My point, if I have one

Our Deprived Youth
July 31, 2007, 4:08 am
Filed under: Inspired Woman Articles | Tags: , , , ,

Kids today are seriously deprived of what they need to grow up right, and it’s mostly our fault. What they are deprived of is deprivation. Just as necessity is the mother of invention, deprivation is the mother of boredom, which is the father of curiosity, which is the second cousin of mischief, which is kind of an aunt on the other side of the family you’d rather not visit.

I suppose I can’t speak for girls, since I’m quite certain I’ve never been one, but most boys and probably a lot of girls would be better off with less, not more. But rather than a lengthy dissertation with lots of impressive psychobabble, I’ll just prove my point with a few examples of things today’s kids lack almost entirely. These are simple things we have taken away from our kids, or worse still, replaced with something far more complex:

Vacant lots

When I was a kid, there were several vacant lots near our house. ‘Vacant” is a description adults came up with, but the boys in our neighborhood knew these lots contained a lifetime’s worth of adventure. One of our favorite activities was digging “foxholes” from which we would wage mighty battles, throwing clods of dirt and/or mud at each other. Luckily, none of us could aim well, because getting hit was painful, and would end the game.

These so-called “vacant”  lots were especially fun for boys armed with slingshots or cheap bows and arrows. As with the dirt clods, we couldn’t aim well, so the snakes, gophers and birds of this habitat were frequently startled, but rarely harmed.

Today, there are few vacant lots. Our neighborhoods are filled up and fenced off, and the edges of town get developed at incredible speed. Houses pop up almost overnight in every available space. Shame on us and our booming economy.

Unorganized sports

Perhaps we should have known our vacant little paradise couldn’t last forever. One day, some silly adults decided to make something useful out of our vacant lot, so they bulldozed a huge level spot in it and put up some signs: “Free” skating 6:00 – 8:00, Hockey 8:00 – 10:00. This was July. And besides, all skating is free, isn’t it? We couldn’t wait for winter to try out our new rink, so we got to work staking out some bases and started playing baseball. It was like that movie where the players just magically walk out of the corn…kids magically showed up with gloves and bats within minutes. Kids we didn’t even know. It was actually a very pretty good ball diamond, except when the wind blew the loose dirt into our eyes and noses, which was nearly all the time.

But the best thing was, there were no uniforms, no scheduled practices, and no adults to tell us what we were doing wrong. The teams were different every time…usually an unfair balance pitting big brothers against little brothers. But there was always one or two “big kids” willing to join our little guy team and give us a fighting chance. When winter finally came, the same kids showed up at the rink; again without schedules, without uniforms, definitely without pads, and in many cases, without skates. And most important again, without adult supervision. We didn’t need adults, even though many of us didn’t even know the rules. We knew what we had to: at the other end of the ice were two big rocks. Between them, a pillow-padded kid. Slap the puck between his legs or between his eyes.

I’m not sure why parents feel the need for kids to be involved in such “big production” sports, with coaches, camps, uniforms, rules, scores and other such useless things. Maybe we’re trying to recapture our own youth and “do it better this time” or maybe we believe that they, like us, think it’s important to have some kind of edge over the competition. But that’s the problem: kids handle competition quite well without any help, and without any edge. It’s when we raise the stakes too early that things tend to get ugly.

“The farm”

My dad grew up on a farm in southwest North Dakota. Our family used to go “back to the farm” on weekends quite often, especially when Grandpa needed help planting and harvesting. I had mixed emotions about it. On the one hand, picking rocks or bales out of a field in the sweltering summer sun was no picnic. On the other hand, hmmm. What was on the other hand again? Oh, yeah…blisters.  I can’t say I always looked forward to it, but Grandma’s cooking and spending time with my brother or cousins exploring the sandstone buttes made for some great memories. We made our own fun. I can’t say I envy my dad’s generation, or his dad’s, growing up out there in the open spaces, but as second-generation weekend-only farmers, we gained a lot from living a little of their lives.

Most kids today do not have a farmer in their immediate families. I remember being jealous of the “city kids” who did fun things on the weekends, like stay in town with nothing to do. But I knew a lot of other kids who spent weekends at the farm of their family’s roots. With North Dakota losing hundreds of farms every year, there will be even fewer connections to a farm for kids in the coming years. It’s no small loss for them. They may never know the sting that comes from sweat, dirt and blisters on a sunburn, or the unbridled thrill of riding an unbridled calf.

Jumping through the sprinkler

When is the last time you saw a kid jumping through a sprinkler? Far too many homes are equipped with underground sprinkler systems that automatically start at 5:00 a.m., which is a time when it is never hot and there are never any kids around to jump through the spray. It’s a simple pleasure for the kids, and a great way for parents to water the lawn and get the kids out of the house in one stroke. There were actually a lot of cool games, pun intended, that are at risk of being lost to posterity for lack of anyone handing down these wet traditions. The water-based variations of “Ollie Ollie In-Free” and “Red Rover, Red Rover” were surely better than the original games. And for kids lucky enough to have next-door neighbors the same age and long enough hoses…oh, don’t even get me started.

Just a quick note about drinking from the hose, as long as we’re almost on the subject: Spiders don’t really make their homes in there, so you won’t get spider babies living in your stomach if you drink from the hose, which is (as we all know) the best tasting, coldest and most refreshing liquid known to kidkind. Just beware of your older brother’s whereabouts. One quick flick of his wrist can send water blasting out of your nose, ears, eyes and toenails. So don’t repeat that old  hose/spider wive’s tale to your kids, and if you see a boy sneaking up on the spigot while his little brother or sister is taking a drink, don’t shout at him, just run for the video camera.

My point, if I have one

We work awfully hard to keep our kids safe and create a fair, nurturing environment for them to grow up in. No, that’s not a bad thing, but in our zealousy to provide so much, we’ve provided too much, and taken away all the fun that goes with life’s natural mysteries and risks. We’re like a mother bird who pushes our babies out of the nest onto a gentle slope a few inches down to an artificially padded ground. They may land safely, but our kids will not get the adrenaline rush they can only get from doing something truly stupid. Something so stupid that for a moment they think their very life is threatened, or worse yet, that their brother will tell Mom.

Maybe “nothing” is the best thing we can give kids to do, and give them lots of time and space to do it in. I’m not a professional, so you probably shouldn’t take my advice on this, but don’t you think it’s time you pushed your kids out the door and made them go on an unorganized, unsupervised, unjustified adventure?  That’s where the memories are…on the lot, in the field, behind the barn, in the spray. Just don’t let them see you following in the minivan.