Several friends called me within just a few hours of one another last week, each telling me of a great column idea.
The news that grabbed attention centered around an Illinois mother. Police had been summoned because someone had reported the mother to Child Protective Services for allowing her 8-year-old daughter to walk the family dog around the block alone.
I had first heard this account that morning on the news, so I understood the reaction of friends. As one reporter said, with an exasperated look, “Are you kidding me? My parents would still be in prison if you can get in trouble for that!”
Most of us can relate to his reaction, as we were sent out the door in the morning and spent the majority of our summer childhood exploring outdoors.
“Go outside!” most of us heard, and away we went.
There might have been good-hearted intent by the neighbor who reported this, but the mother insists she can see her child for nearly all of that walk, it is a safe neighborhood and it is the only time her daughter is unsupervised. Each child, each situation, and each neighborhood is obviously very different. I have thought of my great-nephew, who by 8 could have been mistaken for a young teen. And perhaps this little girl looked much younger, the neighbor’s concern for her genuine, but it seems there could have been a better way to have handled all of this.
This says so much about what we are becoming.
The great outdoors was once a big part of the life of a child. Being under the big blue sky was once a safe and welcoming place to be, where neighbors knew one another and helped look after all the children who scampered about in their neighborhood.
Now, for good reason, we are fearful for our children. But, surely the answer is not to run inside and stay away from each other while dialing up the law.
Neighbors are now strangers to one another in so many cases, which does nothing to help solve this problem.
Rarely a day goes by that I don’t realize how lucky we were to have grown up when we did. We really knew no fear, and it seems our parents lived by a whole different set of rules than the parents of today.
This happy-go-lucky attitude applied to more than just outdoor exploration. While my big sisters rolled around in the big back seat of the family car, I was forced to sit close to my parents just because I was the young one.
This was the case in every car of families we knew. When coming to a stop, the straight arm of the Mom popped out automatically to keep the little one safe, a very different measurement of safety than in today’s world.
It seems utterly crazy to us now. Foreign thinking, to hear there were no seat belts.
The first car seats were really just booster seats in hopes of keeping a child upright, but made in such a way that safety issues were not addressed at all.
We certainly weren’t very old when we explored the neighborhood and the creeks and swamps, our bikes the ticket to freedom.
We worked with livestock, and many of our chores revolved around various pieces of farm equipment. We were taught a healthy respect for all of it. My parents were sticklers on safety, going over and over just how easily a child could be hurt if rules were not obeyed.
But, they didn’t hover over us. They counted on all of us to have the good sense they had pounded in to us every step along the way.
The big kids were fully expected to look after the little ones, no excuses allowed. Still, we were lucky. Angels were watching over us, many times. There were no broken bones or worse.
There are only good memories of exploring our world, a lovely world that sadly no longer exists for most American children.
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