Gone are the summers of my childhood, a time when summers were about playing with friends for hours on end……..unsupervised. My parents didn’t hover over us like stealth helicopters swooping in when fights broke out or dangerous activities like hanging upside down on the monkey bars or riding our banana bikes with no hands occurred.
There were no structured activities, no summer camps, no video games, no handheld devices of any kind. My parents sent us out to play and we were to come home when it was dinnertime, after dinner, when the streetlights came on. If a fight broke out among our group of friends, we were left to figure out how to fix it or risk being ostracized for the rest of the summer. If one of us got hurt, the rest banded together to help us hobble home for the age-old remedy of mecurichrome, bandaids and a Freezie. Nine times out of ten we were off and running again within minutes.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t supervise our children and there are definitely things that have changed for the better.
Like pointed metal lawn darts.
I have great memories of playing lawn darts with my family in our back yard. My sister and I would pair up with one of our parents and stand behind the yellow hoops watching as the pointed metal projectiles came sailing across the yard towards us, sometimes missing us by mere inches while we looked on and laughed. My mom, all long legs and blonde hair, would help us throw, my dad with his straw cowboy hat perched upon his head, a beer in one hand and red lawn dart in the other, would occasionally take a break to see if the charcoal on our bbq had finally heated to the point where it would cook our full fat hamburgers. More often than not, it needed more lighter fluid resulting in a burst of flames and singed eyebrows.
In retrospect, I wonder what the hell they were thinking letting us stand three inches behind the hoops watching javelins speed through the air towards our bodies like we had a target painted on our chest. So it’s a good thing that metal lawn darts have been banned and now come with a round, weighted bottom. All the fun minus the element of death.
But I also wonder what our kids are missing out on now that free time needs to be penciled in after homework and structured activities and playing unsupervised is almost unheard of. How will they learn to resolve conflict if parents are swooping in to resolve it for them? How will the learn independence when parents are there to watch over their every move and drive them wherever they need to go?
While it might not have been the best decision to let children run free for ten hours a day not knowing where they were, perhaps, now, the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Somewhere in between there has to be a happy medium where we can ensure, to some degree, our kids are safe and then it's up to us to let them go be kids, unstructured and free where they can run and play without toys or video games, without having to be the best, without worrying that they are falling behind—playing with their friends and figuring things out on their own—allowing them to make mistakes.
And maybe one day they too will grow up, look back on their childhood and think "What the hell were my parents thinking?" And maybe, like me, it will be with a smile on their face.
In the words of Dory from Nemo, "Well, you can't never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo."