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Where have all the children gone?

April 22, 2013
Where have all the children gone?

Longtime passing

Where have all the children gone?

Long time ago

What has happened to childhood and youth as we used to know it? What have we done to screw it up so badly? It seems like every day we hear about another tragic loss another kid who couldn't cope. My youth was so different so much easier and more forgiving than what most kids face today. It breaks my heart.

When I was a kid, on Saturdays, I would head out early in the morning and my mother would not see or hear from me again until dinner time. We had no contact all day long. I played army and hide-and-seek. I fished. I hiked. I explored along the rocky (coquina) banks of the Indian River looking for treasures and sometimes slicing my feet wide open on the razor sharp oyster shells and barnacles that grew on the rocks. But the bleeding always stopped. I remember we used to wade into the salt water with gigs in hand and hunt stingrays and blow fish until the sun started to set or we got hungry. It never got old and time seemed to slow to a crawl.

We used to play tackle football in the shadow of a wall of towering Australian pine trees in a field behind my friend's house. Her parents kept it mowed and in hindsight, I now see that that field didn't just happen to be there; it was very deliberate and played a central role in the lives of the entire neighborhood for many years. The pine trees stick in my mind because I remember the day we were building forts high in the pines when one of my friends fell and split his head wide open. He missed landing on a piece of steel by inches. My mother, who happened to be a nurse, packed us all into her old station wagon and drove him to the clinic where my father proceeded to stop the bleeding and close up the split in his skull with I believe close to a hundred stitches. Back then, the same doctor delivered babies, operated and also made house calls.

The football games we played in that field were intense and played with few rules or organization. We played with wild abandon no pads, no time outs, no age or gender limits and no holds barred; and everyone played. I remember blocking one of the big kid's punts with my face one time and being so surprised that I couldn't feel the pain. Scrapes, friction burns, contusions and occasional bloody noses were the rule. We seldom kept score and just played until we got too tired to move. Then afterward, we'd often go swimming in my friend's pool or retire inside to make floats with abundant scoops of vanilla ice cream and Coca-Cola poured from green 8-ounce bottles.

Growing up I ran track, played football and baseball and swam on the swim team year round. If you wanted to play, you just went out for the team. Everyone got to bat. Everyone swam in the meets. Everyone participated because participating was a bigger priority than winning. Engagement was more important than achievement. Being part of a team being part of something bigger than you helped keep us grounded and have empathy for the world around us. Back then, being a kid was not a contest; it was a right and it was a precious rite of passage. And simply, our "age" was our admission ticket. Being a kid was not for sale.

Growing up, I had a father who (at least I thought) was home every night and a mother whose day job was raising us. Almost everyone back then had two parents and life was simple. In general, good behavior was rewarded and bad was punished. If you tried hard, you usually succeeded and if you were a good friend, you usually had good friends. And "good friends were loyal friends." Life was fairly predictable, consistent and orderly most of the time.

So what has changed? Today, if a kid wants to play sports they have to have a hitting coach or a conditioning coach or a fill-in-the-blank coach... by the time they are, what, 6? Feeder teams and travel teams starting before middle school are the prerequisites to even make the junior varsity team, which is usually the prerequisite to be considered for the high school team where only the best get to play.

Feeder teams when I was growing up consisted of a pack of rug rats my friends and I descending on someone's house at lunch and devouring a dozen PB&Js. And I never ever recall my parents having to fork over hundreds of dollars in the name of the almighty feeder teams or any other team. Did they invest their time and energy? Yes, but the central focus was not the checkbook.

Today, I would never be admitted to a decent college. My grades and my test scores would have routed me to junior college if I was lucky. And the only "AP" that I was aware of growing up was the name of a grocery store (A&P) not advanced-level courses that are now unofficially required by the dozen to get into "any decent college."

Today, not only do kids have to attempt to navigate a sea of relentless sports and academic pressure, but on top of that they have to deal with the Internet and social media. Unfettered access to information and unrestricted communication will always be a burden, and the weight of peer pressure amplified, magnified and multiplied by social media is often an overwhelming and unsustainable burden. And is there anyone out there who questions why and how so many of our kids and young adults become self-medicating or self-destructive? Anyone? Who sees the port in the storm out there? Let me know what it looks like if you do.

A friend of mine who lives on a farm recently commented to me that "any parent that has taught their children to stay connected to their siblings or family friends or taught them the ability to find another human being and say 'we need to herd up' has done their job. I watch the barnyard daily and I see that the key to survival and a sense of well-being is the ability to 'group up' when necessary." "Belonging" and being allowed to live and grow up in a way that allows your heart and soul to flourish is missing. By being so connected we are disconnected. By being so educated we have not learned more important skills that help us be true to our own nature. And for what? At the end of the day, what have we accomplished and at what terrible cost?

We need to back off and let our kids have more of a chance to just be kids. We need to listen better and we need to engage more. And finally, we need to seriously question our priorities.

