Bringing back street kids

Just spent some time with a friend. He lives in a safe neighborhood, so I asked if there were any kids for his kids (they’re young) to play with. Apparently not really.

In this country today we have problems with racial and wealth inequality. There are huge debates about how we address these issues. And they don’t seem like they are going away any time soon.

But huge numbers of Americans adults grew up on the mean streets of the 1980s. We know there is a solution to childhood social isolation, because many of us grew up playing on streets, rather than being shepherded on ‘play dates.’ This is also an issue which most people agree on as a problem. We can solve this.

36 thoughts on “Bringing back street kids

  1. The only place in America where kids are free to play wildly/freely like the 80’s are military bases. When I retired, it was a culture shock to see how protected civilian kids are.

  2. Look at the series “Stranger Things” and the movie “E.T.” If we went back to the ways of the 1980s, the planet would be inundated with aliens from outer space and other dimensions. The horror! 😉

  3. My kids grew up in the still overwhelmingly white suburbs of Portland in the 90’s. About the only kids who were kept indoors or chaperoned by their parents everywhere were the children of the Chinese along with the kids of transplanted Jews from the Northeast. Pathetic, despite how many engineers Intel thinks they absolutely need to import. People like these have absolutely no appreciation or respect for the former folkways of our society and their alien social values should be kept out. I can see the wisdom of our now sadly defunct court-overturned exclusion laws and real estate covenants against minorities. Those laws and ordinances were there for a good reason.

  4. I grew up in a communist country. The short comings of communism became apparent after the teens . Until then danger for us , as children, was an alien concept .

    The only place where I can take my kids here is the playground. I hate playgrounds.

    How can we fix it?

  5. Kids who live in the country can still play wildly and freely and as far as I can see most city kids play wildly and freely too. Big cities absolutely teem with hordes of 11 year olds running around with nary a parent in sight.

  6. People like these have absolutely no appreciation or respect for the former folkways of our society and their alien social values should be kept out.

    What. Utter. Nonsense. You think only whites play outside? I am not Chinese, but I am East Asian, and grew up in East Asia in the 70’s. Most of my school chums and neighbors played outside. I rode my little bicycle to meet up with my buddies and did the usual kids stuff such as catching bugs, playing street baseball or soccer, hopscotch-type games, snowball fights in the winter, etc. And, yes, occasional fisticuff too. Even adults were outside more – after dinner, you’d see lots of families taking strolls.

    You go there now, NO ONE plays outside. Just as in many American (almost entirely white) suburbs today. No children. No adults. Given their weight issues, they can certainly use it, but how many white adults go for a stroll after dinner nowadays?

    Then, I grew up in NYC in the 1980’s. Most of my Asian and Jewish school mates also played outside without adult supervision. As we aged, we began to take the subway alone (remember, this is pre-Giuliani NYC with lots of crime). My friends and I used to march across Time Square in the evenings and would be engaged in conversations with sundry street walkers, including, yes, drug dealers and prostitutes. We all survived. Even those of us nonwhite.

    You go there now, you don’t see local children playing outside except tourists dragging their kids even though it’s a completely different world (very safe, very Disney-ified). And now it’s MUCH whiter demographically than in my day!

    I can see the wisdom of our now sadly defunct court-overturned exclusion laws and real estate covenants against minorities. Those laws and ordinances were there for a good reason.

    That is a very poor and flimsy excuse for racial exclusion.

    My wife is about the whitest person there is. She’s from a small town in the Midwest. She grew up in a very affluent area that even to this day is almost exclusively white. In the 70’s and 80’s, she too played outside with hordes of other children on bicycles.

    Then, a child on a newspaper route was kidnapped (the dog accompanying him came back home alone) and was never found again. Parents started to not let kids play outside as much as before (despite the fact that was the only kidnapping in, oh, 30-40 years). And then as my wife entered high school, all the affluent children started to play tennis, ride horses, play piano, play soccer, go to art school, band practice, cheerleading, football, etc. They stopped playing outside.

