WORDS BY ERICA NEWTON, MYFIRSTGYM CO-FOUNDER
Got to love those old then and now posts. The kind that start with ‘We drank straight from the hose…’ and invariably end with ‘… and we survived!’ I can chuckle and pick out the things I remember doing (like cruising the streets on my bike and not even owning a helmet), but it always leaves me with a bittersweet taste in my mouth. Shouldn’t being a kid be fun, enjoyable and really, the best time of your life? And yet my job as a parent revolves around ensuring they are safe and ready for what is an (at times) toxic world in every sense, which includes making sure they wear a helmet?! This is the paradox of our parenting generation. We want them safe and ‘achieving their potential best’, but in doing so, we’re taking away that freedom and fun we associate with a happy childhood. Where’s the balance?
Then and Now: Safety.
Yes, pre-1990 safety was measured in streetlights and the perception of common sense. If the lights turned on, you’d better make your way home from wherever you were for dinner asap. If it looked dangerous, maybe you should wear some knee pads. Or not. Up to you (please see my helmet-less bike riding comment above). Safety was wearing a small cap in the blaring summer sun OR putting zinc on your nose, not both. The freedom to do as you pleased (within reason) seemed boundless.
Today, we are much more safety savvy. Helmets, sunscreen, mobile phones with location apps are all, thankfully, very normal. But it can also go too far the other way. We even have a term used with utter disdain for those adults who are overly cautious around their kids: Helicopter Parents. The fact is, parents today are more aware of the risks posed to their kids, and advent of the internet where news from across the globe is distributed triple time. For us, the safety of our children is paramount, the loss of their ‘freedom’ a sad but necessary victim.
Then and Now: Choice.
With both my parents working full time, my brother and I were given little choice in afternoon sports. We were shunted into tennis and swimming together for one simple reason: training was on at the same time and place for us both. For Dan, his choices were limited to the season: Nippers in summer, rugby in winter. I know of communities where sport was dependent on the clubs in town, which might include netball, AFL or hockey. You chose one, and that was it.
Now, the choices are endless, especially for those near a major or even regional centre. Acrobatics, skateboarding, parkour, silks, martial arts, triathlon, golf… Throw in all the traditional stuff like swimming, athletics and a myriad of ball sports and there is literally a movement based activity in which every child can enjoy and succeed. This is fantastic! For kids. It’s really fantastic for kids. For parents, managing different sports across different training schedules, locations, fees and uniforms is stressful on our brains and our wallets. Increase that stress ten-fold with every extra child!
Then and Now: Health.
Yep, drinking from the hose, eating things coloured fluorescent from the packet and spending as many hours outside as possible were the norm thirty years ago. You walked or rode a bike or the bus, offsetting all those weird chemical foodstuffs with plenty of exercise.
Now, whether you want to blame current farming practices, an unhealthy appetite for processed foods or the build-up of toxins in our water and even the air, obesity, allergies and intolerances seem to plague our children and us. Our reliance on screens has also seen a marked increase in sedentary behaviour, with obesity figures across the globe tripling since 1975 and Australia now ranked as the 5th most obese country in the world. It’s such a problem, that our government released the National Obesity Strategy in 2022 to try and tackle our battle with the bulge through healthy eating and movement.
Then and Now: Wellbeing.
Who else recalls being told to ‘just get over it’ when tricky emotions and stress came up thirty years ago? Bullying happened at school only. Sport was fun and if you won, great. If not, there was always next year. Parents ‘got on with it’ regardless of how that looked for the rest of the family, and the idea of ‘wellbeing’ was something you got at a fancy day spa.
In modern day homes, wellbeing is a hot topic, and for good reason. With screens and social media now common place in our children’s hands, there is no break from friends or bullies and little chance to reset each night in a cocoon of love and family values. Unless, that is, we are mentally and emotionally strong enough to enforce strict digital parameters (I have a 13 year old: the struggle is really real). Even in places where our children should feel buoyed, like sport, some are feeling beyond pressured to achieve their absolute best and win at all costs. Personal trainers for kids and one-on-one coaches to upskill them at a young age are both employed to ‘help’ kids get an edge on the competition. Is it any wonder more and more are quitting sports altogether because they don’t feel good enough – 70% by age 13!? (Read more on this here)
The idea proliferated in those Then and Now memes is that childhood is something that needs to be survived or at the very least endured. That grates on my nerves, and yet I find myself constantly juggling full time work, three kids in different sports and screens that just won’t quit. As a parent, I know first hand the difficulties of raising kids today, which is why I love my fourth child, MyFirstGym, so very much. To think Dan and I have created a place which eases so many of these modern-day woes, where we are inspiring movement in children and easing the mental and financial load for parents in our one-stop gym-shop is fantastic. That we’re building a supportive community of movement experts and MyFirstGym families as well, is quite simply amazing. We might have ‘survived’ our own childhood, but there’s no reason our kids can’t do the same and enjoy theirs.
Want to know more? Get in touch with the MyFirstGym team to locate a gym near you.
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