October 19, 2016

"Mike is a deep believer in the idea that 'kids have to find their own balance of power.'"

"He wants his boys to create their own society governed by its own rules. He consciously transformed his family’s house into a kid hangout, spreading the word that local children were welcome to play in the yard anytime, even when the family wasn’t home. Discontented with the expensive, highly structured summer camps typical of the area, Mike started one of his own: Camp Yale, named after his street, where the kids make their own games and get to roam the neighborhood."

From "The Anti-Helicopter Parent’s Plea: Let Kids Play!/A Silicon Valley dad decided to test his theories about parenting by turning his yard into a playground where children can take physicalrisks without supervision. Not all of his neighbors were thrilled" by Melanie Thernstrom in the NYT Magazine.

What about lawsuits?
Mike tells me that people sometimes ask him if he is afraid of lawsuits in the event of an injury on his property. He would never let fear of being sued dictate how he lives his life, he says.

What about second-degree manslaughter, I asked: an accident enabled by negligence, if, say, another child — or even one of his own — broke his neck leaping from the playhouse onto the trampoline. (Unenclosed trampolines are a staple of personal-injury law; an estimated 85,000 children under 14 were hurt on trampolines last year.) Does he ever worry about that?

He flashed me a look, then snorted with laughter.
I guess for an adult, living without fear of lawsuits is like, for a child, climbing up on a playhouse roof and jumping off onto a trampoline. Are you going to live or not? 

95 comments:

mccullough said...

His kids will be better off. Too many pussies among the Millenials.

Birches said...

I think letting kids know they are allowed to play when you aren't home is going a little too far, but 85,000 kids injured on a trampoline each year is a worry? Does the NYT realize how many kids there are in America? That number is delightfully low.

We have a trampoline. The neighbor kids come over to jump all the time, but we make sure the gate is locked when we're gone and send everyone home when we leave.

Curious George said...

My neighbors have four boys, and two tramps and a pool in the backyard. Yep, boing, boing, splash. It's quite fun to watch.

Wilbur said...

I went to a Christmas party a few years ago where everyone but my then-wife and I were from the Northeast. At the table we were sitting, a conversation broke out about summer camp memories, about leaving NYC or Long Island for the summer and going to some camp in upstate NY. Amusing stuff generally.

Someone then asked me 'Wilbur where did you go to summer camp?" I replied that where I grew up, there were no summer camps and I had never even heard of anyone going to summer camp except for that Allen Sherman song "Camp Granada". But it sure sounded like a good time from their stories.

Where we lived there were open fields and woods where we did all of the summer camp stuff, except without adult supervision. It's so sad how kids just don't "play outside" anymore.

Nonapod said...

an estimated 85,000 children under 14 were hurt on trampolines last year.

Good grief. That immediately seems like nonsense.

bagoh20 said...

It's a great and courageous thing he's done, but get rid of the trampoline. That's like having a live tiger in the yard. Kids can make their own fun with ordinary things lying around that you can reasonably expect to not be used dangerously, but a Trampoline is almost impossible to use safely. Besides, it's not a creative form of fun anyway.

CJinPA said...

I constantly lament the lack of unstructured play available in our neighborhood to my kids in. This is mainly due to there being fewer kids per household these days.

That said, I can understand neighbors' annoyance that he wants to "test his theories about parenting" on their kids.

From what I know about the last 50 years, I'm convinced children were better off when there were fewer "theories about parenting" and more parents.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

I guess he is wealthy enough that being sued does not mean immediate financial disaster. Lucky man. I agree with all his theories but I couldn't take such risks in my life--notnif I want to retire and send kids to college, anyway.

buwaya puti said...

We grew up playing in the street. As most of the world does.
Does NOT happen in San Francisco.
Poor kids.

rhhardin said...

The local school when I was a kid had a ten foot high platform with a fireman's pole.

Room for lots of kids at the top, too.

Vertical ladder gets you up there.

rhhardin said...

They knew how to build playground equipment back then. Every one locally made and unique.

Sebastian said...

"He wants his boys to create their own society governed by its own rules." You mean, like, in Lord of the Flies?

rhhardin said...

As for wandering, we seldom got more than three miles away.

mockturtle said...

