— This post is by our “Gal by Bike” columnist Kate Johnson (formerly Kate Laudermilk)
Where were you in 1995?
I was in a suburb in Indiana watching one movie on repeat. A movie that, dare I say, may be the most underrated bike movie of all time. Sure, Roger Ebert didn’t care for it much, but, then again, he wasn’t a pre-teen watching her life mirrored on screen. He probably didn’t have a major crush on heart-throb Devon Sawa either.
Now and Then is a coming of age film that follows four 12-year-old girls during an epic summer in a small suburb of Indiana in 1970. Seemingly the very suburb and subdivision that I would be born in fifteen years later. Their days began on bikes and ended on bikes — returning home only for dinner at dusk.
Bikes were their freedom. Their brief emancipation from their parents.
“It seems that kids don’t have summers like the ones of our childhoods at all anymore. Is this because cars take up our landscape? Is it because technology has taken our children hostage? Are strangers just too dangerous? I’ll let you speculate for yourselves.”
Helmetless and perched atop brilliant banana-seat saddles, Roberta, Teeny, Sam, and Chrissy ride mile upon mile through the seemingly vacant Hoosier streets and country roads. Sometimes riding four abreast across the entirety of a road’s expanse without a care in the world — a killer soundtrack blaring from a mounted speaker. Their main objective is to find out how a local man buried in their town’s graveyard died. The adventures they have on a daily basis capture what it was like to be a carefree kid back when: Stealing the clothing of a group of boys at a watering hole, smoking cigarettes and sharing pops (Hoosier speak, ya’ll) with a young Vietnam vet played by Brendan Fraser, saving up for basically the coolest treehouse ever, steering clear of a real-life witch played by Janeane Garofalo, and having a run-in with a town weirdo that’s actually pretty nice make up the juicy meat of this film.
I’m often asked what it was like to grow up in an Indiana suburb. Like a lot of folks that grew up in the 90’s or before, I remember a childhood that looks very different from today. When the weather and schedule permitted, I was outside nearly twelve hours a day. I had a bike, I had rollerblades, I had legs. I was gone. No cell phone. There was a Dairy Queen a stone’s throw away, and a quick-mart where the employees knew my name and what flavor Warhead I prefered. When the day was through, I literally ghost rode my bike into my front yard, walked through my unlocked front door, and hit the hay only to do it all over again the next day. This was the reason why I related to Now and Then so much.
After re-watching this movie recently, I set out to find a comparable modern-day version and came up short. Unfortunately, it seems that kids don’t have summers like the ones of our childhoods at all anymore. Is this because cars take up our landscape? Is it because technology has taken our children hostage? Are strangers just too dangerous? I’ll let you speculate for yourselves. All I know is that I am grateful that I got to enjoy pack bike rides during my childhood while they were still en vogue. I hope that someday in the near future our kids will get the chance to live fancy-free in well-planned cities, suburbs, and everywhere in between.
Until then, we can all sit down and watch Now and Then for a piece of blissful nostalgia.
— Kate Johnson. Read more from her Gal By Bike column.
Never miss a story. Sign-up for the daily BP Headlines email.
BikePortland needs your support.
I think we have a lot of notions about how scary and dangerous it is out there and how the ‘no kids ride bikes all over like we used to’ can become a self-filling prophecy that dictates behavior, rather than looking at the reality.
My kids, in Portland, ride ALL over the place. When they were younger (aka 4th/5th grade) we had boundaries as to how far they could go, but they were free to go wherever within those boundaries. Now that they are teens, they come home and tell me what they did and part of me thinks “you did WHAT?!?!” and part of me thinks “yes! You adventured and ran into problems and fixed them and then made it home”. Do I think all kids do this? No. But my kids aren’t the only ones — they are out doing ‘things’ with their friends.
And yes, do we ever get pushback. Well meaning “but aren’t you scared you don’t know where they are; don’t know what will happen; they could get hit by a car” pushback. If I listened to that they’d never leave the house which is not healthy and it certainly isn’t fun. In my experience there ARE a lot of kids out riding around and being independent. But you have to look — you can’t believe what the media and general society is reporting.
