I had a strange experience not too long
ago. Visited with some teachers, as I do several times a year, to
talk to the students about science and technology. While there I
heard several teachers in the teacher’s lounge discussing
how important it is to teach today’s kids “socialization
“What”, I asked , “Are socialization skills?”
“Oh you know, how to get along with each other?”
Well, the old time machine instantly whisked me back to North
4th Street in the 1950s, just a few blocks from Abington Avenue
School where I was sitting at that very moment. I recalled my repertoire
of learned socialization skills. I learned them from my playmates,
in the street, in the playground, in Branch Brook Park, and on the
ball field. No one ever taught them to me. They just got learned
along the way. We have to teach them to the kids today? Oh, that
is strange, and sad too.
Why the formalities? Don’t today’s kids play with
each other? One shout on my old block and I could get 20 kids pouring
out into the street. What’s to learn about that? Somehow we
managed to survive without being chauffeured from one organized
activity to another by a van-driving parent.
Do kids build go-carts today from scavenged wood and carriage
wheels? Do they learn about the importance of brakes after having
plowed through a row of hedges in a wild laughing attempt to stop?
Haven’t they ever done something on the spur of the moment,
using their imagination and native creativity? I’ll bet they
never invented a “gizmo” to retrieve a genuine 25-cent
high bouncer pink rubber ball from a grated sewer. Somehow we survived
the street and lived to be productive citizens.
This lack of socialization skills can be a bit scary. There was
no government agency looking over our shoulders or that of our parents
either. This growing up thing was an experience designed for all
amateurs to play---no rule books, standards of etiquette, or formalized
protocols. If we didn’t get picked for a ball game, we sought
not a “shrink” or child psychologist for help. We moved
on to another game, or learned how to get so good at the game that
rebuffed us that it would be foolish not to choose us the next time.
Now kids have to learn how to deal with rejection. Somehow we
survived all these insults to our tender young feelings, just like
a swift boot in the can our parents were not afraid to administer
when we certainly needed it. Today, you could go to jail for disciplining
your child. Like I said…..somehow we survived….. and
made our contributions to the world.
“Where you going Harry?
“Going out to the Lake Street ball fields Mom. Got a big
game against 6th Street”
“Did you make some lunch for yourself?”
“Yes, and got my watch too. I’ll be back before Dad
gets home from work.”
“Be careful and take some change if you have to make a phone
“OK, see you later.”
[And make sure you got clean underwear on too in case you get
hurt and they take you to the hospital…..remember that line!
Who said our parents didn’t love us? ]
The Lake Street ball fields were a half-mile away from my house.
Would today’s parents let their kids roam that far? It was
about learning responsibility as I remember it. The more you showed,
the more your parents trusted you to have. They never taught me
socialization skills. “Get out there kid and show ‘em
what you can do. Never be afraid to give it a try. The worst you
can do is fail, so what. Dust yourself off and try it again.”
I could hear Dad saying to Mom…..”He’s gotta’
learn to stand on his own, even if it means he is going to get some
bumps and bruises. Better to learn this when he is young.”
And how well I learned. Just because our parents did not coddle
us and protect us from all imagined harm, does not mean they did
not love us. It was a different time, a more responsible time, a
more individualistic time……not a time to conform in
dress, speech, and attire. You were proud to stand out. It was your
style, your badge, your mark of distinction. No formalities. You
can like me or not like me, either way is fine with me.
At 12 years old I was taking the Subway downtown to buy a couple
of 45s at Kleins, maybe a model ship or car to build, and a quick
stop at The Newark Museum. Took the 60 or 29 bus home. Never had
any problems—and always wore clean underwear too. Think parents
today would let their kids get on a bus and do what we did? Somehow
we survived, and grew up stronger for it all.
Sure, you want to gorge yourself on too many sweets and cakes,
and you paid the price with an awful “tummy-ache”. Who
would think of suing the store that sold it to you? You were the
responsible party. You paid for it and ate it. Now no one is responsible
for anything today. Ever hear of no-fault car insurance?
Whoosh! I am back in the teacher’s lounge again after that
whirlwind tour of my youth.
“Mr. Roman, do you find it strange we have to teach these
skills to the kids?”
“I’ll tell you, I don’t understand this lack
of socialization skills stuff? Don’t these kids play with
anyone after school?”
“Probably not. Sometimes we teachers stay late with the
kids until their parents come home from work. Most are latch-key
“Oh, I whisper. That’s too bad. I see the problem
“Thanks Mom for being there. Thanks Dad for being the coach.
Thanks to all my childhood friends, for teaching me without me knowing