Why the Movies of My Youth Could Never Happen Today


maxresdefaultI’ve seen E.T. at least a dozen times. No matter how many times I watch it, I still get a little thrill every time Elliot and E.T. fly across the moon. I weep with little Gertie as she holds out her flower-pot parting gift. I snuffle and gulp down a sob every time E.T. holds out his glow stick finger to Elliot’s forehead and tells him,”I’ll be right here.”

I watched it for the first time with my boys the other night. It took some convincing on my part. They are used to Marvel and Galaxies protected by Guardians. Special effects and CGI. The family adventure dramas I grew up with are too slow-paced for them. Not enough stuff gets blown up.

Even though I know E.T. backward and forward, watching it with my kids I was struck by something new this time. Maybe it’s been on my mind. Maybe because I now have a kid around the same age or older than Elliot.

E.T. could never happen today. I’m not even talking about the extra-terrestrial part of E.T. In fact, the sentient alien being part would likely be more believable than the fact that for the most part, kids were left alone. For long stretches of the afternoon and evenings, after school, on weekends, in the mornings, alone. Alone. Without adult supervision.

If E.T. were made today, Michael and his friends would have been lined up on the couch playing Minecraft on a server, too busy to order a pizza. Elliot never would have tracked down E.T. because Elliot never would have been allowed outside on his bike by himself. His access to sugar and Reese’s Pieces would have been strictly managedHe would have had to lure E.T. back to his home with kale chips or fruit kabobs. Gertie was left on her own in the house, Michael was backing cars out of the driveway. Kids were drinking unlimited cans of Coke. Grade schoolers were encouraged to use scalpels and given access to chloroform. Kids were allowed out on Halloween by themselves.

It was just like I remember.

If E.T. was made today, he would have simply used a phone home app.


The Goonies? They would have all been in sanctioned after school programs. Data would have been in Chess Club and Early Engineers. Chunk would have been on Weight Watchers. Mouth? Mouth would still be Mouth. There’s a Mouth in every generation. But no treasure hunts, no long stretches of time to go exploring or spelunking. Not without grown-ups hovering nearby.

How about Home Alone? Child Protective Services would  swoop in faster than you can say aftershave to take Kevin into custody. Some neighbor surely would notice; not the increase in activity at the house mind you, but a ten year old kid walking outside by himself. This is the stuff that gets noticed nowadays.

The Karate Kid? No way Daniel-son would be allowed to hang out with Mr. Miagi. An unmarried middle-aged man? Are you kidding? Hello! Pedophile Alert!  If Daniel of today showed early promise in karate, he would be signed up for classes. The travel team, club tournaments. There would be no classic “Sweep the Knee!” for the win because everyone’s a winner!

The Princess Bride? No thanks, Grandpa, you don’t need to read to me, I can binge watch Netflix or YouTube videos to learn how to strengthen my archer queens.

The Breakfast Club? Over-involved parents would call meetings to discuss their child’s detention and threaten to sue if the decision isn’t reversed.

Back to the Future? Skateboarding without a helmet? NO way.

All those things we took for granted because it was the norm. Biking around for hours, swimming unchaperoned, roaming and hanging out. Smoking in the woods. Ok, ok, smoking in the woods wasn’t such a good idea. But I never thought I would look back on the movies I grew up with and feel sad for my kids because they’re growing up in a time when most of those things seem more unbelievable than coming across an alien from another planet.

There’s a reason why the blockbusters of today take place between the pages of a comic book, or increasingly, in a postapocalyptic world. It seems the only place where kids are free to roam around un-supervised is in Sci-Fi.

etKids haven’t changed, not really. John Bender was surely a Dauntless the same way Data was an Erudite before there was Divergent. The Outsiders were the rebels of District 9 before The Hunger Games. And before the Age of Ultron there was a simpler extra-terrestrial named E.T. and a movie about a boy who was free to grow up with the magic of possibility.

My kids prefer their own generation’s movies, as they should. The movies I grew up with have a rawness they aren’t used to. Sometimes the emotions are too real for them, too overwhelming, especially for my older boy who shows the same sob swallowing tendencies I did. (I do.)