I had been commuting a ton with my kiddo, but after being taken down (while solo on the 28th bike path) by an aggressive driver in heavy traffic recently, I stopped. People are driving like maniacs in SE right now. I have never worried about my safety on a bike before, and laughed at the people who did.
The traffic is making people stupid and aggressive. Or stupid and aggressive people are moving here. We need to toll everything.
Ugh, sadly I agree. Even as some who falls in the “strong and fearless” biking demographic (not to mention white and male), I can’t believe how many near misses I have, situations I would not trust a 10 year old version of me to anticipate and handle adeptly. More than anything, it is the “cannonball” run morning car commute race that just drives me bonkers – every single possible neighborhood cut through is abused. Even a quite street like Gladstone, with an elementary school just a block or so south, cars are just diving in and out. Even worse on Clinton.
Good on ya Carrie! Too much fear out there…
“…My kids, in Portland, ride ALL over the place. …” carrie
So where is “…All over the place…”?: what were the boundaries you set for your 4th and 5th grade kids when they were that age? What streets, what kind of traffic, how complex are the intersections you allowed them to cross, and how did prepare them for doing it? It’s easy to accept what you say, if relevant questions aren’t asked.
Portland has some neighborhoods with quiet streets. Most of those neighborhoods are at least bordered by very busy streets such as Burnside, Sandy, Division, Powell, Broadway. I guess some kids the age you’re describing, the taller, bigger, quicker and smarter kids could ride along those streets as many experienced adult people do, but it doesn’t seem like a great idea to me. Four or five blocks from home on quiet neighborhood streets sounds ok in terms of free rein given kids that age on bikes, depending on if they really know what they’re doing and what their obligations are.
Out in Central Beaverton, there definitely does not seem to be young kids, 4th and 5th graders and younger, riding along, or across the big thoroughfares. High school kids on fixed gear…there’s some of them. In some of the city’s neighborhoods farther out, there may be young kids riding.
Oregon has a lot of rural country small towns. Kids given free rein to ride in places like that, sounds realistic. Forty years ago and more, Beaverton used to basically be such a place. Aloha and Hillsboro too, of course. Back then, even Baseline in its former two lane country road configuration, was doable for a kid to ride. Today? It’s like ‘wow’.
I haven’t seen this movie ‘Now and then’. The two stills included in this story, are funny to see for what the guys are riding, the stingrays, and the other orange one. The girls are riding what to me seem like by far the more practical bikes. I noticed they’re riding out in the countryside. The guys are riding on quiet residential streets..no motor vehicle traffic at all. Just a couple cars parked on a very long stretch of street.
Definitely…Beaverton for example, could be doing much to make streets from the neighborhoods to town centers and schools, more kid friendly. Around the mega-mall Cedar Hills Crossing, is an example, it seems to me, of an area that could be configured to be safe for kids given free rein to ride from home to go to the movies, get a snack, etc. As is now, the streets are far too busy, bike lanes have something to be desired for use by young kids, and crossings are minimal at best.
I live in inner southern SE. The eldest rides as far north as Hollywood to visit friends regularly. The younger goes downtown to hang at the Apple store. And rides all around the Willamette off road. And daily crosses Powell to get to school (I don’t like that part, but there’s nothing we can do to avoid it, so I regularly advocate for much better crossing of that Hwy whenever I can).
In 5th grade he had a 3 mile radius, borded by the railroad tracks on one side, the river on the other, Powell Blvd to the north and the Springwater to the south.
I have to check this movie out. I’ve never even heard of it.
I have so many thoughts on this subject though! This was my childhood too (in Nebraska). My kids are not getting that and it breaks my heart. There are so many overlapping reasons for this but the Cliffs Notes is that in 2017 letting your kids out of your sight always runs the risk of putting you across CPS. It’s just not socially acceptable any more.
There’s a good analogue with helmets. Sure it’s safer (maybe — no one can quite quantify, but there are plenty of anecdotes…so better safe than sorry right?)
But at what cost? Just like I can’t ride my bike helmetless without getting helmet-shamed by fellow cyclists, I can’t let my kids walk themselves to the library or park (literally blocks away) without a neighbor reporting some precarious thing that ALMOST happened to them en route.
