Then Vs. Now: The Activities of Childhood

When I was a kid, I did not watch nearly as much TV as kids do today.  The reasons are multiple.  For one, we were free to roam around on our bikes, without helmets, and without our parents constantly trying to reach us on our (non-existent) cell phones.  Our time was basically unstructured.  You did your homework, and practiced your instrument if you had one.  But children’s schedules way back then were not as jam-packed with sports and highly structured family activities as they are now, especially at the younger ages (like 4-12).

Another reason we did not watch as much TV then as kids do today is because there were basically only five or six channels on the air to choose from (vs. the three thousand and five or six that there are now).  Our choices were the local CBS, ABC and NBC affiliates; Public TV (PBS); plus one or two independent or religious stations (which you avoided if you didn’t feel like listening to a crazy old bastard ranting about the apocalypse while demanding that you send money).

Of the few kids’ TV shows that were around back then (besides Sesame Street and The Electric Company), most were kind of lame.  I remember a local (Hartford, CT) show that used to be on weekday mornings, called the “Hap Richards Show”.  It consisted of annoying people talking to puppets about stupid stuff, but I do remember one feature on the show concerning “things children did around the house without being asked”.  For example, little Johnny wrote in to say that he “takes the garbage out, polishes the silver, and sets the table for dinner every night”.  (He neglects to mention that he did all this wearing his mother’s apron, plus a couple times a week, before she gets home from work, he likes to try on her brassieres.)

And now, on a related (musical) note:  it’s time for “A Related Note Musical Interlude”:


And now, back to our regularly scheduled essay.

As a child stuck watching that damn Hap Richards show for the umpteenth time because it was raining outside, seeing the “kids doing stuff without being asked” segments really intrigued me.  Hhhmm…you mean I could do something for altruistic reasons?  My God, that was a revelation.  (Granted, I did not act upon it, but it was a revelation just the same.)  I wish more kids today would have that revelation.  I’m afraid, though, that if there were a modern day Hap Richards Show, little Johnny would write in to say he routinely “makes his bed, brings out the garbage and faithfully picks up his dad’s methadone script each week from the clinic.”

So what did we do to entertain ourselves back in the era of my childhood?  Besides riding bikes and hanging endlessly with friends, we would occasionally engage in crank (telephone) calls, which often had surprising and hilarious results.  (Hey, this is what we did during the technological dark ages of our deprived childhoods, instead of video games and organized youth sports.)

I was rather good in the area of crank calls, I am both loathe and proud to admit.  But I am not sure what is worse; the occasional crank call, or playing violent video games and just being in general addicted to technology.

I have a twelve year old in middle school, and every day I am confronted with how different things are now from when I was his age.  It almost makes me want to go set the table and take out the garbage, before someone comes and bugs me to do it.  Or maybe I’ll just make a crank call (for old time’s sake) to my kid on his (very much existent) cell phone.


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