where parents chauffeur kids to "play dates," only on the poorest streets do 7-year-olds still roam free ... but they don't go to movies much because tickets are so pricey ... the concession stand is even more expensive ... and you can't just walk into any movie (it might not be rated for kids) ... and you have to know the exact time a film starts ... and shopping-mall movie theatres are rarely within walking distance. Today you're blitzed by TV ad campaigns and product tie-ins in fast-food joints, so you know all about a Hollywood film before it starts ... and today's urban parents panic if their grade-school children disappear, unaccounted for, for hours on end.
Fifty years ago, none of that was so. In the larger cities, two or three movie theatres were in walking distance of most neighborhoods. Each had but one screen. The program began with a newsreel, a few cartoons, and brief "coming attractions" (not today's compilations that tell the whole story). Then the "features" began -- plural, features, for all neighborhood theatres played double, sometimes triple, features, two or three movies for the price of one ticket. Nothing was rated, there were no sex scenes or obscenities; anyone could go to any movie. Admission price for a kid was rarely more than a quarter. Popcorn for a dime, a Coke for a nickel. They weren't supposed to sell kids tickets during school hours, but they did. As for kids roaming about -- "Go play in traffic," our parents would say, and they wouldn't be surprised if we didn't walk in 'til dinnertime, which in our immigrant neighborhood wasn't until after 7."
Now the cast and crew are contractors, producers, studios, and theaters are separate entities with each one having to grow 10% annually. The last movie I watched had 10 minutes of end credits. Movies have gotten far more complex in production and there are a lot of hands in the pot now.
Still much worse cinematography and script-wise than older stuff, from Hitchcock and Capra to Pekinpah and Copolla.
With a few exceptions, like Tarantino, 90% of the stuff coming out are aimed at teenagers with ADD (including 20 somethings that still play GTA). And the more "serious" stuff is usually some bad formulaic (as opposed to good formulaic) melodrama BS.
Admission rates for colleges have been dropping across the board, for top tier schools even more sharply. When success in life in large part is still defined by one's undergraduate institution you can see why parents would focus on that at the expense of everything else.
I'm not a parent yet, and am not planning to be in the near future, but I've been thinking a lot about parenting now that I'm fully out of my childhood and it basically seems to come down to a bunch of tough compromises.
1. Cutbacks of "scheduled creativity" time at school. This is a HUGE one. In the 70's, my school had an art class, music class, plenty of PE. Now, that's hugely, hugely cut. If I want my kid to do art? music? sports? (she wants to, after all). After-school scheduled activity time!
2. 2 working parents. We're pretty free range, don't need to hover over playing kids, but we need to be within walking distance (at home down the street, or whatever). Juggling that "freely" as opposed to strictly-set activities? Much harder. Even if you get 1 afternoon free a week, there aren't other parents to trade off with.
3. Basically, chicken-and-egg. If my kid doesn't have anyone to play with because they're all off at activities, better to have them doing these activities with their peers than sitting at home bored and idle (not that some down/idle time isn't good, but there can be too much).
Can't think of ANYONE in my peer group who's worried about college for their kids yet. Maybe in a couple years.
Which, of course, does wonders for the forbidden fruit aspect of things. Oh, and we had computers too. Big, slow things but they were there and just as fun to play with. But their relative rarity forced us to be social to a degree.
I'll go back inside so you can play on my yard now :-).
These suburbs, often designed after 1950s, were designed for car travel, rather than walking or biking. Many suburbs are designed with streets as fractals, often without sidewalks. It might be a "safe" subdivision, but there was a real risk in being run over by cars. Kids living in suburbia had to be driven everywhere for activities.
It's no coincidence that the kids growing up in that environment and coming into adulthood have increasingly moved to gentrified neighborhoods (the ones designed for walking). There has been a decline in buying cars. Whether that means allowing the kids to have free play remains to be seen. (But I suspect, things like the popularity of the books, The Dangerous Book for Boys, The Daring Book for Girls are indicative).
