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What happened to us?

Okay, at last I’ve decided it’s time to stop walking around with question marks hovering over my head and to throw this one out there for some enlightenment.  I thought it might be fun to discuss this topic as it’s had me perplexed for a while now.  I’m not sure how to start because there’s so much I want to say.  What I’d like to know is what happened to us?  Here’s how it goes…

You know that line, “When I was your age…”, that we so often heard growing up and now find ourselves saying all too often?  Yes, well that’s exactly it.  It seems to me that back when we were growing up, we had so much more freedom than do the children of today.  I mean, perhaps it’s my own little illusion and so I’m putting this out there to be corrected if need be… 

The way I’m seeing things, nowadays it seems to me that children are so protected from so many things out there…so many bogey men (are there really predators lurking in every single aisle of the supermarket?), potential accidents, the possibility that they will do it wrong (and then what will the people think!!!) and what have you all else that they are barely allowed to do anything anymore without parental intervention and some form of adult supervision.  Did we not go out there as kids and play in the streets and the woods for hours, set up our games, climb trees, build go-carts out of whatever we found out there and so on and so forth?  I remember walking to school.  Yes, “when I was their age” I walked to school in any weather and it wasn’t exactly around the corner.  But today, the school bus picks them up right at their door and god forbid they might have to stand in the rain for a minute or two…and parents are out there at the end of the driveway until the bus comes etc.  Yes?  And while I’m at it, what the hell do they have packed in those knapsacks that are twice their size and weight???  At least, this is what I’m seeing.  Then, they want to ride their bikes and they need helmets and knee pads and elbow pads and an entire outfit that they look ready to go play hockey on the ice.  Okay, perhaps I’m mildly exaggerating but you get the idea…

So I want to know why?  Why have we become so paranoid?  When do the children have the opportunity to think and create and explore on their own?  Their days are filled with so many activities while parents are driving them here and then there and then that sport practice and this dance class and on and on.  The moment they have some free time, they declare that they’re bored after 5 minutes.  They can’t seem to entertain themselves on their own for very long.  Everything gets done for them with their days so tightly scheduled.  And now they can’t eat this and they’re allergic to that and they are afflicted with all these new syndromes that never existed back when we were their age. 

What has happened?  What are we so afraid of and how can it be that we, who had far more freedom growing up, are restricting the children so much today?  I wonder why?  What happened to us?  Did we create this?  Do we have them virtually imprisoned?  Is it the media that has us so paranoid?  What is going on…and why?  Are we killing creativity?  How are these children learning to manage risk when they are not given the opportunity to experience risk?


There are so many instructions and rules today…and frankly, we the adults have a million more rules to adhere to as well.  Do you think we have enough speed bumps out there yet?  I think they should seriously consider turning those Yellow Pages that noone uses anymore into a book of all the things we can’t do anymore…all the restrictions we’ve created.  Given the font size of the Yellow Pages, I figure a reference book of all our “Don’ts” should just about fit in that brick.

I have to say, I’m really on the outside looking in here because I am not a parent.  And so I am probably not fully understanding the ramifications.  So I thought I’d put it out there to see what your perspective is on this…  What happened to us that we’ve become so paranoid and are we making the children pay for what may be our own issues to resolve?

They’re so beautiful, the children…can’t we give them a bit of freedom…to be and discover themselves?  What is life if not a series of explorations?


  1. Hi Kharim,
    Wonderful article! I’ve asked myself that same question many times. We do need to let kids be kids, and learn about life from their own experiences. We hear a lot more news stories about psycho’s today. When we were young those stories weren’t reported on. Growing up I didn’t realize there was such a thing as pedophiles. Things did happen, and though we didn’t really hear much about them, I don’t think they happened as much as they do today. They say knowledge is power, though it seems we’ve turned that into fear.

    There are some parents on the opposite end of the spectrum, who don’t supervise their kids at all. They prefer that their kids are not around and don’t seem to care what they get up to, just so long as they don’t have to bother with them. For as limiting as the paranoid parent is, I think it’s preferable to being the uninvolved one.

    I don’t recall adults complaining about poor service, rude strangers, or disrespectful drivers, when I was a child. I don’t recall hearing stories about kids committing serious crimes either. Those things were not the norm when we were young. Nowadays good service, polite strangers, and respectful drivers stand out like sore thumbs. As parents we see the world has become a harsh place where a stranger could just as well kill you for looking at them sideways. I think that’s what’s changed, and what has created the over-protective parent.

