By Lin Brehmer

Michael of Palatine asks,
Lin, why aren’t kids playing outside anymore like we used to? You don’t see them engaging in as much unsupervised, carefree play as I remember. What is going on??

How can kids have fun unless we supervise the fun for them? Instead of choosing up sides, they are given uniforms and practices and drills and schedules and umpires and coaches who are, frankly, as unqualified to lead a group of young baseball players as our government seems qualified to lead our country. And sure, organized sports can be fun. You get a trophy at the end of the year whether you win or lose. Soccer, hockey, football. You cannot name an activity that is not enhanced by a commissioner and a board of directors and parents in folding chairs on the sidelines bringing a whole new set of pressures to kids who have already learned to put pressure on themselves.

Should it surprise us that the attraction of playing a video game version of baseball with a friend behind the closed door of a bedroom should rival participation in the fresh air of a parental hothouse? And can we compare the seduction of a flat screen hi def television featuring hundreds of channels with the TV experience of 50 years ago. Face it. When an older generation grew up with their 5 channels, TV’s were pieces of junk. The golden age of television meant black and white TV’s with small screens and lousy reception. So the call of the wild could be heard through the screen door. We would leave the house after breakfast and come home for dinner.

We played hardball in a small wooded area with giant oak trees, two of which provided us with first base and third base. We played softball on the concrete of the local elementary school where the right field fence was so short that hitting a ball over it was an automatic out. The left field wall was part of the school auditorium and the rooftop was a home run. After a few balls got stuck on that roof, we would watch breathlessly as DK would shimmy up a three story drainpipe to get on the roof and throw the balls back down.

In the fall we played tackle football without pads and if we did wear helmets, they were souvenir helmets with so little padding they actually accentuated a collision. We played touch football in the street darting between parked cars and jumping over fire hydrants. We played war with realistic toy rifles and machine guns running through the neighborhood killing each other over and over again. You can imagine how ill-advised such recreation would be today.

The big playground was on the other side of some railroad tracks and rather than walk all the way down to the viaduct we just hopped over the third rails and saved valuable time.

I don’t know if there is enough faith left in the world to let kids have the same kind of freedom today.

When our kids were growing up, we were fortunate enough to live on a block where we knew every family and if the kids were playing ghost in the graveyard in the dusk there were always enough grownups sitting outside that you felt the kids were carefree but under a measured surveillance.
To contemporary parents, unsupervised means unprotected. If the news teaches us anything, the world is filled with peril. We have the technology to make each tragedy as vivid as blue ray. So here’s your uniform. Mom will drive you to practice. Coach Brehmer said we can pick you up at 6:30. Don’t forget your water bottle. Have fun.


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