The local elementary school I attended as a child now sponsors “Walk to School Wednesdays.” If you would like your child to walk to school you merely need to sign up, pledge to have a parent or other adult chaperone, and endure the police escort. Apparently walking to school, something that we neighborhood kids did from the age of seven or eight without a thought let alone a chaperone, now requires not only a parent, but a police escort and an excel spreadsheet.
Have you seen the spate of articles in the media of late surrounding parents getting arrested for things that used to be as everyday as pie? Things like leaving a happy pre-schooler in a locked car for five minutes to make a quick return, letting a seven year-old walk to the park by himself, or letting a child play in the Lego store at the mall while his mother was somewhere else shopping.
If you are anything like me, you might be thinking “hmmm…bad parenting choice but they don’t deserve to be arrested.” Now take a step back and ask yourself why. Not why they don’t deserve to be arrested, but why is it bad parenting to do things that thirty years ago used to be commonplace?
What do we think is going to happen if we let our kids be…kids? If we let them get dirty, let them make mistakes, let them screw up….leave them alone?
A dad blogger laments that an arranged play date is a sorry excuse for running next door to see if Johnny can come out to play. Everyone agrees…on the surface. Maybe play dates came on the scene when both parents started working, but their continuance is partially down to the fact that we don’t allow our children the freedom to just go to someone else’s house anymore. We arrange it. We expect them to text upon arriving, upon leaving. We trace and track them to from sun up to sun down.
Another article surfaces about how important play is. But even free, spontaneous play is supervised. Kids can’t climb because they might fall. They can’t swim because they might drown. They can’t hang out in packs and roam the streets because they might get abducted. Might, may, perhaps.
I was babysitting my sister at 11. I was mature for my age: not because I am special but because my mother wasn’t hovering over me every second of every day. I was allowed to make decisions for myself. I was allowed to make mistakes. I also had neighbors that I could call if I needed help or guidance, neighbors that would drop what they were doing and help me rather than calling the police because my mother left an eleven year old at home unsupervised.
I inwardly cringe at some of the stuff I did as a kid. I’m sure my mother would too, if she knew about it. Does it terrify me to think of my own kids doing that stuff or worse? Of course it does. But I cannot wrap my kids in bubble wrap and tie it up with a pretty bow. I can’t keep them swaddled until they are young adults. I can’t do those things and then expect they will be able to function in society.
In the name of protecting our children, we are denying them the experience of living their own lives. We are holding them hostage to our own fears. we are fattening our kids for slaughter.
And the slaughter is real life.
We need to stop the madness.
Life today for kids is like a giant simulator. We put them in front of a screen that shows virtual scenes of life, but we don’t let them control the joy sticks. Then, when they are old enough, we send them off hoping that mere simulated scenarios will be enough to keep them from getting hurt.
The truth is this: in all likelihood, your child is not going to be abducted walking to the park. They are unlikely to be hit by a car when they walk to school. They are unlikely to be molested while playing in the Lego store while Mom shops nearby. I wish I could say none of those things EVER happen, but of course that is not true. What is true is that they don’t happen any more today than they did when I was a child or when my mother was a child. Though statistic after statistic shows that crime is down, we have convinced ourselves of the opposite. We have convinced ourselves that it is unsafe for our kids out there in the big, bad world. No, it’s not the 1970s anymore.
The fact is, our children have never been safer. Seat belts, bike helmets, banning of second-hand smoke and Kinder Eggs. They are coddled and protected and nanny-cammed to within an inch of their life.
Yet, instead of parenting out of common sense, we parent out of fear; fear that something bad is going to happen, fear that the unthinkable will happen, and now, increasingly, fear that someone is going to turn you in for making a choice. Because instead of living in a world where adults look out for a child walking on his or her own, they call the cops.
I want my children to be safe. I want your children to be safe. But shielding them from playground apparatus and independence is not the way to keep them safe. By creating what is essentially a never-ending infancy, we are cheating our kids out of a childhood. Childhood is when you learn how to do things; how to be friends, how to make choices, how to negotiate and how to react and how to make mistakes. Children need to succeed and they need to fail. They need to fall, even though sometimes falling means breaking an arm. Or a heart. That’s what growing up is. It is not all sunshine and roses, it’s not craft projects and organic ice cream, structured days and a false sense of fairness and security. Growing up is a dress rehearsal for life. It’s when you see what works and what needs to be changed.
If you love something, the saying goes, set it free.
If we never let our kids out of the sight of our nest, if we keep grooming their feathers for them, dropping organic, grass-fed worms into their waiting beaks, when it comes time for them to leave, they’re not going to fly. They’re going to fall.
It is time to stop the madness.
We need to set our kids free.
17 Comments Add yours
Oh, Amen to that! We’re crippling kids these days. I have to laugh about “walk to school day.” We have that here, too, and you practically need a background check and a parade permit to participate in it. What the heck people, walking is natural, not a recent invention of government.
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I thought it was a joke at first, I was that flabbergasted. But like everything else these days, it seems like we are taking things to the extreme. And the real losers are our kids.
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So glad you wrote this. It is a kind of collective madness. It often feels as if children are imprisoned in their homes, and as if public spaces don’t belong to them.