I promised my son I would try not to cry too loudly and snottily as we sat together on the couch the other night. Of course I failed, though I tried mightily to stifle my sniffles. I watched out of the corner of one glistening eye as he cried too. We were probably crying for very different reasons, but he got it. He has a heart light.

There’s still enough magic in those movies to hit home, even if the world they take place in is almost as unrecognizable to my kids as the Marvel universe is to me.

19 Comments Add yours

  1. aderynwood says:

    I think we may be of the same ‘vintage’ 😉 I love this post! Especially that comment about ‘The Breakfast Club’ how true!


    1. Dina Honour says:

      Demented and sad….but true ;-). Of course I want my own kids to have their own experiences (and movies to go along with them), but it does make me scratch my head in wonder about how little we let kids ‘experience’ these days, unless it’s in front of a screen of course!


  2. aviets says:

    You’re right, of course…and yet some old movies are still so worth watching, as you found with E.T. We epwatched “To Kill a Mockingbird” last night, and through my tears I marveled at how different life was then and how different movies were. But still, it’s a life event every time I see it because it makes me think big thoughts and sparks important conversation.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      Shamefully that is the list of movies I’ve never seen. (Nor have I read the book. I know! I know!). I guess this one just struck me because it’s something I think about (and write about) a lot, especially as boy #1 gets closer and closer to teenager-dom and all the baggage that comes with it. I think they’re ALL worth watching, and my kids will probably watch them the same way I watched Beach Blanket Bingo–with an air of “Huh????” and that’s ok too. I’ll take it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Melanie says:

    “Go outside and don’t come in until the streetlight turns on,” said my mother then and no mother now. We hid in bushes, climbed trees, played foursquare in the street… I mourn the loss of adventure my kids don’t even know they are missing. Moreover, I mourn the loss of trust in society that led to the loss of childhood freedoms.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dina Honour says:

      Yes. To all of those things. And they are important things, and so you should mourn them. I am very lucky that living in Denmark at the moment my kids get a lot more of that than they would at home. For that, I am grateful. Although I’m sure if I had bags of Reese’s Pieces laying about they wouldn’t be around for long.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Melanie says:

        You’re lucky for that – the freedom, not the Reese’s thievery :). My kids and I are at my parent’s for the summer, and they get some of that freedom here. But only because of their obsessive dog who won’t even allow the mail carrier on the property without barking her fool head off. I am thankful I can let my kids outside alone, so long as the dog is with them, because she lets me know if someone is near and if the kids break the “don’t leave the yard rule.” (If the kids so much as step one foot off the property, the dog barks. She’s a worse tattle-tale than the kids.) This is the only place they get a taste of the freedom that I took for granted as a kid.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Elyse says:

    Kids and chickens should all be free range.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dina Honour says:

      Well, I’m allergic to chicken…do you think I can use that excuse for my kids too? 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  5. pinklightsabre says:

    It’s funny Dina, I wrote about this too a couple months ago — watching ET with my kids to see how it would hold up. What I observed (the sign of good story-telling) is how my kids were instantly asking questions — what’s going on, who are they chasing, are they bad guys etc…and I love a film for that, for the imagination and subtleties that film has, the love in it. My kids got through OK but I don’t think it was as impressionable on them as it was me. I like your observations; it’s interesting: film is a kind of mirror on us, like the news media. Hopefully they’ll have their ET and it will be better than ours.


  6. Nicely written… My wife and I talk about this subject once in a while – that our kids don’t have the same freedom that we had in our childhood. It’s not a good thing, but we are still unable to change it. Part of it is peer pressure, no doubt – but more importantly – the times, they’re a changin!

    I tried to reblog your post, but it got posted to a personal blog… Hopefully I’ll be able to fix that..


    1. Dina Honour says:

      Thanks. I have spent hours and bottles of wine and coffee conversations trying to trace back this change to its source. What happened? Was it one thing? A mix? Media, the web, more cars on the road, counter-culture kids becoming parents, microwaves???? We live in Denmark, so my kids do get far more ‘freedom’ than they likely would at home in the US, but even still, I spend far too much time with my kids–I know way too much about them. I can’t see how that is a ‘good’ thing in the end. They need the freedom to screw up without me being there!


