Monday, December 14, 2009



If you are old enough that your deepest memories are of wooded places and child quests in the wild, than this reverie is for you.

I bring the age up because it is a well known phenomenon that parents routinely shield their children from the kind of wildness that you and I experienced. Yes, today’s kids get a foundation in Motzartian fiddling, and are relatively safe from broken bones and pedophiles. And they are taught early to cope with the scheduling complicities that we cope with as adults in this world. . .

But I feel like some wild ranging orang-utan who appreciates his scars—and has to speak out against the domestication of children.

Parents have two primary fears. In no preferential order, the first is the fear of physical compromise. This fear is about bee stings and broken bones and the ever present horror that our children will actually break each others heads. It’s not unfounded. Left to their own, Golding style, children will devise systems to test each other and many will die, their eggs broken open in a non-poetic display of evolution. If you are watching the Darwinian drama, everything looks kosher, if you are a parent, everything is psychological terror. Supposedly, I tread the distance in between. I am a parent, with a wee little tot, venturing forth in the world, and I am a scholar who follows anthropology.

I have a cautious child who would rather bathe in mothers beauty than explore and so my Darwinian sense is not tested too often. My sister’s two boys, are both rambunctious, more the sort who you might fear will succumb to their own ambition. I need gravol just to watch them play. I am sure our parenting is informed as much by our heritage as our offspring. I haven’t had to learn how to keep my child from launching into flight off of a banister.

But I wish I had to. (Here we come sounding all old and stuff) When I was little, we were wild. We were crazy and stupid and spontaneous. Our favorite playground was a sewer tunnel that one had to traverse in the dark to prove worthiness of inclusion in the pack. Some of the games we played were really for keeps, and I am sure our parents would have turned grey to know what we were up to. But the point is, we were often left to our own devices to make our worlds.

It does seem to me that the shrinks agree that this is an important stage of life, learning limits, making social rules and what not. Testing, exploring, recuperating. The vast jungle of my childhood was a testing ground for survival, and I can understand parents not relishing their children wandering unattended in it, but I keep thinking it was not only fun, it may have been very necessary for our development.

Some day, our little children are unleashed from parents and school and they have to face sabre toothed workplaces, life-and-death civic choices, and a whole big bizarre world that the adults have created. And they need to be creative in it, and spontaneous. And they have to survive stupid things. They have to survive us. I really wonder that our planned play times and structured hobbies do not prepare them to live life to the fullest and certainly do not prepare them to understand being a living creature in an interdependent universe.

Do we need more adults who are very indoctrinated to quitting time and videogames? Or could we use a few wild children who make up reality as they go?


  1. When I watch the kids play, it makes me long for the days when I was hanging off a tree and all the nooks and crannies that I played in that immediately became my version of Narnia. The only readily available video games came later at the local arcade where you'd meet up with friends to go play pinball, but at least that had some form of social aspect. Nowadays I find kids are too tied in. They aren't allowed to explore their inner wild child before they have to face adult responsibilities. Let's face it we are only children for 18 years of our lives (21 in the US) and we are adults for much longer. Kid's have to be able to let loose and use their untapped imagination before adulthood sucks the very life from them. :) Video games have sucked away kid's imaginations and social life. It's so easy for some parents to just plug the kid in and walk away and forget.
    I find that our generation matured younger, and I think it was due to the fact that while we were wilder than our descendents, our experiences also helped us to mature without even realizing it so that when we were forced out into the big bad world, it wasn't such a shock to us as it is to kids nowadays.

  2. As an anthropologist, you should know that 'play' is one of the most important things that primates do.The fact that this current crop of parents over structures and confines their children's play only adds to the dumbing down and intolerance that is becoming the hallmark of this culture.My generation survived their youth (in great numbers) and we didn't wear helmets, or seatbelts; we walked to and from school and most of our free time was spent playing on the lawns, backyards and boulevards of the neighbourhood in all kinds of weather. TV was, for the most part, a family activity (think Ed Sullivan, Bonanza, Hockey Night) and of course we didn't have a vast array of screen oriented activities to choose from.