Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
We assume that — with computers, cell phones, and social media — our kids enjoy advantages that previous generations lacked. Sadly, American kids growing up today are missing developmental opportunities that used to be taken for granted. Quality of life as experienced by Americans in 2022 has deteriorated. It is a sad commentary on the state of our civilization.
According to npr.org, children today spend an average of merely 30 minutes per week engaged in free play outdoors. Their parents won’t let them out alone. “Unstructured time outdoors is becoming a thing of the past. There was a time — and it wasn’t that long ago — when kids would leave home on a summer morning and roam free,” reports npr.org. “I knew kids who were pushed out the door at eight in the morning,” writes Bill Bryson of his childhood in the 1950s, “and not allowed back until five unless they were on fire or actively bleeding. That’s what kids did. They went out. Parents let them, and everybody did it.”
“Earlier this year,” reports the conversation.com, “an American mother was arrested for allowing her nine year old daughter to play unsupervised in a park while she finished her shift at work.” When I was nine years old, I rode the Pennsylvania Railroad by myself to visit relatives in another state. Growing up in Brooklyn during the 1950s, we lived on the streets from the age of five. America had a lot of the same problems we experience today—the difference is that the intensity was much lower. Although my neighborhood was considered one of the most dangerous in New York City, we were neither murdered nor abducted. Each day was an adventure.
Before we hit puberty, my best friend and I often walked unaccompanied to the amusement parks in Coney Island, a 20-mile round trip, where we rode the roller coaster, the mechanical steeplechase, and the bumper cars. On the way home, we would stop at Nathan’s for one of their famous hot dogs. We would think nothing of riding the subway to Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan or to the Bronx Zoo. We sailed the ferries from Brooklyn to Staten Island and lower Manhattan. Our parents did not know where we were until bed time.
Danger would occasionally present itself, but we survived. We might be surrounded by a gang of toughs and roughed up a bit. We might be robbed of small change. But that was it. In those days, people respected the police and crime was petty compared to what we have today. I learned that when I was knocked down, I could get up. Thanks to the lessons of self-reliance gained from those experiences, I was able to travel across the country by myself at the tender age of 16.
Try that same scenario in 2022. You’re not supposed to allow your kids to be unsupervised outside of the home. If you do, you could be hauled into court for child neglect. Your children could be taken away from you and placed in a foster home. Contemporary kids are deprived of the lessons to be learned from interacting with the world. Instead, they interact with machines — a poor substitute.
“Today’s children are not being taught any kind of survival skills,” writes Traci Baker at grit.com. “I know adults who can’t count change, who can’t write checks, some who can’t even pump their own gas or find their way home without help. We are setting ourselves up for disaster. And no, using computers and cell phones are not considered survival or even basic skills!”
“There are many benefits to unsupervised outdoor play and experiences in nature, including a reduction in obesity and the symptoms of anxiety, depression and ADHD,” reports theconversation.com. “Research has shown that children learn self-control over their own actions and decisions in this time alone without their parents. Without time unsupervised, children may not develop a sense of self-control or an ability to judge and manage risk on their own.”
As a consequence, we are raising a generation of Americans for whom the world is a hostile place. How will they be able to compete on the world stage without Mommy and Daddy to make their decisions?
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