Being a kid in the 1970s, 80s or 90s was so much better than today, or so says countless essays, listicles and Facebook rants. We played in the street, stayed put until dark and used our imagination instead of iPads. Our parents were stern, but still gave us freedom to explore. We tell our own children of the good old days and wax poetic about how wonderful their lives would have been back then.
Raising children today can never be like it was. Society changes, values evolve, technology grows, new challenges emerge, etc., etc. Our grandparents grew up very differently from our parents, as did our parents from us. Our great grandparents may not have had much of a childhood because, back then, kids were expected to work at a young age.
Our ancestors are looking down on us and wondering what is wrong with us. Our kids are fortunate in so many ways. They are not suffering the burden of a Great Depression or the terror of a World War. And while, as a New Yorker, I do not discount the real fear of terrorism, the truth is, kids in the United States are safer than ever. Instead of bemoaning the fate of our children, let’s give them the childhood they deserve.
Don’t let unfounded fear spoil their fun
My family was enjoying some pool time last Fourth of July, as the guests of friends who lived in one of the condos nearby. I commented on the kids running around, to which our friend, a dad of two older children, commented how you usually don’t see that around there. Bear in mind, this is a community with 24/7 security and a hefty price tag for admission. If any place was “safe” for kids, this was it. We move to gated communities and cul de sacs precisely to give our children the safety we long for them to have.
I do understand there are many children in the United States who live in truly dangerous areas and whose parents have a well-founded fear for their safety. I, as am sure many who are reading this, are not those parents. I would even argue, the most overprotective parents live in the safest neighborhoods.
We have the privilege of letting our kids play outside alone, or letting them run around in the street, or letting them ride their bikes to their friends’ house sevetal blocks away. This is a blessing. Our kids will be fine.
Let them get dirty
Religious services, school picture day, visiting a discerning relative, all are among the reasons to have your children looking neat and tidy. A trip to the playground isn’t one of them. All too often, while I’m at the park with my kids, I will overhear a parent hastily pulling his child away from the mud or scolding her child for playing by the water. Sometimes, it’s the nanny or babysitter who does this, making me wonder what sort of crazy instructions their bosses gave them.
Clothes are expensive, and kids go through them like toilet paper. I shop for my kids far more often than I do for myself. I cringe when they start playing with dirt, wishing they wouldn’t mess up their clothes.
But, before I pull them away for their fun, I remind myself that mud washes out, and be thankful I packed an extra pair of clothes.
Encourage them to work out their own conflicts
A firetruck sits in the middle of the playroom, two todders dive for it and immediately a swarm of adults come over to aid in negotiations, inevitably ending in one happy child and one screaming.
Resisting the urge to intervene in every dispute is hard. My older child is often the aggressor, so I am often quick to jump in if I sense trouble. When, I do, I am unsure how much help I really provide. I find when I hold off for a bit, the kids work things out on their own. We need to give them the space — and credit — to learn appropriate behavior.
Give them space to learn
Playgrounds might as well be equipped with landing pads, because they are filled with helicopters. Well, helicopter parents anyway. In my old Brooklyn neighborhood, you could not go through the jungle gym without bumping into at least 10 parents, carefully navigating their babies through the maze. If they weren’t taking up space there, they were putting little ones on giant slides and glaring at older kids who actually wanted to use them.
I’ve been that parent. I still am in many ways. I catch myself getting lost in the need to protect my two-year-old. Then, I step back and watch in amazement as he easily climbs ladders, rock walls and most obstacles put in his way. Of course, when he does this, my heart is in my chest, and I have summoned the speed of superman to catch him before he does something too dangerous.
Don’t be a food police
I buy mostly organic, and my kids rarely eat foods with artificial colors or flavors, so I get the desire to feed our children healthy foods. But, while I may limit the “junk” food in my own home. I let them indulge in cake, cookies and other yumminess, at parties, grandparents’ homes, or special occasions. I am confident enough in my parenting skills to be OK with letting them indulge once in a while. And if that sometimes means whipping up a box of non-organic mac ‘n cheese on a random Tuesday, because I’m exhausted, I’m not going to beat myself up over it.
Judgmental Internet trolls, nosy neighbors, smug people without kids, their are plenty of people out there who can and do make raising kids a nightmare. Let’s do our part to make it more of a dream.
How do you think we can make being a kid better today? Comment below.