I do not see how this could be happening in aggregate. College attendance is way up over the last few decades, even at the graduate level. Sure, top schools are more competitive, but that is only because their is more to filter out, and newer schools would seemingly pick up the slack. Many of the less than reputable for-profit schools have pretty much no admission requirements (except $$$). I personally think this new evolving system is still extremely problematic, but not because of admissions.
In my neighborhood, kids started working with professional strength coaches in middle-school in an effort to make varsity football or basketball. Excessive instruction in music was common. 2-3 sports a season on top of volunteer work or part-time jobs.
It's all in an effort to get a leg up at college admissions time. And it's absolutely insane.
Starting them off in a sport or two seems fine, that's how I grew up anyway, but at least in my case there wasn't an excessively strong drive to excel there. I certainly wasn't going for a sports scholarship, so keeping fit and just being able to write "Sports, k-12" on my college application was good enough. One or two kids had really driving parents and I think the rest of us always felt bad for those kids, but it wasn't the norm.
Even when we played well-known games, they had at least some element of improvisation. For example, if we couldn't pool enough money to buy a rubber soccer ball, we would find a soda can, crush it on the ground and use it as the ball. There would be rules with that, such as wearing close-toed shoes and keeping the can on the ground at all times (if it took into the air it became a sharp and dangerous projectile). The interesting thing is that these rules were invented on the spot by us kids. Parents had no involvement.
One of the major differences I noticed when I came to America for college was that, in social settings, people were utterly incapable of improvising a game from scratch. We always had to play a game that someone else had invented, such as a board game or a well-known drinking game - both of which had strict rules. And if the board game was missing a piece? It was deemed unplayable. No one tried to improvise a solution because it required outside-the-box thinking. One weekend, the guy who had all the board games went back home to visit his parents, and his door was locked. So I found a large piece of cardboard from the trashcans behind the dormitory, and some supplies, and spent an hour or so creating a board game. When I presented it to the group, people were stunned. We played for hours and I became the god damn hero.
The interesting thing is that I notice the same patterns in the workplace. But I don't want to turn this into work talk!
Playing the system. Its the new, new thing.
Also, while I didn't spend that much time among modern kids, I do see them having lots of fun (yes, with the eeevil tablets too, sometimes), and then going to organized activities that they often pick themselves and seem to enjoy more than kicking a brick or bullying (sorry, was I meant to say "fighting"? Well, I won't) another group of kids. And then they get a bit older, and find sports or creative or technical activities that were completely out of reach of most kids growing up in the magical eighties.
It's just part "our times were different", part golden age mythology. In reality, the entire concept of childhood as we modernly understand it is fairly young, and the idea that kids play and adults don't is ridiculous. Furthermore, it's just us adults judging kids to not having played enough without putting their health in danger or at least getting uncomfortably dirty.
Modern kids play. A lot. Just because they play in a way that's different from yours or bucolic paintings doesn't mean they don't actually have more fun than you did.
I'm sorry for your experience, but that's absolutely not what I meant, nor what happened. "Fighting" as I said there was actually things like snowball fights in the winter or paper-cone-in-tube or soft/rotten-fruit-in-sligshot fights in the summer, and always in a group-vs-group setting. I am in fact your fairly typical shy introverted bookish geek and the reason I think so highly of this type of play is precisely because it allowed me to overcome these tendencies and be a normal kid.
My real worry here isn't that kids today aren't doing the exact same things I did. It's that they don't have the option to do certain things anymore - things which may in fact be extremely valuable. What I described in my OP wasn't false, but it wasn't complete - I also spent much time playing Legos, reading books, "technical activities" with my dad's tools. Better or worse, one thing I can definitely say is my nephew has far fewer options and choices than I did at his age.
That was always what the less lucky kids were told when they complained. And then painted as spoil-sports until they stopped complaining to avoid embarrassment.
> It's that they don't have the option to do certain things anymore - things which may in fact be extremely valuable.
I don't know about your specific family, but in general, they have far, far more options, up to and including extreme sports. Pretty sure I didn't know any kid that could try climbing or spelunking in the eighties.
Where "fighting games" includes snowball fights? Seriously, that is all kids above the mason-dixon line (and I assume kids in the south have some equally harmless equivalent. Water-balloon fights probably.)
