Where have all the kids gone?

When I look around today, and drive by the city pool, school playgrounds, sandlots and youth baseball complexes, a question often pops in my head. Where have all the kids gone? Yes, I know it’s 2023 and I understand it’s a different time than when I grew up during the 1970s, but why is that? Well, there are several reasons why we don’t see kids out playing like we did. The number one reason? Protection.

Today’s kids are growing up in the age of social media like You Tube, Twitter, Instagram and processing up to the minute news. The ‘70s had basically three channels, NBC, ABC and CBS, all of which only had two local news broadcasts a day at 6 and 10 p.m. Today, there are numerous 24-hour news channels, even local channels, where anything and everything is known about in a matter of minutes.

Kids today are sheltered and protected from the dangers of the world we live in due to the fears generated from what people see every day on the news. Parents today have a much tougher job of raising kids and worrying about the different types of dangers and challenges than those that existed for my parents.  

Even though there were dangers when my generation grew up, it was a different time when so many bad things were never seen or heard about. The world was still a bad place, but no one really knew because of the lack of news coverage. The news was much simpler back in the ‘70s and mostly void of daily murders or drive by shootings. The worst thing we heard about was the weekly death toll from the Vietnam War. We learned of the passing of Elvis Presley and updates on the Watergate scandal involving President Nixon. We heard about the nationwide gas shortage and the long lines at the pumps. But even then, there was almost always a feel-good story.

During my generation, parents trusted their kids to behave and play with responsibility. Now this was not always the case — kids have historically had a propensity to get into trouble. Common sense is what kept us alive as we understood what was risky versus what was just plain dumb, something kids today seem to lack. During my younger days, the main form of transportation was a bicycle. We rode our bikes around the entire community for miles, seven days a week. We spent countless summer hours outside every day no matter how hot it was.

No one stayed in the house because you weren’t allowed in the house. We played outside because our parents did not allow you to come inside unless you had a medical emergency. If you needed a drink of water, you turned the water hose on until the water got cold enough to drink. A water hose during my generation was necessary for survival! It not only kept us hydrated but was a great form of entertainment when it came to water balloon fights and a slip-n-slide.

Hungry? Well, we could usually find a fig, pear tree or blackberry patch with good fruit on it to satisfy our cravings. Sometimes we hopped on our bikes and went on a coke bottle run collecting as many bottles as we could find in ditches and trash cans so we could turn them in to the local country store in exchange for candy or maybe an ICEE.

It’s sad today to look around and see empty playgrounds and sandlots. You never see groups of kids riding their bikes anymore. You don’t see kids playing chase or climbing trees. Kids today have no idea what a treehouse really is! They have little imagination when it comes to playtime unless it involves a joystick. Because of the level of protection kids have today, they’re just not as mature as my generation was during the pre-teen and teenage years. Imagine your 18-year-old today having to go fight a war in hand-to-hand combat.

What concerns me the most is that the days of kids being free to play outside will never happen again. Kids are too busy on social media sites worrying about someone saying something negative or starting rumors. They are consumed with self-indulging issues that really don’t mean a thing. I only wish parents would take more control and give better guidance. In the meantime, I will continue to pray for kids to experience good fishing, good bike riding and good tree climbing, while not forgetting their sunscreen.  

Contact Steve at sgraf26@yahoo.com