The world has changed. A lot. We like to repeat old adages like, “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” but it has indeed changed. Granted, our reactions to those changes may make it seem that things are really the same, but that is due to human nature, and only serves to sometimes mask some of the truly dramatic changes that we have wrought.
One area that comes to mind when thinking of radical changes has to do with certain medical/life conditions that did not even exist just a few generations ago. We now commonly see diagnoses of conditions called ADHD or Autism, and we see a whole new crop of kids with problems that did not exist just a few short years ago. (Note: Personally, I do not accept either of these as true medical diagnoses, as there are so many underlying things going on at the same time, not the least of which involve a weaker family structure today, families where both parents work, a passing along to others of our responsibilities as parents in terms of discipline, role models, etc).
But, the point is, there are indeed a number of things going on today that weren’t going on just fifty years ago. These might be some (possibly) little things that have had some kind of impact on everything and everyone. For example, very generally speaking, our physical activity levels are significantly lower today than they were for previous generations. Food portions are way too big, not only in relation to our activity levels, but in relation to basic human needs. The common use of many additives and preservatives with our food, along with artificial flavorings and coloring (so-called processed foods) are also thought – by some - to have had some sort of effect.
In terms of physical activity levels, when I was a boy I remember summer days were spent away from the vicinity of the house and yard. In fact, we spread out all over town. We played baseball down in the nearby cow pasture, we played Cowboys ‘n Indians, or War, all over the neighborhood, and all up and down the little crick that ran at the edge of town. We were on the go from the moment we finished our morning chores and were released for the day, until the sun came down. When we had to go anywhere as kids, we walked. It didn’t matter if it was across town. We walked. Later on, in Junior High and High School, in a city (Tacoma) the same thing applied. I walked, or, after I finally got one of my own, I rode a bike.
As a teen ager, I walked to the park to play basketball, or softball, or whatever. I walked to and from school. All that walking, before and after running myself ragged on the baseball diamond, or the basketball court, had to have been good for me. Soccer moms? Hell, we didn’t even play soccer. Nor did we have our parents organizing every spare minute of our days for us. They left that up to us, and we managed to keep busy without their direction, or their providing transportation. Mom was at home and dad was at work. That’s the way everybody lived. For that matter, and not germane to our present topic, we did not have a lot of parent involvement in our day-to-day play. That’s right. We played baseball, whenever we had a few guys who wanted to play, a place to play, and a ball and a bat.
But, some of the differences that have brought us to these ‘new’ conditions might be worth looking at. First of all, without speculating as to the possible causes of something like ADHD, let us consider one word: discipline. I know what you’re going to say, but think about this just a bit. As kids, if we misbehaved, especially by throwing “a fit” or showing signs of what today is called hyper activity, there was an adult right there ready to grab us, swat us as needed, and give us a firm talking to while sitting us down. As we got away from the family, and started school, there was no hesitation on the part of our teachers to apply the necessary discipline as and where needed. And, if the child was viewed as a problem, a note went home to mom and dad, and that child likely got a whuppin’ when dad got home that very night. And, you know what? I do not recall seeing kids misbehaving to the point of disrupting any public gathering, including a classroom, more than once or twice. Maybe it was cruel, but corporal punishment (including spanking) did work to create well-behaved kids.
We went to school with kids who had differing degrees of handicap, usually due to birth defects or childhood illnesses. Granted, these kids may have struggled, but they were a part of all of our activities, without requiring (or having their parents demanding on their behalf) any special consideration. Today, we see children in the public schools with more severe physical and mental handicaps than I recall, and it is now due to things like the ADA, and parents who become very vocal in making demands on the majority of citizens. But, I believe we have more kids with more server physical handicaps today simply because (as cruel as this may sound to some folks) medical science has progressed to the point that many babies that would have been stillborn, or simply miscarried, are today saved, but they survive with – sometimes – very severe handicaps.
For those who are paying attention, there is scientific evidence to suggest that food does play a part in ADHD, for instance (see my Blog from 04/28/2011). It has also been established that there is no connection between Autism and vaccination, for whatever that thought might be worth. Personally, and this is only my opinion, I suspect neither of these conditions is truly medical in nature, and both have to do with family, life-style, diet, and a whole long list of things that includes, but is not limited to environment.
Meanwhile, if it were not for outright ignorance, diseases that once were such a serious threat to the health and wellbeing of children everywhere, could well be totally wiped out. Outbreaks of diseases like Measles, Mumps, Chicken Pox, Smallpox, German Measles, Poliomyelitis, and others used to be very common, and it was those outbreaks that left kids with permanent, lifelong disabilities, or killed them outright. This is not to say that these were the choices (death or disability), but these were all too common outcomes, while the majority of us did survive, with no long term effects. Today, this picture has change, largely due to the immunizations that began to be universally available beginning in the 1950’s.