Childhood has Changed: Playtime is Over

OpieHere’s an article to read by David Elkind in the NYTimes Playtime is Over

It’s an important topic. It’s an interesting article. And it’s one well worth reading and talking about.

There is one piece though, that I have to comment on right away:

For children in past eras, participating in the culture of childhood was a socializing process. They learned to settle their own quarrels, to make and break their own rules, and to respect the rights of others. They learned that friends could be mean as well as kind, and that life was not always fair.

Now that most children no longer participate in this free-form experience — play dates arranged by parents are no substitute — their peer socialization has suffered. One tangible result of this lack of socialization is the increase in bullying, teasing and discrimination that we see in all too many of our schools.

From the perspective of this child from that long-lost golden era of free play – wonderful though it was – bullying, teasing and discrimination were a daily torment.  In a time when an apple was a precious commodity, and sweets the coin of the realm, the interactions could be sudden and violent.

It was a time of tribes of stone throwing children defending their turf, of arcane rules of a social hierarchy cruelly upheld,  of vicious taunts and name calling, and teachers who felt free to rap your knuckles with a ruler for failure to answer “Seven times nine” quickly enough.

And god forbid you had a speech defect,  wore funny clothes or swerved from the rigidly upheld norms of social expectations and unspoken code of conduct. The school playground was a minefield.

A golden age of sweetness and light it was not.

It was good, though, to see the reference to the work of  the British folklorists Peter and Iona Opie in the 1950s.

The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren cataloged the songs, riddles, jokes, jibes and incantations that were passed on by oral tradition. I had just pulled my dog-eared copy from the basement this week to remind myself of the Davy Crocket craze.

It’s a treasure trove of information about the lost culture of childhood. And – always worth checking at this time of year: It used to be absolutely forbidden to pull an April Fool’s joke after midday.

Every child knew that!

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