Is it Politicians, or Are We Just Bad Parents?

I did not come from a hunting, shooting, fishing or any other outdoor sport household. I fished for sunny’s in our lake, but that was about it. My parents didn’t teach me any of that because they didn’t know very much to teach me. But if they had, I think I would have learned. This is an interesting article about how we’re becoming a “we used to,” society.

I have gotten to know a couple of my son’s friends, and it shocks me that here ,in a really rural area, surrounded by lakes and streams, most of them don’t even bother to go outside very much if at all.

I’ve certainly seen this: kids that grow up playing video games and doing not much else. They’d rather bury their faces in the phone than talk to anybody.

I don’t ever recall my parents strictly regimenting my TV watching, but neither my sister nor I grew up glued to a TV. My parents both did a lot. I don’t think if I had tried, I would have been allowed to glue myself to a TV or video game controller. I don’t know why we are letting our kids do that today.

I think we’ve gotten absolutely abysmal as a society in passing down our values and interests. I don’t think politicians are to blame for that. That’s something deficient in our parenting. What is it?

26 thoughts on “Is it Politicians, or Are We Just Bad Parents?”

  1. When I challenged my mother on why she thought she had to keep my niece indoors all the time when she watched her, she would start with the “it’s more dangerous now” crap. When I debunked that with data, she would say it’s because she loved her and didn’t want to take any chances. When I pointed out that she let me run around the neighborhood unsupervised in a time that I can prove was more dangerous for crimes and accidents, I asked if that means she didn’t love me as much since love is why she doesn’t allow any risk at all. That shut down the conversation, but that didn’t change any habit. Probably not a win, though definitely got the point across that this isn’t a health demonstration of love.

    Unfortunately, I think that has become, somehow, the signal that you love your kids – that you always want them around you for full supervision all of the time. Independence isn’t seen as a good thing to too many people, so our society has kind of cracked down on it, too.

    I suspect there is a relationship to what we see from some anti-gunners, too. Some of them will openly admit (and others just make noises where we can read between the lines) that they don’t trust themselves to make good decisions, so no one should have the freedom to make the decisions about guns. In the cases of kids, I think it’s a similar concern. They don’t trust their own children to handle themselves safely unsupervised, so they believe no child should have that freedom in the same circumstances.

    Something has happened where people are now actively looking for reasons to be scared and miserable. Even when they learn that things aren’t so bad and we can let up a bit on their kids, they want to be frightened and want their kids to live in that fear as well. I’m not sure how we solve for that with so many people in society seeking to live that way.

    1. Sometimes I wonder if that delaying having kids is responsible for parents being more risk averse. My mother was 30 when she was letting me play outside unsupervised. Parents today are routinely 10 years older with kids that age. I can definitely say my sense of risk is different at 45 than it was at 35.

      1. FWIW as a data point, my parents were 30 and 31 when I was born, ten years after they got married. To tell you the truth, with hindsight I sometimes think they were nuts letting me do some of the things I did, “unsupervised” — like walk the fields with my .22 when I was seven — but I suspect that had something to do with, that they had both largely “raised themselves” in an urban environment that, nostalgia notwithstanding, did have very real dangers. (Both have memories of murders being committed with impunity; and see my Old Story below about my father’s brother taking a bullet at the age of seven.) Probably to my parents, a little kid running loose on a farm with a real firearm seemed as safe as a baby in a cradle.

        I’ll suggest an interesting question: What are the attitudes of people who were children during a war? Are they as a rule over- or under-protective of their own children? Do they see the peacetime world as a cakewalk, or as concealing the same dangers that were all around them as children?

      2. Also…if people are having kids at an older age, they might’ve had to jump through hoops that made the kids seem all the more precious. (IVF ain’t a picnic, I hear.)

    2. To be fair, you have to at least consider the possibility that there’s some Butterfield effect to saying kids are safer than ever, so why do we keep them indoors? Maybe they’re safer because we keep them indoors.