    What has happened in the last twenty-five years or so is that the competitive childrearing is occurring at an earlier age. That is across most developed societies. This is NOT an issue of this race versus that race or “alien cultures.” It’s the fact that competition is much fiercer and parents try to prepare their children at an earlier age than before. Furthermore, children, regardless of race or culture, are far more sedentary today. They watch more TV and play more video games, and spend more time with electronic devices FAR more than children of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s ever did. Remember the three VHF channels and one UHF channel on TV (click, click, click, click)? Contrast that with Netflix, to which today’s children have access.

    My wife and I have done our best to counteract these trends. Our younger children don’t get phones or computers. They watch a VERY limited amount of TV (usually movies on weekends, no more than 2 hours per week; the usual pediatric recommendation is under 2 hours per DAY!). They are homeschooled, so they get to play outside with other homeschooled children during day time. When we are at our second home in the mountain, it’s nonstop hunting, shooting, riding, hiking, and mountaineering. The very little ones play in the mud with neighbors.

    The other thing we do is that we set examples. If parents spend all their time indoors and then tell their kids to go play outside, it’s not going to work. We do things outside too (one thing *I* really enjoy doing with my kids and neighbors is go-kart racing – our neighborhood is on a hill, so it’s good times on go-karts).

    Surely there are cultural critiques one can make about Chinese immigrants or Jews in America, but “alien value” of not playing outside isn’t it. That’s a general, almost-globe-wide trend in developed societies.

  7. As a recent grandfather, let me chime in with my own experience as a parent starting in the mid 1980s.

    Both my wife and I worked @ serious (i.e., demanding) careers outside the home. Until our children were in junior HS, they did not come home in the afternoon from school but went to one or another after-school program until one of us picked them up on our way home from work. Then weekends were very often family time (or errands and chores, etc.). Eventually, with enough families like ours, there was no critical mass for a bunch of kids to hang out and play, so more traditional families (i.e, 2 parents, 1 earner, 1 stay at home) had to make other arrangements as well, unless they wanted their children to spend their time watching TV (and by the mid-late 1990s, playing video or computer games). The only way in which safety came into the matter was not wanting (my) children of elementary school-age to be latch-key children.

    I grew up in the 1960s and early 1970s in the kind of environment mentioned, with kids pretty much left to ourselves to play in the neighborhood or on the (nearly dead-end) street; but my mother, and nearly all other mothers, were home when we got out of school. In much of the country, I suspect that the lack of kids playing in the streets has more to do with changing sex roles than with safety concerns, although perhaps the former eventually tip into the latter when there are too few children outside.

  8. @Twinkie

    “Tennis, ride horses, piano”

    WUT? It took a kidnapping before anyone in town picked up on these activities?

    Hunting, go-karting, and mountaineering? :rolleyes

    And soccer is not a sport, it’s a disease.

  9. Is there any data on whether or not more protective parents has led to fewer accidental deaths of unaccompanied minors? When I grew up in New England in the 80’s, myself and most other kids were allowed to wander pretty freely. But as I look back at it, there were a number of accidental deaths of unsupervised kids. Like, just a few in a large town over more than a decade, so hardly a huge risk, but accepting even a small risk of the death of ones child is pretty difficult.

    So while I tend to agree that kids should be able to play outside (especially since ubiquitous cel phones, improved ER tech and lower crime rates probably make whatever the low risk in the 80’s was even smaller today), I wish articles and blog posts that tut-tut todays parents for keeping their kids from unsupervised play spent a little more time addressing their concerns rather than just brushing them off with handwaving about them being wimps or whatever.

  10. James Richard – You are way off beam. I live in a >97% Chinese community, and all of the neighbourhood kids play together outside, unsupervised. Still, in 2017. It’s a human universal. Folkways of your culture, my arse.

  11. What a horror show life.

    You get no argument on that score from me. I raise my children to love God, country, and community.

    But many, perhaps, most affluent children with professional parents are being raised to be competitive or at least not be left behind. These parents are concerned about economic/status decline. The anxiety is palpable. To the extent they care about values, it’s all PC slogan parroting.

    But orthodox Catholic families, such as mine, still teach the young “To know, love, and serve God in this life, so we can be happy with Him in heaven.” I think that works out better than racial exclusion of which you seem so fond.

  12. Tennis, ride horses, piano”

    WUT? It took a kidnapping before anyone in town picked up on these activities?

