A close friend sent me a picture, yesterday, of a childrens playground, circa 1910, that got me thinking about how tough are today's kids compared to years past. Every generation likes to think of themselves as tough bastards when it comes to how they grew up, but the reality is that there is no question life has gotten much easier over the years.
That, of course, is not to say that some people have had a tough time of it, even as life on earth one has gotten progressively easier. Not everyone grew up a Rockefeller and had anything they wanted at hand. Many of us had to work hard for things we wanted, and enjoyed them even more because of that.
I'm actually talking more about physical toughness. I am not a parent, so I can't possibly have that perspective regarding kids toughness, but I was a kid, and I can remember getting plenty of scrapes, bumps, and bloody noses as a young'un. It was a normal part of growing up, and you didn't even think twice about any of it. If you were close to home, you had mom slap a bandage on it, or if you were still playing, and it wasn't convenient to go home, you slapped some dirt on it, and kept going.
Guess what? Nobody died. Go figure.
The picture, in the upper left corner above, is a playground, circa 1912. As you can see, kids were either tough sonsofbitches, or, they were training to join the circus. There is a twelve foot ladder to get on the damn thing! Just imagine falling from the top of that. The hard packed dirt and rocks probably didn't hurt much when you landed on that.
By the 1960's, shown in the upper right above, some sanity prevailed, as park districts figured you could still break an arm falling from only six feet. Based on what was there to play with, the circus career was still in play. A skyscraper steel installer was also a fallback career move too.
Notice that there is zero plastic or rubber to be seen on the first two playgrounds, but as we slide into the 1990's, pictured lower left above, they have installed fake ground, and made everything ADA accessible. Forget about breaking anything on yourself, you wouldn't even get a scrape on that playground. What is the point?
Today, pictured lower right above, things are so safe in this playground that there isn't even a squared corner to walk into. The worst you could do to yourself is get a skin burn sliding down one of the scorching hot plastic slides. Don't worry mom's, I think I see a place for lawyers business cards under one of the fake palm trees.
I'm sure parents want to protect their children, at least today's parents seem to care. Back in the day, parents just wanted their kids out of the house, and to be back by dinner time. "Now Timmy, make sure you're home by the time the street lights come on." Today's parents wouldn't let their kids go play alone in the neighborhood park if you gave them a million dollars. Hell, they won't even let them walk to school, they drive them the two blocks.
It's not only playgrounds that have softened up kids.
What is the first thing you notice about the picture on the left, compared to the picture on the right? Kids, back in the 1950' and 1960's dared to ride their bikes without helmets! The crazy daredevils. I can assure you that no kid today is hitching a ride on their bike by grabbing the car door. Who didn't do that growing up?
Today, I even see adults wearing a helmet to ride their bikes around a 55+ subdivision, that is gated. What the hell do they think is going to happen? We have gone from doing completely insane things as kids to complete protective mode as adults. Shame on us. Let kids be kids for crying out loud.
When we let Johnny and Sally play sports, we make sure everyone gets a participation trophy so nobody feels bad. Then when they go out into the real world, and are turned down for jobs and promotions, they show back up at work with AK-47's and kill everyone because their feelings are hurt.
As the great Judge Smails said, "The world needs ditch diggers too, Danny." Not everyone is going to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or scientist. You have to let kids become what they want to become. It's OK to be a clerk or truck driver, some people like to do those things, thank goodness for us all.
We need to toughen up our kids and grandchildren today. We don't have to hand them everything on a platter, and we don't have to make sure they feel good about themselves if they fail. It is good to fail, that is how you learn stuff. That is why they came up with the phrase, get back up on the horse once you get thrown off.
It's also OK to give them help and direction to make sure they stay on the right path, just don't do it for them.