Saturday, July 29, 2006

The death of childhood 

There has been a long (and occasionally tedious) discussion at The Corner over child-rearing, a subject that my generation (Boomer - "X" frontier) flogs like an old nag. However, John Derbyshire today wrote a paragraph that speaks precisely to my greatest regret as a father, that my children are not growing up with the freedom that I did:

I've been aware for some time, and reading that made me freshly aware, of my own great good fortune in having been in the last (actually, I think, about last but one, or last but a half) generation of Western children to have a real childhood: roaming over fields and through woods, falling out of trees and into ponds, experienced with firecrackers, roller-skates, airguns, and slingshots, being bullied and occasionally beaten up by older boys, playing "British Bulldog" in the schoolyard, sailing model boats and flying model planes, playing complicated street games handed down intact from ancient Rome—-and all with never an adult in sight! How lucky we were! How miserable our children must be!

Apart from the "British Bulldog" thingy, I did all of that, and I bet Derbyshire never skinned his forearms up to his wrists diving for a touchdown pass on the sidewalk that formed the goal line in the vacant lot gridiron across the street.

Why do we oppress our children so much? By virtually every metric, with the possible exception of traffic, most suburbs today are at least as safe as they were in our childhood, if not safer. The police blotter in Princeton consists of two types of offenses -- trivial property crimes, and the arrest of losers who are foolish enough to drive through town on the trek between New Brunswick and Trenton (why the local cops just don't let them drive through is beyond me). Many of the most dangerous toys -- lawn darts and wrist-rockets and diving boards and such -- are off the market, and hardly anybody leaves guns around to play with. So why do our children have so little freedom? I don't know the answer, but ask that question at a suburban potluck supper and conversation screeches to a halt and everybody looks away with visible discomfort, or forces out a laugh like you just made a joke that hits too close to home. With all the willingness to talk about this subject, you might as well go ahead and announce that you sort of like Dick Cheney.

When I was 15 years old in that delightful year of 1977, I got on a bus in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, rode it to the Port Authority Terminal in New York, walked down 42nd Street to Grand Central Station, figured out how to buy a ticket for the train to Bronxville, actually found the train to Bronxville, and visited my grandparents for Thanksgiving. Alone. My son is the same age today, and we would no sooner allow him to do that than to get on a plane to Cairo, even though the crime rate in the area between the Port Authority and Grand Central has probably fallen by 90% in the last 30 years. Why not? The only reason I can think of is that he has not had nearly the same experiences that I had had up to that point, so he is far less able to fend for himself out in the world. I can't, however, give you an a priori reason that explains why we have sheltered him so. My only defense for this crime against my son is to claim that we are not nearly as safety-paranoid as most of the parents we know.

For what it's worth, our parents' generation -- the people who had us rattling around loose in the back of the station wagon -- think that we fortysomethings are nuts. They are right.


By Anonymous Dan-O, at Sat Jul 29, 08:22:00 PM:

Well you left out the sniffing glue at 13, stealing booze at 14, smoking pot and tripping on acid all prior to 16. It is perhaps that reason we don't want our kids getting out on a leash.

We all knew what we got away with and we'll be damned if we let our children.

In a way, I think that makes us better parents.

Its precisely what we knew what we were all getting away with that we realized as adults we do not want our children doing what we did.

In addition, it is just so much more crowded now (especially here on the upper east coast). There are too many people with too many bad intentions out there.  

By Blogger Papa Ray, at Sat Jul 29, 08:23:00 PM:

Since my first Grandson was born 17 1/2 years ago, I have been in a constant battle with my kids about what the grandkids (3 boys and 1 super sweet girl) can or can't do, how they do it, where they can go and how and on and on and on.

I finally figured out that when I have charge of them we just do what ever we want to (almost) how ever we want to or even (heaven forbid) how the kids want to.

Of course I have had to make deals with the kids to not tell details or the whole truth when asked about our activities.

I'm not proud of this but they would have grown up like pickles in a barrel if we have behaved and limited their experiences, like their parents wanted them to.

