The Firefly Effect: The Disappearance of Childhood

“Hey look! A firefly!”

My kids scampered off into the duskly shrouded park to chase the lone intermittent yellow illumination, as my husband and I sat listening to the music of Cornet Chop Suey’s free concert.

“Remember catching fireflies as kids and putting them in mason jars with holes punched in the lids?” I mused. “You don’t see as many fireflies these days.”

“Because there aren’t as many as there used to be,” my husband replied.

Silently, I mourned that childhood just isn’t what it used to be. It seems even fireflies are finding themselves in the same company as trick-or-treating, riding bikes around the neighborhood, and imagination…the vanishing company of childhood.

We accuse many thieves in the robbery of youth. Mistrust of mankind keeps us from allowing our kids to knock on strangers’ doors and see how much candy their costumes can bring in. Rising violence and fear of child kidnappers and pedophiles make us wary to let our little ones roam in carefree exploration of new ventures of play. We blame technology for doing the legwork of imagination for our kids, or claim that they are too overloaded with school and extracurriculars to have any time to daydream. And in the case of the disappearing fireflies, the culprits appear to be industrial development and light pollution. With all of these things becoming endangered species, what kind of childhood is left for our kids to enjoy?

fireflies lightening bug
photo credit: thecleversheep via photopin cc

But maybe things are not really as different for our kids as we think. Maybe it is just OUR perspective that has changed. We see things with the practicality and rawness of adulthood. True, the world may be changing…but this is the only world our children have ever known, and the only childhood they have ever experienced. We might see the absence of a few fireflies, but our kids simply see the ones that ARE there. And they have just as much fun chasing the five that are in their backyard as we did chasing the fifteen that were in ours. So the only thing that can rob our kids of childhood is if we tell them there aren’t any childhoods left to live.

It was silly of me to mourn that night in the park. Because as I looked around, I saw families sitting on blankets and nibbling on picnics…a playground full of kids giggling and squealing with the delight that comes from swings and merry-go-rounds…bikes and scooters gliding along paved paths…little tongues turning shades of blue, red, and purple from sno cones…and oddly enough, more and more blinking, glowing orbs lighting up the darkening sky.

Long live childhood.

10 Responses

  1. Kurtis Suellentrop

    More scientific than philosophical, but at least I wasn’t lying (this time)… https://www.mos.org/fireflywatch/

    • THIS time. Here’s an actual true story…I told the kids a little white lie today and once I was found out, G said to me:”Mom, no offense, but you’re being kind of like dad.”

  2. Anne Blind

    Read this after a day at the beach Kelly. Aunt Cathy and I were remembering the great shell hiding at Hilton Head from long ago… and how tickled you were which in turn made all of us happy! And gave you that “special” memory of Papa that no one else can claim as their own. Just keep making those memories fro your kids – like evening in the park and their childhood will be remembered as awesome!

  3. Great post, Kelly! The kids have stayed up “late” to catch fireflies here a few times this summer. So fun and reminiscent. Thankfully they’re satisfied with the 3 or 4 they capture… I guess it’s more about the time spent more than anything else. Good for you for shaping such fond memories for your kiddos : )

  4. John Powell

    I loved your commentary on getting us to think about how our perspective changes…I won’t go into how my friends and I had contests to see how many fireflies we could kill with our wiffle ball bats. I know, I know..terrible admission from a social justice teacher!

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