How did we ever survive all that socialization?

by Harry T. Roman


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 skills”.

“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 call.”

“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 kids.”

“Oh, I whisper. That’s too bad. I see the problem now.”

“Thanks Mom for being there. Thanks Dad for being the coach. Thanks to all my childhood friends, for teaching me without me knowing it.”


Email this memory to a friend.
Enter recipient's e-mail: