Not Taking Care of Children in the 1970s

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2014-08-21 – The other day, my friend Kara posted a fun article on Facebook called “8 Reasons Children of the 1970s Should All Be Dead.” It talks about how parents in those days blithely ignored deadly risks to their children. The fact that we survived, is offered as proof that today’s parents go overboard in protecting their children. It was a fun article . . .

Until I got to this line: “You see, once upon a time it was okay to leave your kids for long periods without supervision (remember the so-called ‘latch-key kids’ of the 70s?), or let them free roam without constant surveillance.”

The fact is that, it wasn’t okay to leave your kids for long periods of surveillance. The term “latch-key kids” wasn’t an expression of some kind of devil-may-care attitude. It was used to shame working women in an environment when working women were still a minority and looked down upon. Stay at home moms let their kids roam because the neighborhood was filled with stay-at-home moms. And they all looked out for each other’s kids.

No big deal, really. The article was still a fun read. It just told me that we like to talk about history without any real context.

The big danger to children in the middle of the 20th century was infectious disease. Nothing about that in this article, nor should there be. It’s not a fun topic. There was a mighty effort at the time to discover vaccines to prevent many of the diseases. The first breakthrough came in the mid-1950s with the polio vaccine. I had the new mumps vaccine sometime around 1970. (And, by the way, in 1970, we were sending young men to fight in Vietnam.)

One of my first memories, from the mid-50s, is being taken to the doctor with a stiff neck. It was the polio scare. I didn’t have it. And within a year or so, I had my first polio shot. The oral vaccine came a few years later. Many parents today don’t remember this and are rejecting the life-saving vaccines. In a few decades, someone will write an article about child neglect of the 2010s, and the anti-vaccine movement will be item number one.

The article talks about the fact that we once rode in cars without seatbelts (as if everyone wears them today). But families didn’t drive everywhere like they do today. We walked a lot. I walked six blocks to and from school—four times a day (we went home for lunch because our moms were there to feed us). It probably kept the weight off. That and playing outside after school instead of playing video games.

Second-hand cigarette smoke was still a fairly new phenomenon in the 1970s. Widespread cigarette smoking didn’t take hold until after World War II. Smoking had been considered unladylike. It took a few decades for the tide to turn on that one.

Every generation cares for its kids. But every generation has different challenges and dangers. Sure, parents in the 1970s didn’t take precautions against dangers that seem important in 2014, and it seems so silly—now.

Kids today are subject to different dangers. I already mentioned the anti-vaccine movement. Kids eat too much junk food and don’t get exercise. The article talks about a crazy and dangerous game we had in the 1970s called Jarts (which was a kind of horseshoes played with a pointed spear). Today people play with guns. We randomly send kids to jail and ruin their lives for smoking a little weed rather than adopt measures that would address and ameliorate the real dangers.

If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Some of the dangers are visible. Some are not. The 1970s were not worse than now because we exposed our kids to the dangers of the time. And they were not better than now because there were stay-at-home moms. The same is true of every time period.

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