I found an old journal the other day in which my then 16-year-old daughter had made a few notes. I know she was processing in her mind her dad's unspoken and heavy handed push to "achieve" on my terms not hers. Reading what she wrote was very hard for me. She wrote that she would "never be a doctor, scientist or biologist ... for while all those benefit the world, they do little for what is important to me...I want to leave (this world) not by having made others live longer, but by helping them live at all... I want to help them engage in the beauty of the earth and in each other...I want to make people think and feel alive...I want (to help) people be inspired." In a world of cutthroat competition, overbearing parents and a culture obsessed with achievement at the expense of almost everything else including happiness, what place do thoughts and ideas such as these have today? Is there one at all?

From the mouth of a child, amen. Where have all the children gone?

This article was published in the Revue & News April 25, 2013 edition

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Tags: Breaking News, Community & Outreach

  1. report print email
    I agree with Ray’s op page.
    April 30, 2013 | 01:44 PM

    My youngest graduates from West Forsyth HS in May. There is a lot of pressure on kids with school and sports and it is crazy, but we parents are to blame. Also, the major universities are to blame in raising the entry requirements so high that even a 4.0 no longer guarantees entrance. If that is meant as a “filter” to try to limit the volume of applicants to University of Georgia, for example, and force kids to go to the other state schools to balance them out, then that creates a ripple effect into the high schools, thus creating/pushing the AP and IB classes. When my “senior” played rec sports in fourth through sixth grades (baseball, football mainly, then soccer in middle school and up), I witnessed a lot of parents who put their kid into “feeder” or “select” teams. They spent thousands per year along with travel all over the state. Instead of rec season being less than 20 games, these select schedules were greater than 60 games with practice every night and countless tournaments occupying weekends.
    The “stars” at sixth grade then are either not playing sports in high school or are playing a completely different sport. Either due to being burnt out or the fact that the other kids are now the stars as they matured and the former stars are now just average and can’t handle the fact that they no longer are the best, so they left the sport. Once again, the major college programs are so focused on winning, along with the media, that the recruiting process into the high school sports creates the ripple effect that your kid doesn’t stand a chance of making the high school team with significant playing time if you don’t have the child participate in the select programs in middle school at least.
    I recorded the recent “Decade of the ‘80s” shows and I am a product of the early ‘80s.
    We are the decade of the “I want it now” and “It’s all about me, not the team” credos that were popular then. I graduated high school in 1982 and I didn’t realize it as I was living life then.
    I can see it now as I watch the series. As parents, I guess many of us, whether school or sports, have pushed our kids into this frenzy coupled with the social media explosion and wonder why our kids are so stressed out.
    I was competitive then, I recall, but we had no real coaching or specialized coaching around. You had “next level” or advanced classes, but not really college level classes.
    A “B” average in core grade point average meant you could get into any college.
    I think back to my baseball/football days and I was above average. I started " I played even without the advanced coaching.
    Now that our generation had kids in sports, just think how good they’d be with advanced coaching we never had.
    I think the intentions were good. It just gets out of hand, like many other things in life. Parents can’t see it because we’re too caught up in it trying to make things better for our kids and it backfires. I saw it firsthand as a “dad-coach” for rec baseball and football here in Forsyth County when my son was in fourth through sixth grades.
    My son wasn’t a star back then, so maybe my view is twisted as we didn’t force him into select. Some of the kids were stars back then comparatively. Maybe they wanted to compete at a higher level " nothing wrong with that if it’s their decision. But, the parents could have kept this in check. Twenty games of “select” still makes sense versus 60-plus and endless tournaments that went into July. No summer vacation for the kids or parents. My son left baseball/football and started to play fall/spring rec soccer from seventh grade on. I got to be a “dad” again and enjoyed him playing soccer, a sport I knew very little about cause it wasn’t popular growing up in the Midwest. Interesting isn’t it. He never played “select” and now a senior in high school; he still plays rec level soccer and thoroughly enjoys it. Hmm.
    So many of his friends no longer play the sport they were “select” in. They either quit due to burnout, got into drugs, play rec or turned to another sport.
    Ever wonder why/how boys’ lacrosse got so popular in our county over the past three to five years? No disrespect to lacrosse (another sport I know nothing about), but it would be an interesting poll to find out how many came from another sport where they were once “stars.”
    Credit them for still playing organized team game though. I wonder if there is a select lacrosse league yet and specialized coaches?
    So here we are. Enter the stress, depression, anxiety attacks, suicides, parental divorces (which influences the preceding issues).
    Seems like a lot of people I know have or are getting divorced. I guess society (us) made that even competitive and easier and for only a few $100 bucks. Funny, I’m still happily married to my high school sweetheart after more than 25 years. She didn’t play sports or go to college. Hmm.
    Maybe the word is “balance.” Could be a new career, a “balance coach” for sports and education.

    Jerry Sanders
    Forsyth County
  2. report print email
    Children Column
    April 30, 2013 | 02:14 PM

    Ray I want to thank you for your article on "Where have all the children gone?". We all needed to hear this. I have a sixteen year old son who is struggling with a lot of the things you mentioned in the article. I was born in 1961 and I share a lot of the same childhood memories that you do. Oh what a blessing!!

    Can I find this article on line? I would like to share it with friends. Thanks again!

