Monday, July 5, 2010

Times Change

My son is on school holidays for the next two weeks. I took him to work with me yesterday, and was thinking about how different his experience is to my own. My mother was a teacher, so she always had holidays at the same time as we did. So I never had to spend hours entertaining myself while my mother worked.

But it is not just that. Childhood seems to be an entirely different thing than it was when I was growing up. We've had a whole string of birthday parties in the last few weeks, so I have found myself spending a lot of time in toy stores. All the toys these days seem to be tie ins with movies or TV shows. What happened to using your own imagination? It makes me sad to see. I know movies and television have a huge influence, and I know how much extra money all the tie-ins make for the company, but to see aisle after aisle of toys, none of which aren't related to Thomas the Tank Engine, Toy Story, Transformers or other lesser known films or TV shows, really made me sad.

Another thing that makes me sad is how coddled today's kids are. When I was the same age my older son is now, I had a large number of friends in the neighborhood, and would dash off to any one of their houses after school, or on weekends without an invitation. If they weren't home, I'd move on to the next one until I found someone who could play. These days it has to be organized between the parents. Kids don't run off down the street alone. On the plus side, at least I always know where my kids are, something my parents would not have, but I feel like they're missing out on something. Parents shouldn't know everything their kids are up to.

At school, a huge number of kids are dropped off by their parents in cars. Even those who walk are walked by their parents. We always walked alone. My mother walked me on my first day to show me the way, then after that, I always walked alone, or with the other neighborhood kids who were heading the same way. I know the world is a more dangerous place these days, and the roads are busier, but if your child only has to walk a few yards down the street to reach the school gate, do you really have to go with them? Some of my mother friends were horrified when I started letting E walk on his own from the bus stop. On the days I work early and have to get O to daycare, I walk E as far as the bus stop where I catch the bus. From there he has less than a block to walk to get to school, and the only big road he needs to cross is patrolled by the school crossing guards. Am I risking my child's life by allowing him to walk this short distance alone? I don't think so. He's always made it.

I feel as though children are being babied for longer these days, yet at the same time, are being marketed to so ruthlessly that they are forced to grow up faster than we did. It's a strange dichotomy, and one I wish did not exist. Childhood should be a time of freedom and wonder, not something to be exploited with plastic tie-ins from bad television shows. We should be able to let our kids play outside together without supervising their every move. How can we expect these little people to grow up into independent, forward thinking adults if we never allow them to be independent or to make the mistakes that will teach them to think things through in the future? I don't have the answers. If I did, I'd probably be a millionaire.

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