Nine Things My Wife Did as a Child That Few Children Would Be Allowed to Do Today

Today’s guest columnist in her youth

[Note from Mark: Today's guest columnist is my newlywed wife, Miki. As a nanny, she's taken care of many different children over the past few years. She found an amusing contrast between what she got away with when she was little and what the parents she now works for will allow their own kids to do.] There are many things that were common occurrences in my childhood which seemed fine at the time. But according to 2005 standards, if I ever allowed any of the children I care for to do any of these things, I'd be sacked on the spot:

  1. What's Skin Cancer? Between 1976 and 1988, I spent literally every summer day at the beach. I would run around in my little Sassoon bathing suit and nothing else for a good 6 or 7 hours a day, and never once did I ever have sunscreen applied to me. These days, even olive-skinned kids who tan easily aren't allowed outside for more than 3 minutes without being slathered with the stuff (heck, even the African American kids I take care of aren't allowed outside in the sun without a ton of goop on them and hats on). At last count, I don't have skin cancer, but I suppose that does tend to show up a decade later, so stay tuned...
  2. What's a Healthy Diet? My family mostly ate out or had fast food. The rare meals that I ate at home always consisted of canned vegetables and some kind of frozen meat. There were no restrictions on how much junk food I could have. The house was always full of Yodels and Twinkies and Pringles and Chipwiches and soda, and I was always welcome to fill up on an much as I wanted. A normal breakfast when I was a kid was an Entenmann's doughnut, a Pop-Tart, or some horribly sugary cereal (sometimes topped with Coffee Rich instead of milk... yuck!). I also remember several occasions in which it was seen as reasonable for me to eat ice cream for breakfast. Lunch was processed luncheon meats on Wonder Bread with Fritos and Coke.
  3. Turn That Thing Off! Unlike the kids of today, I also had no restrictions on how much TV or even what shows I was allowed to watch. I remember my elementary school passed out a list of shows they thought were "inappropriate" for us, and my parents laughed about how I watched all of them. But the sheer quantity of TV that I watched was alarming... at least 6-8 hours a day. It's no mystery why I'm a whiz at '70s and '80s TV trivia. However, it's rather tragic that I spent most of my childhood staring at an electrical box.
  4. Buckle Up for Safety. In California these days, kids are required to be buckled into car seats until they are approximately 15 years old. In New Jersey in the 70's, there were no such laws, or any seat belt laws at all. As a result, I actually never wore a seat belt until I got my own driver's license at age 17. I was particularly fond of riding in the back of my parents' Lincoln Continental, laying down on that space on top of the seats and right by the rear window. If we had ever been in an accident, I would have flown right out of it.
  5. Protective Equipment. Kids in our generation wouldn't have been caught DEAD wearing a bike helmet! Although I didn't ride a bike, I did roller skate about as much as Tootie did, and of course never had any kind of knee pads or helmet... and I was allowed to skate in the street.
  6. The Toys of War. As a girl child, I was never given a ton of army toys, but they were extremely common and I never heard any opposition to kids playing with guns until I was an adult. I did have my fair share of water pistols and a cowgirl-inspired cap gun. These days, I don't know a single child who is allowed to have any kind of toy gun, even a water pistol.
  7. Stay Where I Can See You! Although my mother is apparently terrified these days that someone is going to come and get me, that must have never entered her mind when I was a kid. Starting at age 6, I was allowed to walk alone to my friends' houses that were many blocks away. By the next year, it was okay for me to walk alone, almost a mile each way, to the neighboring towns to go and spend my allowance buying crap at the 5 and Dime. There was never any fear that someone might try and take a 7 year old girl who was wandering alone, a mile from home. Today, the parents I work with don't even let their 7 year old walk alone to the townhouse next door.
  8. Lights Out! After kindergarten, I never had an official bedtime during the school year. But during the summer, it got even crazier. I was allowed up until all hours of the night. I distinctly recall being very young (8?) and watching reruns of You Bet Your Life, which came on at about 1 AM, with my mother. The fact that I was allowed to stay up as late as I wanted to was always a big source of envy for all of my little friends. These days, I'm usually asleep by 10:30.
  9. That's Not for Children. Although I can't compare to a friend of mine, whose parents dressed him up in a little suit and had him pass out joints on a silver platter at their parties, I can still remember many things that were common in my childhood that would be considered inappropriate for kids today. I spent a lot of time at the racetrack with my mother, who would place bets for me and let me take home my winnings. I started going to R-rated movies with my parents while I was in kindergarten. I watched strippers on TV with my mother when I was 7 or 8. I was responsible for helping my father make the sangria for their parties when I was about that age (during which he would ALWAYS say, "Come on.... wanna taste it???"). My parents both cursed like sailors in front of me. And yet I somehow think I managed to turn out just fine. Are parents today too cautious, or do I just happen to know a bunch of worrywarts? Or were my folks just out of their minds?