      But I do feel like they are missing out on something. And unfortunately, the screens make it easy and fun for them to be indoors, where when I was a kid I know that even with our whole 3 channels of TV, being stuck inside on a nice day was the worst. I have tried actively to encourage my kids to go out and run around with a gang of their friends, but they just don’t do it (and most of the friends don’t, either)

      Now, all that being said, I don’t think parents today are any better or worse than in the past. The ones who ordered their kids outdoors until dark didn’t make sure to fill their days with enriching activities, and some of those kids spent their time huffing paint and suchlike. Some of the kids who stayed inside and spent hours with video games grew up to be programmers. Some studies of twins adopted by different families have famously shown that nature seems to be more important than nurture, barring extremes of ‘bad parenting’ such as growing up in a crackhouse.

      1. I believe the crime rates were falling before the trend of excessive screen time and “we must watch them every minute” really took hold widely. That’s typically how most things like social problems work – well after improvements are seen, that’s when the “panic” sets in that we must do something. One of my favorite sociology classes was taught by a professor who dared students to come up with some social problem, and he could pretty much universally show that the press panic and social response of “something must be done” happened when that issue was already well on the decline from whatever high was reached. I loved it because he pissed off so many of the “something must be done” types.

        I don’t know what the solution could be since, as Stacy notes, even if you kick kids outside to play, their friends either choose not to or aren’t allowed to. Being outside all alone isn’t exactly fun unless they have the personality to want to explore on their own. Maybe the real issue is the lack of drive to want to discover and kind of conquer their own little corner of the world. How do we bring back beyond just 1 or 2 kids in a family that culture and value of unstructured and independent play to experience the world around us?

  2. I think some of it may be because both parents are working full-time in most families today. A kid who’s glued to a smartphone or tablet or gaming console is quiet and isn’t requiring any effort from the exhausted parents. This habit starts from a young age and becomes very addicting.

    1. I could definitely see that being a real issue. Screens are good babysitters, and somehow a game that might help develop some levels of learning and thinking, seems better than tv. It’s also portable enough now to end “Are we there yet?” questions from the car and other challenges to parenting curious children.

      1. Guilty as charged – the tablet is just easier than listening to the whine.

        Though there’s probably no screentime tonight; it’s a Pack meeting!

  3. My opening thought is, what we are observing ain’t nuthin’ compared to what our immigrant ancestors experienced in terms of their children adapting to a “different” culture, and not being able to relate to them. And, being frustrated that somehow they couldn’t make their kids regard as important, what they thought was important.

    But, regarding kids not taking advantage of “outdoor” activities available to them, I grew up when Bucks County was genuinely rural and agricultural, and not being a “townie”, there weren’t many other kinds of activities to keep me occupied; to this day I have not the slightest interest in ball-sports. But I remember in the early days when Levittown was built, being at Levittown Lake and seeing crowds of kids running up and down the banks, fishing and splashing in the water. I also helped out one day in the ’70s when our club co-sponsored some sort of Opening Day fishing activity for kids at that lake, and fishermen were arm-to-arm around the whole lake. I have been to the same lake on a nice summer afternoon in recent years, and seem not a single kid playing there, and mainly a few oldish men fishing from the bank.

    For a sharp contrast, my father and his brother grew up pretty much in South Philly, and became hunters and shooters as kids by going “Down the Neck,” an area of swampy ponds and fields and dumps in the bend of the Delaware River south of Philadelphia; roughly where the sports stadiums are today. One of their stories — which they both laughed over — was how my uncle got shot in the thigh with a stray .22 bullet at the age of seven, and they had to chase him down the dirt road and tackle him to take him to the clinic. Another is a memory of people laughing at the sight of the same kid riding down the street on his bike carrying a shotgun under one arm and a hound dog under the other.

    But the point of those stories is, that “urban” kids from mostly immigrant families, who really had to improvise to create shooting and hunting activities, did so and carried it forward into adult life, while kids with far more opportunities at their fingertips have turned away from those things. My only thought for now is that many things lose their charm when too much rules-and-regulation and other “organization” are involved. With all apologies due our wonderful club’s facilities, I had a lot more fun when I was shooting over the hood of an abandoned Henry J as my benchrset and shooting rats on a private dump where we had to run when the owner or the cops showed up. Of course that’s just me.