    What hasn’t changed is that if we want our children to be able to function independently as adults, we need to let them experience life and it’s difficulties for themselves. Then they can learn the skills to solve problems in the world they currently face.

    Looking forward to your next post,

  2. Ah, a subject near and dear to my heart. I have given this one a lot of thought also.
    I have been a child, parent and now a grandparent. Have seen many differences over the years although I am told I was much protected as a child.

    As far as the playing in the street and going places by themselves, this one I have pondered long and hard and this is what I have come up with.

    At age 7, I went to school in Verdun by myself. I either walked or took the bus depending on the weather. Now consider I said earlier I was told I was over protected. When my children became that age and I was still walking them to the corner to catch the school bus it made me think. When I went back in my memory and experienced the walk to school all over again, I notice something very important…less cars on the street. We have gone from very few households owning a car to two cars in every family. That makes for much more traffic, much more danger crossing streets. So at that point I decided I was not being over protective with my own children, right or wrong. You can only trust your own judgment.

    Yes we are all paranoid and it is due somewhat to the media. I think that the more they report the more ideas the bad guys get. The media becomes a “how to do book” for people in the darker side of life.

    I love the helmets. I think protecting the head is something that needed to be perfected for many years. Statics show that.

    Where the creativity is lost is with all the scheduled play. Children don’t play anymore on their own. They have play dates and go to indoor play areas where everything is set up for them. No exploring or choosing your own friends and activities. All of their time is planned and there is no flying by the seat of your pants type of things going on.

    I was happy to hear recently that my grandson loves when he and his mom make a tent out of ordinary household blankets. That is one of his favorite activities.
    I will stop here because when it comes to children I have been known to go on and on.

  3. There was a great quote in the Michael Moore film… (yes Kharim,… I know he’s your FAVOURITE director…he he.) but he said something about the statistic being and this is paraphrased, so not accurate, that crime in the US has gone down in the last 20 years, however reporting of crime has gone up 500% or something like that. Perhaps that is why we are all so paranoid? Pedophiles have been around for thousands of years, as have rapists etc… but generally there seems to always be the trend that these people are generally people the child knows and not random strangers.

    We as parents definitely have to seek out the opportunities for our children to invent their own games and yes, let them be “bored” so they can find something to do, that is creative and interesting and not something they have been told to do, or directed to do. I do agree that in our effort to make “well rounded” children we have become somewhat neurotic, and forgotten the value of teaching our children that being well rounded does not actually mean being busy 12 hours/day, out of the house, doing “activities”. That being well rounded is being emotionally stable, content with life as it comes to us, and supportive of our peers and our community. Sometimes being well rounded means sitting quietly with ourselves, and thinking about why the sky is blue.

    I suppose that the term “well rounded” has mutated over time. I had a friend in university who thought she was a “loser” if she spent time at home. I suppose perhaps this is what we are teaching our children if we over schedule them, and do not teach them that spending time to cook healthy and nutritious food, putting value in our homes and our time at home, and that being quiet, and peaceful at home, is actually a fantastic way to spend our time, then how can we expect them to be “well rounded” and happy content individuals in their adult lives?

  4. Another thing that has changed over time, is when we were kids, in the summer we played with our neighbours, everyone was home in the summer. Now, because many parent both work, I know that our neighbours are all at “camps”… there are NO neighbourhood kids just playing in their yards… therefore, if you don’t want your kids to go batty, and yourself included you have to sign them up for activities in the summer… I find this really unfortunate, but it is simply the norm, especially here in Vancouver, where the cost of living is high and often both parents simply have to work full time. I’m sure it’s the same in most large cities. I remember long summer days, playing in the streets, and our children will never experience that, playing with all different ages, making games etc… but perhaps they will have other fantastic memories…

    • I have to share one more thing, when Kharim and i were little, we developed this game… she had a stop watch, and so we took our step dad’s clothes and placed them all around the house, and then the game was you had to run from one place to the other, each time putting on the clothes at each “station”… I still laugh when I think about this game, how hilarious it really was, it culminated in the last obstacle of opening the locked bathroom door with a hair pin, and sitting on the can with all these clothes on… pants, shirt, jacket, umbrella, pipe etc etc… I don’t know what possessed us to think up this game, but I almost pee myself laughing when I think of how stupid and funny it would have been to watch two kids 8 and 12 playing this game….

