This blog was first published in my community blog Life Goes On for the St. Albert Gazette.
“When I was your age” is one of those sentence starters that almost guarantees an eye roll by the person on the receiving end, probably because it is often followed by some sad tale about walking to school uphill both ways in a blizzard.
And yet there is some merit to those “back in the day” reminiscences. I recently had an opportunity to visit the elementary school that my kids attended many years ago. I was there to participate in a kindness assembly and, following the presentation, a few of the adults chatted about how things had changed since we were elementary school students.
Back in the day, we never had assemblies about how to be kind to each other. I’m not suggesting we were always kind. But I do think there was a different standard for how we treated people. Did we make fun of other kids? Sometimes. Was bullying a problem. No.
We walked to school. Most families had one car and many moms didn’t drive. But that was not the point. We walked because that was what you did regardless of the weather. My grandmother used say, “You are not made of sugar. You won’t melt in the rain.” There was no daily traffic jam outside of the school at 3:30.
We weren’t constantly monitored by an adult. I think we would have been mortified to have our mom walk us to school. We walked with our friends or sometimes on our own. We played outside after supper with the only instruction to “be home by dark.” We spent Saturdays biking or playing games without a GPS monitoring our location. We had a lot of freedom.
The only organized sports were the ones we organized. Somebody had a bat. Somebody else had a ball. Everyone managed to meet up at a field in spite of the fact no one had a cellphone.
If we didn’t have a bat and a ball then we made something up – like hide and seek or tag or kick the can. We made do with pretty basic swings and teeter-totters. We ran and skipped and jumped and we weren’t overweight and out of shape.
We did what the teacher told us and we didn’t talk back. If we did and the teacher called our parents, then look out. You were expected to behave in a certain fashion in school. Most of the time students were respectful. So a phone call home didn’t result in parents questioning the teacher. It served as a lesson in how to conduct yourself in public.
Parents of today’s elementary school children might say, “Yes but times have changed.”
I don’t think so. I’m not sure there is a lot more stranger danger now than when I was a kid. Our 24/7 media culture just makes us think so because it continually plays the same sound bite over and over until the next news cycle begins. We live in fear. No wonder we have to teach kids about kindness.
What did we get out of a childhood with more freedom and less structure? We learned to be self reliant. We learned to be creative. We learned to be confident.
You can’t expect kids to be problem solvers if they never have a problem to solve. Was there a chance we would get into mischief or make a bad choice? Sure, but I don’t remember one kid ever poking his eye out with a stick or getting into enough trouble that was life altering.
It’s easy to look back on our youth with rose coloured glasses. But there is something to be said for honouring the past and letting it influence the present. Maybe we need to time travel today’s kids back to the ’50s and ’60s. I bet they would like it back in the day.
What’s your best recollection of being a kid?