As a staple of entertainment? Yeah. People can be very, very mean using just plain old boring snowballs.
We would have Acorn fights, snowball fights, and water balloon fights.
Were some kids singled out? It might have happened once-in-awhile (including me), but this always happens with any group of kids.
> It's not like you can fill your entire week with dancing lessons and survive for long.
Maybe you haven't seen people that have been doing X (for various values of X) since they were 5 or 6 (e.g. Tiger Woods, gymnasts, hardcore ballerinas, etc).
It seems a rather "Harrison Bergeron" to disparage the sort of unsupervised and unrestrained play that martythemaniak is talking about just because some fraction of children are ill-equipped to participate in it.
I don't think that LaGrange would ever want forced equality. He's just adding perspective. And I think it's fair to say that kids will just find ways to have fun, either with tablets or without.
In one of our in-groups we hang out with occasionally, I've seen kids grow through the past 10 years. About 2-3 years ago, they started showing up to parties/events with iPads. Now they don't (even their little brothers sisters). Sometimes they were crowded around the Wii. Nowadays they aren't (again also the littler ones).
Kids will find ways to have fun with each other, and make use of their spare time. I don't think technology and the proliferation of digital toys are poisoning them. I think the lack of free time in general in our modern society is more pernicious (both for kids and their parents). Free time is a resource that is precious even for kids - give them this and they'll turn out ok.
Disparaging unsupervised and unstructured play because some people find themselves unable to enjoy participating in that seems like exactly the sort of thing the book was (with hyperbole, obviously) warning us about.
Honestly, I don't think technology is damaging to children either. However I do think that too much structure and supervision is, even if some children find themselves unable to thrive without supervision and structure.
The book (or more accurately, Vonnegut) argued exactly the opposite. Burgeron is the protagonist, so we empathize with his worldview against the dystopian future. Reading further to other works by the same author, it's a recurring theme (e.g.: Slaughterhouse Five).
One of my observations has been that kids today are less shitty than they used to be. More structure means that less is left to the Lord of the Flies-esque social mechanics that arise among children left to their own devices.
I've mentioned this on HN before, but when I was a child I was a boy scout and my experiences in that organization left a very bad taste in my mouth. Specifically during long camping trips you would frequently get very strong "Lord of the Flies" type situations that would escalate for days on end. When I was just at home, getting in stick fights and throwing rocks with neighborhood kids in the woods, any of us could always just run home when the others began to get absurdly out of line. On long camping trips with BSA there was no such escape. Although I was never really the victim of those situations, on several occasions things did plainly get out of hand.
Tearing around the neighborhood looking for trouble though? I think that is fine. As long as kids can reasonably tap themselves out, and don't remain locked into the situation for days on end, I don't think there is a risk of much permanent damage. Most common worse case scenario: some kids just don't play with the others; no big deal.
Edit: Thinking about it more, having evenings "off" also probably provides a much needed 'cool down' time for kids to reflect and prevent strong 'cult of personality' situations from taking root. Constant exposure allows mini-tyrants to get people under their thumb in a way that just cannot be replicated. Constant exposure probably explains a lot of what I experienced.
EDIT: To clarify, it's not just based on my sister, but what I just said was anecdotal. I didn't mean to argue your point, but rather I'd like to hear why you think it is the case, when my experience has been different.
Make sure to also point out that it was also "restrained" by gravity, conservation of energy, and limited access to high explosives...
Of course with imagination none of these things are actually restraints to children, and with imagination on your part you should be able to figure out that the restraint I am talking about is helicopter parents jumping in every time little Jimmy throws his water balloon at somebody instead of just playing catch with it like a "good boy" should.
I am talking about freedom from restrictive overly protective rules, not freedom from limitations of reality or the environment.
I sympathize with the plight of children who can't interact with other children in that way. What I don't do is think that the play of other children should be curtailed to accommodate the others. I don't think this is narcissistic of me; I don't have any dog in this fight as I don't have children and am not a child myself.
I watched too much TV, and the mayhem was mostly confined to our local neighborhood and the ravine nearby, but we still played.