  5. Hey Kharim,
    Your article hit the mark.. I agree with Dominique (and Michael Moore) that we are just more bombarded with news stories and bad reports. I believe that crime in general is down and we are just a truly paranoid society. The news, sex and crime is on the tube and internet 24hrs a day compared to a world with 4 TV channels. Our TV shows (ie. CSI, Law & Order, Criminal Intent, etc.) show us blood and gore that a few years ago would have turned our stomachs. I hate to say it, but today our kids don’t even flinch.
    Other things have changed as well. We are a consumer driven society and we and our kids want the latest and greatest toys… High speed internet, i-phone, Wii, Play Station, etc.. We have truly forgotten how to appreciate the little things in life. I’d love to send out my kids to play, but there are no longer kids in the neighbourhood to play with.. (they are all at day camps, shuffled between parents, at a scheduled sport, etc).
    Sophia and I try really hard to keep things simple and let our kids slow down somewhat. We make them read books every day, we limit video games to an hour a day (what!!!), we make them play on their own and outside… You’d be surprised how kids eventually do still use their imagination… We do the simple things such as go camping, go the Jazz Festival, ride bikes, go to the beach on vacation….
    If you ask any kid what items stand out in their lives, it is still most of these simple pleasures… They don’t remember the gadgets and toys, but they do remember what you did as a parent playing soccer in the backyard (and beating you just barely), they remember the sleep-over you let them have with their 4 best friends (imagine five “10 year old” girls singing, dancing, and giggling on the hideaway in the basement at 11pm), they remember the beach vacation with the family doing absolutely nothing but fighting off the big waves, building sand castles, and spending an afternoon at the boardwalk and amusement park…

    I really don’t think much has changed, but our perception of how we think they have changed…. Technology and society has indeed changed, but what was important then remains important now…

    Ciao for now,

  6. Wow, this is absolutely fabulous material!! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. It sheds a whole new light, I find, when you incorporate all the other views into the equation. I find that it helps to make sense out of where we’re going with it all and to better understand how we get to where we get. Would you agree?

    Some things change, some stay the same and we dance and navigate around it trying to find the balance while exploring new avenues. Hmmm. I’m going to have to reread what you’re saying again and see how I read it the next time through. It’s fun. Thank you!

  7. It’s easy to become paranoid with all that we read and hear. Just the other day, I read a little acticle that was warning parents in the area that a man driving a gray car had tried to lure 2 children in to his car with candy. What am I suppose to do with that now? Finally, summer is here and the kids can play outside without having to come in for homework or anything. Am I suppose to sit outside and watch their every move in case that gray car drives by my house? No, I’m not going to sit outside and watch like I did for so many years. What I will do is educate my kids. Warn them without instilling the fear in them. That’s what I’ll do.

    I’m workng hard on trying to let go… little by little, taking baby steps and only as far as I can handle at the time. I’m trying to put in my mind and teach my children that not everyone is bad and that most people can be trusted. To trust their own gut and if it doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t right. I’ve lived the last tens years of my life fearing every stranger, glaring at them in suspicion, ready to pounce at their first movement in my children’s direction. I’m tired of not trusting in people. I’m not saying that there are no “monsters” around but what I’m saying is that most of the time, people are friendly and kind and sincere.

    Yesterday, I was at the beach with my kids and two girlfriends and their kids. Lying on the beach not far from us was an interesting caracter. Let’s just say that she was entertaining but harmless… Well, that was my opinion, anyways… She was closely watch by one of my girlfriends, not for how entertaining she was but in fear that she might “attack”, I guess! At one point, the children, all seven of them, were playing in the water when this woman decided to go refresh herself in the water not far from our children. As I sat comfortably on my yellow 70’s chair watching, I was fascinated… Nothing to do with the said woman but with my girlfriends who quickly got up, headed for the water and proceeded to pull their kids out! Yes, this woman was obviously intoxicated and on the strange side but is that cause to be so guarded? When they returned to sit, I asked why they did that… The answer was that they felt they could never get to the kids in time if she were to suddenly go crazy and attack our kids. The final result… My girlfriends rounded up the kids, packed up their bags and left while my kids stayed in the water, enjoying a perfect day with an assumed looney only feet away from them!