But everyone is amazed now at a 17 1/2 y/o kid that is capable, confident, expericenced and well rounded. The same can be said of the 16 y/o, the 11 y/o and even my Sweet Sassy Sarah at 5 years old.

They have spent a lot of time with me over the years, mainly because I insisted on it for various reasons. Even now, when most older teens would not want to be with their Grand Dad, my two "main men" have no problem doing things with me or even including me in some of their hairbrain, outlandish teenage activities. I promised not to tell, so don't ask.

I'm hoping to be around for a few more years, even if the doctors don't think it will be that long if I continue my wicked ways. My Sweet Sarah is the one keeping me most occupied at the present time and I think it will continue.

Sorry for the long post, but talking about "my" kids is something that just comes naturally to me.

I am so proud of them.

Papa Ray
West Texas

By Blogger sammy small, at Sat Jul 29, 08:41:00 PM:

I've thought about the same thing as many others probably have. I can think of two things that have changed in the past 30-35 years that I would consider worth researching more.

First is the societal acceptance of more gratuitous sexually explicit media and messages. The elimination of sexual taboos can't but have helped spawn additional predators and molesters by helping release their hidden inhibitions. I think the gay movement may have helped reinforce this as well. I don't have facts to back up this conjecture, so don't flip out on me. But to completely disregard it is unreasonable.

Second is the proliferation of news stories about abductions, rapes, and child molestations with the advent of 24 hour news. Remember McMartin preschool in Manhattan Beach, CA in 1981? It was self sustaining histeria that grabbed peoples attention and was a great type of story for the media to fan up. Remember the milk cartons and all. Now we have Amber Alerts as well.

THE primary responsibility a parent feels is to protect his child from dangers of all sorts. I suspect that these two factors weigh significantly on the limitations in freedom and liberty many parents allow for their children.  

By Blogger Aristides, at Sat Jul 29, 08:51:00 PM:

I think Derbyshire needs to come down to the South. I'm generation Y, and I had nothing but woods, creeks, potato guns, bow and arrows, BB guns, go-cart racing (not the sissy ones you find at Pigeon Forge, either), and huge bon-fire parties out in the fields with hot girls and cold beer.

Being trapped on Long Island must be getting to him.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Jul 29, 09:13:00 PM:

I'm sure that there are some parents out there that turned their kids into wimps, but you're just plain wrong that kids in recent times don't do those things anymore. I did those things growing up and so did all of my friends not too many years ago. We probably did those things less than your generation because we had so many more choices of indoor entertainment with more channels, computers and quality video games. But, rest assured right now there are kids out there roaming, drinking, and maybe even egging a house or two.  

By Blogger GreenmanTim, at Sat Jul 29, 09:34:00 PM:

In this age of information saturation, "those who are inclined to worry (to paraphrase Mark Twain) have the widest selection in history." I believe our protectiveness as parents is jumpstarted during pregancy, not because the risk of things going wrong is greater than in previous generations - far from it for most Americans - but because we know far more about what can go wrong. We are more involved in our own medical care, read What To Expect When You Are Expecting and note the chapters you hope never to need to reference but turn to when the cards turn out that way, and if, God forbid, you lose a pregnancy, you suddenly learn how many other people have because we talk about it now.

Bad things happened in the 1950s too, but most folks wouldn't talk openly about them, especially when they happened close to home. There was a child raped in our family by a predator in 1952 and the rapist had done it before but the families of previous victims had declined to press charges rather than face the social stigma - something I find utterly inconceivable today.

It is as if there is a perpetual state of Yellow Alert for most parents today. Yet I agree with those who say that children need the space to scrap shins and climb too high in trees. How do they discover their own capabilities, develop confidence and real life problem-solving skills, without an appropriate amount of risk? If it can not longer be experienced as a feral pack of kids roaming the neighborhood, then something needs to replace it, particularly for suburban and city kids without backyard wildernesses to explore.

I'm reading a book that others might find of interest called The Geography of Childhood that makes a case for children having access to wild spaces.  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Sat Jul 29, 10:22:00 PM:

...the proliferation of news stories about abductions, rapes, and child molestations...

