To: All the children who survived the 1960s and 1970s
Congratulations, and well done! We survived!
- Firstly, we survived being born to mums who, knowing no better, smoked and drank during their pregnancies. Perhaps not all of us survived with 100% health, but if you're reading this, you got through this far!
- Once in the outside world, we survived being put to sleep (sometimes on our tummies) in cots and cribs lovingly decorated with lead-based paint. All the while we breathed in second-hand smoke and the fumes from a dozen household cleaners.
- We did not benefit from child-proof medicine bottle caps, neither did we have the protection of cupboard door locks or child gates throughout the house. Instead, we learned to obey the rules - and woe betide us if we didn't!
- When we rode our bikes we didn't wear helmets or reflective vests, neither did our bike wheels have a multitude of reflective discs in the spokes. We learned to be very respectful of the big metal boxes on wheels that would squish us if we weren't paying attention. Usually the brakes on our bikes were less than 100% efficient but we had feet and shoes as a back up system.
- When placed inside those same big metal boxes on wheels, we didn't wear seat belts (because there weren't any), we didn't have booster seats (just our sibling's knees) and often we slept lying across the seat. For the most part our parents drove carefully and didn't need other people's 'baby on board' sign to make them drive even more carefully.
- We drank water from garden hoses and didn't die - we even shared bottles which had not been sterilized and didn't die from other people's germs. We ate things which had dropped onto the floor - even onto the grass or bare earth - and here we still are. We never knew anyone who became ill from doing so. We had never even heard of the five second rule.
- Fat kids were very unusual - because we and our friends were always playing! Days when we were not at school were spent DOING things - being active, getting up to mischief perhaps, but DOING stuff. On weekends we would go out of the house in the morning, perhaps come home for some lunch, but then go out again until the evening - and all without a mobile phone. Because we could not be contacted quickly, we stuck to the arrangements we had made - coming home late was not a good idea.
- We crashed our bikes and go karts into things when we made a mistake, but we didn't tear down enormous hills and expect nothing to be coming the other way - we used common sense and avoided extreme danger. Those of us who didn't do so effectively are not reading this today. We learned - not only from our mistakes, but from the mistakes of others.
- We did not believe that Hollywood stunts proved that we could not get hurt. We didn't do really stupid stuff and get away with it. Not in one piece, anyway.
- We had friends, we had places (not linked computers) to go and play, we had places we were chased away from, we had 'secret' places (or so we thought). Play was a matter of imagination; we were not presented with entire virtual universes on a screen to wander through with a minimum of creativity or physical activity. We made up games, we had mock trials of strength, we ran away from the opposite gender, then as we got older we ran towards the opposite gender.
- We fell out of trees, grazed knees and elbows, knocked out a tooth or two, and occasionally broke a bone. Nobody sued anyone else because of our silly mistakes. despite warnings about pointy sticks, we played with them anyway and never met anyone who had lost an eye on the end of one.
- We played sport for the fun of it, we enjoyed physical exertion and we didn't get stressed about it. When we tried to get on the school team and weren't good enough, we simply didn't get on the team. If we wanted to be on the team enough, we tried to get better until we got our chance. It was up to us. Otherwise we had to learn to accept that not every goal is achievable immediately, and that the rest of the team did not have to suffer just so we could have a chance.
- If we REALLY stepped out of line and the police had any dealings with us, we were terrified - not only of the police, but even more so of our parents, who in those days agreed with the law and the enforcement of it.
Life wasn't perfect back then - in fact far from it. It could be very tough growing up in the 60s and 70s. But we made it, and we made it despite all the safeguards that are in place for kids now. I'm not advocating that we do away with things like seat belts or air bags - I much prefer it if children do not get injured or even worse. However, I worry that modern approaches to parenting are whittling away at our kid's abilities to be practically skilled, aware of their surroundings, aware of the skills they will need (for example even just chopping firewood and lighting a camp fire, or changing a spark plug on an engine) by making things so easy and safe that no instructions are required?
I worry that there is no redundancy built into modern life. Take, for example, the growing thought that the nerds will inherit the earth; if the lights go out for three days (for example as the result of extreme weather), what use is a nerd who has spent 95% of his/her free time gazing at a computer screen? I'll tell you: nothing - and the reason is that, contrary to the myth, so-called 'nerds' do not spend their time on the web learning about practical skills, they look at the internet and digest intellectual offal when they are not playing fantasy games.
From the age of eight I used to walk half a mile to a bus stop, wait for a bus, get on that bus and travel six or seven miles to school. Nowadays that seems to be an unheard of thing for a young kid to do. from the age of eleven I took a train and a bus or saved the bus fare and chose a three mile walk to school - again, unheard of by today's standards. A small example, but telling.
Have we made life too easy for our developed world children? Where is the reality? What happens when we are all gone and they have even then learnt too little to be left on their own?