      1. Well – it *was* different when we were kids, wasn’t it?

        Back then, we used to play all over the neighborhood – but then the neighbors all knew each other, and kept watch on all the children. Even if we would stray away from the neighborhood – the folks in all the stores nearby knew all the kids, and their parents.

        If I did something that I should not have done, I was sure to get a nasty scolding from whoever watched me do it (and a few smacks too if required) – followed by a phone call to my parents telling them what happened. Which inevitably resulted in another “session” back home.

        We moved to the US of A a few years ago, and that sort of thing doesn’t happen here apparently. It’s up to me to keep a watch on my daughter, because I know that the neighbors will not take any action – no matter how warranted. Political correctness? Probably.


      2. Dina Honour says:

        Yes, it was. But..to paraphrase my kids when they were young…”whyyyyy????”. You have hit upon something I’ve read a lot and talked about, the difference between a neighborhood that looks after it’s kids and one which calls the cops of CPS. I used to babysit at 11 because I knew I could call my mom or another neighbor for help if I needed to, but the very act of being thought mature enough to do it made me more mature–for the record, this is a pet subject of mine. I write about it constantly ;-). It’s a particular bee in my bonnet. I keep trying to come at it from other angles. And I keep coming up empty handed. And then I resign myself to the fact that eventually I’ll just be the grumpy old woman sitting in the corner saying “Back in our day…”


  7. Dina Honour says:

    Reblogged this on Wine and Cheese (Doodles) and commented:

    If E.T. were made today, Michael and his friends would have been lined up on the couch playing Minecraft on a server, too busy to order a pizza. Elliot never would have tracked down E.T. because Elliot never would have been allowed outside on his bike by himself. His access to sugar and Reese’s Pieces would have been strictly managed. He would have had to lure E.T. back to his home with kale chips or fruit kabobs. Gertie was left on her own in the house, Michael was backing cars out of the driveway. Kids were drinking unlimited cans of Coke. Grade schoolers were encouraged to use scalpels and given access to chloroform. Kids were allowed out on Halloween by themselves.


  8. London Mary says:

    So agree! Love this post. My kids were never over-scheduled with clubs and activities (in part because I am a working mom and never got around to organising or couldn’t get them there.) But sadly it just meant they had more time for phones, Xbox and social media… not being out with friends, on bikes, exploring…. ah those days! I’m sad about this the same way that I worry about AI – once out, you cannot put it back in its box.


  9. To answer one of your questions, things changed when parenting became a competitive sport and a reflection of the abilities of the said parents. Signing up kids for a zillion activities (whether they wanted to or not) was (and still is) a message to the world I’M PARENTING! I’M STUFFING THEM WITH SOCIALLY-IMPORTANT SKILLS! I’M SACRIFICING – therefore I’m a GOOD person.

    If you doubt that, try critiquing another parent’s “parenting style”. The usual response will be one shade below nuclear Armageddon. Even going to the local community playground is a not-so-delicate game of one-upmanship (or womanship, if you so choose). And NO-ONE has the right to say anything to precious Sally or Johnny or Elias, or Skylar. That is reserved to the PARENT. (ps… all those caps are deliberate emphasis).

    The corollary to that is that no harm can befall the said precious child, either through omission or commission, so the perceived safety and security is held against the parent by other parents who look for any chink in the parenting style armor to launch their own passive-aggressive salvos.

    It used to be that bad behaviour of the kid was attributed to the kid. Not any more. We have removed that responsibility from the kids and placed it squarely on the parental lap. If your toddler is having a meltdown in the ice-cream section of the grocery store, it’s because you’re a BAD PARENT. Kids learn really quickly that they are not responsible – and they can do anything they want and not be held responsible. The kinds of things that used to teach the free-range kids things like consequences (when you screw up, you get hurt) aren’t being learned… and the “kids” grow up without the skills of figuring out for themselves what the appropriate behaviour should be.

    If we want our kids to be strong, resourceful and independent, we’ve got to let them try things on their own, with the full knowledge that they will fail more than they will succeed, and those failure are going to be the learning opportunities in which they will learn about themselves, and about what it takes to succeed.


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