That is so true, as if public spaces don’t belong to them, as if there is fear lurking behind every bush and around every corner. It is terrible and sad and frustrating.
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Sweet music. Great piece.
Thank you. Not too heavy on the bird metaphors? 😉
Can I like this 12 times? There are not enough voices saying that parenting shouldn’t be all about protection. We all want safe kids but what are kids losing? Being able to self-articulate is needed and yet we tend to avoid the idea of a childhood where kids are free to make choices and mistakes.
Yes. I will mark you down for an additional 10 likes for use in the future. Parenting shouldn’t be about protecting–that’s actually the easy part, the biological/pick the car up off the kid part. The hard part is giving them the tools they need to go out and be functioning members of society and then trusting that they will use them. But that’s the greatest test of our success. If my kids leave home and survive, I’ve done a good job. Faith, for all they preach at you from pulpits and soapboxes, is not easy.
Dina, I think the biggest reason I chose not to have kids is this phenomenon (aside from the ages MTM and I were when we met.)
I cannot imagine everyone on earth having an opinion about the product of my uterus from inception, let alone struggling through unwanted people inserting themselves into every decision. It was bad enough when it was just the thought of my mother, but now, it’s the whole freaking world.
Like you, I used to run around unsupervised, ride my bike all over the place (without a helmet, in the road), and babysit my younger brother when I was 10. I gave a lecture several years ago at the University of South Carolina, and I told the class of college seniors I wasn’t much older than they were. Yet, when I was little and my parents decided to go on a long trip, my mom put my brother’s crib mattress in the back seat of the car, and we rolled around on it until we got to our destination. I wish I had video of the looks on their faces. Who knows WHAT that generation will think parenting is as a result of all this smothering. It drives me CRAZY, but I don’t have kids, so I keep my mouth shut…….unless I’m with my friends’ kids when it happens……..I was staying with one of my friends a couple of weeks ago. She has two teenagers. I was home when her younger one got home from soccer practice. (She was at work.) She texted her son’s mobile three times, and when he didn’t reply, she texted me. All in the span of two minutes. I said to her son (in a tone I hope you can imagine…..) “I think your mom is trying to make sure you got home okay.” He’s FIFTEEN, for crying out loud. (Of course, he loves me, because on top of making sure he knows I think that’s dumb, I also show him European commercials.)
(And I’m sure one of these harpies is going to read my comment and think I’m sexually assaulting a teenager………)
Great post. Your boys will grow up to be functional men.
After I wrote this book, I found this article and thought you might like it.
I’ve seen it up on Facebook, but haven’t read it. Will go do it now. Post script: I’m sitting here typing this and my husband just asked me, “have you read that article on kids and fidgeting?” Fate.
Thanks, Andra, not only for the faith that my sons will grow up to be functioning men who can cook and clean, but also for the incredibly thought out comment. Nowadays everyone one earth has an opinion about even the potential product of your uterus….but I digress. It is very easy to get caught up in the fear mongering. Even my mother, who didn’t know where we were for days at a time, sometimes stands by the front door when my kids are playing happily outside. At best it is another trend in parenting. At worst it is some insidious plot to keep us under the thumb of some watchful Big Brother-esque cabal. I often joke that my own kids when they are old enough to have children of their own will wonder how their mothers thought it was ok to work on laptops or talk on cell phones when pregnant. I’m sure by the time I’m a grandmother most of the things that I do as a parent in the guise of love and helpfulness will have be debunked by a new generation as neglectful and borderline abusive. So it goes. That said, the look of pride on my 9 year old’s face when he was first able to ride his bike to and from school on his own made everything else fade in comparison. I am here to guide them and yes, to teach them. I’m not meant to be a kindly guard. Thanks again. (P.s., your friend’s son has an ally in you. Keep showing him commercials with boobs. If he’s ever in real trouble, he’ll know he can talk to you.)
Bravo. We hover over our kids until we hand them the car keys. Yup. That’s the proper time for kids to begin to experience freedom!
It always amazes me when parent then lament that their children can’t do anything for themselves. I keep waiting for the Homer Simpson “Doh!” moment to happen. It usually doesn’t.
Bravo! I was the anti-helicopter mom when it was really hitting mainstream popularity, which just further endeared me to the other mothers in M’s classes (note: sarcasm used heavily in the last sentence)
Now, at almost 18,he can ride a city bus by himself, walk all over town and take care of himself. Some of his friends still aren’t allowed to be out of earshot of the parents. What will happen if they go to college? (kids, not parents, though that may be what they do)
I don’t know what is going to happen, that’s what scares me. This seems to be a topic where most people agree yet think they are in the minority. It’s a strange phenomenon for sure.
Great article. I just sent my youngest away to college and I wonder if she is properly prepared. Was she allowed to make mistakes? Or did I stop her from making them? How do humans learn unless they make mistakes? It is indeed a strange time to raise children. I was so frightened that someone was going to grab one of my kids. When my mother’s generation raised their kids, the thought of someone taking another’s kid was unfathomable. Why would anyone want another kid? That thought process was indeed naive but there has to be a happy medium somewhere……