Older people like me enjoy talking about when we were kids. We reminisce about playing outside until after dark and paying a nickel for a candy bar. Then often the conversation segues into a lamentation about how those days were better than these days.
Were those days better and if so, why were they better?
I have tried to compare my life as a child of America in the 1950s and ‘60s to the lives of children today. The comparison is not based on any documented research but rather on what I remember to be the facts of then and what I observe to be the facts of now.
I grew up in a rural setting, the oldest of four children, with a mostly stay-at-home mom, and a dad who went to work five or six days a week. We kids went to school just as kids today do, and we went to church three times a week. We rode bikes and played hopscotch, but rarely alone. We played with whatever kids showed up to play.
We had everything we needed and many of the things we wanted.
We had grandparents and aunts and uncles nearby, and any one of them was free to discipline us. We knew personally practically every person who crossed our paths on any given day. We also knew our boundaries and when we were expected home for meals and bedtime.
We watched television on Saturday mornings and on some evenings when it was too dark or too cold to play outside. We also read books, played card games, put together puzzles, and did some household chores.
We got new shoes and coats when we needed them. Clothes were passed around between siblings and cousins, and we thought nothing of it.
When it came to buying or giving us things, our parents’ motto was “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”
With the exception of breakfast, which was staggered based on differing schedules, we ate 99% of our meals at home together at the table. We almost never ate at a restaurant.
We were unfamiliar with the term “fast food” and the drive-through window idea had not yet been conceived. The only “drive through” experience we were familiar with was when our Aunt Linda, when learning to drive, drove through our front yard fence.
We had one or at most two vehicles. When we went to church or anywhere else, all six of us rode in the same vehicle. I never had my own car.
In summer, the first thing our mother said after we were dressed and fed in the morning was, “Go outside and play.”
She did not say:
- “No electronic devices until after supper.” We had no electronic devices.
- “No lying around the house channel surfing.” We had two television channels.
- “No hanging out at the mall.” We didn’t know what a mall was.
- “No conversations with strangers.” Who was a stranger?
- “No spending your money on junk.” We had no money, and the general store sold nothing much except hog feed, groceries, and gas.
Without making any judgments, here are some differences between my world as a child and the world of the typical school-age child today as I perceive it.
- Most children do not have grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins living nearby.
- Most children cannot safely play outside unsupervised.
- Most children have moms and dads who both work or parents who are separated or divorced.
- Most children are surrounded by strangers much of the time.
- Most children have many electronic toys designed to be played with alone.
- Most children have spending money.
- Most children don’t go to church. Those who do probably go once a week or less.
Are any of these differences important?
You tell me.