Lost Kid Freedom in America

"Run, everybody, fast as you can! And don't forget your nickel; it's the ice cream man!"

You don’t hear a lot of ice cream trucks cruising the neighborhoods these days at 5 MPH while that little child-alluring melody plays on like a mobile music box. Kids aren’t as free in street bunches these days – and ice cream isn’t free at five cents a pop either. The whole business plan of the ice cream man just does not make the sense in 2011 that it once did back in 1948 – when you could buy something tasty for a nickel – and we kids of that earlier era were free to explore our world – away from adult supervision – and without fear for our lives from countless predators.

I wrote the other day about how most of us walked away from home each Saturday to our neighborhood theater kid movies. We would be away from home for three to four hours at the mercy of a kinder world without fear for our safety – and some of us even started this pattern at age five.

It was the same freedom that left us open to sandlot baseball and other sports; working out our own quarrels with words and fist, if necessary, and all the while developing a confidence for moving forth into the larger world on our own.

Aug. 1946: Pecan Park Cowboy

Remember those guys with the Shetland ponies that came through the neighborhood selling “cowboy/cowgirl in the saddle” photos back in the day? Almost everyone from our ancient era has one like mine (to the left).

That industry went away too with practically all other non-scam businesses that once sold items door-to-door. Again, the killers of business on this level were primarily fear and distrust of dealing with a stranger who is trying to sell us something on our own vulnerable doorsteps.

Kids today either live within the protective bubble of 24/7 adult supervision – or else, they roam independently on the bubble of scary and dangerous exposures to the threats of our current world.

It’s a crying shame that kids today have largely lost the chance to safely explore the world on their own, but that is what has happened – and the causes are far too complex for a singular explanation.

From my half century of work with kids and families, I will offer one observation about one factor that I think kicks strongly into the mix. It may not be the whole thing, but it plays its part.

Compared to our post World War II generation, young people today often seem to think far less about the long-term consequences of their actions. If I’m right, is that change being reenforced by our adult protectiveness of them? Are kids failing to get the handle on their own responsibility for the decisions they make and the actions they take?

Let’s take it to this extreme: Do some kids who rape or shoot others operate as though there is a re-set button on life? (Just push the button and start over. In electronic death and damage, there really is no long-term consequence.)

Make of these thoughts what you will. The subject is too big for a single column. It just starts with a loss of childhood freedom. Then it begs the question: Is what we are doing now simply making matters worse?

What do you think?

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5 Responses to “Lost Kid Freedom in America”

  1. mike Says:

    Things have indeed changed even since I was a kid some 20 years after the dates you describe, but I would suggest a great deal of it has to do with increased awareness. Based on a largely anecdotal examination of various historic documents over decades as a researcher pouring through them, I believe that a big part of the story is that there just wasn’t a media machine interested in pumping out salacious details of abductions and beatings and murders for a 24 hour news cycle. I have run across ample evidence that the same deviant and abusive behaviour toward children and spouses was there 200 years ago, and in similar ratios to the population, if not higher. I think the biggest change is not in the number of abusive people, but in the way society deals with it. If my mom put seven year old me on a bus at Meyerland to ride alone downtown to my dad’s office today as she did back then, I imagine the larger percentage was that she’d face legal trouble rather than I’d face danger.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:


      There’s much truth in what you say. Domestic violence and the abuse of children are not new. Today’s awareness is a polar match for the denial we once held out as a society about these matters. Even with the added awareness of today, however, my own progressive experience working with people keeps telling me that the world is less safe today. I can’t prove it, but I think we have a larger number of people today who simply never consider the consequences that unfold from violent action.

  2. Gary Says:

    The message kids receive today is that every adult male stranger is a potential molester/killer even though statistically a child is more likely to be harmed by someone they already know (parent, coach, teacher, etc). It’s a sad state of affairs on many levels.

  3. David Munger Says:

    The doing away of the Military Draft, Corporal Punishment in the schools,
    and a good Butt Whipping by a father without fear of some “Helpful Harry”calling CPS is my thought on why their is no fear of reprisal in todays youth.

  4. Marsha Franty Says:

    I have worked with young children for most of my adult life…way too many years to admit to, I’m afraid, and I agree that today’s young people act on impulse, without thought of consequence. Yes, awareness of this is enlarged greatly by the news media playing to the basest interests of viewers. From a teacher’s point of view, however, I would add that today’s generation of children is being raised by parents who refuse to discipline (i.e. “teach”) their children responsibility for their actions, respect for others, respect for property, respect for authority. There is widespread moral neglect of today’s young people that is not restricted to any social, economic or ethnic group. A sad and indeed frightening situation which does not bode well for a society so desperately in need of integrity and idealism.

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