I just watched the first six episodes of the first season of Leave it to Beaver with my older boys (Marco – 6-1/2 and Nico – 3-1/2). The extent of Beaver’s freedom, then 7 years old and in second grade, would astonish parents of today:
- Beaver walks on his own to and from school, as well as to many other destinations, every day.
- In two of the first three episodes, Beaver wanders on his own for so long that his parents get worried and search for him. Once they find him, they have a talk with him, but they don’t consider limiting his freedom for a moment. He goes out on his own the next day in both episodes.
- In episode 4, “The Haircut,” Beaver’s dad gives him money and sends him out on his own to a barber shop for a haircut.
- In episode 5, “New Neighbors,” Beaver expresses some vague anxiety about going outside, so his dad implores him to “Go outside!” Later, Beaver’s parents learn that he’s afraid of the man who just moved in next door, but they make no attempt to keep him inside.
- In episode six, “Brotherly Love,” Beaver makes a plan on his own to go fishing with an elderly fire chief named Gus. He says nothing about this to his parents, but when Gus shows up at the door, his parents expect him to go, no questions asked, even though they hardly know Gus at all.
My boys are really loving watching Leave it to Beaver, and I must admit, I really am, too!
I consider this to be far more than a mere nostalgic experience. I want my boys to have much more freedom than most children do these days, and this program shows what a childhood with a great deal of freedom could be like. So, it acts almost like a tutorial for our kids and us parents on what to expect.
It looks a lot more fun than today’s childhood, but it also opens many more possibilities for problems. Rather than becoming frightened when these problems emerge, Beaver’s parents treat them, by and large, as “teachable moments.” Indeed, Beaver does learn valuable lessons in each episode.
All on his own, he navigates the streets, meets adults and maintains friendships with them, and uses money to buy things. In sum, it’s clear to me that Beaver learns far more about how to deal with the real world than practically very child today. This is ironic considering the common conception of Beaver’s childhood as being overly sheltered.
Yes, the fact that Beaver always ends up totally safe and sound at the end of every episode, that every scary situation turns out to be nothing, is an unrealistic portrayal of the real world. However, today’s local news and television programs, which are flooded with portrayals of violent crimes, also present an unrealistic portrayal of the real world.
So, what’s more realistic, and therefore more useful? I’d say Leave it to Beaver is by a longshot. The violent crime rate in the United States is decreasing every year, and in 2010 it was at about the level of 1972. (See the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports.) Thus, it’s already lower than it was when most of today’s parents were kids, and if current trends continue, it’ll be at “Leave it to Beaver” levels in a few years.
Rather than watching the hysteria of today’s local news and television programs, I’d rather my boys watch Leave it to Beaver to get ideas on how to have a free range childhood. Of course, my wife and I can, and will, fill in the gaps by telling them what to watch out for.
Just last weekend, inspired by Beaver, Marco walked twice on his own to his friend’s house 2-1/2 blocks away. What do you think the kids who watch the local news or CSI did on their own last weekend?