The writer Morgan Jerkins recently posed this question via Twitter: What was a part of your childhood that you now recognize was a privilege to have or experience? Essentially, what experiences are today’s kids never going to know.
You could answer the question with things such as 8-track tapes, rotary dial telephones, VHS tapes and dial-up modems, but most respondents were more nostalgic for experiences rather than things. And the experiences fell into four broad categories: taking risks, family time, reading books and a screen-free existence.
For risks, people cited being able to ride a bike all over the neighborhood and playing outside all day. I know that I left the house on Saturday morning and played with friends until it was time for dinner. We were free range kids and there was no inkling that play dates were in the future. Helicopter parenting has definitely changed child rearing and the lack of independence is most likely the source of considerable anxiety for today’s youth.
When it comes to family time, respondents talked about grandparents that were close or living under the same roof. You heard the family stories and lore directly from the source and mom and dad were not so harried with work that they did not have time to interact with us. The stress of the modern world and the likelihood that relatives are far away has greatly reduced time kids get with family.
Reading was a mainstay activity growing up. It started with Dick and Jane and then moved on to the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, but the point is that we were readers. We could find entertainment in a world of books with stories that peaked our imagination. Now, 27% of 17-year-olds say they never or hardly ever read for pleasure.
Which segues perfectly with the reason they are not reading books. We had a screen-free childhood. No social media pressures, no smart phones, no tablets. We did watch TV but we also played Monopoly, Scrabble, Clue, and a whole bunch of goofy spelling games (Perquackey anyone?). Compared with today’s penchant for being online all the time, we spent much more time creating our own entertainment and it did not involve any electronic devices (unless your want to count a Texas Instrument calculator that we thought was some amazing invention, right up there with the transistor radio!).
The point of this exercise is not to denigrate the way kids are growing up now. Every generation must feel nostalgia for the way they grew up and today’s kids may wax poetic about their childhood in another 30 years (when people are flying around in personal autonomous airplanes operated by Amazon). So it goes.
Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. His mystery novel, Head Above Water, is available on Amazon and Kindle. You can also visit his author page here.