  4. As a 45-yo parent of a elementary-school kid; there’s not a lot for him to do outside “on his own” right now. He’s not quite ready to bike all over town by himself, though we do see roaming packs of kids on bikes when we go out together; and the kids he can walk to aren’t really his friends. Though the after-care program he’s in tosses them outside on a fairly regular basis and flat forbids screens, so there’s that. He’s in cub scouts, of course, and has tried both fishing and shooting there (not a huge fan of the former, but loves the latter).

    I’ll let him out in the yard on his own if he wants, and he does ask from time to time.

    1. I’m a 38 year old father of two kids under 6 living in the suburbs. While 3 and 5.5 are too young to be on their own, we definitely want to encourage outdoor activity and independence.

      Alas, much of the “outdoors” in the area are city parks and whatnot which aren’t particularly exciting. Doubly so when things like model rocketry are very frowned upon due to fire risk (though perhaps in the wet season?).

      We’re faced with a somewhat difficult choice: there’s an excellent, extremely high quality K-12 private school (with associated preschool for the younger one) in the next city over for which we get a significant discount (my wife is a teacher there), but it’s a good 15 minute drive away and brings it kids from all over the county. The local public school is also excellent, and brings in local neighbors in our area, which would be very beneficial in terms of the kids socializing, playing in the area with friends who are also neighbors, being able to do spontaneous “let’s bike to Suzy’s house and ring the bell” activities rather than more structured, scheduled activities, etc.

      For now, we opted for the private school because it’s a good school and it makes the commute a bit easier, but this is something we’re actively thinking about.

      I wish there was a place like this locally:

  5. One thing I can immediately think of is that we simply have much more availability of screens than we did when I was a kid. The original NES and Super Nintendo were available when I was in elementary school, but I don’t remember having multiple TVs in one house being common, so video game use had to fit around other family members TV watching in many households. Computers were a thing but internet wasn’t available until I was in high school. So computers were probably relatively less interesting than they are today. And, again there was probably gonna be only one so it had to be shared among family members. Even when I was older and internet was available, it was dial up so high bandwidth stuff like videos wasn’t really possible and you were gonna get kicked off if someone needed to use the phone. And smart phones were a decade away. Now, kids get phones often around school age(which kinda makes sense because my generations solution, the payphone, is practically nonexistent), and multiple computer,tablets, and TVs in every bedroom are fairly normal. So I’m not surprised we get more use of what we had available.

  6. I wonder if smaller family size is partly responsible for “helicopter parenting?” If a family only has one or two children a parent can be more involved with each child than a family with four or five.

    1. Yeah. And it has an effect on the children too. If you’re a single child, you don’t have to learn to share your toys, you don’t have to learn how to compete with another kid for your parents love and affection, you don’t have another human being of roughly similar age to reflect your own behavior back at you.

      I’m not saying that single kids all grow up to be narcissistic, but they definitely have a harder time gaining the experience that kids from bigger families just grow up with.

  7. Multi generation data as I am old and know a fair amount how my parents grew up.
    My father was urban and pretty independent. Enlisted in naval aviation during WWII without drama from his parents. Guns around for self defense but not hunting. My mother was rural. Parents were outdoor people with fishing, hunting, camping as regular activities. She hated it though so when I came along my outdoorsy stuff was with my dad via Scouting. We lived in suburbs and I can’t remember any restrictions on mobility or activities. Guns present for defense but not hunting. Had supervised access quite young and unsupervised from early teens. As a young adult did LOTS of camping, hiking, skiing but no hunting. Guns available for defense. When my kids came along we were urban but still did the outdoor stuff. More restrictive than my parents but less than our peers. Guns introduced early but they weren’t hugely interested. Now I am seeing grandchildren. Still quite young and urban so restricted if nothing else to keep them away from needles and feces. Lots of outdoors in an urban sense. Guns present but no introduction yet.
    Each generation has gotten more programmed with activities. Screen time not an issue as it has been actively discouraged in all generations.

  8. “Guns around for self defense but not hunting.”

    Just to contribute more to generational memories of urban life, my mother told me that in the late ’20s, early ’30s, “all the young guys carried guns when they got dressed up.”