My younger brother and I, perhaps inspired by Tom Sawyer, built a raft [parents didn't know], hefted it down to a nearby slough and watched it sink unceremoniously into the mire. We used to climb some immense rocks behind our property where we could see the whole county. Yes, we could have broken our necks but we didn't. We would have built a tree house but all of our trees were evergreens. We rode inner-tubes down whitewater rivers and even in the ocean. Crazy, yes, but what a fun childhood!

David said...

Just don't serve them alcohol.

buwaya puti said...

My theory is this over-protection is the unconscious result of low fertility. Too few kids, with the very high proportion of only kids and pairs, leads to a parental over-reliance and perhaps over-investment on their few offspring. There are no "spares".

This feeds social phenomena like the unspoken consensus we are discussing.

Freeman Hunt said...

I grew up in a neighborhood where all the kids wandered around and played unsupervised. Don't know what we'd have thought of some dad who turned his yard into a fantasy playscape and told us we could play on his roof.

Don't think I'd have wanted to be that guy's rat.

Freeman Hunt said...

In kid world, adults trying to join or approving of everything in kid world are weirdos.

MadisonMan said...

@Freeman -- thanks. There was something odd about this, and you nailed it. I like that he's set up a yard so his kids can play there, and have friends over. He seems too invested in it though, as if any kid not playing there is somehow his failure.

Maybe that's the way you have to be these days when kid play is so structured.

Strick said...

"Freeman Hunt said...

In kid world, adults trying to join or approving of everything in kid world are weirdos."

Besides, wasn't half the fun doing things that adults didn't approve, at least every now and then? Children need to rebel a bit, too, or they seem forever in their parent's shadow.

Mac McConnell said...

Summer camps are for folks in the big cities or parents that hate hanging with their children and ship them off to prep school during the school year.

I've never been to camp, but I was lucky enough to live in places that were great fun growing up. Places where all one needed were a ball and glove, a bike, a band aid tin with hooks & line, a football, and know how to swim. From daylight till dark in the summer, always in trouble for missing dinner at 5:30. In Panama City alligators and snakes were the enemy, Greenville Miss. snakes and river currents, San Antone snakes and scorpions. I took up golf in 5th grade living on Randolph Field Tx, I had to ride my bike across an active military runway to get to the course, who says golf isn't exciting?

Rocketeer said...

In my youth, the only rules I remember hearing from an adult regarding summer play were "Have fun. Come back when it starts getting dark, and be sure to stay out of the pasture where the bull is."

lgv said...

I guess jumping from the railroad bridge into the swimming hole at the creek would be frowned upon now. You had to jump out about two feet to miss part of the structure. The only part of the creek deep enough for the jump was near the abutment. The water was only about 6ft. wide, which was good because I couldn't swim. Jump into the water and then come up. Sort of swim a few feet until you hit the shallow rocks.

We would go places and do things no parent would now imagine. All before dark. We did get shot at once.

traditionalguy said...

The Grand kids have a trampoline and a zip line in their backyard. They are also intelligent enough to learn how to use them.

Freeman Hunt said...

I'm with him on letting kids play without hovering. I'm with him on cutting out a lot of structured stuff so that kids can have lots of free time without adult direction. I'm with him in letting kids take risks.

But not hovering doesn't mean never watching them at all. It doesn't mean not telling them to refrain from hitting people they just met. It doesn't mean teaching them that they're entitled to a world that revolves around their wishes and that every impulse is good. And teaching a kid to take risks doesn't mean teaching him to be an idiot.

The reason that the stat on kid injuries for falling off roofs is so low is that the number of parents stupid enough to encourage their kids to play on their roofs approaches zero.

He has some good ideas, but then he warps them around until they make him sound like a sociopath. Encouraging neighborhood kids to come over and play is friendly and nice. Encouraging them to go out on the roof is not.

JPS said...

The trampoline I got for my kids has some solemn warnings:

- Never allow more than one child on at a time

- Make sure there is at least 7m [23 feet!] of clearance overhead.

So yeah, I kind of guessed these things have generated a lawsuit or two over the years.

When I was a kid, most of my fun involved chemicals, of the sort that would bring me to the attention of the FBI nowadays.

Rae said...

