Do you remember when you could give a child a wooden spoon and set her in front of the open the cupboard where all the pots and pans were kept and she would play straight through dinner prep and beyond? We weren’t trying to build her hand-eye coordination or whet her appetite for percussion. We were simply making sure she was safe and near. We didn’t orchestrate or even give her so much as a second thought – unless things got quiet – until it was time to gather round and eat. Today, some might call that neglect. Who knows what such persons would make of the games we later played once our legs could be trusted and we answered to our own names if called from waaay down the block as dark came on.
Remember hot peas and butter? The game. Not the dish. It involved someone hiding a belt under a shrub in some neighbor’s yard and the rest of the gang wildly trying to find it before the person who did find it began running and wildly whipping at the people being chased back ‘home’. Today, a progressive individual with a psychology degree might acknowledge that such children were powerfully re-framing the daily abuse they faced in homes rife with the pathology of poverty. We didn’t know any better than to make fun of the familiar in the same way southern preachers once removed now poke fun at their own parents’ parenting when they tell the tales about being told to “go outside and bring me a switch…”
We made it through our childhoods in spite of or because of the liberties our parents took with corporal punishment. But what of this generation? To say that folk are afraid to lay a hand on them would be telling only half the story. To tell the other half would require that we admit that we have just as assiduously neglected to draw them into the circle of our arms or conversation as we have avoided catching a case with child welfare. And so, we who were raised by found objects, then television, have shifted the burden of parenting to the technology of our times, the cell phone.
The next time you go out, take time to notice just how many people are together but texting or talking on the phone to someone else. How many people do you see out with children yet having a conversation with someone on the line instead of within their line of sight? What form will parenting take in the next generation, and the next? What are we giving up? What are we gaining?