    I see you have a reading comprehension problem. The issue of parents not letting little ones play outside as much after a shocking kidnapping is in addition to a separate issue of high school age youngsters having less time to play outside due to increased demands on extracurricular activities.

    Hunting, go-karting, and mountaineering? :rolleyes

    Don’t be a passive-aggressive teenage girl with emoticons. Be a man and clearly enumerate your objections.

    And soccer is not a sport, it’s a disease.

    My sport is Judo. I don’t care about soccer. However, you confuse preference (your own) with truth. To call soccer “not a sport… a disease” is at best juvenile posturing and at worst a sign of a diseased mind.

    In any case, it’s clear that you don’t have a model or solution to propose, except racial exclusion. You do know this is not “American Renaissance” or “The Daily Stormer,” right?

  13. Soccer is a perfect example of what is the matter with childrearing in the United States. Instead of being played by schoolchildren immediately after classes and coached by a faculty member with prior experience looking to pick up a few extra bucks, the activity has expanded to year round with summer camps and additional spring seasons. The worst of it is junior high practices starting at 7:00 PM under lights, a traditional time for the family to gather around the hearth or dinner table. Instead we have moms madly rushing around carting kids hither and yon in minivans (or in the case of Twinkie a Range Rover no doubt.)

    Tiger Mom competitive strategies are no excuse for this kind of madness. I know of plenty of successful adults for whom adult administered organized extra-curricular activities were anathema.

  14. I think Marcel Proust, though probably a half-generation older than me, gets to the dynamic of two income households and lower density of children. I’ve worked from home the last couple of years, so my kids have had more freedom to roam during summer vacation. The boy does, but sometimes returns disappointed because nobody is around. They may be on vacation, gone to day camp for the day/week, etc. Generally, household size has shrunk. The girl hangs out with her friends electronically.

    Razib, I don’t know if you’ve settled yet in your new city, but I would recommend driving around the neighborhoods of places you’re thinking about residing and observing how many children are outside after school is out.

  15. And all along I thought your forte was in critiquing fantasy TV.

    I’ll indulge your jackass-ery. I was a military historian early in my career, and later got to practice what I taught. I critique inaccurate portrayals of combat on film, fantasy and otherwise.

    Soccer is a perfect example of what is the matter with childrearing in the United States. Instead of being played by schoolchildren immediately after classes and coached by a faculty member with prior experience looking to pick up a few extra bucks, the activity has expanded to year round with summer camps and additional spring seasons.

    You ooze around like Jell-O in your argument (that’s another way of saying that you are not intellectually honest). That’s not what you wrote earlier. And the problem of semi-professionalization and over-competition in children’s athletics is not unique to soccer. Have you been to gymnastics tournaments for children of late? Tennis? Golf? Wrestling? Football? Parents go insane. So do, unsurprisingly, some kids.

    The first mile race that one of my daughters ever ran at age 6, another kid pushed her from behind and then ran over her. She was bloodied on her face (mouth, mostly), elbows, and knees. NO ONE stopped to help. She came in last, crying. This is sad (and incomprehensible for my kids), because what my wife and I always taught my children is to stop running and help if they saw someone fall. Winning is great, but being good is better.

    My oldest son is a nationally-ranked junior Judoka and Brazilian Jujutsu practitioner. I’ve always taught him to be a good sportsman and an honorable combatant. But it’s tough to be good when some other players will poke eyes, pull hair, an engage in all manners of illegal techniques when refs/judges aren’t looking. It’s not just Judo. Wrestling is even worse (see a particularly egregious example – two white kids at a match in Colorado – here: https://youtu.be/S2SVsqASedc). The overall sports culture in this country is just terrible – “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” That dates long before “diversity.”

    in the case of Twinkie a Range Rover no doubt.

    If you plan on continuing to indulge in childish ad hominem, you ought to pay attention. I am an observant, traditionalist Catholic. A Range Rover would not even fit half my family. The parking lot at my very orthodox parish looks like multiple presidential security details.

    I know of plenty of successful adults for whom adult administered organized extra-curricular activities were anathema.

    Even you, with pretensions of being above it all, have the wrong focus – “Successful.” Of course, I also want my children to be successful, but what’s important in inculcating children is to teach them to be good, regardless of what the rest of the society is like.

