"Mommy! Daddy! Up here!"
My parents looked from across the street, where they were chatting with the neighbours. I waved proudly and grinned.
"No!" I shouted again. "Up here! In the tree!" They looked up – way, way up.
It wasn't until I saw their horrified faces that my eight-year-old conscience wondered if maybe – just maybe – I'd gone too far this time. The branches I was perched on 30 feet over our suburban Ottawa backyard suddenly seemed a hell of a lot flimsier than they had five brave minutes ago.
He was already at the foot of the big maple. He talked me down, gave me a terrified hug, admonished me for being too wild and then set an absolute limit on how high I could go. That was pretty much it.
That was the '70s. Childhood was about taking risks and running headfirst into our limitations. We started early: I walked to school with my sister at five and tackled trees (big trees) a year after that. Once I'd mastered my blue two wheeler, my brother Mike and I would disappear after school and on weekends, returning home only for meals and Band-Aids.
Fast-forward 35 years
Times have changed, haven't they? The planet feels like a far scarier and bigger place today than when we grew up. The abduction of a young British girl in Portugal – splashed all over the news this past summer – seemed no farther away than the next town. Never mind that such events are few and far between; our perception is that the danger is real.
And we are reacting – even though the statistics show that our kids are more likely to be injured or killed in a car accident than abducted by a stranger. Few kids under age 10 go to the playground alone anymore. They are escorted to school. They have so many supervised playdates and scheduled sports, their lives have become a curriculum rather than a childhood. "We sanitize their play spaces. We plasticize every sharp edge," adds Michael Ungar, a social worker and professor at the school of social work at Dalhousie University in Halifax and author of Too Safe for Their Own Good (McClelland and Stewart, 2007). In short, we make sure the big, bad world is safe-as-home and that our kids are "bubble-wrapped," a term that Ungar coined to describe the unsettling trend experts say is creating a generation of kids so overprotected, it's stunting their growth.
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