Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Freedom of Childhood (or not)

Two posts on "Free-Range Childhoods" caught my eye yesterday. Both were comments on Michael Chabon's article on childhood adventure books and the general idea that our childhoods and our parents' childhoods were much more adventurous than our children's are turning out to be. To some extent that's true. I can remember venturing all over our neighborhood, basically spending entire days outside roaming around rather aimlessly. It seems like I did this every day in the summer, but I don't think that's necessarily true. I suspect I remember the days I did spend outside and not the ones I spent in front of the tv.

We've been lucky in that most of the neighborhoods we've lived in have been conducive to wandering. My son, now 14, has ventured pretty far from home on foot, mostly once he reached the age of 11 or 12, a little later than I remember wandering myself. Of course, my mother sent me to the corner store when I was about 4 or 5, with a quarter to buy a cheap toy and some bubblegum. Like Tim said, I think there was a definite separation between the adult world and the kid world. I was sent to the store in large part because my mom wanted a break, to reclaim her adult space. Likewise, I suspect we were encouraged to roam the neighborhood so she could have her space.

Tim suggests that there's a definite loss for the kids in that those adventures teach great lessons of independence and confidence, but there's also the gaining of a shared experience as a family or as parent and child. I have vague memories of wishing my parents would join in with us and I remember family vacations as being times when they had no choice, when we did things together because we were in unfamilar territory and we explored it together. Although my kids have spent some time hanging out with friends, running around the neighborhood, they've also spent a lot of time with me. We've gone to the park together, to the pool together, etc. And I think that's been a positive thing. I've often lamented the separation of generations. Perhaps what's happening now will mean our kids won't see such a gap between generations.