  16. the dynamic of two income households and lower density of children… The girl hangs out with her friends electronically.

    If you want your kids to play outside, an adult has to be home. And, yes, that usually means a family has to sacrifice one income. And, yes, you have to cut out electronics. That’s hard to achieve later in life, so you have to habituate the kids early.

    When you homeschool, a parent is home. And homeschooling instantly bonds you with other, like-minded parents who are also home. It’s a ready-made community. Lots of playing outside. Lots of field trips together. Co-ops. My kids even to go to March for Life together with their homeschooling friends. The overall culture (especially those in religious homeschooling groups) is very “retro” and very tight. And that’s on top of a concentric community of my local Catholic parish.

    At the end of the day, the main reason why kids don’t play outside with other kids is because of the lack of organic community. Put your family in a genuine community, kids will find other kids with whom to play outside.

  17. @Twinkie

    How dare you call me intellectually dishonest. Having kids play school sports especially intramurally for an hour immediately after classes end, as was the norm before you came along, does not in any way invalidate my argument in favor of unsupervised play. And no, I rarely watch spectator sports so I couldn’t care less whether your children have a hard time at it or not. BTW, forcing six year olds to compete in serious medium distance track events is child abuse.

    And I’d take your pompous claims about the efficacy of ballista against dragons engaging in CAS more seriously (not) if you had ever actually engaged in combat where I can assure you the “dragons” are real. Sitting back inside the wire in an air-conditioned HQ tent taking notes, or whatever historian staff twits pretend to do nowadays, does not count BTW.

  18. @James Richard – “Where is your go-kart?”

    Welcome to the Internet.

    There’s only one person on this blog who has the right to tell me to get lost, and it’s not you.

  19. my argument in favor of unsupervised play

    Who exactly is arguing against this? I am not. Hence intellectually dishonest (either that or very deficient in reading comprehension). You specifically called soccer “not a sport… a disease.” But your argument turns out that parents are insane about training and winning. But that’s not specific to soccer – that’s pretty much ALL competitive sports nowadays. So, is every sport now a disease?

    Having kids play school sports especially intramurally for an hour immediately after classes end, as was the norm before you came along

    “Before you came along”? Wow. I single-handedly turned kids sports into semi-professional brawling, huh? Are you deranged? Parents have been insane about kids sports long before nonwhites were a glint in their own parents’ eyes in this country. My goodness, have you ever been to the rural Midwest? Poverty-stricken towns will put millions of dollars into HIGH SCHOOL football stadiums.

    BTW, forcing six year olds to compete in serious medium distance track events is child abuse.

    1. The answer appears, yes, you are deranged.
    2. My daughter asked to participate (because she wanted to imitate her older siblings). Nobody forced her.
    3. She had a terrible time with her first race. But she didn’t give up, and got ready for the next race (more mentally than anything). Running is my wife’s thing, so I didn’t do anything except encourage her. That time she came in 13th. And the next race, she came in 4th. Her face was bea-ming! That’s some child abuse. Encouraging a kid not to give up and to overcome her anxiety. And seeing her gain self-confidence and a sense of achievement.
    4. A mile is not “serious medium distance track event,” especially with six year olds.

    Sitting back inside the wire in an air-conditioned HQ tent taking notes, or whatever a military historian pretends to do, does not count BTW.

    I did counter-terrorism work for several years in the Middle East after 9/11. I came home badly wounded, and my career ended. Don’t assume things you know nothing about and make an ass of yourself.

    I’d take your pompous claims about the efficacy of ballista against dragons engaging in CAS

    You clearly have no sense of humor either. I am beginning to realize why some parents didn’t want their kids to play with your kids.

  20. “I single-handedly turned kids sports into semi-professional brawling, huh?”

    Quit imputing things to me that I did not say. I was merely pointing out your ignorance of the fact that school sports commenced immediately after class due to the fact that you weren’t even born yet when this was the case. Many schools regarded sports and physical activity as an essential part of educating the whole man and intramural competition was considered important. They were not “insane” about it. But please, don’t let me get in the way of pushing your numerous spawn into fierce competition. Some will be sure to hate you for it when they are older.

    And yes, the mile is definitely a middle distance event when you are six.

