Was parenting more fun in the 70s?
Living in the seventies ... Puberty Blues's Vickers clan (played by Jeremy Lindsay Taylor, Ashleigh Cummings, Claudia Karvan and Ed Oxenbould). Photo: Channel Ten
I absolutely loved the first episode of Puberty Blues. The show took me back to another time, one of innocence and exploration. I was born in the late ′70s, so I was a baby in the decade of desert boots and crocheted bikinis. But I did borrow a well-worn copy of Puberty Blues in my first year of high school (after hearing everyone talk about the 'naughty book'), and still remember giggling with my friends at the titillating content.
In a time before teenagers discovered sex through internet porn sites, this book was as saucy as it got for many of us. It all seems so quaint now, as we look back on how innocent that time it was: when the 'cool girls’ had attitude to burn but still looked like teenage girls, with airbrushing and Brazilian waxes yet to become a concern; when ‘rack off moll’ was pretty much the nastiest thing you could say to someone, and bullying was confined to the school bus and grounds, instead of following you home on your phone.
It’s amazing to think anyone survived a time when drink-driving with no seatbelts was the norm
What struck me most when watching the show, however, wasn’t just how much things have changed for teens since the ′70s, but how much they’ve changed for parents.
Back then, as was illustrated so well on the show, parents’ needs came first. These days, the balance of power has shifted firmly towards our kids.
But is that a change for the better?
This question led to a great discussion between my friends and I, most of them around my age. One remembered parties her parents used to have, attended by teachers at her school, where they’d all drink and smoke until the early hours, while the kids played in another room. The same girl admitted to sucking on their discarded cigarette butts, curious to know what all the fuss was about.
Others remembered being driven home by drunk parents, not wearing seatbelts, sunbaking all day with no parental supervision, and being left at home for hours.
Were they neglected, abused, the victims of ‘bad parenting?’ No – they were just children of the ′70s!
Clearly, things have changed a lot since then, the vast majority of them for the better. It’s amazing to think anyone survived a time when drink-driving with no seatbelts was the norm, when heavy smoking was in fashion, and lathering yourself in oil before sunbaking was a teenage ritual.
But amazingly, rather than tut-tutting these now-taboo practices, it was interesting how many people on social media looked back on them fondly, reminiscent of a time when there weren’t so many rules. It was a time when parents had their own lives – lives that didn’t revolve around their kids.
I may not have experienced most of those things, but I do remember walking 30 minutes to and from school everyday when I was 12 and my sister was 10. Both my parents worked, so we would let ourselves in every day, make our own snacks, and were expected to be responsible and not get into trouble.
I also remember waiting in the car with my younger brother and sister while my mum ‘ducked in’ to Target before coming out an hour later. And I remember riding my bike around the neighbourhood until the sun went down.
All things that could get a parent arrested these days.
Earlier this year NSW Police officers told a mother it was “inappropriate” for her 10-year-old daughter to catch a bus unaccompanied, and told a Manly father they would file a report on him after he allowed his seven-year-old son to walk alone to a local shop.
Is this a case of the nanny state going too far? In trying to protect our kids, have we wrapped them in so much cotton wool they are now over-indulged, overweight and bored? And as parents, are we so busy caring for, driving around and entertaining them we have no time for our own needs?
I never remember my parents engaging in our playtime like we do with our kids now. We played with each other, mostly outside. These days, with more single-child families and smaller backyards, we’re expected to provide entertainment for our kids at all times. Or take them out and spend hundreds of dollars to stimulate them … which all gets too hard and expensive, so we sometimes end up plonking them in front of the TV or computer with a bag of chips, telling ourselves we’re keeping them safe.
People insist the world is a more dangerous place now, that there was less chance of a child being abducted then. Yet statistics say there is still far more chance of a child being abused by someone they know, than by the ever-feared stranger in a white van.
Of course we all know that the nightmare does, tragically, happen on occasion, so are we right to protect our kids at all costs? Even if it means they’re losing the ability to learn how to navigate the world for themselves?
I don’t know the answer, but while watching Puberty Blues I did long for that time again. Not for the drink-driving and smoking – and definitely not for the desert boots – but for the lack of iPhones beeping every second, for family time where no one was distracted by checking their emails, for the lack of fake boobs and collagen lips, for kids walking to the beach and coming home at sunset and the parents telling them to run outside and play, while they shared a Moselle and had a chat. That sounds like a better time to me.
Do you wish you were parenting in a different time, or do you have fond memories of growing up in a past era? Have your say in the Essential Baby forum, or comment below.