When I was growing up in the 70's and 80's, our school playground was twenty foot high constructions of steel with nice, soft gravel to land on. We were encouraged to climb onto this stuff while our teachers took a smoke break. No one died, except some of the teachers of lung cancer years later.

Freeman Hunt said...

A friend and I once took a metal disk sled to the top of a large mound of construction debris to slide down. My father would never have okayed this. I told him afterward, and he said that it was a bad idea. If he'd approved, I think I might have felt like he didn't care about us. Approving of every risk encourages more extreme risk taking. Kids look for the limit.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

In kid world, adults trying to join or approving of everything in kid world are weirdos.

@ Freemen. Yes! When we were kids the adults would get together and the kids were left to our own devices. Either told to go outside and play or we would get together separate from the adults and play board games or other games inside the house. If any adult were to come and supervise or try to hang out and play with us it would have been extremely weird, unsettling, stifling and even the other adults would be WTF!....leave those kids alone.

I feel very bad for kids today who don't have the opportunity to be free, discover things on their own and yes....make mistakes.

@ Buwaya We grew up playing in the street. As most of the world does.
Does NOT happen in San Francisco.
Poor kids.


I know. Playing in the streets. Wandering in the countryside. Climbing, running, jumping.

My Daughter and her husband lived directly in SF for awhile and finally did move out when they began having children. They had no yard. No outside space of any kind for the children. They had to make arrangements to go to a park, to supervise the whole time, dodge dog poo on the sidewalks and ignore the creepy street people. Playing outside was a choreographed structured time sensitive event. NOW....they have a lovely home north of the city with a big yard, play set with a slide, grass. The kids can go outside and play whenever they want. I am very happy for them.

bagoh20 said...

One of the many near disasters I created as a kid was when I accidently threw a large flaming towel onto a full gallon can of gasoline in our garage. It's just burning away right on top of the can. Dad saw it and casually walked into the house, grabbed the flour off the counter and then poured it over the can, putting out the fire. Then he put his cigarette out in the full can of gas right in front of me and all my friends to make a point. He was undoubtedly drunk at the time. I think the lesson we learned was that alcohol makes you incredibly brave and powerful, which I took to heart as a lifelong strategy.

Achilles said...

I remember the school prescribed a book to our class. The main characters name was Soup. But the germane topic was in this book the game of tackle tag was discussed. You tried to tackle whoever was it. Our class played tackle tag at recess for the rest of the year.

The other game was big toy tag. We would run and climb on the big toy and play tag with the wood chips being lava. Lots of broken bones and blood. We all made it to middle school.

Look for this sort of action to gain popularity. As the rule of law fails the lawyers and insurance companies will lose their power over our lives. Being sued won't matter so much when nobody will take your stuff and give it to the lawyers and insurance companies.

mockturtle said...

When I consider the many risky things I did as a child [without my parents' knowledge] I am reminded that my mother told me that she and her friends would often walk across a railroad trestle. Yikes! But those of us who survived our adventurous childhoods are the better for it, I think. I was much too protective of my own kids.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

. I guess for an adult, living without fear of lawsuits is like, for a child, climbing up on a playhouse roof and jumping off onto a trampoline. Are you going to live or not?

Living without fear of lawsuits or Government persecution used to be know as "being free." We fixed that, though.

Meade said...

HERE is the approximate route my brother and I rode our bikes when he was almost 8 and I was a little over 6 years-old. When we got to Prophet's Rock and found a place to sit down and eat the sandwiches our mother had packed for us, a gang of motorcycle hoods pulled in, parked, and one of them announced that he was going to climb up on top of the rock and "take a dump". Later, when we told our mother about the incident, she just praised us for having the good sense not to talk to those bad men. And then we planned our next excursion.

Rusty said...

Mom;"Where are you boys going?"
Us;"Outside"
Mom;"OK. Don't go near that creek and be home in time for dinner."
Us;" OK, mom."
Head straight to the creek.

Rusty said...

Oh. And
The "Gilberts" chemistry set had potassium nitrate.

Michael said...