    Regards, Paul Hicks

  3. report print email
    where have all the children gone
    April 30, 2013 | 02:17 PM

    I was the third and final child in my parents' tumultuous marriage. I spent my childhood on my scooter, my skates, my bicycle and finally on my toes. They gave us love, discipline, manners, and freedom. Mother taught us survival skills and showed us how to plan everything. Dad taught us about the glorious physical world around us and how to imagine and dream! They also showed me what I didn't want in a marriage...the most valuable of all their gifts. At one time I thought I had been deprived as a child. Now I know I had it all! Your beautifully worded article resonated with me as I have been asking myself the same question. Why do parents obsess over their children? Why must their children be perfect? Where have all the children gone? Perhaps they have gone into hiding. Perhaps it is too difficult to be a child today.

    No name please

    PS: I think you and my husband must have played on the same football team!

    Johns Creek
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    Photo for Childrens
    April 30, 2013 | 02:20 PM

    The picture: I found one of my brother and me getting ready to "ride double" to the community swimming pool about 2 miles away. I held the bathing suits wrapped in towels and held on to him at the same time! To get to the pool we had two major hills and no usable sidewalks through our town but the smell of chlorine beckoned us. Getting there was part of the adventure. We had no fear. The photo was taken around 1947 when my brother was 11 and I was 10. Mother gave each of us 25 cents and told us to watch for traffic and be home by 5:00. Fast forward to today: our parents would have been arrested for child cruelty and abandonment.
    I don't know how to scan but I thought I would get Office Depot to do it for me tomorrow. What is your deadline?
    (NOTE: Ray has asked anyone who would like to email him a photo from their youth and include a few sentences about it - about a time when things were more simple - a time when stuff made more sense.

    Email to the photo and a few sentences

    Johns Creek
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    Where have all the children gone
    April 30, 2013 | 02:24 PM

    Thank you for such a well written opinion piece in the recent Johns Creek Herald. Not only have I cut it out, but have also underlined specific points. Our children are almost all gone now, however, my husband ( of 30 years) and I appreciated this piece more than you will ever know.Your eloquence is to be congratulated.
    We were fortunate to have raised our children prior to the onslaught of all the private coaching elements so prevalent today. However, our children were blessed with focus and drive. Our oldest was a 5 time All American at UGA (swimming) and received numerous awards while there. Her humility was one of her best assets. As her mother, I possess none! Our middle child played football and baseball at Notre Dame. He was a pleasure to watch from bleachers as well. Our youngest is still in school, and quips that he will have to find the cure for cancer to keep up with his siblings. Not so. They each have their gifts.
    I underlined several well thought out segments to share with each of them. "Engagement was more important than achievement." is a line to cherish as they age and have separated from the intensity of the teams they have been parts of. I only hope they will appreciate your words as much as I did.
    Thanks again. Here's a photo from my childhood. Not sure this is what you wanted, but I happened to have it on my iPad. I do have others, but it will take some looking...

    Thank you.

    Deanna Maust
    (a faithful reader of your paper)

    (NOTE: Ray has asked that anyone wishing to email us a photo from your childhood and a few sentences - about your time when things made more sense and were more simple.. send to and attach the photo with a few sentences!)

  6. report print email
    Your column
    April 30, 2013 | 02:26 PM

    Hi Ray:
    I just felt the need to say "thanks". Your article, Where have All The
    Children Gone, was insightful and touched my heart. We must have had
    similar childhoods, but as a girl, I had the freedom to turn my house
    into a fort Barbies and stuffed animals. We held performances on our
    front porch "stage" where every kid had a star role and a few lines to
    speak. Our parents encouraged us to use our imaginations and be
    creative. Sidewalk chalk drawings decorated our driveway. So, I
    understand the value in being a "kid" and I tried to give that to my
    girls, as well. We didn't have any family nearby, so friends became
    family - Uncle and Aunt so and so...
    My girls are 23 and 26 now. They are very close to each other; even
    though they live in separate states and away from me. They are
    self-sufficient and I am so very proud of them. I am going to share
    your write-up commentary with them. Someday, when they have families
    of their own, I hope they will remember to "let the children
    play" builds character and self-esteem!
    Thanks again!!!!
    Your friend,
    Robbi Carrier

    North Fulton
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    Send us your childhood photo
    April 30, 2013 | 02:34 PM

    My column seems to have touched you - at least some of you. We all I think have lived in a time when things were different - and we miss that time. WE also hurt some for our kids and grandkids who must live in a far different world. So, for fun, we would like to invite anyone who is interested to send me a childhood photo that is important to you or that touches part of you along with a few sentences of explanation and we'll try to run them in the paper. I think it could be fun and worthwhile. Email to and attach the photo. If you can't attach a photo have your kid or the neighbors kid do it for you!! Ray 770-5217-4042

    Ray Appen
  8. report print email
    May 23, 2013 | 08:21 AM

    Ray, What a fine article that touched me deeply...I googled your title thinking of blogging after hearing a similar story like mine of adult children's broken relationships from a friend. Numerous responses herein are from adults the age of our now we have grandparents
    wondering too where have all our children gone?

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