By Rick Winsman
Well we’ll go swimmin’ every day
No time to work just time to play
If your folks complain just say,
– The Jamies, “Summertime, Summertime” 1958
It just doesn’t seem possible that those words, thoughts and concepts are from so long ago. I remember my summers growing up like they were just the other day.
Through the years as an adult, it seems like it’s been a never ending series of organizational meetings for such things as Lincoln Day Dinners, Fourth of July Parades, Squirrel-fest, County Fairs, an endless list of meaningless meetings, coffee clatches and on and on. Oh, yeah…and every so often, something called work.
And it’s even worse for today’s kids. Gone, it seems, are the lazy days I remember of nothing to do except exploring places that your parents told you to stay away from with your best friend. Going to that secret swimmin’ hole with the rope tied to a tree that let you swing out over the water and drop in. Riding your bike over deserted back roads with the acrid smell of hot tar mixed with the sweet smell of fresh alfalfa. No, most kids today will not get to experience those seemingly small elements that made up the great patchwork memories of summers past for most of us baby boomers, thanks in part to well-meaning but way over-protective parents.
Back when “play date” was an unknown term and before “parenting” was a verb, kids were allowed to be kids. Within boundaries loosely set by our parents, we were allowed to experiment, explore, challenge, succeed and fail. We used our imaginations to create our own play environments and by doing so learned how to read and visualize the printed word, thus opening up new and wondrous worlds we could visit anytime we needed a break from the real one.
By playing sandlot baseball games that started at sun up and lasted all day until the sun went down and it was time to go in, we learned the concepts of winning and losing and fair play and how to be good winners as well as good losers. We learned how to judge our own capabilities, what we could do, what we couldn’t do and where that fine line at the extreme outer edge was.
We fell and got cuts, scrapes, rashes, bites, sunburns, sprains, pulls and assorted other maladies. But we wore those Band-Aids and creams and slings as medals of honor, attesting to our daring-do. And you know what? We recovered very nicely, thank you very much.
Oh sure, there was always some dip-stick in the group that would attempt to do something that we all knew was not a very smart thing to do. And usually paid the price. Broken bones are the worst any of my group ever experienced. Well, those and maybe bruised egos. Diving into the unknown waters of gravel pit ponds, skating down the creek on thin ice over deep water, climbing trees that were much too tall and not very stable were things we all knew were dumb. But we did them anyway. And sometimes paid the price and learned a lesson. Okay, at least we paid the price.
But there were others not so lucky and they paid a much higher price. One young man a few years ahead of me in high school, a few nights before graduation, left the road at over 125 mph in his Corvette. Biggest piece of the car they found was about 6 inches square.
Yeah, unfortunately it seems every generation has at least one over achiever like that.
The major benefit of all this was not so much what we did or didn’t do, but what we learned. That is the loss to today’s kids. We have effectively taken away all opportunity to learn “life’s lessons.” With liberals wanting to protect our kids from every possible form of harm, they would just as soon wrap them in bubble wrap at birth and reluctantly un-wrap them when they turned 21. During the years in between, some parents want to keep their kids so tightly scheduled doing things they want them to do that the kids have no time to be…well…just kids.
So obsessed are today’s parents with protecting their children from anything that might upset them, they have eliminated all forms of competition because losing causes bad feelings. Kids’ sports have developed the attitude that it doesn’t matter who wins or loses and in some extreme cases has eliminated keeping score. Here’s a hint – think the kids don’t keep their own score? Think again. We no longer recognize the valedictorian in some of our high school graduating classes because of the effect that would have on the self-esteem of the other students.
What has happened here?
Well, for one thing, a general lack of maturity. As we have extended the amount of time we treat our kids like infants, the longer they act like infants and the slower they mature. The less able they are to make right and wrong decisions. The less able they are to deal with competition: striving to win with humility and sometimes having to cope courageously with losing.
Boy, doesn’t that prepare them for the real world.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe in setting limits and protecting our kids. The dangers out there in the world today are far more plentiful and much more sinister than they were when we were kids. But loosen up, folks. Forget about the tightly structured schedules that direct our kids from the time they get up in the morning until the time they go to bed at night. Back off a little and let them have the slack and freedom to fail and fall. Your job as a parent is to be there to catch them, pick them up and make certain that valuable life lessons are learned.
And this summer, send them to camp if you must. Just make sure that the camp your kids go to does not serve mocha lattes or cappuccinos but has an ol’ swimmin’ hole with a rope tied to a tree that lets them swing out over the water and drop in. Let your kids develop some great summer memories of their own. All too soon summer and freedom will take on a whole different meaning.
Me? I’m goin’ swimmin’……
Originally published on June 6, 2013.
Worth a revisit, dontcha think?