Over the last 20 years in our neighborhood the wonderful chain swings that sent the kids twenty feet into the air have been replaced by dinky swings that barely go 5 feet. Every metal jungle gym has been replaced with one half the height and made of wood. Oh, and placed on a carpet of rubber. Oh, and the pool now has a heater for the three weeks it is too chilly for the little darlings. This after fifty years of the pool being unheated. My son was one of the last who ventured into the creek's ravine, who explored there as had generations of boys before him. I would bet not a single kid has ventured into that wood in the last ten years.

damikesc said...

Perhaps parents shouldn't raise their kids to be fucking idiots and shouldn't blame others if their kids are fucking idiots?

Jim said...

In 1968, we rode four abreast with no seatbelts, in the back of my Scoutmaster's Plymoth Valiant. We were going to Scoutcamp. We all lived. I would never, ever,ever let a child ride in my car without a seatbelt. Times change.

FullMoon said...

buwaya puti said...

We grew up playing in the street. As most of the world does.
Does NOT happen in San Francisco.
Poor kids.


More kids would be playing outside if there was no cable TV, computers, or video games. More choices for indoor entertainment, unfortunately/fortunately.

Michael K said...

The smaller family thing may be part of the structured play world of my grandchildren but I was one of only two.

I walked to kindergarten crossing one busy street and it was 6 blocks. There is a map in this post about it.

My mother had a neighbor boy walk with me the first day, then I was on my own. After about three days, I had been punished by the nun for something I can't remember. The next morning I was still walking to the school when I heard the bell ring. I thought "Oh Oh, I'm going to be in trouble again."

Next door to the school was a nursery and florist shop owned by friends of my father. I had been there many times with him and knew the owners. Instead of going on to school and punishment, I just went to the nursery where the old uncle was working in the back. I asked if I could help him and he let me.

At noon, I heard the bell ring next door at the school and told him I had to leave. I walked home and never said a word to my mother.

The next day, I just walked to the nursery and helped the uncle, whose name was "Hug" until noon and went home. Nobody from the school called and I never went back to kindergarten. This was Chicago, and winter was coming but my father bought a house in early November and we moved. I finally told my mother about it 40 years later and she didn't believe me. She never knew.

Kids in those days were free.

ALP said...

I have fond memories of playing on construction sites (single family homes/apartment buildings) on the weekends when the construction workers were gone. During the late 1960's-1970's suburban expansion, we were never without an unfinished structure in the neighborhood.

My god, the fun we had with all those piles of various materials. Nowadays, you can't even get on a construction site!

Henry said...

What about second-degree manslaughter, I asked: an accident enabled by negligence, if, say, another child — or even one of his own — broke his neck leaping from the playhouse onto the trampoline....

Maybe Mike isn't data-impaired.

The most official data is from 1991-1999, and here's the deadly results:

Since 1990 [to 1999], CPSC has received reports of 11 deaths relating to trampoline use.

Mac McConnell said...

Around 8, I converted my wooden go-kart into a plane and flew it off a garage roof. Didn't learn much about aerodynamics, but a shit load about gravity. Broke my nose for the first time , but what a rush. Good times good times

mockturtle said...

Kids in those days were free.

Yes! Freedom is a wonderful thing!

Meade said...

"The "Gilberts" chemistry set had potassium nitrate."

So did our corned beef sandwiches.

Mac McConnell said...

Michael K
Nuns did more damage to me than any trampoline ever did. In the days before they dressed like bag ladies, in their flowing habits carrying meter sticks. Violent Nazis, but the did teach me to read and my handwriting is beautiful.

Real American said...

I lived about 2 blocks from the railroad tracks. My friends and/or my sister would go over there all the time and flatten coins or just put rocks and dirt clods on the tracks to see them get smashed. We occasionally dodged trains. There was train bridge over a creek and under it some homeless people lived. We'd go through their encampment to get down to the creek, when it was dry enough, though by the late 80s there were often drug needles and more visible drug paraphernalia in there, so we stopped going down there. It wasn't an easy climb anyway. Never got into an scraps with the bums, though. FYI, that's less within a mile of the house in this article. My parents simply told me not to play on the tracks. That didn't stop us. Since then I noticed the powers that be erected a fence so you couldn't get to the tracks anymore. I never thought of myself as over adventurous, but today's children don't even have the chance, it seems.

Michael K said...