This post really struck a nerve with how I’ve been feeling as a person without a car in the city of Portland. I’ve been longing for the kind of care-free biking, running, or walking that I could enjoy on the packed dirt rail-to-trail paths of the midwest. Here it feels like all of the public space is dominated by cars. Every street that isn’t a dead end has too much cut through traffic, and non-drivers are relegated to skinny sidewalks and a paltry selection of disconnected trails.
I try not to let it bother me, but I get seriously jealous when my car-owning friends are able to drive out of the city to large public parks and hiking/biking trails. I wouldn’t dare try to reach the nearby state parks by bike, as they’re all on roads with no shoulders and too many speeding cars.
I’m grateful to live in the U.S. city with the highest mode share of bike commuters, but at times I feel very trapped here by all of the speeding cars and their impatient drivers.
Rental cars are cheap and reasonably convenient. Enterprise will pick you up and sometimes has cheap weekend specials. The car sharing services generally have a flat rate if you take a car for the whole day — Reach Now is $80 for the day. All of these look like a great bargain to me vs. owning and maintaining a car of your own.
$18/day for a Hertzmobile in Beaverton. Unlimited miles. Will be more if you have to buy insurance.
That $56.xx total was for picking it up on Friday PM and returning it Sunday PM. Not bad. Weekly price is probably even less, particularly in the winter when demand is lower.
“Here’s how to rent a car” is not an answer for “roads aren’t safe to ride a bike on.”
Right. How to Rent a Car is only an answer if you interpret “trapped” to mean you can’t easily leave the city, which is *mostly* not what I think toadslick meant.
However, I will chime in while we’re on the subject. I was just in Oregon this past weekend, and rented a car from Enterprise in Beaverton for twenty-six dollars total – including tax – for two days. And they gave me a ride to the Millikan MAX station after I dropped off the car, too. The Hyundai they gave me this time got me 44 mpg, resulting in a very cheap roadtrip.
But I do understand that feeling of entrapment. Even as merely a regular visitor now, I do notice the streets of Portland having gotten meaner. Echoing Toadslick’s comments, I do feel safer overall riding here in Minneapolis, not because the bike lanes are better but because for so many trips I have the option to use protected bikeways, the network of which is orders of magnitude better than in Portland.
I’ve always found PDX area to be overpriced in terms of car rental, but maybe tourist season is winding down now, and/or the smoke and fires have scared people away?
Ha! Car rental at PDX is cheap compared to here in MSP, where the car rental taxes at the airport are even higher. In both cities the rates are much higher during summer (and around the big winter holidays) than most of the rest of the year.
And in both cities, it’s always far better to rent at an off-airport location. Even if you’re not local and flying in and out of PDX, a quick MAX trip to downtown (several rental agencies available) or even Gateway (nearby Enterprise location, usually even cheaper than downtown) can easily cut the price in half compared to the airport, or often much better than that.
I’ll grant that riding conditions in PDX, Oregon and, generally, most of the US leave a lot to be desired. However, have you considered using “time of day” as a tool for fun rides? A road that is a nightmare at 6:00 PM is often a joy at 4:00 AM. Don’t forget to use high-quality lights (I’m partial to Dinotte; expensive but excellent.)
There’s also what I call the donut effect. Many times, the core of a city is just fine for cycling and the areas well clear of the city are also very nice. However, the region of the city that is dominated by suburbs is horrific. Good riding is the hole of the donut and the area outside of the donut. I use time of day to ride the donut while the drivers are sleeping. That also puts me inbound when they are returning from their weekend shopping adventure in the city (outbound).
Even when I only find time to go out and ride outside the donut on weekends, I usually have such a good time that it carries me over until the next weekend. I do have the advantage of having a spouse who joins me on these adventures. In fact, she rides captain on our tandem.
I remember riding my Strawberry-Shortcake themed bike with my next-door neighbor friends to the elementary school park, to visit the neighbor who had a pet hedgehog, to the local “creek” (in retrospect,it was just a drainage ditch)…but I also remember that our range was bracketed by the busy arterial streets which we were Never Allowed To Cross for Any Reason.
