The Wonder Years: Nostalgia for the “Golden Age” of American Childhood

The Wonder Years is my favorite media depiction of what many consider to be the carefree “Golden Age” of American childhood. It’s set in some suburb in the late 60s and 70s.

When my wife’s and my first child was a newborn three years ago, we played Wonder Years episodes during baby feedings in the wee hours every night. We got through all 119 22-minute episodes in a month and a half. It got us to reflect on both the childhoods we had and the childhoods we want for our kids.

The video clips I show here are the introduction and conclusion from the show’s first episode, its pilot. The narration you’ll hear, in Kevin Arnold’s adult voice, is like an anthem for suburban childhoods of those years. Awesome…

Both clips depict scenes most of our kids will never see because kids’ lives outside are so much less free today. The intro shows kids playing football on the street in front of their house. The conclusion shows Kevin and Winnie Cooper alone in the woods by their homes, sharing their first kiss.

Intro: Football in the Street

Excerpt: “In a way, those really were the wonder years for us there in the suburbs. It was kind of a golden age for kids.”

Conclusion: The First Kiss

Excerpt: “It was the first kiss for both of us. We never really talked about it afterward, but I think about the events of that day again and again and somehow, I know that Winnie does, too, whenever some blowhard starts talking about the anonymity of the suburbs, or the mindlessness of the TV generation, because we know that inside each one of those identical boxes, with its Dodge parked out front and its white bread on the table, and its TV set glowing blue in the falling dusk, there were people with stories. There were families bound together in the pain and the struggle of love. There were moments that made us cry with laughter, and there were moments like that one of sorrow and wonder.”

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One Response to The Wonder Years: Nostalgia for the “Golden Age” of American Childhood

  1. Perla says:

    These two clips are classic. The show is centered around how the kids feel and their lives in contrast to grown-ups, many times. I think it has a lot to teach us parents about how different childhood really is from adulthood and how we should try to see the world through the eyes of our kids, rather than imposing our needs or worries on them.

    Kevin Arnold’s parents didn’t sign him up for any lessons, didn’t sit with him every night doing his homework for him, or schedule activities for him.

    They let him choose his friends, play a lot on the street, and in general let him be a kid and hang out with other kids or his siblings.

    They cared about their kids, but were much less controlling. I think it’s a good model for parenting.