Monday, August 25, 2008

I'm sorry Playmate, I cannot play with you

Remember how there used to be this thing called "going out to play"? [...] It worked like this: The child or children in the house -- as long as they were over age 4 or so -- went to the door, opened it, and ... went outside. They braved the neighborhood pedophile just waiting to pounce, the rusty nails just waiting to be stepped on, the trees just waiting to be fallen out of, and they "played." - Rosa Brooks, LOS ANGELES TIMES
My mother was always rather overprotective of me growing up, but even I enjoyed the joys of freedom described above. I don't know what my childhood would have been without the breezy summer days of grasshopper hunting in Fort Collins, Colorado, chilly afternoons of tree-climbing in Groton, Massachusetts, or weekend minnow-catching excursions in the drainage ditches of Melbourne, Florida. My friends and I wandered our neighborhoods and knew when to check in, and somehow, our mothers' voices always carried when necessary. For the most part, our childhood play was free from oppressive adult supervision.

In the piece cited above, Rosa Brooks laments the disappearance of the playtime lifestyle from today's children. I've seen it in my own nieces and nephews and even the way my mother has raised my little sister (15 years younger than I). They don't run free. They are not free range kids. That isn't to say these children are kept under constant lock and key, but the world feels more dangerous today. Even I cannot imagine allowing my own children the freedom I once enjoyed.

Brooks, however, makes a case: "Your child stands about the same chance of being struck by lightning as of being the victim of what the Department of Justice calls a "stereotypical kidnapping." And unless you live in Baghdad, your child stands a much, much greater chance of being killed in a car accident than of being seriously harmed while wandering unsupervised around your neighborhood."

Maybe. I hope it's true, but in a world where you can track the predators in your neighborhood at the click of a mouse, it is hard to have faith in that.

I'm not a father yet, but I look forward to it. And I hope that when that day comes, my children will enjoy the very adventures that shaped who I am today. In the meantime, Rosa Brooks offers some food for thought.

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