Now that we are in the midst of our long, hot summer, I can’t help but think back to those “Good Ol’ Days.” As a Baby Boomer kid, everything seemed simpler and less stressful then.
Here’s one thing I’ve realized about that time: Viewed through today’s culture, my Mom would have been cited by the cops and my brother and sisters and I could have been hauled off to Child Protective Services.
(NOTE TO MOM: Take a breath, there’s some clarification to come…)
She was (and still is) a wonderful mother, especially when she had to go it alone as a single mom for several years. But the times were so different. The level of trust in our neighbors was greater and overzealous lawyers hadn’t yet taken so much fun out of things. We were not overly cautious.
On a typical summer day at our house, the sun would come up, and breakfast was served (in all its greasy, eggs-and-bacony glory) then there would be Mom’s charge to us: “OK, go do something, go outside, play with your friends, read, whatever—just don’t get into trouble. When I call you in for dinner, be here.”
That’s not exactly how she said it, but you get the idea. We were off into our Midwestern neighborhood to explore and learn, sometimes the hard way. (Nearly torching my buddy Doug’s tree house comes to mind, but I digress.)
Ah, those were the days. It was Independence Day for weeks, not just July 4th. The summer break was all about creative liberty. It was also about lots of junk food.
Today, little kids aren’t allowed anything resembling being “free range.” Parents need to know what their children are doing, and make sure it’s age appropriate. Be involved but not smothering.
In one town earlier this year, a couple of siblings walking home from a visit to their neighborhood park (just down the street) were cited by authorities and parents ticketed. In contrast, my friends and I used to put many miles on our Schwinn bikes, heading all around our city—without helmets. We went to the park and playground all the time. (Even today Mom hasn’t heard all of the stories.)
We knew not to talk to strangers and learned that actions had consequences. Sometimes we skinned knees, or sprained ankles and assorted dumb stuff, but our guardian angels kept us under God’s protection.
Now in super-sensitive America, if a parent even appears to “neglect” a child for even a second, someone will criticize…and often call the cops. It’s suddenly everyone else’s business.
In a recent Florida case, a young boy was placed under government control after it was alleged his parents “left him at risk.” In his own backyard.
He was 11 years old. Not exactly a toddler wandering into harm’s way. It turns out that he was locked out of the house when Mom and Dad couldn’t get home in time. It was rainy and traffic was awful, so they were delayed. While waiting he played basketball for 90 minutes.
Then it got ugly. A neighbor called the cops and the parents were handcuffed and taken away. It took several weeks before clearer heads prevailed and the young man and a brother were allowed back home.
Adding to the legal mess was the reality that, in Florida and other states, there is not a minimum age for a child to be left alone. Imagine the possibilities when your child is, say, 21 but out on his own without protective gear.
Of course I’m not saying kids should be left to run wild without any rules, and I know there are new threats around us each day. But what’s summer without some sense of adventure? Especially when the government is prodding kids to get off the couch and get active.
Kids need to be kids, and this season is when young men and woman can learn courage, resourcefulness and entrepreneurship. But of course in our 21st century world, even an impromptu lemonade stand can run afoul of authorities (especially the health department).
Let’s find new ways to truly enjoy summer, as families and with trusted friends. Relax, have fun, do what is right and certainly be aware of surroundings…with good humor and yes, a spirit of adventure.
— by Mark Larson
Larson is a veteran Southern California radio/television personality and media consultant. His voice is heard on KPRZ 1210AM, and his weekday talkshow airs 6-9 a.m. on KCBQ 1170AM. Learn more at www.marklarson.com.