When I saw this movie I was super jealous of these girls who were able to ride out into the country where there were woods and swimming holes and tree forts. 20 years later I’m here in Oregon making up for lost time 🙂
I’ll have to see this and it will probably make me cry buckets. I am so grateful to have grown up in a different time, with East Coast-born parents who refused to be cab drivers for my sisters and I, and to have lived in a big busy city with bike able streets and good transit so that every trivial errand didn’t handcuff someone to a car!
The most telling graphic I’ve ever seen on this was this one, from a 2007 article, showing how far 4 generations of english kids in the same family were allowed to go on their own at the age of 8: http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2007/06_02/playgraphicDM1406_736x800.jpg
I grew up in rural Maine in the 80s, all my closest friends were over a mile away by bike, and by the age of 8 the only way I could get a “playdate” was by hopping on my bike and toodling out there. My only fear on letting my kids have that same degree of freedom is whether or not the cops would pick them up for riding somewhere without an adult. Which is a shame since I’m in an intensely bike-able area, my property sits alongside the Milwaukie Trolley Trail, an environment WAY safer for my kids than the logging roads I contended with as a child.
why isn’t the Trolley Trail full of campers yet?
I’m a big proponent of letting kids take risks to learn life skills. I grew with free reign on my bike too. However, the city is dangerous right now. In the course of an hour last week, I found three different homeless people going through my trash. There was definitely some untreated mental illness going on in all three. My wife got inadvertently caught in the middle of a “bum fight” crossing Hawthorne and ended up with hot coffee in her face (intended target ducked). Letting my small daughter roam my neighborhood would definitely be irresponsible, so her freedom of movement will be limited by necessity, because there is real danger. It sucks.
Furthermore the drivers are just scary. My neighbor has been hit 2x in the same intersection a block from us. Neither time was his fault. I’ve seen people charge straight through the stop signs frequently, and I now stop at intersections that I have the right-of-way because of scary near misses. Portland had done a really crappy job of making the city livable for vulnerable populations (kids and elderly).
“My only fear on letting my kids have that same degree of freedom is whether or not the cops would pick them up for riding somewhere without an adult.”
This angers and saddens me on so many levels. A) That is actually much more likely for the local sheriff to pick up my kid, and then be “obligated” to report it to CPS than it is for any actual harm to come to my kid from random strangers, B) That busybody neighbors could start ball A rolling with one phone call, and C) that I am afraid enough of my child being “kidnapped” by authorities that I let it affect what I might allow him to otherwise do on his own. It seems like we’ve gone from risk-averse to risk-perverse in this country, ascribing way to much “risk” to exactly the wrong things.
I see kids riding all the time. Frankly, I think they use better sense as a group than adults.
I don’t think the growing fear people have reflects reality. There’s still plenty of room for progress, but there has never been a better time to ride. The roads, drivers, and equipment are all better. People got hurt and killed a lot more often back then for a lot of reasons.
We did all kinds of things that parents don’t let their kids do. For example, I would to on multiday camp trips in wilderness areas with my little brothers, and the only thing our parents knew would be that we were somewhere in vast areas covering many square miles. I rode my bike with a friend unsupported on a two day trip to another state and back when I was 15, and my folks didn’t blink (one of the adventures on that particular trip included being driven off at gunpoint at midnight by a farmer who took objection to us sleeping in his field). Most of the time, my folks didn’t know where we were, only that we would come back.
Nowadays, these kind of things sound absolutely nuts, but it used to be more common. It was hella fun and part of the reason I can do many things I do now is because I had that experience. But it definitely wasn’t safer.
That sounds amazing!
You’re reminding me of my childhood. My friends and I would take off early in the morning with just a vague destination (and the expectation that we would find a pay phone if we were going to miss dinner or stay someplace overnight). Many days involved metric or imperial century mileage before the age of ten.
However, even back in the ’60s there were nattering nabobs of negativity (thanks, Spirio) who would question our actions and attempt to discourage our parents from allowing us to enjoy ourselves. Luckily, we were all team-mates on a high-level swim team so we convinced everyone that bike riding and hiking were important parts of our training. Since many of us were very close to national age-group records, the nannies were shut down.
