There are a few things that I want to mention: No internet, no cable TV, no VCR, no DVD.
On rainy days, I read books. I read about everything. I learned about amphibians, reptiles, mammals, birds, dinosaurs, geology, astronomy, biology, mythology, and mechanics. I learned about astrology, bigfoot, ghosts, crystals, and aliens. I read classics like Moby Dick, The Hobbit, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and later on classics like The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Divine Comedy. I discovered Hermann Hesse, Jean-Paul Sartre, Aldous Huxley, and so many other writers. The books were in the book case, and a bored child eventually found them. With two taps of their fingers, they are watching streaming movies, playing Internet games, playing Dance Party on the Wii. It is so easy to fill up the empty space with quick entertainment, there’s no time for thinking, for exploration.
In bringing in this age of constant entertainment and Internet, we have slain boredom, and in doing so, we have removed countless opportunities for our children to discover their passions and develop talents. I’m no Luddite, I work in technology. I think the Internet has brought wonderful things to the world, but I see what it’s taken from my children. It’s a battle I fight, to get them away from screens, and I accept it is a battle I will ultimately lose.
We enjoyed a freedom from supervision that few children in North America know. On Saturday mornings, after several bowls of high-sugar cereal, we rode forth on bicycles into the woods, and we were not seen again until dinner time. In most cases, we were banished for the day. It was unheard of to be inside on a sunny day. If it looked like rain, you would want to stay away from home just in case your mother told you to come inside. We would build forts, explore, build dams in streams, capture small creatures, make weapons with sticks, play war, and generally live like young wild things in the woods until hunger or fear of reprimand for missing dinner sent us back home.
We’ve made the world a far scarier place than it ever was. In fact, it’s just as dangerous, but we’ve all become terrified of the bogeyman. People say “It was different then.” Not so, We were different. Now we are scared, and we imprison our children.
I feel strongly that nature is something a child needs in order to grow into a healthy person. Not mowed green spaces where adults are organizing activities with folding chairs for sitting in, I mean wild, free, rambling access to wilderness.
I do my best to get them there every weekend, but life gets in the way. Each time it does, I feel the loss for them. If I could see a way to get out there with them every day from sunrise to sunset, I would. The problem is, they don’t know that they are missing anything.
There are too many choices. There are too many brands, too many options. Attempting to choose which phone, which app, which shoes, is to be faced by a mountain of choices. Having more options doesn’t make you happier, it makes it likely that you will doubt that you made the best choice. Making the wrong choice can be devastating.
When I was a kid, there were no choices. Clothes were something your family bought for you, and you wore them whether you liked them or not. There was no choice. Of course, we had no concept of fashion, clothes were functional. You wore them to stay warm, dry, and to hide your private parts from public view. That’s it.
The future was brighter.
Now, we know too much about the damage we’ve done to the planet. My 7 year old daughter draws and posts pictures on the wall that say “Save the planet.” That’s her cause. They are growing up in a time where the future is in grave doubt. We knew many of the same things back 30-35 years ago, but that was far from mainstream media. It was something only discussed in scientific circles, the average citizen didn’t think much about depleting aquifers or fish stocks, global warming, or ocean toxification. Now, it’s in the zeitgeist, it’s part of our collective consciousness.
I’m not saying that sticking our heads in the sand is any good, but just as there was a generation that lived before people became afraid of nukes, I lived in a generation before the one who became afraid of climate change and environmental damage. My forest was green and there was less garbage in it. When we go out on nature walks, we bring bags so we can clean things up a bit. She gets angry when she sees someone has left a mess in nature. I feel both proud and sad that this is her issue she has taken on.
Answer by Sanjay Sabnani, Generation X @crowdgather:
I can pretend and talk about the good old days, but for a chubby, sensitive kid who loved books more than life - now is the best time to be alive!
When I was a child:
- The world hated people of color.
- The world hated gay and transgender people.
- Bullying was mistaken for manliness.
- Men and women were forced to live up to ideals that limited everything.
- I could not afford to speak to my parents overseas when I went to college.
- There was no Internet.
- Computing was a luxury and a privilege.
- Technology was never social.
- Affording film and then getting it developed was a luxury.
- Video recording and production was out of reach for most humans.
- Knowledge was guarded and controlled.
- You had to steal adult content from grown ups.
My children are growing up in the absolutely best time to be a human being in the history of forever. The things even average humans are able to see and do is staggering. We eat like gourmands and travel the world like royalty. Who knows, we may actually live to see the singularity?
The only thing I will say that was comforting about the past was the certainty with which children felt they knew what was right and wrong. It turns out unfortunately that what I thought was wrong was actually fine, and what I thought was right was misinformation or ignorance. We now live in a world where if you don’t know, you can find out quickly. How cool is that?
More questions on childhood:
- What does it feel like to grow up without a father figure in the family?
- What is the loveliest thing your child has ever said?
- What are your favorite memories of childhood?