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How Entertaining Our Children Has Changed

I grew up in the seventies.  We lived on a cul-de-sac, which was inhabited mainly by other families.  It was sheltered and it was safe.  Life was very different to today.  We went to school and we came straight home afterwards.  Our parents didn’t take us to after school clubs and we didn’t do official ‘play dates’. None of that was necessary, as all we had to do was jump over the back garden wall, knock on the neighbour’s door and ask if ‘so and so’ could come out to play.  No one ever locked their doors and it was not uncommon for someone to walk in the house unannounced, without having phoned ahead or even knocked before entering.  That’s just the way it was.

It’s a different world now and one where we no longer feel at ease letting our children roam free.  In my day our parents had instant child care on their doorstep.  If we weren’t at our house, we would be at one of the neighbours’; they never worried too much about where we were.  Entertaining the children must have been a piece of cake back then, unlike today, where it has taken on a whole new level.  Because we don’t have this way of life anymore, we now have to physically take our children everywhere in order for them to see friends or partake in activities.

I know it’s not compulsory, but after school clubs are the norm around here and my children are no different from anyone else.  After all, I would feel guilty if they didn’t get to do the things their friends do.  I limit them to three clubs each and as there are three of them, that is more than enough.  As it is we are picking up or dropping off from somewhere every day of the week.

Is it any wonder that our children are no good at entertaining themselves when left to their own devices?  On the one hand they are lucky to be able to experience so many different things; Taekwondo, gymnastics, dancing, swimming lessons, table tennis, cross country, the list goes on.  But on the other, there is very little ‘down time’ after school.  Homework is often done on the hoof, reading just before bed, dinner shovelled down somewhere in between and before you know it you’re back at school again and the whole cycle starts over.

I love the school holidays because it is a break from all this rushing around, but I find the children asking, ‘what are we going to do today?’  They are so used to their lives being planned out that they don’t know what to do if it isn’t.  I find myself challenging them to go and find something to do.  It may take a while but eventually they will get in to something and they’ll be fine.  But it’s only so long before an argument breaks out and even I find myself needing to get out of the house for a change of scenery.

What the children miss is the freedom to go running in the street and playing out with their friends.  I don’t blame them for getting fed up with each other after a while, but as we don’t have young children on either side of our house there is no one else.  There may be other families on our street but I haven’t met them.  They, too, keep their children ‘locked up’ and get on and do their own thing.

So, we do what we normally do and get in the car, heading out for an indoor soft play centre, if it’s a wet day, or the park if it’s dry and the children are able to let off some steam and have time away from each other.  My mum and her friends would have been spared this trip because we kids would have been happy enough playing in the garden with our friends.  I’m sure I would have probably cried if my mum had told me that we had to go out somewhere.  I envy the mums of those days for being able to enjoy some quiet time or getting on with some jobs instead of having to sit on a cold park bench or endure a noisy play centre that sells lousy coffee and food.

Am I being nostalgic for the old days or am I right to feel this way? Do the children of today have it better than we did?

What do you think?


  1. Perfection Pending says

    I agree. I grew up just walking down to the neighbors house, and asking if someone could play, yet, I don’t feel comfortable letting my kids do that. We do it occasionally with the family across the street, but still, in the winter, it’s hard because I hate sending my kids to someone’s house to play inside because I feel like it’s a burden on the other parent….Thanks SOOO much for linking up! I tweeted this post out, and will try to promote it everywhere else too! 🙂

  2. Victoria says

    Life is not as good (or healthy) today as it was when I grew up or when my children grew up. You cannot let your kids roam the neighborhood like we did. Now they are influenced by technology and have social issues and can’t connect face to face. They hide behind texting, computers games and TV. What kind of influence is that? My oldest daughter lives in fear of someone bullying her kids, peer pressure and so on. She keeps them inside as she trusts no one. Not a good way to live if you ask me.

  3. Louise says

    I read a book on mat leave (wish I remember what it was called) about the urge now to “over program” our kids and how it leads – like you say – to them not knowing how to entertain themselves.

    So I try to balance both. No idea if I succeed, but I try to make sure we do some unstructured “just play” as well as the lessons and the play groups and all that sort of stuff.

    My neighbour is raising her grandson (well, helping, but he’s there a lot) so our kids can do “impromptu” play dates with him sometimes because the ages work – but other than that, I agree everything else is more scheduled than in the past.

    I’m a scheduler and joiner by nature – so I try to make a concerted effort to sometimes just let them “be”.

  4. afourytale says

    I too, think about this a lot. I was a child of the eighties, so we played in the neighborhood, but fear had crept in. Our door was always locked and we needed to be weary if strangers.

    I am thankful my children are learning musical instruments and playing sports, but it would be nice to let them feel that freedom.

    It still takes a village to raise our kids. We just have to build a different kind of village. One that requires more involvement on our part as the parent.

    Loved this post. Glad I stumbled on your blog.

    • Nicola Young says

      Thanks for stopping by. I love your comment about it taking a village to raise our kids. I don’t feel that sense of community spirit in the road I live in, but the kids’ primary school has that, which is good. It won’t be long before my eldest moves on and she will be making her own way to high school. We go from holding on to them tightly to letting them go off on their own without anything in between.

      • afourytale says

        Mine are still littles. I have had to create a village of people I trust and thankfully my parents are close.

        It is really something amazing what us mamas do. We shelter, love, protect, nurture, and then release. I don’t think there is any way to ever be prepared for it, it just happens and then we have to live with those changes.

  5. Karen says

    We live far from family, but our kids are well-connected with families in our church. We moms support each other, much like neighbors did long ago. The kids get together for sleepovers, flashlight tag, and many of the games I grew up playing. It takes more effort to be intentional about the free play time, but my kids still get it. Community is the new family.

  6. Michele says

    I was born in 1950, so I grew up in the 60’s and it sounds similar to when you grew up in the 70’s. We were told to “walk” to where ever we wanted to go-granted I grew up in a small town where everyone knew everyone else and it was safe as could be. Our homework had to be completed before we went out to play after school-or we did not go out! Dinner time was family time and unless I was eating at a friends house I’d be at that dining room table at 6 pm. We knew our boundaries for certain but life was so much easier and carefree for both parents and children.

  7. jshallow01 says

    Luckily I live in a small town where we still have that letting the kids roam free, but because I am a SAHM I do bring to after school activities as well as playdates too.

  8. Debbie L. says

    I too think things have really changed – not all for the good. We have a summer home in a gated community where everyone knows everyone and the kids love it! They can run wild – lots of kids there. They look forward to summer at NaNa’s & PaPa’s Upa North house – fun place for the kids.

    • Nicola Young says

      That sounds amazing and what a treat for the kids. One of the problems with playing out these days, is that there are more cars on the road and they are faster, so having a safe place to play out is a luxury.

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