If there’s one assumption I dislike, it’s the assumption of many from my Boomer Generation that ours was the best, most wonderful childhood time of all, when we enjoyed so many things that today’s generation does not.
You’ve seen the memes; there’s often a photo of some kid swinging in a swing or walking down the road with a ball glove hanging off the bat the child has leaning against his shoulder or some equally Opie from Mayberry image, accompanied by a long-winded whine about how great childhood was back in the late 50’s through the early 70’s. The text claims a halcyon youth of going outside to play and not coming home until dinner/ Mama called us/ the streetlights came on; of riding bikes all over town or playing with other kids without parents around; of going swimming in the lake or local pond with pals; of drinking water out of the family garden hose; of Mom whuppin’ our tails if we misbehaved; of chanting our belief in Country and the Christian God in the same pledge; of whimsically catching lightning bugs in a jar, of the joy of playground equipment that is now removed as unsafe; of getting up a game of sandlot ball – that sort of thing. The text usually ends with the complaint that kids today spend too much time on cellphones, or are rude and don’t appreciate what they have. (The fact that the people writing these complaints also spend an inordinate amount of time on cellphones, escapes them.)
I’m here to tell you, the good old days weren’t as good as the hype and it’s false to claim they were. They were pretty good, I’ll grant you, but they were ripe with challenges and problems too. There were just as many perverts out there preying on unprotected children as there are now, and lo and behold, a large percentage of these perverts turned out to be family members. This sort of thing wasn’t as widely-realized then as it is now. We’ve developed the culture of neighbors snitching on parents who let their kids out of sight for more ten minutes, because the media and social platforms took the ugly truth from family whispers behind closed doors to public awareness. We’ve gone from the injustice of institutional racial segregation to white people calling 911 to report the offense of people of color – gasp! – for simply existing in the caller’s presence. The perception of “the good old days” is seldom seen that way through the eyes of people of color.
People who grew up getting slivers of wood and subsequent infections from old merry-go-rounds later passed laws to replace the wooden models with metal ones. Little kids used to beg big kids to push the merry-go-round faster, only to be flung off it like water from a centrifuge. Eventually the metal ones were removed because kids were getting second degree burns in the summertime on them. Kids got their fingers pinched in swing set chains, or swung so high that if they weren’t careful they’d pop out of the seat like a champagne cork or tip the whole swingset over – some Boomer kids did it on purpose for the thrill of it. Parents didn’t want their kids to get their arms broken or their heads concussed or their bodies paralyzed, so the equipment was removed or replaced with things that required parental aid. Little kids could swing safely but tweens and teens often have no equipment their size to use. Even when they do have something their size, today’s grow-up-quick society chooses to mock kids who want to play like kids. The Boomers had a sizable childhood but their children are pressured into becoming mini-adults too soon.
Pick-up games of sandlot baseball or half-court basketball were replaced by parents who wanted more structure for their children, “fairness” and to prevent bullying. The parents remember the camaraderie of team play and passing their free time with sports, but they also remember the humiliation of not getting picked for a team, or the pain of getting picked on by the neighborhood tough, and all the fistfights between opposing teams who disputed a play. While these things are looked upon now as “things that toughened us up” the circumstances were changed so life wouldn’t be quite so tough for progeny.
Catching lightning bugs fell out of favor as ecological awareness coaxed parents to decry the cruelty of sealing bugs in jars to die because the Boomer generation didn’t always poke air holes in the lids. Economic development of the Boomer generation made habitats less and less available and it’s hard for the average kid to find bugs in their neighborhoods anymore. Fishing dried up when ponds were filled in so developers could build housing and strip malls and roads. Empty pastures were turned into subdivisions. Kids today can’t play freely because the Boomer generation continued to develop every square foot of open space for commercial use.
Sure, we drank water out of the garden hose when we were kids – but then mold and bacteria made parents realize garden hoses were gross as hell. Rather than make the child walk inside the house to the sink, the kids were encouraged to use bottled water the parents bought. The plastic bottles are a bane to the environment but convenient for families to simply discard used bottles than bother with going inside to drink water from a reusable glass that must be washed. By all means, let’s champion convenience over practicality, and perish forbid responsible housekeeping. But using the sink for drinking water is impractical or even dangerous in several municipalities now – just ask the people of Flint, Michigan. Boomers in office do not see the need for keeping drinking water safe if they prefer to respond to financial graft from corporate entities with irresponsible ecological practices.
Our parents may have ‘given us a whipping’ when we misbehaved and our teachers had a stronger say in classroom discipline, but one person’s idea of just punishment is not everyone’s. There are so many instances of beatings and starving and abuse by “whippings” the argument for corporal punishment is dangerous for children in the crosshairs of an unstable parent or teacher. Teachers were able to give grades according to the quality of the work until the Boomer Generation decided children should not experience negativity and took away teacher authority in the classroom. Boomers opted for teachers to crank out acceptable standardized test scores rather than teach children personal responsibility, how to reason and think independently, and that failing a task is not the end of the world and can even be a motivation for improvement.
Taking God out of the classroom did not ruin school discipline. God is still in the classroom and children have always been free to believe in whatever they choose, whatever denomination or religion or non-religion they wish. If parents can’t be bothered to teach their religious beliefs at home, then there is no reason to expect the school to expend school time to do so. Public schools are not in the indoctrination business precisely because they are public, and the practices of one belief or denomination might be far different from another. Ultimately, parents have to be responsible for their own offspring. Let public schools teach children to read and write and create and academically reason, and leave religion at home or at the worship center of choice.
Do you see the common thread running through all this? The reason we Boomers don’t see the sort of Idyllic Childhoods we had being enjoyed today, is because we Boomers are the ones who changed everything. We decided to take away the playground equipment we had as kids. Our Boomer generation created the Politically Correct society we now have. We replaced free playtime with heavily structured and regulated activities where parents hover anxiously around precious little cherubs in case they get a boo-boo, and then sue the pants off of any and all when a boo-boo happens. WE did this, Boomers. We got into power and made “a better future for our children” so tightly regulated and so heavily guarded and stubbornly enforced, that WE robbed our children and grandchildren of the “fun” we had as children. So don’t give me that whiny long-for-the-good-old-days pout, when it was OUR generation who changed it. You can’t have it both ways.