Childhood isn’t the same as it used to be, and Stranger Things did a stellar job reminding us that we all need to lighten up on our kids.
When Netflix rolled the dice on the release of season one of Stranger Things, it took the internet by storm and the payoff was astronomical. Anyone over the age of thirty instantly fell in love with the nostalgia and simplicity it had to offer, and the Duffey brothers’ references to 80s childhood classics like E.T., Star Wars, and The Goonies, to name a few, were pure genius. Stephen King and Steven Spielberg – the masters of 80s cinema – left a lasting impact which only now is revealing what we truly have lost over time.
It’s no secret I’m obsessed with the 80s and would do just about anything to give my kids the freedoms that that era allowed. Being raised dirt poor in a mountain town in the high Rockies during the 80s has given me a unique perspective on what childhood is “supposed” to look like, and I realize that not everyone shares my experiences, but one thing I think we can all agree on is that the 80s were pretty much the best time ever to be a kid.
Stranger Things reminds us that life is for the living.
Remember riding bikes without helmets? Me too. Not that I’m suggesting it, I’m just saying.
I recently read a book called, “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Over-parenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success”. In it, the author discusses a pivotal moment in which decades-old childhood rituals were impacted when a shift arose from the increased awareness of child abduction and child safety. (Which, don’t get me wrong, saving lives is important, you guys. Helmets are cool.) But normal behavior suddenly became “risky” and our ability to gain independence by taking risks was stifled by over-supervision.
According to the author, with the initial airing of the 1983 made-for-tv movie Adam – about the 1981 abduction and tragic murder of a young child named Adam Walsh – came the tipping point that led to the beginning of the end. Adam was seen by a record-setting 38 million people and Adam’s father, John Walsh, went on to lobby Congress to create the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 1984, and became the founder of America’s Most Wanted in 1988.
After this point, creating barriers and safety nets became parents’ primary concern. Bicycle helmet laws were born, kids stopped walking to school alone, playing alone outside in their neighborhoods, and helicopter parenting was the way to go.
Aside from helmets you know what else you don’t see a lot of in Stranger Things? Parents. Mike and Nancy’s parents don’t know where their kids are, what Mike’s doing down in the basement, how long they’ve been down there, who snuck in Nancy’s bedroom window, and, quite frankly, don’t really give a crap as long as they eat their dinner. Ahhh, the good ol’ days.
MORAL: DONT go send your kids down a steep hill without a helmet. DO loosen your grip on the leash. Let them play. Let them be curious. Let them take risks that scare you. Give them the freedom to make mistakes.
2.) SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING.
I distinctly remember a moment in 6th grade when I was sitting alone reading a book… on purpose… like, for fun… (nerd points!) and my teacher approached me and asked me what book it was. I was reading this quasi-religious/science-fictioney/futuristic psychological thriller about a “spirit” that was present in this town and it wasn’t quite clear if it was a good spirit or a bad spirit but all this crazy stuff kept happening and then… then…
Well, I don’t know what happened next because my teacher shut the book I was holding in my hand and told me I was wasting my time reading about things that “aren’t real” and that my time would be better spent improving upon my poor math skills. He also threw in a few snarky comments about me reading books that were “too advanced for my age” and how “nobody else shared my interests”.
First, WTbloodyF. Also? You’re a teacher, man!
In Stranger Things, Mr. Clarke understands that with great power comes great responsibility, and he does not take his role as a teacher lightly. When Dustin calls him up on a Saturday night to have a casual and light conversation about sensory deprivation, he gives them the info they’re after. When the boys sit him down at Will’s “memorial service” to discuss theoretical physics, magnetic fields, Hugh Everett’s ‘Many Worlds Interpretation’ and string theory, he’s game! When new equipment arrives for the A.V. club, its Mr. Clarke who gives them access to it. Just because it’s not taught in a classroom setting, doesn’t mean it isn’t useful information. These kids have DIY on lock.
MORAL: “When you follow your curiosities, it leads you to your passion.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
So, basically, being a Barb it the only way to be. Seriously though.
Having any kind of standards or moral compass automatically sets you apart from the masses. This has been true for decades. Standing your ground is often a lonely stance to take, and doesn’t usually gain you many friends, but the alternative to thinking for yourself is soul suicide. Even though things don’t end well in Stranger Things for sweet ol’ Barb, it’s pretty clear she didn’t give two middle fingers about what anyone else thought of her. That is punk rock. Be that girl.
MORAL: Figure out who you are and own it. You owe nothing to no one.
“I had such a great time sitting around inside on my iPad all day with my headphones on,” said no child in the history of childs.
It’s getting harder and harder with increased urbanization and shorter leashes for kids to have epic adventures out in the world on their own terms. Childhood isn’t supposed to be spent indoors doing safe things. It’s supposed to be spent getting scrapes and bruises and making memories that can only be made through a child’s eyes. Once a kid grows past that window of opportunity, life just gets harder and messier and more consumed with responsibilities and obligations.
With a nod to Stand by Me and E.T., the Duffey brothers skillfully incorporate scenes in Stranger Things where these kids are out on their own, armed with nothing more than some snacks and backpacks, planning and strategizing and ADVENTURING.
How awesome did childhood used to be, seriously.
MORAL: Life is better when lived outside.
5.) FRIENDSHIP IS PARAMOUNT.
We are only as good as the people we surround ourselves with. It doesn’t take much to see that mouth-breathers are everywhere in life and it helps to have a tribe of people who will have your back in any situation.
Life gets messy. Establishing a good circle of friends early in the game is a good idea.
MORAL: Don’t be a mouth-breather.
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