  21. I was merely pointing out your ignorance of the fact that school sports commenced immediately after class due to the fact that you weren’t even born yet when this was the case.

    What are you talking about? It was exactly like that in late 60’s and 70’s East Asia and 80’s in NYC.

    pushing your numerous spawn into fierce competition

    Nope. No pushing. You seem intent on pasting on some cartoon image of “Asians” onto me. The only thing I “push” is the constant inculcation to be honorable and chaste.

    But I do encourage good life skills, including being able to kill, dress, and preserve animals, marksmanship, land navigation, dog-handling, etc.

    We do recon-pull, not command-push on child rearing in the Twinkie household.

    Some will be sure to hate you for it when they are older.

    You wish that, don’t you? I will find out, won’t I? But I doubt it given that my older ones (thanks be to God) express gratitude for their mom and dad. But taking kids to build homes for poor folks in West Virginia and showing them how blessed they are will do that.

    Setting that aside, you brim with ill intent. It’s clear what kind of a person you are.

  22. i have banned “James Richard.” have been traveling so wasn’t paying attention.

    it’s a free country. dumb generalizations and racism against asians is allowed. but not necessarily in a forum controlled by an asian.

  23. I assumed that the line, “And soccer is not a sport, it’s a disease” was a joke.

    Was I wrong about that?

  24. This is also an issue which most people agree on as a problem.

    Is children not playing outside in the neighborhood part of the collapse of support for civic and community organizations? Contributing to or resulting from?

  25. @iffen: I am pretty sure, “Be like me,” is not a practical solution to much of anything.

    I think you’re right. However, “Be like Mike” is a horse of a different color (so to speak). Perhaps not a practical solution, but it brings back good memories, when we lived in Chicago (er, technically a 15 minute walk away) and vicariously ruled the world (and my primary-school age son was learning about basketball from his school mates and coming home to enthusiastically teach me).

  26. I’m a little concerned about Tiger-mothering and South Korean-style cramming becoming more widespread in the US. If you need to have superstar children, i.e. over-scheduled, to get a limited spot at an elite school, then some neighborhoods won’t have street kids, because they’ll be too busy at lacrosse, piano, kumon/hagwon, etc. Having a Tiger-mother sounds like a crappy childhood.*

    I’m only a little concerned, because I’m pretty certain my and my wife’s unborn children will go to state universities, assuming college is still something people aspire to in 18-20 years. While I want my children to take up certain things, I don’t want to overschedule them because 1) I have my own hobbies that require some time, and 2) I want them to be able to fend for themselves without direct adult supervision in certain ways and have free time.

    *It’s not just some Asian-Americans who want to get into elite schools aren’t the only ones who do this. I know of some white parents who put their kids into all sorts of hockey camps/leagues. There are a few months a year where they travel almost every weekend for their kid’s games.

  27. Be like Mike

    I am as big of a Malcolm Gladwell critic as anyone else, but some people take things too far the other direction. Sure, practicing shooting hoops for 10,000 hours isn’t going to make you Michael Jordan, but, if you practiced correctly, your skills WILL improve, helpful genes or no.

    The goal of practice should be self-improvement, i.e. to be more than what one is already, not to be able to beat everyone else. People are so focused on winning nowadays, they don’t seem to take up things for pleasure or self-improvement, but only to be able to beat others.

    Some parents look at my son, who’s been practicing Judo since he was a toddler, and think that I am grooming him for “greatness,” i.e. “That guy didn’t make it to the Olympics, so he’s working on his son.” But, contrary to whatever they think, that’s not my goal at all. Aside from teaching some good self-defense skills (which I think everyone ought to have), my goal is to instill the love of Judo in my children and all that entails (honor, discipline, respect, self-improvement, etc.). If, on their own accord, they wish to pursue competition excellence, I’ll support them as best as I can. But the only thing I hope for is for them to love the PRACTICE of Judo as I do and for it to become a lifelong enjoyment, something they can then share with their own children.

    Just because one is not going to be a world-beater in something does not mean one should give up or be sloppy about it and not enjoy pursuing personal excellence in it.

    I see so many children now who switch from one sport to another, then yet another, and so on, simply because they don’t turn out to be good at something instantly. It’s sad to see.

