Readers, here’s the question that nags at me almost every day: How did we go from a time when we basically trusted our kids, our neighborhoods and our own parenting skills — even when we knew there were scary things out there — to a generation today that almost slathers itself in terror? A time now when we believe that our kids are constantly in danger not just from criminals, but from crippling disappointment if we don’t actively demonstrate, every single second, how proud we are of them, and how interested, and how nearby? Why do we think our kids won’t know how much we love them unless we prove it with unending attention and attendance?
Those are the questions swirling as I present to you this snapshot of the good/bad old days of the 1970s. – L
Dear Free-Range Kids: I grew up in the Bronx in the 1970’s. I lived in Co-op City, which is the country’s largest public housing project.
I walked to school (about 7 or 8 blocks) by myself in the first grade. Everyone did. At lunch we all walked out, unsupervised, to Joe’s hot dog truck or the shopping center to eat pizza. When I got home, I grabbed my bike or baseball gear and played with friends in the streets or park until 6 p.m. or later, in the summer. I never met my friends’ parents unless it was raining and went to someone’s house. But that was rare. Most parents you never saw. If a kid’s parents came to watch us play, we would have all thought it was creepy, like the parents were checking up on us or something. No one was damaged because their parents missed a game. They missed all the games. Parents were not welcome.
In 1977 they arrested the Son of Sam and we found out he used to live in the next building over. This caused curiosity, but no change whatsoever in our behavior. There were many muggings. This was not a safe time or neighborhood. We thought to complain about the policing and the neighborhood in general. But no one thought to lock us up or helicopter over us. It was never even thought of as an option.
I returned to Co-op in October. I hadn’t been there in 20 years. The streets and parks were empty of kids playing. It was like a ghost town on a sunny Saturday afternoon with the temp at 68. The population of the neighborhood, we heard, was actually up a bit. But kids were not outside. – Jeff Varasano