12 y.o. girls in 1970, in a suburb. Some of the film seemed to show them riding through rural areas instead of suburbs. Kids in small towns and rural areas probably still enjoy similar lifestyles to those depicted in the movie today. Kids in the city, probably not so much.
It was a different time then – I too was 12 in 1970, in a small Midwest USA town – not a suburb. I used to ride my bike to school when I was in elementary school – maybe 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grade – probably didn’t have a bike lock either. That was back when America was great.
Lived in Tigard as a kid during the 70’s and we rode our bikes everywhere , returning at dark just like the movie. Same roads as now, no bikelanes but we never felt unsafe I have been racking my brain trying to figure out what is different. Have 40 more years of driving cars rotted everyone’s brains, and made them crazy and dangerous?
In all honesty, I think the drivers were worse back then. I knew plenty of people who targeted cyclists for sport when I was in HS and college — not out of hate, but because they thought it was comical a la film clips like this https://youtu.be/pg5sRDJtqNc?t=6m and https://youtu.be/Hf-md40CVNA?t=4s
What wasn’t a factor as far as I can remember was that there was nothing political about cycling at all. While I’ve had garbage dumped on me, M-80’s tossed in my direction, and a bunch of other nonsense, I don’t remember ever being the target of anger. It was just mоrоns trying to get a rise out of me.
The cars of fifty years ago were much more dangerous for the occupants than those of today. I think people were more or less aware of this and drove accordingly, so that in a situation where today’s motorists would be going 50 mph, they were going 35 mph. Unfortunately, those old cars were much harder to handle than today’s cars, so it would be a wash but for the added risk the extra speed adds for those on the outside of the cages.
I also think we benefited from a special sort of Boomer privilege. When we were young and riding, there were a whole lot of us who were young and riding and nearly everyone had family and/or friends who fit our demographic. We weren’t some sort of “other”, we were the kids from down the street and were treated as such (with care).
Today, there are so few kids riding that most motorists just don’t know any personally. Now it is easier to treat kids on bikes as some sort of roadway invader. Criminy, I rode less than a mile on a road with my grand-daughters today on a tandem with a trailer-bike and we had to take evasive action three times. (It was never close or serious, but that’s because I was paying attention, saw them coming and dealt with each situation slightly before it actually came to pass.)
I did not see Tigard in the 70s but I’ll bet it was a much smaller town then with a lot fewer cars. Tigard with 1/2 the cars and drivers would probably be a big improvement over today.
Just in the past 5 or 10 years you can tell the number of cars on the streets has exploded. I think it’s happening in many US locations.
I rarely went to Tigard back in the 70’s. Just wasn’t much of a town to visit, although that city has been busy-busy-busy, working to change that situation. It was amazing to experience the city’s street fair, about a month ago. The noisy, ominous, dominating presence over decades, of Pacific Hw,y hasn’t exactly been a plus.
As ‘know it all’ says:
“I did not see Tigard in the 70s but I’ll bet it was a much smaller town then with a lot fewer cars. Tigard with 1/2 the cars and drivers would probably be a big improvement over today.
Just in the past 5 or 10 years you can tell the number of cars on the streets has exploded. I think it’s happening in many US locations. ” know it all
The city’s Downtown is bigger today than it was 50 years ago…seems like four or five blocks total…but it’s still not what could be really described as big. Beaverton has a bigger Downtown, so does Hillsboro. Definitely though: many more people, and many more motor vehicles being driven on the city’s streets. Riding safe there, requires knowing what you’re doing. Definitely to me doesn’t seem like the fictional tv Mayberry, or Hillsboro of old.
Short distances between neighborhoods and city’s and town’s downtown, schools, parks, churches and so on, can get better, but I don’t think that has a chance of happening except when people, residents particularly, put their foot down and demand that the money they’re paying, be spent to create the neighbor friendly, kid friendly, walk-able, bike-able, skate-boardable environment they feel is essential for positive neighborhood livability. Hoping more and more people in our area today, do feel this is something essential.
i started riding my bike to school just about every day in 2nd grade. even by the bike-crazy standards of the 70s my parents were sharply criticized by both other parents and the school for allowing me to do this. fortunately for me, as europeans, they were happy to tell the USAnians to piss off.