Bingo. I think we have a winner.

I had the same sort of childhood described above, roaming free pretty much wherever and whenever I wanted. (The only restriction being you were expected home round about suppertime.) There was some level of concern about strangers because you weren't supposed to accept candy or rides from persons you didn't know, but that was about it. It was, quite literally in that respect, a different world.

I recall an episode from a Scout trip out west. During a stop in one city I was sent with another boy on a walking excursion to find and visit his great aunt. We were fourteen years old in a strange place surrounded by strangers. I dare say no responsible adult would even think of sending children out on such an adventure today.

We no longer trust that bad things won't happen. Maybe our bliss was mere ignorance, and though it's well to be done with such ignorance it's unfortunate that we've lost a good measure of innocence, too.  

By Blogger Nemesis, at Sun Jul 30, 08:12:00 AM:

I suspect many of the factors mentions in the previous comments have had their effect on childrearing, but in the locales like mine [SF Bay Area] where risk-phobic parents are the norm, I think the primary reason is that parents simply don’t know their kids. This was brought home to me forcefully when a friend recently got a job at a day care center at a local private school. This center takes care of babies as young as 3 mo. They are there for 9-10 hours a day, 5 days a week, unless they are sick. My friend thus spends about 50 hours a week with these babies, while by bedtime Friday night, their parents, counting waking hours, have spent maybe 30 hours with them, or if they work the standard white-collar work week and commute, maybe only about 20. (They get the weekend of course, but considering everything else they have to off in their off hours, I doubt they get close to even.)

As a result, these parents often miss out important events, like their child starting to sit up, to crawl, his first steps, her first words. The situation is so screwed up the school has a policy that you cannot tell a parent that little Bobby took his first steps, or little Tiffany spoke her first sentence. Not only that, but it turns out that many parents literally don’t know what their kids are like, and have to be told basic things, and this leads to confusion and sometimes hostility.

For these families, all this starts when the baby under a year, and can last until the Kid is 18, even older. For a child around here, it is possible to spend their entire childhood without ever being around the same adult more than a few waking hours each day.

So of course parents and schools resort to strict regimes that structure almost every hour of every day. Since no one knows the kid; knows what he or she can really do or how responsible he or she is, no one trusts them. Regimentation is the easy answer, and it had been become so ingrained that even families that have a full-time parent treat their kids the same way as those who don’t. No wonder the poor kids are so screwed up here.

All I can say is that it’s a damn good thing there are still parts of this country where people still actually raise their kids. Already we have a crop of 20-25 year olds in these parts who often cannot be trusted with the basic responsibilities that back in my High-School days it was thought natural and proper to assign to an average-decent 14 or 15 year old. And from what I can see, it’s only going to get worse.  

By Blogger Grumpy Old Man, at Sun Jul 30, 08:43:00 AM:

I grew up in New York city. I was taking buses by myself at age 8, riding all over on the subway and riding around Manhattan on a bicycle by 12.

The need to drive everywhere in the burbs is a big factor here. Also the fear our children will become victims of crime.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jul 30, 10:55:00 AM:

I agree that the relentless 24-hour news coming at us, and the sensationalim of that news, is a big factor. Remember that in the 60s and 70s there were only 3 national news programs, and they were on for 30 minutes a day. You simply would not know about the latest kindapping/murder in a state 1000 miles away. That was good, because the ability of television to personalize things makes bad things seem much more frequent than they really are.

Second, the need to drive everywhere is a big factor. Third, there's more to do indoors. Fourth, parents have taken over kids' activities -- everything is coached and planned and organized and scripted by adults.

And let me add another factor -- fewer moms staying home with their children. When I was in third grade in northern NJ (near New York City) in the 70s, we walked the mile or so to school alone every day. Third graders, no adults, no car lines, and in our little town, not even any school buses. The moms set up a "helping hand" system, putting a silhouette of a hand in their window if they were home and available to help.