The thing is about my area is that it was built in the '30s. Before two-car homes. This city is so dense that a kid can walk anywhere, even though it's a pretty big city.
But now, living in the same neighborhood with my own kids, the culture has changed. I'd never dream of sending my 6-year-old son out to walk to school on his own and there isn't a mob of similar kids hiking to school for him to go with, and his friends aren't really playing out front on the street - it's all scheduled playdates.
Part of the problem is dual-income homes. It's only three blocks to school, but I drive my kids there anyways because I'm on my way to work... my wife is already at her job by then.
And this is the best-case scenario for Canada - a dense, pedestrian-friendly, close-to-school, close-to-the park house where kids can walk to anything. It's an affluent area with no crime to speak of other than drunken students. It is quite possibly the ideal place for kids to roam free... and they still don't do it.
And compare that to the rest of Southern Ontario that is one vast ocean of suburban tract housing where there is nothing in walking distance and all the houses and shops are in an ocean of parking and wide streets that makes even your neighbor feel a little further.
> It is quite possibly the ideal place for kids to roam free... and they still don't do it.
I agree that 6 is a bit young to walk on your own, but why don't you walk with him occasionally? You can walk back, and then drive to school.
When he's 7 or 8, he should be able to walk on his own. But only if you teach him how.
Playing under supervision is not so different, as for any group of more than a few kids, the supervisor won't be there directing every minute thing the kid does. IMO the problem the article states is less a lack of freedom than the quality of what the child does. And I don't mean quality in some elitist sense, but just in how much the kid gets from what he is doing (i.e. building towers in lego or teasing the house cat is chalenging and satisfying)
I don't quite understand this, could you expand it? I have a daughter and we go to the park a lot and don't own a TV and haven't noticed anyone bothered by either. In fact they are generally pleasantly surprised.
Even if you see the value in that, as the author or my family does, you would likely find it practically very hard or impossible to do, mostly because it depends heavily on other kids/parents way of thinking and expectations.
Interesting Idea. I'm a bit far off from having kids, but I always think about the future and how I would raise them when I do have kids. That would also be great for cultural exposure. I know I want to raise my kids to be multilingual.
It seems that every time childhood comes up, people talk about how they're childhood was great and now because the kids are doing this and that, they are worse off. Of course, their childhood was the true forger of character and personhood, while the brains of kids today are just turning into slush while they hover over their iPad's (even though they themselves spent hours in front of the VCR). The author seems a good example of that (though probably more informed than average).
(Sometimes people talk about how their childhood was bad, but then they blame it on themselves, their parents, or something that is not society wide.)
The issue is that kids don't have much spare time to do whatever they want. Their time is filled up with scheduled activities.
I had no television growing up, for better or worse. I did have a computer. I did play a phenomenal amount of computer games. However I also messed around with those games. I edited configuration files, changed textures, and even did outright level design. And then, I became and adult and grew out of it.
I had two sets of friends, those that played a lot of computer games and those that played a lot of video games. One thing I noticed was that the kids who played a lot of computer games tended to be a bit sharper back then. You had to navigate DOS directories, spend hours troubleshooting networking, spend perhaps months trying to get damn hardware card working, and so on.
The video game players inserted a cartridge. When it didn't work they blew on it.
Computer games now are pretty much plug and play. Tablet games require about two finger touches.
Games themselves can increase cognitive functions and teach new skills. But, when the game is un-hackable it becomes a confined box. Every possibility outside that box is non existent. Inside that game's box you build a mental model and then conquer it. You may not have won the game, but you have a pretty damn good idea whats going to happen.
Major props to Notch for making Minecraft an incredibly hackable game both inside and out of that box. If we are going to live in a box, that box should be incredible deep and wide, be it Minecraft or Dwarf Fortress -- or in the original stories' case, your entire neighborhood.
It may be very interesting to see how kids who grew up with tablets think. I should be a lot better than those that grew up with 5 channels of broadcast television. Beyond that, I don't know.
I wouldn't be so quick to rule out such social factors.
I'm skeptical of pointing the finger at television and video games for the spike in autism rates. Video games and television have been around quite a bit longer than the increase in diagnoses of autism-spectrum disorders.