There has been considerable change in the world since I first began to store up information in my memory banks.
The data collection probably started sometime after D-Day, but for the first two or three years, most of what I collected didn’t hang around — or else was buried by the sheer volume of sights and experiences that have been dumped in my brain cells since. In fact, I’ve no doubt forgotten most of what has gone on in my life, and even most of what I remember is probably buried somewhere between my ears, appearing only when a stimulus unlocks the brain cell that is hiding it.
That doesn’t make me unusual, by any means. Most people carry years of memories around with them, and those memories are triggered at odd times. The appearance of such a memory may be troublesome, keeping a person awake at night, or it may be a good memory that cheers a person up. It may involve a major event in one’s life, or it may be something trivial, such as a sound, a scent or an old picture.
Such a prompt came to me a few days ago, hidden in a posting my daughter left on Facebook. In it, she told us — and possibly a few dozen others — that she was having a pleasant afternoon to herself, because her two children were on a “play date.” That simple two-word phrase led me to contemplate changes in the world since I was a kid.
Play dates are something new in our culture since the days when I was a kid, and even since the days when I was tasked with raising kids. At least I think they are new. Somebody may have invented them when I wasn’t looking.
I can say for sure that nobody ever arranged a play date for me during my childhood. That’s probably because my childhood coincided with the post-World War II age that has gone down in history as the “Baby Boom.” My earliest memories are about living in married student housing at the University of Wyoming, and in that neighborhood, there were kids all over the place. All I had to do to play with somebody other than my siblings was go outside. Aside from having a parent or two within shouting distance if there was any trouble, we played by our own rules. As I got older, the world got bigger, creating more opportunities to socialize — including some opportunities my parents would not be happy about, had they ever found out about them.
Today, though, we live in a world in which families are smaller, so there are fewer kids out and about. I suppose that means children need more help from their parents in meeting and associating with other kids. In addition, fear of human predators affects how we treat out kids, telling us that we should never let our children out of our sight, let alone allow them to walk to school or down to the neighborhood park to play. Some communities have even criminalized allowing children to play outside unattended in front of their own homes. That has led parents to exert more control over who their youngsters play with and what they do while playing.
Ironically, Free Range Kids, an organization that advocates for giving children more freedom to explore their world and play with others, says that crime, including crime against children, had declined steadily in the U.S. over the last few decades. They note that the last time crime levels were this low, you could buy gasoline for 29 cents per gallon. That means my grandchildren are arguably safer today than their parents were when I was raising them. In fact, they’re just as safe as I was when I was a kid venturing across town to play in the park without asking permission.
Even so, a steady diet of media entertainment featuring unspeakable crimes, blanket coverage by the news media of the few crimes that actually occur against children, along with the rhetoric of fear-mongering politicians, all continue to tell us that our children are in mortal danger and require total supervision by their parents if they are to survive childhood. It’s no wonder parents believe they have to schedule play dates and smother their kids with supervision to keep them safe.
The problem with that is that kids need a measure of freedom to learn how to take responsibility for themselves. Allowing them freedom to arrange their own play experiences, make mistakes and suffer disappointments teaches lessons they need to be independent adults. And I believe denying them those opportunities harms them.
That said, I must say that I do approve of my grandchildren’s recent play date, which was somewhat out of the ordinary. They never left their home in Minnesota, and neither did the playmates (my other grandchildren), who were nearly 5,000 miles away at home in the West African nation of Niger. Through the magic of an Apple program called FaceTime, their parents connected the four first cousins through the magic of the internet, and then left the room, leaving them alone to visit. They did so for over an hour, entertaining themselves with absolutely no adult direction or supervision.
The kids apparently don’t remember everything they did during their visit, but I’m sure it broadened the perspectives of all four.
That’s a play date I can endorse.