Today, houses throughout the country are much bigger, vacations are more exotic, families have more stuff. But if our kids walk (with parents, of course) around our develpoment during the day, there are no sidewalks, hardly any neighbors out. Just the occasional car zooming by. And the moms are at work, spending their days earning money to pay for for today's much fancier lifestyle.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jul 30, 11:11:00 AM:

I wonder if its the pendulum phenomenom - If you grew up with little supervision, you will provide more with your children. And when they grow up and have children of their own, they will feel the need to give them more freedom. To some degree anyway.  

By Anonymous Unix-Jedi, at Sun Jul 30, 01:03:00 PM:

2 reasons even more than most that people have mentioned:
Lawyers, and Government Bureaucrats.

Group of teenagers crossing your property to go fish on a pond? Or your pond? Fall, break something? Kid drowns, or jumps in the pond, hits a rock, is paralyzed?
What are the odds you *won't* be sued?

And from the parental perspective, the risk that some government bureacrat will show up, and "for the children" start asking pointed question about child-rearing. And his/her biases (which usually tend towards the governmental intervention) come with the force of the State. "You let them.. SHOOT GUNS WITHOUT PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT?!" or "They do what while you're not home?".

And then if the kids are on someone's property, and cause damage. It's less likely of a lawsuit, but not totally unheard of, for parents to be sued for the kids being kids. Where it used to be, the parents would visit, pay for the damage, and everybody learned a lesson.... Now it's parents refusing to discipline the kids, and the whole business now takes cops and lawyers.

Combine those two, and there's a very vested interest in keeping kids out of your property, and keeping your kids off other peoples.

The real issue is the breakdown in "society", the "group". Now people consider themselves and their family to be the group, and others are outsiders, as opposed to earlier, when your local area/town/state, etc. were part and parcel of your identity.

Good side of that, the chances of another civil war in the US are almost nil as a result.  

By Anonymous Charlie, at Sun Jul 30, 01:08:00 PM:

I had vague notions of my forebears courtesy of stories from my grandmother. Then, when my children were young, I received copies of their diaries and letters and was astonished, given that as many as six years of formal schooling was a rarity among them, how much the erudition, humanity and political awareness on display eclipsed that of myself and my contemporaries, with our triple investment in education.

I was also impressed at what their lives consisted of. My great-great-grandfather, newly arrived from Germany at 19 in 1849 learned from a chance dinner guest that the Army would be holding an auction of livestock in San Antonio the next morning. After the meal, he set out on foot on the 30-mile trek following wagon tracks in the Texas moonlight. He rode back on the pair of mules and oxen he purchased.

About the time my oldest was reaching high school age, I came across a 1905 quote from a Frenchman that helped explain then vs. now. "We live less and less and learn more and more. Sensibility is giving way to intellect."

This took me back. Early in my career, I'd had two authors, eminent psychologists, whose work had indicated only a loose correlation between intellect and success in life but a tight one when it came to personal skills and the rewards society can bestow.

This gave me the courage to throw the book out the window when it came to parenting and schooling. The oldest decided to skip high school. His "freshman" year, he captained a dive boat mapping wrecks in Lake Luzern. The next year, he traveled all over the Maya with a woman writing a field guide. He made a documentary video in Cuba. (His college of choice phoned to say he would be receiving a scholarship as the highest-ranked applicant that year.)

The middle son, a ballplayer, finagled his way into high school in Japan so that he could experience baseball there. The youngest assisted a mine safety inspector in Bolivia one summer and worked in a steel fabricating plant in Mississippi the next.

The payoff has been fabulous in terms of kids who are resourceful, confident and capable. I would urge all parents to challenge the independence and adaptability of their children. What? You don't have those kinds of connections? Neither did we. The eyeopener was how readily long-lost cousins and friends of friends would open their arms, hearts and worlds to your kids.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jul 30, 01:25:00 PM:

