My husband had that idyllic childhood from the 80s movies. He would leave his house on his bike in the morning to run around to various friend’s houses and play in the woods or on ballfields or on skateboards or even on video game consoles and then return home when the sun went down.
So he loves memes like this one.
But I didn’t grow up like that. My childhood was fine! But I didn’t live in a neighborhood where you found friends to play with. There was no where to walk to from my house because it was on a busy road often traveled by 18-wheelers. And even if there had been a sidewalk, it wasn’t a safe place to wander aimlessly.
I did get invited to do stuff with friends at their homes periodically, but my Dad liked things to be planned in advance so if it was last minute, I didn’t even bother asking permission because it would make him angry. And he preferred parents doing the asking and so it was weird during that transition period where kids make plans without the parent’s involvement and just tell their parents, “Can you take me to so-in-so’s?” For a long time I just didn’t even bother asking my Dad because I knew he wanted the parents to contact him and I was too embarrassed to ask my peers to ask their parents to do that when no one else’s parents did that.
Then there was the Every Other Weekend At Mom’s thing. I was the only one in my class with divorced parents and so not only was that weird, but my Mom did not want us to make plans on the weekends we were with her. So half of my weekends were off the table anyway.
So while I did go to the periodic sleepover or birthday party, there was no general “playing with peers in unstructured gatherings on a regular basis” like Donnie had.
So when I see those memes? I’m always like, I don’t know, man. I think I would have felt a lot less lonely if I had social media and the internet as a kid.
I think I would have loved writing fanfiction as a kid and meeting other kids into the same books I was into. Maybe I would have loved cosplay. If I was a kid today I definitely would be all over the Nerdfighteria discord. And none of that would have required my Dad’s permission and it wouldn’t have required me to live in a “normal” suburban neighborhood. I felt isolated sometimes in my weird house on my busy street and the internet would have lessened that feeling of isolation.
Maybe I would have found ways to open up more about my mental health issues if I had the safety of a computer screen. I think about that a lot now, how the internet has connected me with so many people who have the same problems in their brain that I do. How much would that have helped me as a kid to see people on TikTok talking about Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria? I would have been like, Wait. So it’s not just me?
I just don’t blindly subscribe to the idea that my childhood was inherently better because I didn’t have the internet or screens. Maybe Donnie’s was, but I felt alone a lot because I couldn’t invite people over and I couldn’t make friends in my neighborhood and my Dad had weird requirements for how I did get to do things with friends and I only had half of the available weekends and so often I was home reading my books and harassing my brother.
I often said if I had been an only child, I wouldn’t have made it to adulthood. The only thing that tempered my loneliness was having him to annoy like only big sisters know how.
I’m not saying today’s kids are universally better off, but I’m also not saying they’re universally worse. I think the internet and social media adds a lot of dimension to my kid’s lives that I think I could have used as a child. I even have watched Nikki connect with people quicker in real life because they follow each other on instagram and so they kinda already “know” each other. And Wes meets tons of people playing games online he wouldn’t know otherwise. I love it where I hear him say to someone, “What time is it where you live?” because even just playing games with people in different time zone is more of an exposure than I had growing up.
Donnie definitely thrived without screens and he doesn’t even use social media now, but in my opinion there are a million types of people in this world and some actually benefit from interaction on a screen in ways they can’t interact in person. And not everyone’s childhoods are idyllic with safe neighborhoods surrounded by kids the same age and the same family types.
So those memes, to me, are missing a lot of the scope of the type of childhoods that exist and they are a sign of privilege more than anything.