What's the Matter, McFly? Are You CHICKEN?!

I don't know that I've reached the age where I get to lead my thoughts with "kids today...", but I'm going to do it, anyway.

Kids today are scardy-cats. They are cowards, absolutely yellow, the lot of them.

Neither my niece, nor her husband, both barely old enough to drink, have drivers' licenses. They're both terrified of driving. My neighbor's twin sons, fifteen next week, have never learned to ride bicycles or to swim in water deeper than they are tall. My college roommate's daughter, now nine, is petrified to leave her house without a parent in tow. I literally do not know anyone under the age of twenty that possesses the spirit of adventure, the lust for independence, or the recklessness that typified youth in any earlier generation.

I'm just barely old enough to have had an upbringing that resembled that of my baby-boom parents rather than that of my generation-me juniors. We had eight, and later sixteen-bit Nintendo, with its pixelated Marios and and bloc-art Links, but video games were not yet ubiquitous until the age of the Play-Station, which was first released when I was in college. In my particular case, it helps that my mother allowed me to own a video game system only when I reached adolescence for fear that it would turn me into a couch potato. I griped and sulked at the time but I am retroactively grateful.  

For anyone my age or older, our childhoods were spent unsupervised and outdoors. On weekends and during school breaks, children would depart their houses in the morning, form packs, and wander the neighborhood until the street lights came on, obligating us to return home. We would climb things, we would dig under other things. We would run. We would ride. We would wrestle. We would go far afield, from the quarry the next town over, past he settlers' ruins in the village park, across the river to the miniature mountain that was so good for sledding in winter and rolling-down in summer. Bicycles, skateboards, sleds, inner tubes, play swords, river swings, discarded tires, jungle gyms, and water balloons were what fun was built from. And, we did it all without helmets, pads, rubberized matting or a tether to home.

And, yes, we got hurt, often. Scrapes, cuts, bruises, bloodied noses were daily occurrences that were shrugged off, not doted upon. Occasionally, we got hurt badly. While I was lucky to have gotten though my youth with only a handful of stitches, John broke his arm when his driveway basketball hoop came out of the ground. Justin took a branch to the head while climbing a tree and had to be carted away in an ambulance for fear that he would bleed out. Kai broke his jaw when the front wheel came off his bicycle. Chuck lacerated his arm to the bone because his army knife was sharper than he realized. Josh had his stomach pumped because those weren't wild blueberries. By experiencing and witnessing these hard knocks, we developed a healthy respect for danger and the means for evaluating risk.

This is how you learn your capabilities. You climb the tree as high as you feel safe doing, and each time you climb higher. Occasionally you fall and you learn how not to fall the next time. It is the risk of injury, the reality of pain, that teaches you to navigate the physical world.

This is what leads so many young people to be afraid of mundane things. They've never put themselves in harm's way. They've never gotten hurt, nor done anything that might get them hurt. They've been indoors, playing consequence-free video games under the watchful eye of helicopter parents. On the rare occasion that they find themselves outside, they're on milquetoast ergonomic prefab playgrounds that take them no higher than the couch they would otherwise be sitting on. They've never gone without hand sanitizer, let alone without a net.

A Google Image Search for the Words "Dangerous Play" Brought up this Picture of Clancy Brown
Go Figure

 I'm not saying that we should be flippant or reckless with the safety of our children. Bicycle helmets are good idea. Nerf arrows and paint balls are certainly better alternatives to BB's. A cell phone in the pocket can be a lifeline, but it should not be a leash. Fireworks warrant supervision. Lawn darts* are best left in the recesses of picnic-tragedy memory. But, making childhood too safe is self defeating. Life, by its very nature, is an exercise in the application and mitigation of risk. Without the opportunity to learn that, our kids end up safe and sound, living, but not experiencing life.

So, parents everywhere, call me a hypocrite if you like. Lambast me that my opinions will change if I ever have a child; you may be right. Until then, though, I implore you, send your children outside. Shove them out the door if you must. If they won't go on their own, go with them. Climb trees, make mud pies, ride bikes. Explore ravines and paddle in the river. Play bloody murder. Scramble over the rocks and under the fallen logs. Let them see the view from high atop jungle gym and let them see how far from home they're willing to wander. Keep the soap, the band-aids and the Bactine stocked and don't fret until the street lights come on. Your kids will be better off for it.

*Those of you younger than 30 probably don't remember lawn darts. They were two-pound steel spikes with plastic fletches that you would hurl up in the air in the hopes that they would land approximately where you wanted and not on the head or through the foot of one of your playmates. Why? Because life was cheap in the Reagan years.

Death, Incarnate


Anonymous said...

I don't know. Some kids today still have that drive to explore. that will to climb the tree, and that thirst for adventure. If you can get them away from the video games and Netflix, they come out just fine.

My biggest fear lately is that, as I grow older, I will get stuck in a comfort zone, too. All of us can lose that joy of exploration through complacency and routine. Your post reminded me to keep it alive. Thanks.

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