Once you become a parent, it's inevitable that you will occasionally find yourself comparing the childhood you had with the one you are providing for your children. More often than not, parents seem to come down on the side of their own childhoods as being somehow better, safer, and more uplifting than the one today's kids are getting. After any sort of high-profile juvenile failing, such as a school shooting or a rash of pregnant prom queens, the media gets in on the act with lots of commentary describing just how awful today's kids supposedly have it.

Well, I had a pretty great childhood myself, with two loving parents, lots of extended family around, good schools, and even my own pony. But on balance, I am pretty sure that the childhood my three kids are enjoying at the moment beats mine on any number of counts. I know that this probably puts me in a minority of parents who don't necessarily long for the good old days (always defined as the period during which that particular adult was a kid), but I would like to offer a few modest examples of the superiority of today's new, improved childhood:

Better Television
My hippie-lite parents were anti-television, so I didn't get to watch as much of it as I might have liked as a child, but that didn't really bother me that much because most of it was just plain boring. For the younger set, there were a couple of good PBS shows, including Sesame Street. We also had Schoolhouse Rock, Little House on the Prairie, and my personal favorite, James at Fifteen (how many other 34-year-old moms out there besides myself still harbor a secret crush on Lance Kerwin?), but on the whole, TV for kids was really stupid. Can you say Punky Brewster?

TV for kids today is just terrific. I love the wonderful Nickelodeon cartoons like The Wild Thornberries, As Told by Ginger, and Sponge Bob Square Pants, as well as the really smart Disney shows for 'tweens like Even Stevens, Smart Guy, and Lizzie McGuire. Additionally, my children can get a small glimpse into the awfulness of their parents' childhoods when we all sit down together to watch the Leif Garrett and Rick Springfield episodes of Behind the Music.

Less Cigarette Smoke
Kids today have no idea what it was like to grow up in an era when seemingly everyone smoked. I remember many interminable car trips in a closed-up Volkswagen bus (and later, a VW rabbit) with my two parents puffing away in the front seat while my brother, sister, and I choked miserably in the back seat. Requests to roll down the windows were invariably denied because, well, because they said so.

Velcro
Remember when the age at which one learned to tie his or her shoes was some kind of milestone? And if you were a late-blooming shoe-tie-er, you felt self-conscious about it? Today's preschoolers and kindergartners (and their parents) no longer have to suffer with the hassle of perpetually untied shoelaces. Velcro does a much better job of keeping little feet safely ensconced in little shoes, and we are all the better for it.

Kids are Nicer to Each Other
When I was a child, fat kids and kids with glasses or children with mental disabilities were teased cruelly and constantly by classmates and young neighbors. My observation, however, is that when it comes to day-to-day interactions with one another, children today are much kinder to their peers. For the most part, they have had it drilled into them that teasing and bullying kids who look or act different is totally unacceptable. And although we still have a very long way to go, explicit racism among children is less common. Kids today have a greater understanding and appreciation for the value of diversity within their communities. As a result, "Fatty, fatty two by four" just isn't something you're gonna hear most kids saying on the playground in the new millennium (not unless their parents want to deal with a lawsuit anyway).

Routine Use of Sunscreen
Back in the day, most kids had at least one nasty, painful, peeling sunburn episode per summer. I remember one particularly brutal sunburn that left me lying in bed for two full days, covered in some nasty-smelling ointment that was supposed to make my skin stop flaking off my body. My own children, on the other hand, never leave the house for the pool, lake, or beach without being slathered in protective sunscreen. They even ask for it. As a result, they never end up fried to a crisp.

No More Scary Nuclear Holocaust Dreams
I distinctly remember the recurring nuclear nightmare from my childhood. It involved an archetypal mushroom cloud rising above my school one morning as I sat at my desk gazing out the window. Then the dream would suddenly shift to many surrealistic hours of me trying to locate my parents and siblings in the ensuing societal melee. Every child I knew suffered from similar dreams on a fairly regular basis. My own children, on the other hand, without benefit of scary made-for-TV movies like The Day After, probably wouldn't know a mushroom cloud from a cumulus. That's not to say that they don't have other, updated fears (such as the one my 6-year-old daughter has about the hole in the ozone), but nuclear winter isn't one of them.

Better Birthday Parties
As the mother of three children, ages 4, 6, and 10, I am compelled to attend at least one children's birthday party per month. Multiply that by the number of years I have been a parent and you will realize that I have a pretty good handle on the evolution of birthday parties. So far this year, my kids have been invited to a child's party in which each guest got to create his or her own customized teddy bear with a matching wardrobe, one in which a huge country western dance hall was rented out and a live band played swing music, and an afternoon of horseback riding in the Great Smoky Mountains with a tour guide dressed as Daniel Boone leading the way.

Leaving aside the question of whether these parties represent immoral excess, the fact is that they completely trump the parties of my own childhood in which we pinned a tail on a donkey and played musical chairs.

 

I could go on and on with examples like these, demonstrating the superiority of today's post-modern childhood. After all, barrettes and hairbands for little girls no longer have those cruel teeth that many of today's adult women remember as nearly ripping the hairs out of their youthful heads, and playground equipment just keeps getting bigger and better every year. So the next time you want to scream as your kid's N'Sync CD is being played at full volume in your house for the tenth time that day, just remember: it could be Menudo.

 

Katie Allison Granju is the author of "Attachment Parenting" (Simon and Schuster/1999). Her website is www.locoparentis.blogspot.com

 

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