A couple of days ago I read a very interesting and inspiring article about kids’ bikes in America in the 1970s. After a memoir of the brands and types of bikes he and his friends rode as kids and of the fun they had, the author states something very thought-provoking: “Bruises, bumps, and bandages were like badges of honor, and I couldn’t wait to display mine on my trusty Schwinn Sting-Ray.”
Yes, that is so true. They were like badges of honor, like proof of the fun one had and like evidence of one’s strength and resistance to pain and hardship. In many societies in the world, they actually still are. When I travel across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and even many parts of Europe, I still see unarmored kids having fun riding bikes, playing soccer or other sports. They run in the streets and have fun. The parents do not excessively worry about them. The only conditions parents establish for their kids often are to be back home at a certain time, to have their homework done, and the most important, to respect the neighbors’ peaceful living (ear-piercing screaming like American kids make is unheard of and unacceptable, it is a sign of alarm, not fun).
I grew up the same way. As long as the weather allowed, after the homework and the chores were done, all the kids played soccer or biked outside. The parents did not spoil us with even basic equipment. We wore hand-me-downs, too large, too small, who would care? Only one kid on the block had a soccer ball. When he was away, we kicked a can or a bag stuffed with a rug and had just the same level of fun. No child ever wore any piece of armor, knee pads or elbow pads were unknown, and we would ridicule them anyway. Helmets were for motorcyclists or construction workers. Our soccer field was an abandoned piece of land with two rocks on each end instead of the goals. This way we learned quite a bit of negotiation skills in determining whether the ball hit the imaginary crossbar and never had a fight over it. As a goalie, I caught the ball barehanded until I found a pair of oversized, cement-stained gloves abandoned by a worker. This was actually the only piece of body protection equipment any of us ever used. My gloves soon became a legend, even among adults, and I was praised for creativity. None of my relatives would ever think about replacing them with sports store gloves.
When we were playing outside and the volume was getting a little too high, the neighbor living next to the soccer field came out to bring us to order. All of us apologized and obeyed. We knew very well that there would be no other warning, that he would go to our parents, and they would make sure that we never forgot the day we brought shame on them. We learned and showed respect; thanks to the adults’ consistency in disciplining us. I cannot imagine an average American parent getting over him or herself and letting other adults bring their worshiped princes and princesses to order or make their kid apologize for any wrongdoing. They are way too aggressive and entitled, which is harmful for both the kids growing up with the sense of impunity and for the society that is exposed to the spoiled and disrespectful kids.
I am very sorry for those heavily armored American kids out there (knee pads, helmets, elbow pads) as if they were going to fight a war, not to play. American parents are so obsessed about their precious snowflakes that their kids became socially disabled and unadjusted. They do not learn to live a normal life. The parents are doing them a serious disservice by depriving them of a valuable learning opportunity. If the kids are treated as if they were made of gold and diamonds, no wonder they are so entitled and think they are the center of the universe. When bruises, scratched knees, and bumps resulting from kids’ playing become not only a reason to panic, but also an excuse to sue, this is a sign that something in this kid-obsessed society has gone seriously wrong and needs rethinking and reconsidering, at the very least.
Companies’ marketing experts skillfully tricked parents into buying all that armor and make money off of their obsessions. Parents had an option to say “no” and let them go out of business, but in their kid-obsession and unreasonable overconcern, they chose to buy all the armor possible for their precious snowflakes. Who will make money next? Therapists hired to treat post-bruise and post-knee-scratch trauma?
When I was a kid, bruises and scratched knees were a normal part of life, children were proud of not crying over them and parents did not even comment on them. Excess blood, a bad deep cut that needed stitches, or a broken bone were the reasons to get adults’ attention and go to a doctor. When a toddler fell, an adult or an older child did not run for rescue, but said instead: “did you catch the rabbit (a falling kid looks like it is trying to catch something on the ground)? Where is the bunny, escaped? Well, you will catch it next time” or “it will heal by your wedding date”. A child, starting to cry, calmed down instantly hearing this, a smile soon appeared, and it learned that a scratched knee is no reason for worry. No child ever wore any piece of armor and no adult would ever think about depriving his or her child of the valuable opportunity of learning life. American parents panic when a toddler falls, make a big deal about it even if nothing happens, and it is their panic and excess worry that actually scares the child and makes it cry. This kid-centered, overconcerned approach is wrong and harmful.
I was shocked to read about an American woman who brought a kid with a scratched knee to the emergency room. I hope the staff had a great laugh after she had left. I was also shocked to see a women in one of the American city suburb-like, quiet neighborhoods walking on the street with an approximately one year old child strapped to her chest and wearing a helmet. Why would a kid need a helmet is beyond my comprehension. There was no hail forecast for that day. Would it be to protect the precious snowflake’s designer hairstyle from bird poop? How bad does it have to get for this kid-obsession trend to reverse?
“When I was a kid, and so on….”, someone would say about the nostalgia of the good old times, right? Wrong. When I visit the area where I grew up, regardless of the development and acquired relative wealth, kids are still playing in the streets, still playing respectfully (no excess noise, absolutely no yelling), and are still unarmored. Parents are still reasonable, not making a big deal over a bump or bruise, and disciplining their kids whenever necessary. They still do not protest when someone else brings their kid to order, as long as the kid deserves it. They still do not spoil their kids with too much equipment. All items to armor a kid are available in sports stores. People do not buy them because they are simply reasonable and not overconcerned. They want to teach their kids life. My parents’ generation grew up this way, and they turned to be respectful, self-reliant people, courageous and brave to bring the change that was most needed. My generation grew up this way, and we turned to be respectful, self-reliant people building stability, success, and growth. The next generation is being raised to be respectful and self-reliant as well.
I am also pleased to travel to many countries where children have the opportunity to grow up learning life, not being overprotected or overstimulated, but are very skillful in making toys out of anything: a stick, a can, an old tire, are happy and joyful, but also respectful and well adjusted to living in a society. Americans would greatly benefit by learning from these societies.