So I read recently where some New England town has banned sledding, allegedly in the name of safety, but more in fear of possible lawsuits.
I often wonder -- now that I survived childhood mostly intact -- how today’s kids are going to be able to handle the world. These days childhood seems to be underpinned by this utterly unreasonable and unrealistic desire to make the world a perfect place. The result seems to be an egregious abandonment of imagination replaced by something more akin to spontaneous regimentation.
I never see kids riding a bike double or climbing a tree -- not surprising in a world that would ban sledding.
I haven’t seen any violent video game bans or lawsuits over criminal behavior stemming from playing those games. I’m not saying I want to, either -- I’m just observing a weird double standard.
Did our parents worry about most of our activities? Sure, although they’re also the ones who said, “You’re driving me nuts! Go play outside!”
I don’t think they dwelled too much on what we did as long as we got home in time for supper.
We just didn’t seem to have that many child molesters, serial killers, Islamic Jihad recruiters, renegade ice cream trucks, or other such daily fear du jours threatening our very lives every second of every day. Generally, we already knew our Boo Radleys.
Even today, when something awful happens, I can guarantee that none of the safety measures put into place by law or by bizarre home edict ever made one iota of difference, except perhaps to instill a fear that later came true.
We spent most of our time outside, largely unsupervised by anyone other than our dogs, usually out of sight and occasionally out of earshot. If you got hurt, you went home, got patched up then faced the parental music for being stupid.
Nobody else got blamed; certainly no one got sued.
These days, it feels like you can’t so much as have a birthday party without first calling your lawyer and Lloyds of London.
Now there is a movement, started by writer Lenore Skenazy, which she calls Free Range Kids, which is apparently appalling all the close-hovering helicopter parents and frothing child over-protective advocates all over the country. Once castigated as “The Worst Mother in the World” for allowing her children to ride the subway alone, Skenazy has responded quite admirably to the criticism with a call for common sense. For example, she wants kids to be able to do such radical activities as -- insert collective gasp of disbelief and horror here -- walk by themselves to the park. Check out her blog site, www.freerangekids.com.
“Oh, but you’re not a parent so you just don’t understand, Jim,” the handwringers will undoubtedly caterwaul in my general direction.
To that I say, “Save it.”
You see, here’s the thing; I may not be a parent, but I was a kid. And yeah, I did my share of silly, stupid, often dangerous things for the fun of it. When I saw the first episode of “Jackass” I thought it was an unauthorized biography of me.
But guess what? I’m alive, ambulatory, un-incarcerated and even a little wiser. And I know plenty of kids – all of them, actually -- with whom I grew up who survived multiple bike wrecks, bee stings, dog bites, falls from trees, sports injuries, and a thousand other mishaps with no lasting ill effects.
Does anyone build forts in the woods anymore? For that matter, does anyone go out and play in the woods anymore?
I can remember the forts we built in the woods surrounding the neighborhood -- usually not much more than a hole dug in the dirt. I’ll never forget one fort we built in a huge kudzu patch. Kudzu is great to play in, but it can be prime critter habitat as well. One of my buddies crawled into a dead-end pocket blocked with all manner of brambles and blackberry thorns. But that wasn’t the worst of his problems. He also had upset a yellow jacket nest and they were having at him with gusto. Being the deeply compassionate chums that we were, the rest of us were laughing hysterically as he swatted and screamed before finally bolting, rabbit-like, through a solid wall of thick blackberry thorns and sprinted home.
He recovered. No one got sued. What a concept.
Another time, during a pine cone fight, a kid somehow caught his arm on a stray strand of barbed wire and left a nice chunk of meat hanging there, ultimately ruining one of mom’s good bath towels and earning him a trip to the ER for several stitches and a tetanus shot.
He recovered. No one got sued. What a concept.
Am I suggesting that we suddenly allow kids to play in old refrigerators and dig holes in toxic waste dumps? Of course not!
As in everything else, I am advocating common sense and a little reality. You’re not going to make the world a perfect place by passing knee-jerk legislation to the next fear du jour. You’re not doing anyone any favors by dogging their every wee step in the name of safety.
But for crying out loud, let kids be kids -- and at the risk of being sued for saying such, let’s try to leave the lawyers out of it for a change.
Sure the world’s a dangerous place, probably more so today than 40 odd years ago.
But, let’s not make it any stupider than it already is, too.
Ban sledding, indeed.