Thursday, July 02, 2009

Kids today

It's easier to be a fan of genre writing than literary writing. If your favorite author comes out with something you don't like, you can take solace in that he or she will pump out another one in a year, or even less. Some literary writers take so many years between books that we have to make do with the occasional essay or short story.

So I am excited that Michael Chabon has a new essay in the NY Review of Books. It is titled the Wilderness of Childhood and it is about the cult of safety that parents, including Chabon himself, in which parents today find themselves mired.

He speaks to the possible impact on literature, as kids who do not explore have less chance of developing an adventurous imagination. He also talks about the conflict he feels as a parent:

What is the impact of the closing down of the Wilderness on the development of children's imaginations? This is what I worry about the most. I grew up with a freedom, a liberty that now seems breathtaking and almost impossible. Recently, my younger daughter, after the usual struggle and exhilaration, learned to ride her bicycle. Her joy at her achievement was rapidly followed by a creeping sense of puzzlement and disappointment as it became clear to both of us that there was nowhere for her to ride it—nowhere that I was willing to let her go. Should I send my children out to play?

There is a small grocery store around the corner, not over two hundred yards from our front door. Can I let her ride there alone to experience the singular pleasure of buying herself an ice cream on a hot summer day and eating it on the sidewalk, alone with her thoughts? Soon after she learned to ride, we went out together after dinner, she on her bike, with me following along at a safe distance behind. What struck me at once on that lovely summer evening, as we wandered the streets of our lovely residential neighborhood at that after-dinner hour that had once represented the peak moment, the magic hour of my own childhood, was that we didn't encounter a single other child.

Even if I do send them out, will there be anyone to play with?

(via Bookstorm)

Last week we were at Eagle Crest, a vacation spot in Central Oregon. In the evening, the kids from connecting condos would rush out and play amongst the golf course trees. I remember doing this almost every night as a kid, but this was out of the ordinary for my kids.


Brack said...

Drop this into Google maps:


The scene of many a twilight game of Red Rover, freeze tag, 500 and Smear the, uh, Kid With the Ball.

Tripp said...

Nicely done. I didn't know the official names of the parks, which that map helps to show.

Do you find the kids run out as a group on your block?

harris said...

Interesting point - I found an interesting, if brief, discussion of a similar matter in The Science of Fear, which I have just finished.

Specifically, the author raises the possibly unintended consequence of the culture of concern over predators, kidnap, etc. - all valid concerns - of childhood obesity and the subsequent detrimental health effects thereof like diabetes, heart disease and the like. That is, limiting the child's access to the outdoors and the games like those that Brack suggests will keep them indoors, glued to the TV, playing videogames etc. Who knows what those health consequences are - and whether their effects, while not as immediately measurable as kindapping statistics, might be just as bad or worse.

Tripp said...

That argument makes a lot of sense. We are in both camps, I guess. We are definitely paranoid about strangers but we try to get them outside as much as we can. We might be over-hiking them though, we get some complaints there.

I would love it if there were enough kids on the block to allow them to just go out and run as they did at Eagle Crest.