"Violent Nazis, but the did teach me to read and my handwriting is beautiful."

The nuns were something,. I encountered them again at my new school when I began 1st grade with my parents thinking I had had at least three months of kindergarten. I was a little wild animal. I did not know how to ask to go to the bathroom so I was busted crawling under a little girl's desk on my way to the back door of the classroom.

How I survived is a still a mystery.

I can still diagram a sentence, though. Handwriting is another matter.

Hagar said...

The looks of trampolines scares the hell out of me, but then I am a born klutz.
Otherwise we had no such things as playgrounds or toys, but the fjord in front and the mountains behind were free. Learned to swim in a millpond where the older children watched that the younger ones did not get caught against the outlet grille and drowned, which almost happened to me. It was also a concern to me that I was the only boy who had never broken an arm or a leg, but then I had the worst ankle sprain they had seen at the hospital in 3 years or more, so that was a consolation.

Hagar said...

The sprain bothers me in my old age though, while broken bones heal. At least unless you break them repeatedly in the same place.

TreeJoe said...

(as I type this working from home, my 2 year just hurt himself in the background somehow and took about 15 seconds to start breathing again).

As pointed out elsewhere, there is alot of good "freedom" mixed in with idiocy on both sides of this issue. I know helicopter parents who have no problem riding around in the backseat of taxis without ever putting a seatbelt on for themselves, even though they are super safety conscious, because they think it would be weird.

20-30 years ago kids didn't wear seatbelts or sit in car seats past a very young age - we've gotten better at safety now.

This guy's backyard is awesome - except for jumping off a treehouse onto a in-ground trampoline surrounded by sod. That's stupid. Inevitably someone is getting pushed off that treehouse, even by accident.

I've got ladders on 3 trees on my yard for my 2 and 4 year old to climb into the trees. Yes, my 2 year old climbs a 6' ladder onto a tree platform to slide down a slide, without me right behind him every step of the way (and he just turned 2). I cut a hole into a hedge where they can go inside into a 'natural fort' area that's pretty darn hide for me to get into. We do lots of other things for them to explore.

But what we also do is try to determine when the risk of something bad happens outweighs the benefit to them. Then we teach them not to do that.

We're not better parents today than 30-40 years ago. But I hope we've advanced and learned how to better protect our children while also teaching them independence and some level of risk avoidance.

P.s. Dangerous book for boys is awesome and I can't wait to teach my kids use a BB gun, slingshot, and how to build a fire.

bagoh20 said...

I contend that the teeter totter is the most dangerous form of entertainment ever devised. I think someone got hurt on that thing everyday at our playground, and it was usually intentional and funny as hell.

Bob R said...

He's going farther than I would go - letting young kids use the trampoline without any supervision. To me it's like the distinction between hand tools and power tools. I'd be happy to leave kids to their own devices with hammers, hand saws, hand drills, etc. Not with a power saw or router. Might let them go with a power drill after a few lessons.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

@ Alp I have fond memories of playing on construction sites (single family homes/apartment buildings) on the weekends when the construction workers were gone. During the late 1960's-1970's suburban expansion, we were never without an unfinished structure in the neighborhood.

Oh yes! Us too. The two story houses were the best. You could use the framing like a jungle gym. Springing from joist to joist and swinging through the air. We weren't destructive....well....except that we would occasionally pull up those cute little flags outside on the ground. My parent's patiently explained that those were survey markers and we'd better leave those alone (if we knew what was good for us). Looking back I think the survey crews really really hated us.

The one bad thing that happened was when we were playing tag through one of the structures, someone closed the sliding door on their way racing through the building, and I ran through the glass. This was before safety glass, so....running through a plate glass door was a pretty dangerous thing. I had blood running down my face and went home. Being in shock, I guess, I didn't notice that a huge chunk of my calf was hanging by a thread and my shoe was completely full of blood. The living room was full of neighbors having their evening cocktail and chatting before their Friday dinner party. My mom and dad rushed me to the emergency room for stitches. Totally ruined the cocktail party though.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Ooops. My "accident" was probably was a Saturday as ALP said. The construction crews were gone on the weekends.

MikeR said...

