The other day I read one of those tiresome posts on Facebook that extols the virtue of the “good old days” and implies that our world has gone to Hell in a handbasket because kids can’t eat lead paint and have to wear bike helmets, which they don’t need anyway because they’re on their smartphones all day. Don’t believe me? Here’s the opening, just as it appeared:
“CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL BORN IN 1930’s, 1940’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and Early 80’s !!! First, you survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they carried us. They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a tin, and didn’t get tested for diabetes. Then after that trauma, your baby cots were covered with bright coloured lead-based paints. You had no childproof lids on medicine ..medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when you rode your bikes, you had no helmets, not to mention, the risks you took hitch-hiking .. As children, you would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags. Riding in the back of a van – loose – was always great fun.”
I’m not sure if the author is for or against pregnant women smoking or drinking, or eating foods that have been proven to be potentially harmful to the fetus. Surely it’s a good thing that pregnant women don’t do these things anymore, or at least are given information about what to avoid and why?
And is the author advocating for a return to the use of lead-based paint on children’s cribs, or the discarding of childproof caps on medicine bottles? Are bicycle helmets also to be abandoned, and should seatbelt use no longer be mandatory and air bags be abandoned? Perhaps we could encourage hitchhiking and promote it as a fun way to meet new people, conveniently turning a blind eye to the obvious dangers.
What people often fail to mention, or simply ignore, is that the measures introduced over the years — seatbelts, air bags, helmets, childproof medicine bottles — save lives, and prevent sometimes cataclysmic injuries which are easily avoided or lessened by taking these simple steps. Indeed, I wonder how many people were never in a position to read these words because they died in a car accident when they weren’t wearing a seatbelt; how many people suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome, or received life-changing injuries in a bike accident because they weren’t wearing a helmet.
Where the author really lost me was when they went on to bemoan smartphones, hundreds of TV channels, videogames, the internet, personal computers, and “video tapes” (really? video tapes? when was this written, 1993?) “YOU HAD FRIENDS and you went outside and found them!” they write of the happy, golden days gone by. Yes, and you know why kids went outside with their friends? Because all those things hadn’t been invented.
Please. If the internet and smartphones and videogames had been around in the 1940s or 1960s, kids would have glommed onto them as avidly as kids (indeed, people of all ages) do today. If history has proven anything, it’s that people do not fundamentally change. I can guarantee you that if a child in 1945 or 1965 was given the option of playing a videogame or watching YouTube or surfing the internet, they would have snatched it before you could say “enter password”.
And it’s not as if kids today never go outside and play with friends. I see kids at the skateboard park and pool, in the playgrounds and parks, riding bikes and scooters and skateboards, playing sports or just hanging out, all the time. In a world full of amazing options, going outside with friends is still a thing.
It’s tempting to look back on the past as some mythical “good old days” when all was right with the world. All ages have their bad alongside the good. Let’s not romanticize the past, at the cost of demonizing the present, and the young people navigating their way through it.