You’ve heard of MySpace, right? That huge, frighteningly addictive website that contains excruciating details (many of which are lies, I might add) about millions of people? Well, today I’m inventing the word kidspace. It’s not even remotely related to MySpace. Or perhaps it is, since the wide availability of kidspace opens up countless hours of time dedicated to MySpace…among other pursuits.
Kidspace is the alarming amount of space given to young people who not so long ago were considered to be children. And I’m not talking about literal space here—I’m talking about the amount of time these kids spend unsupervised or, worse, alone in a home or apartment.
I grew up during the end of a different era; my mom stayed home with us when we were tots, and then after we were all safely ensconced in school, my mom picked up part-time work; the stipulation was that the work must always allow her to be home with us after school and in evenings. It was wonderful when I was small, and frankly, it probably kept me out of trouble when I was bigger. We didn’t eat out much but we ate well, we had plenty of acres and hobbies and pets to keep us busy, and I am thankful to this day that my childhood was so idyllic.
Too often, this is not the case nowadays. A lot of folks have lots of new stuff, take big yearly vacations, are involved in more activities than you can count…and their children are first reared by strangers, and then when of age, are abandoned to their own pursuits for many hours each day. Summertime brings this situation to a head. I’ve heard many parents long out loud for the start of school, not so they can send the kids back to classes for education, but so they don’t have to pay the sitter every day. You can see Mom or Dad counting the years until their darlings will be self sufficient enough to stay home unsupervised for hours at a time.
Case in point: We have neighbors, a couple, and they have kids. The youngest is in high school. She’s 16; her boyfriend is in college. Both of her parents work. All day. Every day. This gal’s the only one still living at home. And nearly every morning this summer, her boyfriend’s car has been parked outside the house from 9 or 10 a.m. through lunchtime or beyond. Now, I want to believe the best about this young lady. But I dimly recall being 16, and I clearly recall the goal of just about every boy between the ages of 14 and 35.
No one has ever checked with me about what goes on there during the day, even though they’ve commented more than once about my being “home all day.” I don’t go out of my way to notice, but there’s that car, morning after morning. What’s going on? And I can’t help but wonder: wasn’t there some way to get that girl out of the house? A job? Day camp? Something? And if not, then why isn’t there any level of curiosity from her folks? I’d be curious. It seems they’re more concerned about buying the girl her own car, a plan they’ve shared with us a few times, than they are about whether said car can accommodate a baby seat. They both work, a lot, the mom more than one job… Is it worth it? I’m sure they know more than I do about this young lady, about the situation. Right?
I want to trust, but I don’t want to be a fool. I will do everything in my power to keep my son from ever having an empty house at his disposal when he’s a teen. At least that’s my plan now. Perhaps I, too, will someday be lulled into a comfort zone where I feel perfectly okay about leaving him unwatched, unchecked, for hours each day. I hope not. It’s no accident that America’s insatiable desire for “things,” and how it’s come to outweigh family time, also coincides with the increasing baby boom among our teens. If you take an alcoholic to a bar, he or she is likely to fall off the wagon. If you give a shopaholic a credit card and drop him or her at the mall, that person is likely to spend. And if you leave a teenager alone, free to entertain members of the opposite sex, they are likely to delve deeper than they should into a world that has some pretty heavy consequences. And pregnancy isn’t necessarily the most heavy of those consequences. Think about it.
Too much kidspace is not good. This neighborly example is one of many—and I’d guess a lot of the kids in question are younger than this particular chica. Even if these kids emerge, unscathed by pregnancy or disease, from this premature freedom, I’d venture to guess they are scarred anyway. Kids are not adults. We shouldn’t confuse them with adults. And even when it’s easier for us as parents to grant freedoms, that doesn’t necessarily make it the best thing for those youngsters. I pray that this nation will open its eyes wider and start shouldering the responsibility they accepted when the burden was new and squalling and smelled like baby powder.
Perhaps I’m being too harsh. Am I?