My brother and I used to climb on the roof of our house; you could get there with a ladder from the porch where it was only six or seven feet up. It was a lot further down the other way. We used to hang out at the (ceremonial) chimney.
When my own kids visited my grandmother there, and we were on the porch, I proudly (stupidly) recalled how we used to climb on the roof. Of course, my kids wanted to do it too. I absolutely would have said No! without a second thought - except that my parents apparently didn't. The kids had a great time and I gritted my teeth.

MikeR said...

Don't know if it's allowed to reference Cosby anymore, but his skit "The Playground" was the funniest thing in my childhood.

bagoh20 said...

How the hell did we ever survive? I mean really. It seems highly unlikely by today's sensibilities, yet I don't know any kids from my childhood who had any lasting injury from the crazy shit we did daily. It happened, once we could both drink and drive, but even then it was very rare. I have many friends who eventually died directly or indirectly as a result of drugs: hepatitis, liver damage, accidental overdoses, suicide, but these generally happened after decades of risky behavior. As delicate as we are, human beings get away with a lot in life.

buwaya said...

"I contend that the teeter totter is the most dangerous form of entertainment ever devised."

My son had a teeter totter accident when he was five that required arthroscopic knee surgery.

So did I, later, but I was over 50.

buwaya said...

To be clear, I didn't have a teeter-totter accident, I blew my knee dancing with my daughter.

Have your kids young.

Peggy Coffey said...

We used to get refrigerator and stove boxes from the appliance store and drag them to a construction site, then pile up boards and equipment to make an incline to roll down. Then we crawled inside the boxes and rolled down. It was tons of fun.

SukieTawdry said...

My family was frankly surprised my brother made it out of childhood alive (he even almost castrated himself on a sled blade once). The world is fraught with danger for the adventurous child. Somehow, though, back in the day we made it through despite our many hours of unsupervised play. I shudder to think what kind of hell we would have put one of today's "snowflakes" through.

When I was 11, a group of us spent the day at the NY state fair without supervision traveling to/from by public bus. Can you imagine?

buwaya said...

"Somehow, though, back in the day we made it through despite our many hours of unsupervised play. "

Most of you did, and are here to say you made it through. This is survivors bias. The dead aren't around to say "but I didn't"!

Por ser antipatico.

Anyway, risk is easier to accept when there are several spares. Fertility explains nearly all I think.

Howard said...

I guess for an adult, living without fear of lawsuits is like, for a child, climbing up on a playhouse roof and jumping off onto a trampoline. Are you going to live or not? That's a fair characterization, e.g. to hold on to your innate humanity without cowering before vultures.
Get your motor runnin'
Head out on the highway
Lookin' for adventure
And whatever comes our way
Yeah Darlin' go make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of your guns at once
And explode into space

I like smoke and lightning
Heavy metal thunder
Racin' with the wind
And the feelin' that I'm under
Yeah Darlin' go make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of your guns at once
And explode into space

Like a true nature's child
We were born, born to be wild
We can climb so high
I never wanna die

Born to be wild
Born to be wild

Howard said...

My folks had a backyard pool that all the kids in the neighborhood swam in. One day, a new neighbor asked my Mom if she was afraid of getting sued. Mom said no, then kicked her and her kid out for good.

chuckR said...

I was 8 or 9 when I first climbed on my house roof. It required a small leap from a privacy fence attached to the house. When I told my parents, their only reaction was 'Be careful when you do that'. I still suspect that my Dad had an ulterior motive in the laid back approach. From my mid teens through college I worked summers for his company as a roofer.
I am a little concerned about Lanza's particular roof. Looks to be a 3/8ths pitch which is still walkable but you better not be up there early morning after a heavy dew. My parents house roof was less than 1/4 pitch - you could take a nap on it.

Achilles said...

The point of a trampoline is to do bigger crazier stunts until someone gets hurt. We learned about limits on trampolines.

lemondog said...

I feared heights but I recall jumping off a neighbors garage roof onto the roof of their dilapidated rusty old car.

No ritzy, ditzy trampoline.

Obviously no supervision.

TreeJoe said...

I'll never forget the time I was pouring rubbing alcohol down my steep driveway and setting it on fire to watch it burn as the police officer walked up the driveway, said hello, asked me what I was doing, then asked if my mom was around....to talk to her about one of my brothers.