  28. Sorry, everyone, for detracting from a fruitful discussion by engaging in a pissing match with “James Richard.”

    To re-orient the conversation back to the original topic, here are some thoughts and questions regarding it:

    1. Did anyone else note that children, even when they encounter each other on the street, don’t immediately play with each other the way previously unacquainted children used to 30-50 years (and beyond, I assume) ago? My wife and I both remember running into random kids on the street and just playing with them within minutes, and eventually becoming friends with some.

    Children seem much more cautious and less welcoming to strangers today. The lesson of “stranger danger” seems to have gone overboard. It appears that children now self-sort the way the adults do and don’t just play with everyone. Both adults and kids don’t seem to want to take a chance and give another person/kid the benefit of doubt. By and large, they want to make sure they are “on the same vibe” before befriending him/her.

    2. I really want to re-emphasize that adults set the example for children. How often do most parents approach unacquainted neighbors and try to engage them in conversations or activities? How many organize block parties, let alone invite neighbors over for a beer by the garage?

    3. This is related to the previous item. I often hear of parents looking for homes in “an area with a good community feel.” I am all for parents looking for a neighborhood with other kids playing in it, but I can’t help but feel that a lot of people want to take advantage of social capital-building efforts of others without necessarily contributing to (or, better, initiating) it. In other words, most parents are looking to join an existing play group for their kids, but not all that keen to start one.

    4. This is worth repeating – take away digital devices. There is plenty of time for them later. I really ought to listen to my own advice here – my wife, who is more of a Luddite than even I am – is ALWAYS telling me, “You are wasting your valuable time arguing with idiots on the Internet.”

    The more people “socialize” (poorly) on the Internet, the less they seem able to learn to initiate conversations or social interactions with strangers in person. When I was growing up, it was common to see people strike up conversations at book stores or coffee shops – now everyone is buried in their smart devices. When I approach people for a conversation at such places, the vast majority seem surprised or bothered. People don’t even look at each other on airplanes or trains, for that matter.

    In that vein, while cigarette smoking was very unhealthy, it was at least something of a social glue in the past. Strangers could approach each other and break the ice by requesting a light or sharing a cigarette or two (and could escape from the interaction after it was consumed). Economically downscale people still smoke, but it has all but disappeared among college graduates and above. What has replaced its social aspect?

  29. When I was growing up, it was common to see people strike up conversations at book stores or coffee shops

    I fear you are romanticizing the past. That is not my memory.

  30. I had somewhat of an atypical childhood in (mainly) the 1980s. Our household was multi-generational, with my mother’s parents moving in with us when I was a year old. As a result, both my parents worked full time, while my grandmother (who was relatively young) was effectively the housewife. My grandfather did relatively little besides rake leaves and shovel the driveway, but he was always around nonetheless. An overprotective mother (and, for that matter, my being an ADHD kid) also meant I was given a lot less freedom to roam than most children my age. That said, by the time I was in 3rd grade I was walking by myself to a local park a half mile from my house – something which would be inconceivable to children today.

    My wife and I have the desire to have “free range kids” to the extent feasible without getting reported by other parents. While we had to move from our old, highly urban neighborhood back in 2014, our new neighborhood is streetcar suburban, has sidewalks, and a playground only a three-minute walk from our home. The neighborhood is also swarming with kids – most evenings there are large clumps of them just hanging out on the sidewalks within a few blocks of us.

    Our son is still too small (and too wild) to be left alone. But our daughter has just turned eight, which I think is an appropriate age to start having independence. Unfortunately, she hasn’t taken to the neighborhood in the way we expected. With so many kids in the neighborhood, I felt sure she would make friends with someone a block or two away. But when we go to our local playground, she refuses to play with or even talk to any of the other children, instead expecting that we (and her brother) will be her playmates. So we’re still stuck in the routine of shuffling her around to play dates with friends who live halfway across the city (or increasingly, after-school activities which her friends from school also participate in).

  31. @ KZ

    she refuses to play with or even talk to any of the other children

    We have created hyper individualism. We reject the idea that we “have to” be a “community” with people just because we live on the same block. That is giving over “our choice and freedom” to create our “own” community to arbitrary real estate. It has filtered down to our kids.

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