I have moved out of the big city to 2 acres just north in a quiet neighborhood with horses, fields, woods, and ponds. I moved here specifically so my 4 kids can have a normal childhood.
There are two main things fighting against them having a normal childhood even out here. The first is computer and video games. They have an intense desire to stay inside staring at the screen. I have to make them go outside and then lock the doors. We use the computers for educational stuff and I also believe a little gaming is good for them so I won't throw them out, but the fight to get them outside is tuff, but worth it. The second is is activities: sports, karate, dance, scouts, gymnastics, etc. Everyone in my town has their days packed with activities, they all hate it, but cannot stop because everyone else is doing it and so the kids want to do what their friends are doing. It is a vicious cycle. As a result, there are no kids to hang out with regularly and so even I am getting my kids over-involved to ensure they have friends and things to do. I am slowly working on finding friends for them to play with near our neighborhood (bike-riding distance), but none are at home regularly so it is a constant struggle to get someone for them to play with. I can't do like my parents did and just say "go outside and play with your friends" yet, but I am working on it.  

By Anonymous ss, at Sun Jul 30, 03:09:00 PM:

I'd have to say that parents are influenced in their overprotectiveness as much by a fear of being a viewed as a bad parent as they are of actually being bad parents. With the proliferation of child protection groups, the constant media attention to child-related tragedies, the increasing interference of state agencies, and the social acceptance of self-appointed child-neglect-spotting busy-bodies, parents live with a sense of being constantly under surveillance. They lose their parental instincts and make parenting decisions based on "What would Child Protection Services say?" or "How vociferously would Oprah denounce me if she saw me now?"  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jul 30, 03:47:00 PM:

I have never understand the level of proctectness some parents feel are needed. As stated many times, contrary to what you may think, it is safer now then it has been for the last couple of generations.

I started taking the public bus at age 7 by myself. Never had much trouble other than sometimes there were crazy people, but you dealt. I remember when I was about 10 I went to a summer camp at the science museaum, they were reluctant to let me take the public bus home. The next year the rules were changed to specifically prohibit it. Well since that was the only way I could get home, I didn't get to go to camp.

The end result of all of this is we may ultimately be making kids less safe. The Natalie Holliday thing is a perfect example. It blows me away that a 17 year old girl thought it was a good idea to go off alone with 2 guys she didn't know. Some people seemed to want to blame a lack of effective supervision, but by the time you graduate from high school you shouldn't need someone supervising you. IF you have never been able to make you own decisions, well then you might not have the experience neccessary to make them when you are forced to.  

By Blogger Kathy, at Sun Jul 30, 04:50:00 PM:

I have three small children. We are going to homeschool, which helps with some of the coddling that would otherwise come from the school. But I can relate to the comment about having to schedule activities in order to play with other kids. There are kids who live on our street, but they don't play on our street. We have a weekly homeschool park day, and it's a great time for the kids to spend 3 hours or so of unstructured play without a lot of adult attention. My husband monitors them pretty closely if he's there, but usually I take them and I just let them play unless I see a major problem. We have a big backyard, but I do have to take them to a state park or somewhere like that for them to play in streams or real woods. It's worth it, though.

My mom, on the other hand, thinks I'm neglectful for not putting them in soccer, dance, music, etc. If we do all of that, when do we have time to just be? Why is playing soccer (or whatever) a necessary life skill?

I wouldn't just let mine run now for the reasons expressed above: there's no one around much anymore to help with watching for danger while they're out, and my perception is that there *are* more sexual predators now.  

By Blogger Ace, at Sun Jul 30, 05:18:00 PM:

...the proliferation of news stories about abductions, rapes, and child molestations...

Too true.

And what are the actual risks compared to the hysteria?

Read "The Culture of Fear" by Barry Glassner  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Sun Jul 30, 05:55:00 PM:

Several contradictory points.

When children became disabled in earlier eras, they were sent away to places that we didn't see them anymore - institutions. This gave us a rather false idea of what the actual risks were then. Dying in childhood was more common in all earlier generations, whether from disease or accident. What would be considered a high risk of death now would not have been considered so unusual then. Our memories are by definition retrospective - the memories of those who survived.

All that said, I do find that my brother and I were expected to be more self-sufficient in many ways. My second year at overnight summer camp they allowed my brother to attend as well, because I would be there for the two weeks. He was not yet 5; I was just 8. I don't think they send 4-year-olds to camp much anymore, nor consider the supervisory abilities of an 8-year-old to be of much value.