The difference between that police officer being concerned for me or patting me on the head was in my answer, "I'm experimenting with my chemistry set" was an acceptable and good answer. "I'm trying to see if I can melt asphalt" would not have been.

David said...

At age 11 I was hit by a car while riding a bicycle. Way before helmets. The car hit me from behind and I was thrown about 15 feet, landing on the cinder shoulder of the road. Bike destroyed, me unhurt other than bruises and scrapes. The guy who hit me had his wife and kids in the car. He was trembling and shaking and as I recall I was consoling him while his wife consoled me.

I had been going straight down a hill, far on the right side of the road as I should have. There was a Roman Catholic chapel across the street. It was near sunset in some mountains, starting to darken, and the nuns were outside the chapel taking some evening air. The nuns were convinced that I had darted across the road from a side street and swerved in front of the car. Completely untrue, and I have no idea how they came up with that, but they were believed, and this is how the accident was reported.

That night I learned that eyewitnesses are unreliable and that authority figures as easily believed even though totally wrong.

This was 1954.

David said...

"Approving of every risk encourages more extreme risk taking. Kids look for the limit."

True. As parents we almost always learn about the extreme risks the kids take after the fact. That being the problem, some parents try to monitor everything, which of course is impossible.

The thing about risks, mistakes and irresponsible actions is that some are highly consequential, while others end up with no consequences. It's the lucky parent who even learns of the non-consequential risks and has the chance to make them a teaching moment.

Brian A Davis said...

A recipe for "The Lord of the Flys"; Mike going to learn, too late, that all kids NEED parents.

Rusty said...

Meade said...
"The "Gilberts" chemistry set had potassium nitrate."

"So did our corned beef sandwiches."

Yeah, but we learned how to make black powder.

mockturtle said...

Brian, of course kids need parents. But their lives should not be structured so that they have no freedom to explore. Some kids today live on their smart phones. And parents seem to think this is safer, somehow, than their playing outdoors.

JPS said...

Mac McConnell,

"Around 8, I converted my wooden go-kart into a plane and flew it off a garage roof."

This is absolutely the coolest thing I'll read today.

buwaya said...

"Yeah, but we learned how to make black powder."

I went on to make nitrocellulose and nitroglycerine, as I got hold of nitric acid.

God knows what they do with kids like me these days.

mockturtle said...

Mac McConnell,

"Around 8, I converted my wooden go-kart into a plane and flew it off a garage roof."

This is absolutely the coolest thing I'll read today.

-------------
Even better was his second sentence:

Didn't learn much about aerodynamics, but a shit load about gravity. :-D

mockturtle said...

"Somehow, though, back in the day we made it through despite our many hours of unsupervised play. "

Buwaya responds: Most of you did, and are here to say you made it through. This is survivors bias. The dead aren't around to say "but I didn't"!

----
That should tell Darwinian theorists something, though. Yes?

Meade said...

"God knows what they do with kids like me these days."

Medicate?

The Gold Digger said...

I took up golf in 5th grade living on Randolph Field Tx, I had to ride my bike across an active military runway to get to the course, who says golf isn't exciting?

My dad was stationed at Randolph my senior year of high school! Before that, we were in the Panama Canal Zone (we rode our bikes to the beach and dodged the snakes and the mosquito spray trucks after dark) and Lubbock, where we rode our bikes to school and the pool on main roads. Without helmets. We got to spend some summers at my grandparents' farm in northern Wisconsin, where we played in the creek and the meadows behind the barn and in the hayloft and climbed tress. We did all of this without adult involvement.

My impression has always been that summer camp is a thing for rich kids. Heck, parents' weekend at college is a thing for rich kids.

Achilles said...

Blogger buwaya said...
"Yeah, but we learned how to make black powder."

"I went on to make nitrocellulose and nitroglycerine, as I got hold of nitric acid.

God knows what they do with kids like me these days."

They teach you how to save salmon and put condoms on bananas. After that you are off to sensitivity class. AP English is about how racist Shakespeare was. At least an hour a day on the ravages of climate change.

If you are in a poor inner city school they send you to the principal every day until you drop out and they send you to "alternative school."

mockturtle said...