Wow, I guess there was definitely a lot of geographic variation for riding as children. I started riding everywhere in 1964. The majority of my classmates also rode to school, unless they lived so close that it was easier to walk. No one ever criticized another parent for allowing their children to walk and ride. That was just normal behavior, like climbing trees, catching reptiles and flying kites. Oh, and broken bones, we broke a lot of bones.
part of my route to school required riding on arterial streets with very high traffic volumes and no sidewalks.
http://nyc.streetsblog.org/2017/09/20/hundreds-of-kids-biked-on-the-cross-bronx-expressway-so-nypd-arrested-them/ kids these days have too many cars and too much free parking
wow… just another reason people hate police…
I can see all the lawsuits the police are going to be dealing with…
When I was seven, I rode my bike everywhere. We lived in a city (Vancouver BC). No part of the city was off limits to me on my bike, not even downtown at rush hour. Well, I didn’t try riding on the highways.
Before that we lived in a different city, I didn’t have a bike, but I had plenty of Metro tickets and went anywhere I pleased.
As a kid in Madrid I road two metro lines and walked a few blocks to get to elementary school. This was/is normal.
I’ll definitely have to check out this video as well! Having grown up in a very typical, boring American suburb, I was rarely allowed to venture far from my house alone. And the roads are all so car-centric that you can’t really even walk or bike anywhere, so without my parents driving me, I couldn’t go anywhere. But I’ve now been living in the Netherlands for over a year and just recently moved to a small city 15 km away from my work place. Here it’s very common for smaller towns and villages to not have high schools. So each morning during my commute to work, I see hundreds of high school students biking together to school on completely separated bike paths from all the neighboring towns. Some of them are more than 10 miles away. It’s an amazing sight, and I wish we had way more of this everywhere. The freedom doesn’t end there either. After school, on weekends or during holiday breaks, you see kids biking all over the place both within and between the different towns and cities.
This move sounds like a remake of “Stand By Me,” but with girls. And, yes, the good ol’ days are gone forever.
America’s car problem? Self solving as cities groan to gridlocked standstills, and no money. Trump’s so-called grand plan to rebuild infrastructure has already fallen to tax cut mania.
I would not be so sure about the infrastructure plan. Not having the money never stopped our government from doing what they want – they’ll just print the money if they want and add to the debt. Look at the mountain of money they’re wasting investigating Russia and the election – it’s been going on over a year and not one shred of evidence has been produced; all that from a government $21T in debt.
For a brief moment I thought you were going to go off on the billion and a half dollar border wall, or the trillion and a half dollar tax cut. But the investigation into Russia meddling? Chickenfeed, which will produce some surprising results. Stay tuned.
Okay, that’s enough of a diversion into national politics. I’ll delete any further messages on this thread.
I loved Now and Then when I was a kid! Also watched it on repeat.
When I was first learning to ride my bike I was allowed to go back and forth on our street by myself, and then when I was a little older I could ride around the block. I have a baby daughter and I hope I’ll be able to have the same bike rules for her.
So many parents driving their kids 1/3 mile to school on quiet side streets to get to quiet roads with sidewalks on the westside of Portland. Very lame.
In our neighborhood, I see people coming home from work in their car. They will stop, with the car blocking traffic on the residential street, get out and get their mail out of the mail box. Then they will drive 50 to 100 feet to their driveway and park. They can’t drive home, park, and walk on a sidewalk to the mail box. I like cars as much as anyone, but this is mind boggling.
12 year old girls (and boys) now days are only interested in staring blankly into their iPhones. It would be easy to blame cars but kids just don’t give a crap about bikes anymore with all the digital crack out there.
It’s not the kids’ fault. It’s a learned behavior.
can you imagine how terrible the parents must be if “kids these days” are so terrible?
Growing up I walked to elementary school “with my sister” –meaning we both went our own way after about second grade. We rode our bikes freely in our neighborhood, a 20 block area between a major street and a rail line. I can’t remember having boundaries, I think each kid devided for themselves when it was time to cross Liberty Street.
