The world is a different place from my childhood. I grew up in the 1960s when life as they say, was simpler, less regulated and perhaps luckier.
We left garage doors up, front doors open, spent less time worrying about what we ate, drank, smoked, breathed-in, played with, rode in, and trusted. Perhaps we were naïve or hadn’t been confronted with risks or consequences.
I see a lot of posts on Facebook about the good old days. The posts are nostalgic of those less regulated and fewer social constrained times; making for apparently happier adults. That certainly is the message. I won’t tread too much on the belief that America was better. That certainly is a deep, divided issue.
Let’s stick to life as a child in the baby boomer era. Thankfully, I never put my eye out, broke my mother’s back or caused the downfall of civilization, although I gave it a rough go. Yes, most of us survived, but I wouldn’t advise doing those things today.
Thanks to the sources that helped me compile the list below.
Riding in the back of a pickup truck or station wagon.
I don’t know if it was legal, but we did it. Unsecured, we sat in the open bed of the truck as it traveled on city streets, in fields or even on the highway. A rough ride, yes; but so much fun! Station wagons were popular with families, the precursor of the mini van and SUV for hauling kids, pets and shopping. Riding around in back, with the rear window down, and probably not a strong locking devise on the tailgate, kids could potentially fall out or throw things from the car.
Imitating TV or films.
Superman could fly or leap through the air. How many kids used a sheet or blanket as a cape and tried to fly? The Three Stooges might not have been great role models but they were fun. The slaps, pulled nose, fingers in the eye and pratfalls sure looked fun to use on your friends. Or watching the stuntman ride a motorcycle over cars or jump over a pit. Bikes were sportier in the 1960s, high handlebars and banana seats made for dangerous antics. I dare you to jump across that drainage ditch.
Going places unsupervised.
I had a lot of freedom as a kid. I ran the neighborhood without usually checking at home. I walked to the shopping mall and downtown often. No one ever tried to kidnap me or give me a problem. I even trick or treated with pals or on my own – adults not around. I wouldn’t recommend any of that today.
Out after dark.
Usually, I didn’t go out after dark, but in the summer, I sometimes did. The old, be home when the streetlights came on, was generally the rule. As I got older, going to a friend’s house after dark, in the winter, was not uncommon. When I came home, the front door was unlocked. Nighttime was a different world. For a kid, it was both liberating and scary.
Back in the 1960s, most fireworks were legal to buy and shoot-off in my town. Black Cat firecrackers, buzz bombs, snakes, pinwheels, bottle rockets and other fiery devices were legal and fun. The fire-shooting fountains, sparklers and Roman candles were done under adult supervision, but explosive items were done unsupervised. Thankfully, no digits were lost or severe burns received. Cherry bombs and M-80s could be obtained across the state line. Those bad boys were quite dangerous but rocked the neighborhood.
Before seat belts and other safety devices, kids were not secured in vehicles. Cars and trucks had bench seats where you could move around or stretch out. No head rests on seats, no airbags, safety glass or other protective devices. Car doors might not even be locked as kids jumped around and leaned on doors while in traffic or rockin’ down the highway. Cars were heavy as tanks, but they still folded like an accordion on impact.
Children get into everything. I know not to drink Drano, but a child rummaging through the poisonous chemicals under the sink? As a kid, I played with lots of things that could be swallowed, but somehow I never did. I even resisted the temptation to put anything up my nose. Kids are curious and those electrical sockets look interesting. Children’s pajamas are now nonflammable. Cribs are designed more safely. Toys have warning and are designed to resist small parts from breaking off and being swallowed. Caps for medicine and other products are not only childproof, but adult proof. Other things like sharp furniture and heavy items that can be pulled off a table have to be monitored or moved.
Guns, knives and slingshots.
When I say guns, I mean toy guns, they just looked like the real thing. Authenticity was important, but that is deadly today.We watched violent TV shows and films, so working that into our play was natural. Cap guns, BB guns, machine guns, any kind of real-looking toy guns. Pocket knives were important for hiking in the woods or building things. No one ever showed us safe usage. Every kid picked up a slingshot to launch rocks. We shot at many things we should not, including each other in war games.
Let the children play.
The classic example of dangerous toys are lawn darts. Sharp projectiles thrown in the air. What could be wrong about that? On the playground, there were all kinds of hazards. Play equipment ware usually metal with no ground cushion. If you fell, the hard ground met you. Falling from monkey bars, swings, slides, and carousels was likely. Metal gets blistering hot during the summer. Large climbing items like trains and airplanes are now mostly things of the past. Liability for cuts, falls and injuries caused the departure of these things.
Being around people who smoked.
Back when cigarettes were advertised on television and in magazines, it seemed that most people smoked. It was cool, mature. People smoked in cars, theaters, restaurants, offices and even hospitals. Doctors smoked, teachers smoked, athletes smoked, movie stars smoked, even parents smoked. Not only were we getting bad role models, but we were sucking second-hand smoke. Watching family member die of cancer leaves an impression.
Aside from an array of danger under sinks, in cabinets and the garage, products we thought were safe, no longer are. Lead from paints, pipes and other sources are still around, unfortunately. Pesticides and herbicides are not only hazardous, but deadly. Remember the use of DDT and other fogging chemicals that were used to kill mosquitoes? Kids used to follow those fogging trucks as the chemicals hung in the air.
Sugary foods, drinks and snacks.
Little wonder that advertisers target children for foods like cereals, desserts, drinks, candies and other sweet items. Saturday mornings used to be cartoons and other programming for children. Advertising was aimed at products kids would ask for. Natural sweetness wasn’t enough so “added sugars” from artificial sweeteners amp-up the sugar content. No wonder childhood obesity is such a problem in America.
Corporal punishment and intimidation.
Spanking and ruler slaps on the body used to be used at school, camp and other places as discipline. Even the threat was a fear producing deterrent. We heard stories of mean nuns who used the ruler to dish out punishment or to command respect. It happened in public schools too, not just for bad conduct, but for academic failure or what now are identified as disorders such as inattention or hyperactivity or dyslexia. Yes, the paddle or ruler were all purpose dispensers of discipline.