Honestly, The Kids Of Today

Another ride with Charli off road.

Towards the start we came across three kids. I’m no good at guessing the ages of children; I’ve reached that apocryhpal point in life that’s supposed to come to everyone, where most policemen look young enough to still be in school. I would imagine they were early-mid teens. We were heading down a single-bike-width bridle path and these three lads were coming towards us. We pulled over, they went by and thanked us.

That should be no big deal but it occurred to us both that it was. What made it so was its rarity value. I ride thousands of miles a year; I rarely see kids out and about. Sometimes, yes, in urban areas you’ll see one or two, but out in the country? Almost never.

We – Charli and I – can both remember having the run of our respective childhood neighbourhoods and the surrounding areas too. I know I’m saying nothing new here, but it does seem that something’s gone horribly wrong when that kind of freedom just doesn’t seem to be available to many anymore. We all did a lot of learning in that very unbounded context, as well as having a lot of fun.

I suspect quite why that’s happened is more difficult to pin down than it might appear.

There’s the much-cited fear of child abuse and child abduction but that’s grossly distorted and I imagine a lot of parents are able to work out for themselves that it is. (An irony of keeping kids indoors – and online – is that ‘online grooming’ of children seems to be a growing and real issue. Hey ho.)

There’s the volume of traffic issue, and that’s real, but cars were no less lethal when I was young than they are now, and dealing with them safely is a) a necessity of modern life that the sooner you get to grips with the better; and b) not so difficult that a teenager can’t cope with it. Remember, it wasn’t so long ago that young teenagers were legally adults.

There’s the widely made allegation that parents don’t want to risk their children hurting themselves in the woods or something, but proving that allegation is another thing entirely. It’s not something I see with the friends I have that have kids. And besides, now everyone has a mobile phone, the risk element is far less than it ever used to be.

Of course, there’s also the question that doesn’t get mentioned much, which is whether going out to muck about in the woods or down by the canal or something is at all attractive to teenagers in the way that it used. Maybe it’s too easy to blame molly-coddling parents when the real issue is that the kids themselves aren’t interested, that they’re finding online gaming and what-have-you more attractive.

It is quite conceivable that online / indoor activities have been marketed so well that most kids wouldn’t dream of ‘going out to play’. It is also more than merely conceivable that the people who are doing that marketing, or commissioning that marketing, are amongst those who are lamenting the fact that kids never go out to play any more.

What it all means that it’s probably more appropriate to question the parents of the kids of today, rather than to so readily criticise the kids themselves.