Opinion

Forget a '70s summer: Give your kids a time to remember

This summer, let kids be kids and allow them to have time for unstructured play.

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Photo: iStockphoto

It’s a sign of our times that a blog post entitled “Top 10 Ways to Give Your Kid a 1970’s Summer” has gone viral. It’s probably appeared on your Facebook newsfeed at some point as people pass it on with a fervent nostalgia and bit of parenting smugness.

I, too, would love it if my kids went to bed at night with slightly sunburned shoulders, the metallic taste of the garden hose on their lips, dreaming of neighbourhood escapades that I couldn’t—and don’t—even want to imagine.

It would be great if we could shove our kids out the door at 9 a.m. and tell them to come home when the streetlights came on—but they wouldn’t know what to do, and neither would we. We are a generation of parents who don’t even let their kids walk two blocks to school without us trailing behind. Our fears of “stranger danger” have tied our kids within a small radius of us, even though the studies and the statistics tell us that our kids are safer now more than ever.

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The world isn’t the same place as 30 years ago—there aren’t as many mothers at home mixing up Tang and administering calamine to bug bites. We need to program our kids to keep them busy so we can work, and to keep them off the screens.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t give them a taste of a ’70s-style unstructured summer. All it takes is a group of kids (preferably of variable ages) and some free time with nothing to do. It can be after camp, weekends or on vacation. It means banning screens and being willing to listen to them say “I’m bored!” without losing your mind.

A friend tried (but failed) to organize Freedom Week with her neighbours where each adult took a day off to be home while the kids all played together. The goal was to allow the kids to be kids. To show them that a little boredom won’t kill them—that, in fact, it will inspire them to find new ways to amuse themselves.

Read more: Confessions of a free-range parent>

Giving kids unstructured time doesn’t mean that it becomes Camp Mom (or Dad, or Grandma) where the adult organizes an activity per day. It means that there is no rounding up of the kids and forcing them to the public pool, or the zoo. This isn’t about you taking them to the park and monitoring them. The ideas and the creativity comes from the kids and they drive it.

They will probably fight, get bored, bug the neighbours and have water gun fights. They will make mistakes and laugh their heads off. You may not know what they are up to, but they are probably having a great time doing it. It’s what memories of summer—and childhood—are made of.

Read more: 50 essential summer activities>

Did you hear me discussing this story on  CBC radio yesterday morning? What did you think?

Emma Waverman is a writer, blogger and mom to three kids. She has many opinions, some of them are fit to print. Read more of her articles here and follow her on Twitter @emmawaverman