when i was a little kid, i spent a lot of time outside with my friends. unsupervised. we made witches’ potions out of dirt and juniper berries, jumped out of trees and roamed the woods and canyons near our house. i walked to the bus stop a mile away from home and held my own with the big kids waiting there. we went on excursions to the haunted house nearby, throwing rocks into the yard and hoping someone terrifying would appear. once i fell into a river on a bike and managed to pull the bike back to shore all by myself. when i look back on my childhood, i’m stunned by all the freedom i had to explore the world, all the power i was given to make real decisions about my day. sure, some of my choices weren’t so great, like the times i lay in the road playing chicken with approaching cars. but i survived them all and i’m better for it.
and then i look at my own kids, my hothouse flowers. when we are outside, it’s in highly groomed “natural” spaces like parks or backyards. i hover over the girls constantly, babbling about safety and scanning the environment for predators, bullies and dangerous playground equipment. i control when we go, how long we are there, what they can do and when we will leave. their explorations are limited to digging in the sandbox, chasing some crows and finding a bug or two. at night, after they are safely tucked away in their beds, i read (ok, skim) books like last child in the woods: saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. i lament all the ways my kids are being deprived and renew my commitment to give them some nature.
which is absurd.
and just the way it is for many kids today, especially those living in urban environments. this micromanaging seems to be part of parenting in today’s world. i can’t imagine saying goodbye to a six-year-old sadie as she heads off on her bike for a day of self-generated adventure. i can hardly imagine letting her walk to the corner store as a teenager, and by then, there will probably be a GPS chip implanted in her shoulder. it’s easy to blame this scenario on the media’s relentless reporting of rare and terrible stories about bad things happening to children. but that seems too simplistic somehow.
i can’t figure out why things have things changed so much a scant thirty years later. maybe we’re subconsciously preparing our children to live in a bio-dome on mars with tape recordings of birdsongs and mechanical beetles climbing up plastic trees. if that’s the case, my kids will be right at home.