It’s funny, I never thought of my parents as risk takers.
around that age I lived a couple miles outside of Cottage Grove… rode my 10-speed everywhere… including REALLY fast down the steep hill from our house with no hands… Got bit by a dog… crashed… forest hikes… forest poops… getting lost in the back 9 acres all day… you name it… typical kid adventures…
I don’t know if people cared or were worried… the only time I ever got in trouble was when I took my bb gun with me one night and the cops stopped me and my friend… my dad was really mad that the cops woke him up…
Great article. This is something that is very important to discuss as it fades from our generational memory and experience. It would be possible to bring more of this back if streets were safe.
I’ve often noticed the internally conflicting ideas of people who complain about how “children these days” are over-parented and not allowed to roam free, but who also argue that streets should not accommodate anything except fast moving cars and trucks.
There’s always a justification for the fear isn’t there?
Kate – thanks for sharing…and making us smile, about our lost summers biking around our own childhoods…and I am glad to hear that such things still happened in the 90s (at least in Indiana) as I thought they had died off in the 80s…
Move to a rural area or a small town in a rural area, say 1,000 people or less. I suspect the kids still run free in those locations like many of us remember.
Cars are part of the problem, because people drive much faster and don’t feel as much obligation to pay attention to their surroundings. This is a risk-compensation effect for cars having gotten so much safer: responsibility for safety was 100% on the driver when I was learning to drive. We knew cars were dangerous, we knew driving was dangerous, and we knew to watch for kids in the street lest we end up in jail for manslaughter. Now that people routinely walk away from higher-speed collisions that would have been fatal 30 years ago, the responsibility for safety is perceived to be 100% on the vehicle. It will be a better day when we fully switch over to self-driving cars and get all the idiots (myself included) out from behind the wheel.
And phones might be part of the problem, but the phrase “couch potato” was already coined when my generation were kids. Authorities were worried about obesity from kids sitting in front of the TV even back then. We even had primitive video games that consumed way too much of our time. So I don’t think kids going outside less suddenly became a problem when we got smartphones.
What happened was the big child-abduction cases of the 80s – Etan Patz and Jacob Wetterling, especially. I don’t think a lot of people have come to grips with how public reaction to those cases utterly changed how kids were raised.
It’s not like stranger abductions were a new thing. Even back in the 70s, we were all taught about “stranger danger.” The saying “don’t take candy from strangers” goes back multiple generations before me. But somehow after the 80s everyone suddenly got paranoid about it, as if any free-ranging child was in imminent danger of being taken.
Which was, and is, patently false. Not that it isn’t a risk, but it only happens to about 100 kids per year across the country.
It’s pretty far down the list of childhood fatality causes. In fact, the risk of a child being abducted by a stranger, combined with the danger of being hit by a car while walking to school, is far lower than the risk of being killed while driven to school. What we’re doing now is collective insanity, driven by a mass delusion.
This frustrates me greatly, because like most kids in the 70s and early 80s, I was pretty free-range. I lived near two big parks in grade school, and regularly biked around them without supervision, collecting toads, turtles, slugs and (unintentionally) woodticks. By middle school I would go on hourlong bike rides (in my hardshell Bell helmet) without anyone thinking there was anything terribly risky about it.
It’s impossible for me to give my kids the “free childhood” I had. I use the phrase “free childhood” deliberately, because that’s exactly what they call it in Nordic countries, where parents vehemently give their kids far more freedom (not only physically, but in terms of behavior and social interaction) than is even imaginable in America. But here, because so few kids are now out running around without supervision, any kid who does so is more visible and vulnerable now. We’ve taken away the “herd immunity” from predation that kids used to have.
As a parent I have tried to give our kids more freedom than most, especially during the grade-school years, and they certainly get far less screen time and far more outdoor time than most. But it is depressing the number of times another parent (actually, it’s rarely a fellow parent, almost always a grandparent) has taken my wife or me aside and scolded us for not watching our kids more closely, lest they be kidnapped. I consider myself pretty safety-oriented, and hover over my kids a lot more than my generation’s parents did for us. And yet I’ve had people reprimand me for letting my kids get 20 feet away from me.
