The world has always been fraught with danger for people of all ages, but I’m glad I was lucky enough to grow up at the time I did.
I’d much rather cope with the threats my friends and I knew as kids than the ones young people face today.
Many of the dangers we were exposed to when I was young came from literature.
We were aware, for example, that we might find ourselves captured by pirates. Fortunately, they were easy to spot by the parrot on their shoulder and the Jolly Roger flying above their vessel.
There was always potential for Indian attacks (or, I suppose if one were Native American, of one’s village being attacked by invading white people).
A possibility that our ship might be wrecked in a storm, leaving us stranded on a desert island, was a danger with which we were familiar.
We knew about the risk of freezing to death in the Klondike.
The animal kingdom could be treacherous as well. We might find ourselves in a race for our lives if we were set upon by bears or packs of wolves.
We also couldn’t dismiss the somewhat remote possibility of being attacked by a giant squid.
The exploits of other young people alerted us to other risks. We knew, for example, about the brave Norwegian children who used sleds to smuggle their country’s gold past Nazi guards to a waiting ship during the war.
There have always been dangers, but it seems kids today have much scarier things to worry about than we did, and they are confronted by these things at earlier ages.
When I was in elementary school, we ate our lunch in an actual fallout shelter (identified by the familiar black and yellow signs featuring a black circle with three yellow triangles and bearing the label “fallout shelter”). This was an area in the basement of our school to which we would need to retreat if the Russians (or Soviets) decided to drop a nuclear bomb on us.
Despite living with this daily reminder of the possibility of nuclear war interrupting our art class, we were never required to participate in an “active shooter” drill, and we had never considered the possibility of some disturbed individual invading our school and shooting us and our classmates with assault weapons.
If someone brought a gun to school when I was young, we knew it was because he planned to go hunting after school. It never occurred to us to be afraid he might flip out and start shooting classmates.
There have always been bullies, but we were never forced to deal with anyone we knew taking their own life after being bullied online.
We were never exposed to an aunt getting hooked on meth, or a classmate dying from an overdose of super-potent opioids.
No one we knew had ever been stalked online, because there was no internet. We were aware that there were dangerous adults out there, but they didn’t follow us into our homes via our computers. There were no home computers in those days.
We grew up in a world where we could go off with our friends for hours without needing adult supervision to protect us from abduction.
The threats kids face today seem more frightening and much closer to home than anything we imagined.
I wouldn’t trade the world of my youth for the world kids face today. If that sounds like an escapist attitude, that’s because it is.
Young people today have many advantages that were not available when I was young, but they also live in a world that is less innocent and less free than the one we knew.
Children today have less chance to be kids. Where our world was governed by imagination, theirs is ruled by structure and, on a different level, fear.
I’ll take escapism over that any day.