I don't think that anyone risked our lives in such ways because they loved us any less. But I think early death or other tragedy was considered a possible consequence of existence in general.

The need for self-reliance was likely to be greater in each preceding generation. I imagine observations similar to those here have been made by every adult generation looking back (and quite accurately, too), and will be made by our own children when they are parents themselves.  

By Blogger Dr. Melissa, at Sun Jul 30, 07:54:00 PM:

I was an overnight summer camper at the ripe old age of six. A girl around the block from me was kidnapped from her front yard, never to be seen again. And yet, my parents didn't think it was any big deal for me to trudge over a mile to school in the snow (Michigan, no I am not exaggerating and no, it wasn't uphill both ways)at age five.

They were insane.

Twice in the past three weeks two different middle aged men tried to snatch children from a front yard in our "no crime" suburb, The Woodlands, Texas while another dude got caught in a sting trying to meet up with a "13 year old" from the Internet. The abductions were stopped by alert moms. The pervert hook-up was stopped by police. Parents aren't imagining the dangers. They exist. And guess what? Everyone would blame the parents if the child was snatched.

I have posted about this dilemma and regret having to be so protective. But the neighborhood isn't full of stay at home moms. People move so much, it's a challenge to get to know them. It's an anonymous world. It might have used to take a village, but today, it takes anal parents.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jul 30, 08:27:00 PM:

And if anyone's home to watch out for the neighborhood kids, maybe that's not so good either.

A friend of mine used to let her six-year-old son walk unsupervised down to the corner and back, half a block away.

Not anymore. Why? A neighbor reported her to Child Protective Services for neglect. After watching her have to deal with the subsequent investigation, I'm about ready to keep my kids inside 24/7.  

By Blogger J Bowen, at Sun Jul 30, 09:57:00 PM:

I'm about Tigerhawk's age and I can relate.

I also know that the family size on average was much larger back then, so it simply wasn't possible for every kid to be oversupervised.

OTOH with more kids around there were more eyes to see anything strange going on.

And let's not forget that kids were more likely to have chores to keep them busy, which detracted from that unstructured time.  

By Anonymous TimTheFoolMan, at Mon Jul 31, 12:19:00 AM:

It's easy to presume that things are dramatically different for our children than for us. After all, we don't have the luxury of seeing our own childhood from the perspective of a parent, the way we see the childhood of our own offspring.

Is this the same world that it was when I was growing up in the 60's? No. Is it worse? In some ways. Better? In some ways, yes, in others, no. Now, with that said...

For me, the true tragedy is that many of my friends can't look to their own childhood for examples of good parenting, and therefore have to consult "experts" like Dr. Phil. Rarely is that kind of "sound bite parenting advice" worth much, particularly since it may not align with the core values that the parents are trying to teach in other ways.

For me, the post itself (and many of the comments) is more disturbing for its lack of parenting confidence. The only exception to that is even more troubling is Papa Ray deliberately circumventing the wishes of his own children, and foisting upon his grandchildren his version of "right." Regardless of whether his kids are raising the grandchildren correctly or not, it's simply not his job.

In my case, I was fortunate enough to have parents that were not naive to the real dangers that existed in the 60's and 70's, and put appropriate protections in place. As for the violent media barrage, increased sexual exposure, stay-at-home moms, and the many other ills that have been named as reasons for the current youth "not having a childhood," I must have imagined the nightly coverage of the Vietnam war, "free love," and my own mother working (and my mother-in-law).

Weird. Growing up in Kentucky in the 90's and 00's seems to be a lot like growing up here in the 60's and 70's. The main differences seem to be that there are fewer body bags on the nightly news, fewer STD's, stablization of the teen birth rate, and increased awareness that we've always had predators out there, and still do.

Dang that Solomon. I wish I could say "there's nothing new under the sun" and it be original, but even that's been said before.


