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Childhood Lost

A Terrible Time To Be A Child Growing Up In America

By James Donahue

We read a recent story of a woman in Virginia who was interrogated by police and intimidated by social services representatives after neighbors reported that she allowed her children to play unsupervised in the yard of the family home.

Also in La Porte, Texas, another mother, Tammy Cooper, was arrested and jailed overnight because she allowed her children to ride motorized scooters on the paved street in a cul-de-sac in front of the family home. In Cooper’s case, the children were being supervised at the time they did this non-crime deed.

While these events appear to be non-criminal acts by parents allowing their children some free time at play, consider the laws that have gone on the books since the days when this writer was growing up wild and free in the 1940s and 1950s.

It is now illegal to allow a child to ride in the front seat of a car, or without being strapped into a special child seat. Parents are required to have their children properly immunized against a wide range of diseases, participate in neighborhood supervised play times, enroll in "pre-school" prior to Kindergarten, and never allow the child to be cut or bruised without falling under authoritative suspicion of having committed child abuse.

Lenore Skenazy of Free-Range Kids, in a recent appearance on the Alex Jones Show, lamented that hysteria and paranoia over the protection of children has become the norm in America. Now instead of allowing children to be children, and play creative games with other neighborhood children, they are excessively coddled, overprotected and treated as if they are ever in grave danger of being kidnapped or harmed.

Parents that fail to live up to the new social standards described above, that party too loudly or who dare to stoop to abnormal behavior like allowing children to ride on farm machinery or in the box of a pickup truck, may easily be subjected to visits by Child Protective Services. This is an agency well-known for separating children from their parents and moving them into the homes of paid foster care providers who lack the personal love and affection the natural parents can offer.

While it is true that the media is riddled with stories about abducted and murdered children, pedophilia and other horrors involving children, we have to remember that we have about 313 million people living in the United States alone. The odds of a child in the neighborhood getting kidnapped, sexually assaulted or murdered by some deranged gunman at school are really low. Yet we react to these news stories like we do the constant threat of terrorist attacks. It is no real threat. There is no need to cower and live in fear.

Children robbed of the freedom to just be themselves . . . to play, explore and discover the world around them, to learn how to meet and get along with other children in the neighborhood without the constant supervision of an adult, may be missing something very important in their overall education.

I fondly remember my personal childhood. I not only was allowed to play freely outside with my peers, but we rode bicycles all over our town of about 2,000 people, climbed every tree we could scale, explored the woods outside of town, walked for miles on the railroad tracks, put pennies on the rail and then dared one another to stand as close as we could when the train . . . a scary steam locomotive passed by. We skated on a natural pond a mile out of town, built forts out of packed snow and old lumber. We played hide-and-seek, anti-eye-over and a variety of other children’s games, sometimes until after dark. We did all of this and more without any supervision other than the fact that when my father stepped out of the door of our house and whistled, he expected us to be within earshot and come running. It always meant that it was time to eat or time to get ready for bed.

That was how it was to be a child growing up free in America during the 1940s. My wife and I tried to allow our children the same kind of freedom that we enjoyed when they were growing up. But even then things were changing fast.

The way things are in America today, and because of the high cost of hospital delivery services, raising children and getting them educated, I would not consider having any children. I see pregnant women with youngsters clinging to their skirts making their way through places like Wal-Mart today, and I understand their dilemma. They look haggard and frightened. Their shopping carts are filled with low-cost foods that are laced with chemicals and designed to make everybody in the household fat and sick.

The children sometimes scream in the stores. But the parents don’t dare try to discipline them with harsh words or a slap on the fanny for fear of being arrested for child abuse.

As Ms. Skenazy noted in the Jones interview, parents that allow their children to play outdoors in the yard are now being found wrong by authorities for leaving them in "a dangerous situation." But she said the alternative is to force them to sit inside all day watching television, playing video games, and eating junk food. Thus they become fat and diabetic. What is really more dangerous?