Things are often overblown in the media. Sensationalism is the standard fare of the day on local news. Most of it serves the purpose of alerting us to the dangers we might be in, but at times it is rather ridiculous. That is until you think of some of the stupid things we used to let our kids do (and do for our kids) on a regular basis. Gone are the days of unsupervised play time, skateboarding without helmets, and running off to the local park to play all alone. Parents are as overprotective as ever. Mostly it’s a good thing, but there are times when it borders on the absurd. That being said – we’ve made a lot of progress in regards to safety. Here are ten absolutely crazy, strange, and unruly things we used to let children do, some of which, if duplicated today, might get modern-day parents thrown into jail. Amazingly, most of us survived unscathed.
10) Letting Kids Smoke Cigarettes
Long ago local youths would hang outside in plain view of the gas station cashier and ask adults walking into to convenience stores to buy them cigarettes. Many times the adults did it without a second thought. While we’re sure this still occurs, the knowledge of the dangers of cigarettes and second hand smoke has put a damper on how often we let kids get away with smoking. Back in the middle of the 20th century it wasn’t just commonplace for nearly everyone to smoke – it was almost expected. Today no parent in their right mind would purchase their kids cigarettes, but that wasn’t always the case.
9) Unsafe Car Travel
There once was a time when using a seatbelt – especially in the backseat of a car, was nearly impossible. Hell, just finding one down in the crevice between the seats was an accomplishment. If a kid did use the damn thing it was usually to hit his or her sibling with. And let’s not even talk about car seats. Ask any grandparent how they brought their newborn home from hospital in the 1950s and many will tell you in a cardboard box wrapped in a blanket on the floorboards of the car. Most just held their kids in their lap or tossed them in the backseat with nary a second consideration. Car seats being a rather modern idea might seem rather strange to you, but if you’re over thirty you likely never used one – ever. Then there’s the whole riding in the back of a pick-up truck, which used to happen quite a bit.
8) Sending Kids on Errands
Parents used to send kids to the store alone with money (and in some cases blank, signed checks) to buy food and groceries. While we’re sure this was extremely helpful, it meant children were forced to make some decisions on purchasing the right items on the list and paying for them without getting cheated. How many kids came home with candy instead of bread? How many clerks filled out those checks without a second thought? Would you send your eight-year-old to the store for milk, bread, and eggs with a $20 bill unsupervised? It used to happen on a daily basis. That wasn’t even the worst of it. The mere act of sending a child to a store without an accompanying parent would give many a heart attack today.
7) Solo Cross-Country Travel
They’re a lot of stories of kids being placed on buses and planes and shipped cross-country to visits relatives without any parental guidance. It still happens today of course, but think of it without up-to-the-minute checking in with a cell-phone or texting or modern airport security. Don’t believe anyone would place a child onto a greyhound bus and send him or her cross-country with only strangers watching over your child? It happened far more than you might think.
6) Home Alone
They called them the latchkey kids. They were a generation of children living with working mothers who returned to an empty house after school and in many cases made their own dinner and cared for their siblings. No one thought this was weird at all. But it happened. So many children lived in this manner with working or single parents and no one else to watch over them. This doesn’t happen nearly as much today. But it wasn’t just the latchkey kids, parents everywhere left their children home alone to run errands, go out, or work. Most left money for dinner and that meant kids had to feed themselves as well (the horror!) Nowadays parents might get reported if they left their kids unsupervised for extended periods of time.
5) Go Outside
There was a time when parents just tossed kids outdoors and told them to “go play.” Anyone caught in the vicinity of mom would be given a broom and told to get to work. Since mom was busy with household chores, children ran the streets, played in parks and construction sites, and just hung out in their neighborhood without direct supervision. For older kids this was a non-issue, but parents routinely left younger kids outdoors alone or under the watchful eye of an older sibling. On weekends we spent all day outside in the summer and returned home only for food. Only when it was dark did mom get worried. And in winter we sledded for hours without our parents and hoped no one got hypothermia or frostbite. Today parents keep an extremely close and watchful eye on their kids and going outside to play games like tag, hide and go seek, and kick the can is nearly unheard of. The fearful thought that your kid might be kidnapped is lurking in the back of all parents’ minds.
Sitting in your dad’s lap and steering at a young age was common. So was driving well-before you were sixteen. Sure it didn’t happen daily, but generations before no one thought twice about this. It’s likely your father learned to drive at a much younger age than you, and not always in empty parking lots and on deserted dirt roads. We’re pretty sure no one wore seatbelts either.
3) Climb Trees
Do kids still climb trees? It seemed like it was all the rage when we were young. We climbed trees, houses, and anything else that we could scale without getting caught. Few things are as fun as sitting precariously at the top of a wobbly pine tree as it swayed in the wind. Today it doesn’t seem like kids climb trees anymore. Maybe we’re old, maybe kids still climb trees, or maybe not. Yet, it wasn’t just climbing the trees that was dangerous, it was the fact that our parents didn’t care – and in some cases they encouraged it. I doubt many modern parents are telling young Billy to see how high he can get in that old oak tree.
2) Playing with Dangerous Toys
Toys used to be made of things that weren’t all safe, modern plastic. Kids played with metal toys, toys with sharp edges, toxic-if-eaten toys, and toys with small parts and no one thought for a second about how safe they were. Some toys were dangerous because of the small parts and materials which were dangerous if kids put them in their mouths. Others, like Jarts (or lawn darts) were deadly if thrown at one another (and we all did that at one time or another!) Toys shot projectiles, no one cared. Some closed tightly and dangerous and could hurt kids if they caught a body part in them. There were weapons that were branded as toys, like bows and arrows and sling shots. Then some genius decided that maybe we should include some small and slightly radioactive pieces in an atomic toy set, like those that appeared in the Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab set.
1) Using Firearms
In the movie A Christmas Story the main character wants nothing more than a BB gun, to which everyone tells him, “You’ll put an eye out.” Yet, that didn’t stop the dad from fulfilling his kid’s wish. The gift of a firearm to a child (even one as small as a BB gun) was once a very common occurrence. My brother had a BB gun when he was ten and we went out and shot stuff in our neighborhood – and no one said a damn thing to us. Imagine a child walking down the street with a rifle aiming it at random things today. Sure, supervised gun use is fine – by kids with the proper training – but there was a time when teenagers drove around in fields and woods and fired low caliber rifles at animals for sport and food. A time when people let their kids hunt without direct supervision. A time when kids had BB gun fights and shot at each other – not that we would know anything about that…