    My father had two pocket pistols, that all I remember with certainty is, they were semiautos — I’m guessing a .25 ACP and a .32 ACP. But he swapped them off for a “liberated” M-1 Carbine sometime after I was born. We moved from South Philly to Bucks County when I was about 1-1/2.

    One of my father’s favorite Old Stories was about how he had restrained his best buddy from shooting a “bad cop” off his horse when they spotted him patrolling the dirt roads south of the city. The justice eventually meted out was more moderate; some young guys got the cop drunk, stole his badge and gun and uniform, and left him handcuffed naked to a call box on the street at night. He was fired, and probably because the other cops presumably knew the bad cop was a prick, no serious effort was made to come after the guys responsible. Or maybe they appreciated that he wasn’t assassinated.

  9. I’ve wondered if this is related to both parents working; from a very early age the kids get parked in early AM care at school waiting for school to start, and after school care waiting for parents to pick them up, or just get home from work. These “care” programs have minimal staffing because staff costs money, so for 2 “care” takers to supervise 30 kids is easier if they’re rounded up and confined within the walls. The kids wind up acclimated to always being inside so “outdoors” is foreign territory to them, and “outdoors” associated with school and “care” environments has been so sanitized and regulated it’s just “another indoors but with a much higher ceiling and no air conditioning.”

    1. Walk around in any wealthy city area and you see “toddler chain gangs”. Groups of toddlers walking around parks etc while attached to each other. Sometimes the kids are just holding on to the ropes, others they are definitely attached. It’s kind of appalling but if you are going to have a gaggle of mobile 3 year olds with only a couple of adults what are you going to do.

    2. Our after-care program kicks them out to the school playground as much as they can considering the weather conditions. Which is nice.

      But they have the school playground available.

  10. I wonder how much of it is kids emulating their parents? When the parents come home, do they do things outside or plop themselves in front of a screen? Or, do they sit the kids in front of a screen instead of interacting with them?
    My parents read more than watch TV. So, I tend to read more than watch TV. My father encouraged my interest in camping, archery, and target shooting. I continue these interest to this day. May parents were involved with bowling leagues and other things they did with their friends.
    IMO, if you want your kids to enjoy or do something, you need to be doing it too.

  11. “IMO, if you want your kids to enjoy or do something, you need to be doing it too”

    I’d only append to that, “and enjoying it.”

    It has occurred to me that among the reasons my kids didn’t become shooting hobbyists may be, that during their most formative years, I had damn near turned shooting into a job, with organized activities and matches, and while if you’d asked me at the time I’d have told you I was “having fun,” too much of the time I really wasn’t — and the kids may have been more perceptive than their father.

    Another thing I witnessed more than once with other fathers, was dads getting on their kids so hard at the range that the kids cried — and it wasn’t over safety issues where hard discipline may have been justified. I don’t think those fathers were enjoying instructing their kids. There was just no way the kids were having fun, and if those kids grew up to be shooters today, I’d be very, very surprised to learn it.

    Maybe it can be summed up by The Bard’s line, “First to thine own self be true. . .”

    1. True for a lot of stuff. My father was better than I about really enjoying kid stuff as an adult and my daughter is worse. I am not liking this trajectory.

  12. Politics are bad. They want to tell us how we must raise our kids. In South Africa, you get arrested when you spank your child. Just imagine that. How will we discipline our children if we get arrested?

    1. I know this is going to be an unacceptably philosophical answer, but if there is actually an ideal “middle” position on any issue, the momentum of the swinging pendulum always carries things right past it.

      When I was a kid, one of our neighbors was an English woman, not from South Africa, but East Africa. She had been a young girl there at the turn of the last century. Her father owned a large plantation. She had stories about black workers being beaten to death with impunity. And remember, those weren’t “slaves” in any legal sense, as had existed in the United States, but they had no status as humans among the colonial Europeans.

      So what I’m suggesting is that South Africans who remember colonialism may have a more visceral reaction to “beatings” in any form, than those of us who only remember mild, non-injurious spankings from our childhood.

      Of course I’m just guessing.

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