I have zero tolerance for this bullshit. When it happens, I usually inform the busybody politely but firmly that stranger-abduction is a very low risk compared to other childhood dangers, that kids are put in more danger driven to where they are playing than by being allowed to play, and that our current paranoia about the issue has destroyed the independence and ability to self-develop that kids used to have. They rarely argue with me, although I’m sure they walk away thinking I’m an idiot, but hopefully it deters them in the future.
Very well said. Thank you.
Current research states that even in the past 7 years, teen depression and inactivity have increased significantly due to new hand held tech. Yes the phrase “couch potato” is old, but my normal skater boy, who was fit and active from age 2 to 10 is now clinically obese at 13. I’m having real life issues trying to reverse the effect of his gaming addiction even though we ride bikes daily. Hate to disagree with you, but current social attitude and use of tech is killing my child. It’s my goal and struggle to kill it. If I don’t intervene, his life may be ruined. I utterly hate it.
It is parents with support from the media who killed this child lifestyle, and not much else.
Even if you let your own child roam, there will be nobody for them to play with. Show up at a friend’s house alone, unannounced, and it’s a coin flip as to whether the parent is going to call you, or the police. One thing’s for certain, Johnny certainly cannot come out and play.
I mourn for the children of today and I fear for the generation that they will raise. Unless we have an unexpected backlash to the hysteria, these days will be nothing but a story grandpa tells, and then, lost forever.
We are comparing Portland, a city, with an Indiana suburb, right?
A lot of these smaller towns are better than Portland, for riding as a kid. Bedroom cities and small towns can be dead all day as the people have driven off to their jobs. We used to do street hockey, drag goals into the street and everything. Sometimes you’d get through a whole game without having to drag the net over to the side of the road.
They are worse for an adult cyclist trying to shop, and get to work without a car. But there was no grid, meaning no cut throughs. We couldn’t get to the grocery store on a bike, but we knew all the all the back roads and short cuts to avoid the streets we couldn’t ride to the grocery store on.
I see no benefit in comparing “then'” and “now.” Things are different so it is apples and oranges.
I also see me benefit in comparing how kids get around in rural Indiana to how they get around
In Portland. If you have chosen to live in a city you should expect city living. You should also expect the city to grow and change.
If you raise your kids based on the expectations of others you are doing a disservice to your children. While your children will never have the childhood you had, you can create something else for them that provides them similar benefits. If you think your childhood was better it was “more fun” think instead of the benefits for child development. Those benefits are real and should not be forsaken for the risks/dangers that are imagined.
One thing that nobody has brought up, that personally stresses me out, is the impact of both parents working out of the house on the “summer freedom” that children will get to experience. I assume that in most of these anecdotes about the good ol’ days of roaming free and biking everywhere, a parent (mother) was home during the day. Fewer families can afford or choose to have a parent not work, which means that childrens’ days are more structured. I’m a working mom living in the city, and my children will be in camps and structured care programs over the summer when they are this age.
Every time one of these nostalgia things goes around, I think how my reality doesn’t quite mesh. While I did venture around the neighborhood on my own in a way that isn’t the norm I see now, I was never ‘gone for 12 hours’- my parents always knew where I was (we called if we changed locations), fed me three meals a day, took me all sorts of places from the grocery store to the pool… I was never fully ‘on my own’ the way all the stories tell it. Now that my own son is about this age, I often hear that parents are too afraid to let their kids out and that isn’t my reality either. I’d be happy to let my son ramble the neighborhood but he doesn’t choose it. I can say we don’t live perhaps on the right kind of street to make it easy, but even people we know who do live in those picture perfect areas don’t seem to have things all that differently than us. We are less connected to our neighbors than our parents were, we commute more (often for school), and identify with areas other than ‘our neighborhood’. The kids have specific interests such that just being ‘a kid the same age’ isn’t enough to opt to spend time together. I think their worlds are just a little bit bigger, for better or for worse. Sadly, they’re also often driven more and take it as the norm- even in a one car family, my son assumes it and will sometimes fuss about walking or busing, not seeing those options as the freedom that I did and do. Biking, he sees fully as recreation not transportation and there are many valid reasons from crazy drivers to theft issues at bike racks.