Where did all the kids go?

THIS MIGHT be the first summer in history when no kid ever goes outside. Never breaks a window with a baseball or rolls in the grass under an August moon. Never tastes an apple off a neighbor’s tree or sets up a lemonade stand to make, like, 87 cents.

Yep, this might be the summer it all ends. It’ll be the first time baseball gloves sit idly in the garage for months, and bikes rust alongside the house, lonely and untouched.

Why? Because kids don’t like to leave the house anymore. And who can blame them, not when they have cellphones and PlayStations, Facebook and the latest videos? Listen, ever seen a football? It just sits there in the bin in the garage, inert. Give a kid Madden NFL on Xbox anytime. Touchdown! Yessssss!

I say good for them. Personally, it’s a relief not to have kids all over the place outside, playing in the sprinklers or throwing rocks at crows. They used to make a lot of noise, those kids.


Some adults thought their voices a sort of sweet summer music. Not me. Without all those kids around, I can hear the freeway a lot better, thank you very much. Every time the neighbor’s air-conditioning compressor kicks on, it’s clear as a bass drum. Ka-BOOM.

It’s mid-July, and so far I haven’t seen a single kid. I’ve looked up one street and down the next, the only things moving are the bees in the lavender. I’ve looked in the trees, on the ball fields, in the parks, in the pools.

Sure, it’s hot -- you can almost smell Las Vegas in the desert wind -- but that never stopped a kid before. If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the backyard.

It happened pretty recently, this absence of kids. Forty years ago -- even 10 -- you used to see kids everywhere, on skateboards and bikes, playing hopscotch or grooving a jump shot.


Back then a kid would wake up on a summer day and go off with friends, dawn to dusk. Mothers would have to scream from the porches for the kids to come home to eat.

“I’d better go,” you’d finally say after 20 minutes of mother-screams.


“Yeah, I’d better go.”

“See ya after dinner,” the friend would say.

Back then, the boys of summer climbed trees (those big green things that tower over houses). They used to ride bikes for miles and miles, till their legs ached and their lungs burned, spitting constantly, because that’s what you did back then. You spit a lot. Pi-tuuuu. Pi-tuuuu.

Back then, boys and girls would run and run, wrestle and swim. By July 4, the bottoms of kids’ feet would be tough as rawhide. They could walk barefoot across Venus. They could tiptoe across the sun.

It couldn’t have been good for them, all that exercise. Back then, kids had ribs that stuck out over their swim trunks. They had waistlines. They had tans.


Seriously, it was almost prehistoric. I’m talking about the ‘60s and ‘70s, when kids didn’t even have e-mail. That’s right, no e-mail. If you wanted to talk to someone, you used the phone -- or worse -- got up out of a chair and went next door. Knock-knock. Hi, can Jimmy play?

It was awful. There was no text messaging. No laptops. Instead of computers, a kid would have a roll of dime store caps, which he’d smash with a rock, pop-pop-pop. He’d burn leaves with magnifying glasses. Or unravel old golf balls just to see what was inside. Sometimes, kids fished.

At night, they’d play Kick the Can, possibly the greatest game ever invented.

In Kick the Can, one kid was “it” and tried to catch the other kids hiding around the neighborhood. Amid the shadows and the moonlight, Kick the Can was spooky-quiet one moment and full of mayhem the next -- a good preparation for police work or parenthood.

And the things kids kept? What junk. Bottle caps and spark plugs. Squirt guns and pea shooters.

“Tom [Sawyer] was literally rolling in wealth,” wrote Mark Twain of his ultimate American boy. “He had ... 12 marbles, part of a jew’s-harp, a piece of blue bottle glass ... a key that wouldn’t unlock anything, a fragment of chalk, a glass stopper of a decanter, a tin soldier, a couple of tadpoles, six firecrackers, a kitten with only one eye, a brass doorknob, a dog collar -- but no dog -- the handle of a knife, four pieces of orange peel and a dilapidated old window sash.”

Had it all, young Tom did. Back in the olden days. Back when boys went outside.

Chris Erskine can be reached at, or at