Last weekend, Paul Daugherty wrote an interesting editorial for The Cincinnati Enquirer that talked about summer. In it, he compared modern day summer with summer’s past and how different they are. “I remember when I was a kid…” and “Back in MY day…” are 2 common starts to conversations with my kids that I find myself having these days and Mr. Daugherty addresses the vast differences our generation has with this one. Between the constant flow of time and attention, our kids NEVER slow down. Whether it’s baseball practice or violin practice, dance recitals or play dates, birthday parties or pool parties, modern-day kids are USED to the stimulation and they grab onto our (parents) pant legs and they never let go. Are they a product of us? Are we the ones who have decided that our children must be bombarded with over-scheduling and rushing from place to place?
I don’t know about you, but “Back in MY day…” I had nothing but time to do anything I wanted to do. I lived out in the “boonies” (or in the country, to you city slickers) and in order for me to get to my friends, I had to hop on my bike and pedal about 4 miles to the nearest town and hope there were some guys around who wanted to play basketball for a few hours. Sometimes I’d go the the pool. Sometimes I’d hang out with my best friend. But very rarely did I have my parents to lean on. My dad & mom both worked and ran their own business and I was one of 6 kids. So for them to drop everything to take me somewhere was not gonna happen. So I used my imagination. Much like Daugherty, my days were spent tossing a ball against the house as Fernando Valenzuela worked to get out of a jam in Game 7 of the World Series or I was Magic Johnson slashing to the hoop, slipping between 2 imaginary defenders with the NBA title on the line. I wasn’t in little league anything. I played by myself or with a few of my closest (in proximity) friends and when it got too dark, I came home.
Obviously nowadays, things have changed, as they always do from generation to generation. Today’s generation has videogames on IPhones. They have access to anything they want with the world wide web. My daughter can log on, go to her favorite clothing store (Justice) and order a shirt and she’s only 6! I hate to imagine what would happen if she had my credit card information. And my son can get on his Playstation 3 and connect with his buddies online and play “Call of Duty” (I call it “Smell of Doodie”) and whip up on each other without raising an arm above their heads. And if they get shot? They get right back up and keep on killing. It’s ridiculous.
This generation of parents are known as “Helicopter Parents.” If you “Google” the term, the definition is such on Wikipedia…”Parents, like helicopters, hover closely overhead, rarely out of reach, whether their children need them or not. It is also called “over-parenting.” Parents try to resolve their child’s problems and try to stop them coming to harm by keeping them out of dangerous situations.” And that pretty much describes every parent I know these days. But who can blame us? With all the horror stories about abductions and killings and with information overload we have become as overprotective and as concerned as we can and so our kids suffer the consequences. No longer can I leave a quarter on the nightstand and hope that my 9-year old son can fill his day with his friends in the neighborhood. Now I have to know where he is at all times. I have to know that he is next door or at the pool or at the local baseball diamond and odds are I’ll drive him there in my Traverse with it’s air conditioning and video system on the back of the headrests. Kids today have no idea what “roughing it” means. Not that I think that I did either really. I mean seriously…I can’t remember EVER being hungry or thirsty or in need of anything. My parents took great care of me and allowed me to make my experiences for myself to some degree. But if there was a problem, they were always there for me. Funny thing is…I don’t remember there ever being a problem. Obviously, being a boy, I found myself some trouble from time to time, but for the most part, summer was a chance for me to do whatever I wanted. I’m not so sure that flies today.
So the question comes to mind…do I NEED to be a helicopter parent? Probably not. My son is great and very smart. Is he okay running around here in our neighborhood with his friends without me worrying? Probably. But I do. This morning is the first day of summer vacation for my kids. Christopher is out now, playing on this beautiful day. I have no idea where he went but I know he’ll stay close. Ava overslept and is now watching tv while I’m here writing. I have to go mix up some lunch for the kids before they head out to the pool with some friends. Yes…I will take them there in my air-conditioned vehicle and they will be with several other parents at the pool. This evening Christopher has baseball practice. He has practice a couple times a week. Is this a bad thing? I don’t think so. If I had the chance to play with a group of my best friends when I was a kid, you know I wanted to do it! Ava has violin practice. Is this a bad thing? No…I WISH I knew how to play an instrument. Later, I imagine my wife will gather with many of the parents and cookout or hang out while the kids play in someone’s backyard. Is this different from when I was a kid? A little bit but it’s not necessarily for the worse…it’s just different.
And that’s okay.
Every generation has it’s own way of celebrating summer. Here in my little town, we celebrate by hanging out with one another, having a few drinks while the kids play kickball in the backyard and telling stories of when we were younger. Things are a lot different now and as much as I miss those days back when I was 9, they are never coming back. So here’s to this new generation. I hope they grow up to appreciate all that we’ve given them. As a helicopter parent (not by choice but necessity), I do my best to make sure my kids enjoy their lives not just in the summer but year around and hopefully they will appreciate these things later…much like I do about the things I had when I was a kid. And may the hours, minutes and seconds tick slowly this summer. I want it to last forever…or for as long as I can stand sitting at the pool and soaking in the sun. It’s a tough job being a helicopter parent but it’s one I wouldn’t change for the world. But believe me…I get what Doc is saying and I’m taking it to heart and I’ll remember. Especially when I kick them out of the house and yell at them…
“Ya know…back in MY day…we didn’t HAVE 500 channels and videogames! Now get out there and use your imagination!”
I imagine my kids both looking at me like I’m crazy and ask, “So…what did YOU do when you were a kid?”
And I’ll respond, “Uh…wish I had cable and an Atari?”
And that would be the truth!