Where Have All the Children Gone?

Reflecting on How the Valley Has Changed in the Last Generation

My father grew up in Santa Clara during the 50s. As a child, he played in the creek which now flows under San Thomas Expressway. He walked to school through fruit orchards – the farmers put sidewalks through their fields so the kids didn’t disturb the crops. The majority of the streets were built around people’s crops and land wasn’t nearly as ridiculously priced as it is today. Most people could afford to buy a home with a big backyard. And kids roamed freely during the day, allowed to play outside – in the front, with no parent supervision – only returning inside when it was dark or they were hungry.
Fast forward 25 years… I grew up in San Jose, on a long court where the only traffic was from people that lived on the street. As kids, we played outside – and, just like my dad, in the front with no parent supervision. We played baseball in the street when Big Jason’s dad spray painted bases on the road. We cruised on our roller skates around the sidewalk. Chris down the street made a cool bike ramp where you could jump a half a foot over the ground. I played in a gang of 5-10 kids with varying ages from 5 to 13. The street lights were my curfew – had to be inside within 5 minutes of them turning on in the evening. We didn’t have orchards to walk through, but still walked a half mile to school each day, even crossing at a major intersection with the help of a crossing guard.

Fast forward 20 years… where have all the children gone? There are no children playing in their front yard, let alone a gang of them. We live close to a neighborhood park, but there are rarely kids playing there at any given time – mainly only when there’s a Little League game at the field next to the playground. I don’t see kids on roller skates or bicycles. I DON’T SEE ANY KIDS. Where did they all go?

Has the world become that much scarier of a place in less than 20 years? Are we really that afraid to let our children play, and I mean really play, outside? As kids, we had safety in numbers. There were at least 5 kids outside playing as soon as we got home from school, often with all the kids on the block out and about. I wouldn’t want my kid playing outside by himself – I can just feel the unidentified predators waiting, prowling, for the idiot parent that let their kids play in the front. But just as in the wild, there is safety in numbers. We, kids, looked out for one another and we never talked to strangers. There was always an adult inside one of our homes that we could quickly get in case we needed anything.

My parents actually knew their neighbors, invited their kids over to swim in our pool, and we often had multi family barbeques. As a child, I only addressed our neighbors by their last name (Mrs. K, Mr. Agaristi, etc). And I knew that if I broke ANY rule in ANY yard, my mother would find out and I would be in double trouble. Today, I rarely see people interact with their neighbors. Hell, I don’t even know my neighbors names (yes, they’ve introduced themselves, but I can’t remember their names and I don’t see them often enough to ask). Do we not allow our kids outside because we can’t trust our neighbors because we never took the time to get to know them?

We also didn’t have 1000 TV channels or game-boy or X-box or internet to keep us sedentary and “rot our brains.” My parents only turned on the TV to watch the 6 o’clock news and Jeopardy. In my house today, the TV is on from 8pm (when my son goes to bed) until I call it a night somewhere around 11pm. Are all the kids watching TV and playing video games? Is that where the children went? Are they too fat to play outside? Has the TV really rotted their brains so that they have no imaginations to be able to play outside?

Seriously, can somebody please tell me where all the children are? My kid needs someone to play with.

Robyn is a full-time working mom to a three year old boy. In between board meetings and making dinner, she spends as much time outside with playing with her son. She writes at Who’s the Boss? – A blog about her experiences as a Silicon Valley working mom. This article was adapted from her original post at the Silicon Valley Mom’s Blog.

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