LIVING WITH CHILDREN: ’50s kids had more freedom

My wife and I recently spent two days in my hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. As we always do, we walked around my boyhood neighborhood and the usual memories came flooding back.

My friends and I spent nearly all day running the then-cobblestoned streets. At the time, most kids in America played "Cowboys and Indians" or "War," but in Charleston, we mostly played "Pirates." The walled backyards were our forts, iron outdoor furniture our ships, trees our crow’s nests and so on. Battery Park, with its cannon and stacks of cannon balls dispersed among the live oak, offered a particularly rich field for fantasy.

After breakfast, we’d meet in the streets, and run. Water was consumed through garden hoses, of which there was no short supply. Around lunchtime, we’d dart home, grab an apple or banana and rejoin the mob. Sometimes our mothers wouldn’t let us back in the house because we were so dirty. They’d just hand our meager — but adequate — lunches to us through barely cracked screen doors, always reminding us to be home by supper.

Looking back, I’m reasonably certain that my mother didn’t know where I was most of the time. I don’t even remember her ever tracking me down. Today, of course, that would be grounds for a visit from social workers. And had today’s parenting police examined us — torn clothing, perpetually scraped knees, dirty as all get-out — we’d probably have been removed from the custody of such an irresponsible lot.

The U.S. Justice Department has been unable to determine that the per capita rate of child abduction by individuals bent toward mischief has changed since my childhood in Charleston. What’s risen is incidence — because of population growth — along with media coverage, leading to the mistaken notion that if you take your eyes off your child for a half-minute, he’ll disappear.

As I walked down my memory lane (Church Street), I thought of what today’s kids don’t know they’re missing. In a word, freedom. They don’t know what it’s like to not be organized, scheduled, directed and hovered over by well-intentioned adults. It occurred to me that if adults can figure out how to plan and direct thousands of after-school activities going on at once all over the USA, they surely can figure out how to give children both freedom and safety.

Today’s parents are taken with demonstrating, at every possible opportunity, how involved and supportive they are. By contrast, I did all I could to ensure that my single-parent mom didn’t have to get involved. No one wanted to play with the kid whose mother was involved. As for supportive, my mother could not have been more supportive of my rights to liberty, self-responsibility and the pursuit of happiness. "Go outside and find something to do" seemed to encapsulate her entire parenting philosophy. Top Jobs


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