Friday, June 10, 2011

Were things better when we were kids?

If you live in the world of Facebook, tweets or even chain emails you’ve seen something like this before:
Agree w/ this post? -My curfew was the lightning bugs, my mom didn't call my cell, she called my name, I played outside with friends, not online. If I didn't eat what mom cooked, I didn't eat. Sanitizer didn't exist, but you COULD get your mouth washed out w/ soap. I rode a bike w/out a helmet, getting dirty was okay & neighbors cared as much as your parents. Re-post if you drank water from a garden hose & survived."
This popped up on my Facebook page today because I “liked” a local radio personality named Jenn Hobby from the Bert Show. It’s off topic, but if you live in the metro Atlanta area, Nashville or near Indianapolis you should check them out. Most days they are an entertaining crew during the morning commute. I’m missing Melissa Carter, who left them recently, but…well, I digress.
One of the people who commented on this post called foul. He said it was garbage and that we were just trying to make ourselves feel better about having lived through an inferior time. My knee-jerk reaction was to call him a jerk and argue. And I did—argue, not call him a jerk. But I thought about it. Why do we feel that the time we grew up in was better? Is it just nostalgia?
I do think that nostalgia plays a big part in it. No one likes to get older and see the world change. Change can be exciting and stimulating, but I think there is a piece of most all people that fears change and longs for things to be the way they were. Even children removed from terribly abusive situations will cry for their missed parents though what they are going to may be a million times better. We all feel sad when a love affair ends even though we know it was for the best. Why?
I think there is something other than nostalgia at play. When you read these posts and you read people’s responses, most mention something about things seeming simpler then, seeming safer, less stressful or confusing. I don’t think this is nostalgia, nor do I think it is self-delusion or wishful thinking. I think it is all about filters.
We see the world through a filter. All of us. There are no exceptions, we all see what is around us through a filter that is unique to us. No two filters are exactly the same. Impressionism understood this as it tried to capture the world as the filter of the artist saw it, still recognizable to the rest of us, but changed by the individual through whose eyes and mind we were now seeing it. I could go on to add that we were seeing their filtered view through out filters, but that’s a big metaphorical merry-go-round that I don’t even want to get started on.
Our filters are more than just unique to us, they are changing, shifting at every moment. When we are a child, our filter is stronger and tends to weed out those things we don’t understand or can’t connect with. We may hear our parents talk about struggling to make ends meet, we may go without or know we are poor and that things are not all sunshine and roses. But the filter we see things through is a child’s filter. It allows in the simple and the easy to understand. Because they aren’t relevant to us as a child, we filter out the things we didn’t really understand. I think these memories we create are the strongest our filters will ever be. We see our childhood through the eyes of the child we were. We see the world as being delight at chasing and collecting lightening bugs or other insects and small animals, or riding out bikes with reckless abandon, peddling as fast as we could down the steep hill and then jumping off right before we would crash. We see the world as playing outside, sitting in a secret hiding place with a favorite book while eating apples. We see the times we slept in sleeping bags in the backyard, giggling with our friends and telling ghost stories.
We didn’t see the dead bugs or think about their extinguished lives as a result of our childish selfishness. We didn’t see or hear the stories our parents heard about a friend of a friend’s child who ended up permanently injured, or worse, because they didn’t get clear of the tree or curb in time. We didn’t hear the stories about that girl down the road who was sitting in her special place, reading her book when she was attacked. We didn’t see our parents sitting up all night by the backdoor or the upstairs window, watching us as we played at having an adventure.
As we got older, we became the parents who are living in fear for our own children. We are the generation who has pushed helmets and pads, panicked when our toddler got out of sight for just a moment so we created backpacks with leashes on them, cringed when our kids climbed that tree and got too high. Why do things seems so different now? Because we are different. Because we now see things through the filter of adulthood, parenthood and fear. The filter of childhood has gone for us and when we look back on the memories we made through that filter, it all seems so much easier, simpler and safer.
But it wasn’t. The thing that worries me the most about how the world has “changed” is the fear that we aren’t as good as our parents were at helping our kids keep their filters of childhood in place as long as possible. I worry that we’ve become a society that doesn’t allow them to see things through those same rosy lenses we were allowed to use. In our quest to make the world safer we’ve taught them stranger danger, don’t trust people you meet on the street. And we wonder why they prefer to text, tweet and Facebook. We’ve taught them to fear being isolated and vulnerable. And we wonder why they prefer to be joined to their cell phones at all times. We’ve taught them our fear.
Or maybe I’m wrong about this last part. Maybe they don’t see our fears. Maybe they will also grow up remembering the past through their own filter of childhood.
*The pictures used here are available as free wallpaper from and are by the artist Donald Zolan.


Anny Cook said...

Excellent post! I think it's half and half. I'm a parent from the generation before you. My kids were out and about and yes we worried...but the news was not ever present as it is now. My kids rode bikes without helmets and had adventures I'm sure I don't want to know about. With all the news coverage and Oprah-type shows, we're more aware of the terrible things that can happen now. And it's a bigger burden on our shoulders as parents. So yeah, a lot of things were simpler...back when.

Sandra Cox said...

Well said.

Molly Daniels said...

I've tried to raise my kids to be aware, but not exessively so. In our old neighborhood, there was a mom who sheltered her kids to an extreme, and I often wonder what those kids were like in high school and college....did they rebel or stay home?

I've tried to give my kids 'roots' and 'wings' as I was taught. Failed a little at the 'roots', as this is our 3rd home in our 20-year marriage, but the kids know they can talk to us about anything, and even my teens are now telling the younger kids about the 'good days in the country'.

Molly Daniels said...

and with all the regulations these days, I'm surprised we survived childhood 40 years ago! LOL:)