Achilles, you are spot on!

buwaya said...

"They teach you how to save salmon and put condoms on bananas. After that you are off to sensitivity class. AP English is about how racist Shakespeare was. At least an hour a day on the ravages of climate change."

We have seen it from the inside, we've had kids in the system, the big house, for decades. They make everyone read something from Toni Morison - latest favorite seems to be "The Bluest Eye". If any books deserve burning its the works of Toni Morrison.

And there's no way they would let a kid touch Nitric Acid. Hands on chemistry just isn't done in US High Schools, or at least not in California.

However, I am speaking mainly of the police.

buwaya said...

"God knows what they do with kids like me these days."

"Medicate?"

Some years ago I would have thought "Guantanamo", but that seems passe.

Sean E said...

Is "Grounders" a thing anywhere else? It's tag played on the play structures, where you aren't allowed to touch the ground, and whoever is "it" has to keep their eyes closed. It seems to be the go-to game at elementary schools around here.

When I heard about it from my kids, I was both horrified and delighted.

Michael K said...

""So did our corned beef sandwiches."

Yeah, but we learned how to make black powder."

Have you read "Rocket Boys?" Great book.

I was making rockets out of powder I pried out of my father's shotgun shells. He had enough so he didn't miss the ones I used.

I also had two or three chemistry sets. Fortunately, I never got the powder and the chemistry sets together.

wholelottasplainin' said...

Back in the Jurassic I was a 4th-5th grader living in Mountain Home, Idaho, population about 2,500. Aside from some small farms and ranches the town was entirely surrounded by desert sage and tumbleweed.

We kids roamed all over the place, entirely w/o adult supervision.

A clump of trees(which we called "Russia")watered by a spring a mile or so outside town became a favorite weekend camping ground. Our parents would load us up with food and camp gear to send us off on our own.

"Just be home by 6 PM tomorrow".

Once, upon coming across an unattended corral holding three horses, we found some hemp baling twine and climbed up and over the corral fence, hanging on about five feet up hoping the horses would get curious and approach.

They did. We jumped on, threw the twine around their necks and held on with both hands for dear life.

Not much happened.

Mostly the horses just walked around as if we weren't riding them. But one kid managed to annoy his critter, who tossed him, chased him clambering up the fence and bit him in the small of his back.

Good times, good times...

p.s. when was the last time you saw a kid climbing a tree? Or two kids in different trees having a tree-climbing race?

BN said...

There's probably a happy medium somewhere.

But they'll never find it if we don't let them look for it.

BN said...

Of course, there were a lot of Columbuses who DID actually fall off the edge of the earth...

Looking for it.

We just don't remember them now.

mockturtle said...

Of course, there were a lot of Columbuses who DID actually fall off the edge of the earth...

Looking for it.

We just don't remember them now.


Love it, BN. The 'survivor bias'.

Brian McKim & Traci Skene said...

It was a 15-minute walk to the mighty Delaware River from my house. A 12-minute walk to the "pond" (really just a runoff basin for the local storm drains, containing catfish and snails and crawfish) but none of us ever drowned. It was the 60s. Only kids I remember dying were Georgie Arters (encephalitis) and Jeffrey Trost (truck hit him on his Stingray). Oh, and there was "Ronnie One-Leg." Folks say he lost it hopping trains on the tracks just this side of the river, but I have my doubts. Most of us expired wag later in car accidents and stuff.

Brian McKim & Traci Skene said...

And I never knew anyone who went to summer camp until I got outta St. Cecilia's and attended public high school. Seems it was a thing among the slightly better off Jewish families.

Kirk Parker said...

My brothers and I, along with my next-door neighbor, built an immense multi-floor treehouse in a Madrona tree in the neighbor's back yard. Branches and leaves blocked some of our view out, so we trimmed them all off, of course killing the tree in the process.

Exact measurements were not taken, but the top (4th) floor was at least 30, and maybe as much as 40, feet off the ground. Our parents were amazingly nonchalant about the whole thing.

I think you can see these photos of it if the "public" setting on FB is really public.

Kirk Parker said...

ALP,

Construction sites! Yeah!!!

Michael K,

"Handwriting is another matter."

I assume medical school applied the coup de grace.