    I’m not sure if I’m making any sense but all I think I’m trying to say is that I’m working on reversing the damage that as been caused to me in order to save my children from a life of always looking over their shoulder, fearing what is lurking around the corner… I still believe it’s important to be cautious and to not put yourself in situations that can potentially turn bad. And I believe that if we can stop living in constant fear or suspicion, our instinct will be much more clear and easier to respond to because when those antennas do go up, it will be because there is a good reason for it, not just another false alarm!

    • Interesting story Sonya. I agree that what is more scary than the constant fear we live in, is the lesson we are teaching our children, by always running away from everyone who is not what we call “normal”… I was observing people on the street awhile back while sitting in a café. There was a woman walking down the street yelling, arms flailing, I assumed she was on the phone, on her bluetooth. As she passed me I realized she was talking to herself, and then thought it ironic that the only difference between a “nutball” walking down the street and a so called “normal person” was the lack of the bluetooth device. And yet, somehow the people who had the bluetooth permanently attached to their heads, just waiting for that next call to come in somehow seemed more neurotic to me… I’m wondering if our concept of normal has somehow gotten a little skewed.

      I vividly remember as a child being chased down the frozen Ottawa Canal at the age of 7 or so, by a drunk that we had somehow gotten mad, maybe we’d woken him up or something. It didn’t make it on the news, we didn’t have “blockwatch” sending out messages to the whole community saying that a drunk was running rampant in our neighbourhood. We did learn to be a little more careful though.

      Our children are growing up with a sense of always being “connected”, either by cellphone, blackberry etc… they always have a direct line to “safety”, and yet afraid of being abducted of bludgeoned to death by an “unsub” and to become the next episode of CSI. I’m not sure that the kids are growing up with any sense of street smarts, or intuition, between being shuffled from one soccer practice to the next, hovered over by well meaning parents, never having time to themselves, and being told never to talk to anyone, and watch out for this guy and that guy they have no sense of confidence nor independence, and a close to neurotic fear of everything and everyone.

      when I was teaching piano a number of years ago, I had an almost 9 year old student call me to tell me she couldn’t make her lesson because her mom couldn’t drive her. This girl lived literally less than a km from my house, a nice bike ride through the local busy park and she was at my house. When I asked if she could ride her bike, she said she was not allowed to ride her bike alone through the park.

      Yet only a week later I was on the bus, and one walked a very beautiful, and blind girl not older than 14, taking the bus downtown, just her and her white cane, chatting with everyone around her. I thought to myself, how some people would think this girl’s parents were nuts, but I thought it was fantastic how they were teaching her to be independent and self sufficient.

      • I also very vividly remember every moment of that incident on the Ottawa Canal. To this day I think we did quite well for ourselves that time.

        This is a very interesting comment you’re making on this sense of always being “connected” that today’s children have what with the cellphones and other devices giving them a direct line to safety and yet having such a massive fear of being abducted or whatever. I find that to be a very good point especially in light of that memory on the Ottawa Canal. I remember that when we realized we were being chased by somewhat of a lunatic, we did feel fear and then acted on it. Until that point though, we were just carrying on…kids being kids. And we had no direct line to safety. I suppose we perhaps created our own safety as needed? Did we have more confidence? Is it the cellphone and technology that makes the difference today? Interesting questions…

  8. At last I’m back rereading all these comments, anecdotes and thoughts. It’s been a background process for me for a while and all your input has got me to thinking about how we have all come from different sets of experiences, different influences and so forth. And as we navigate life and it’s challenges, clearly we learn and grow. I’m seeing that sharing our thoughts and experiences is a very valuable exercise because it helps to see things from different perspectives and understand the different points of view.

    There’s really no right or wrong answer here. I love it that we can all be so openly honest about how we feel and see things and where our ideas come from which determine our actions. I find it fun to question ourselves and dig deeper into why we do what we do sometimes. There are things that we do that we’ve thoroughly thought through first and yet other things we do simply because others are doing it that way and we don’t question it to see if it fits for us or not.

    Yes, I’m very much enjoying this discussion. Thank you again for sharing!!


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