By Anonymous David Mane, at Mon Jul 31, 02:11:00 AM:

I think it's society being feminised. I'm in Sydney Australia where no-one will read this which means I'm safe so here goes. Female values have pretty much replaced what I experienced growing up in the 60's. My kids, 5, 8 and 11 years old apologise to the Aboriginal people every morning at school, they get sensitivy lessons about bullying and sing anti-military songs. Nurture is in, toughen up is out. The pendulum is swinging further away from the ignoring trouble and putting on a brave face male attitude. So, instead of ignoring fighting in the playground and teacher-student affairs we expose them. But boy do we ever expose them. We worry about danger anticipating it at every turn. My daughter's 11 and may I say mature beyond her years. Cross the road on her own? Never. Go out alone? Nope, there's an army of pedophiles out there just waiting. I hear and read about this pedophile thing so often that I asked a friend who's a federal police woman. She said 90% are in the family, 9.9% at children's faigrounds and virtually zero prowling the streets. Kids are locked indoors because of an imaginary threat and a real one, say car accidents, where 1000s of kids will be maimed is ignored. So what have we got? We worry too much, anticipate disaster and continually correct our kids. Let's have balance. Keep the good stuff, we're friends with our kids, they don't get beaten up at school and their hapiness is a priority. But let's worry less and trust them to handle their own lives.  

By Blogger Charlottesvillain, at Mon Jul 31, 10:31:00 AM:

I'm joining this late, and most of the low hanging fruit has been picked. I debate this with my wife a lot. Media obsession with child abduction is certainly a factor in all this. There were child abductions in the 70s of course. We were "don't get in the car with a stranger, now go out and play." Another point that was raised is the scrutiny parents are under, both by the media and by bureaucrats. Apparently the thought that someone somewhere could consider you a bad parent is worth avoiding at almost any cost.

A previous commenter mentioned chores. Chores? When was the last time you heard of a child having real chores? It is a concept that seems lost for most suburban families, but if you don't give your children responsibilities, they won't develop as responsible people, and you won't trust them out of your sight. The whole calculus of child rearing, tested over generations, has been derailed.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Mon Jul 31, 11:50:00 AM:

This is not going to be a popular comment, but I think a lot of it is immaturity on the part of parents.

A previous commenter (a while back) mentioned not being able to tell parents little Mary or Johnny had taken their first step. Another one or two mentioned that risks have always been present, it's just that we know about them.

There's a related phenomenon I've observed, and that's that parents think public schools are "just as good as they were when I was in school..." only they're not. They just don't want to hear about it.

Raising my boys, I saw parents, over and over again, make choices that amounted to what was good or convenient for *them*, not for their children. They made things easy on their kids because in the end, that was what was easiest for them.

They couldn't accept that their children would ever fail at anything, ever get hurt, ever be unpopular, ever not do well in school, because all of these things would make *them* uncomfortable. But these things sometimes result in personal growth in kids. Sometimes they are part and parcel of the growing up process. We no longer accept consequences ourselves, and we no longer teach our kids that they need to learn to deal with consequences.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Aug 05, 02:08:00 PM:

I would (for a change!) concur with Cassandra -- but with a twist.

My sense (as a stay at home mom of the under-6 set) say that some of it also may spring from the post-analysis era. That is, parents fear being judged harshly by their peers AND by their children (years hence). We go to an awful lot of trouble to protect our children's self-esteems and fragile egos, in part (I believe) because we have been taught by our culture that traumatizing events will compromise our children's future emotional health and that we can somehow control/prevent this.

We are trained early in this as parents (almost from the moment of conception, when people give pregnant women dirty looks -- or worse -- for ordering a glass of wine in a restaurant). Next comes the all-important "zero-to-three" window of child development, when -- if the bubble of perfection and early intervention can be preserved, the wee ones will have a good chance of having all natural imperfections nurtured out.

Personally, I think as a culture we should listen more to OUR parents and less to experts. (On an individual level, of course, I'm a Gen-Xer, so I think my own parents should probably be trumped by experts! ;-))

I have been truly amazed at how many new parents have serious tension with their parents (new grandparents) over childrearing issues. Feeding, sleeping, crying . . . the way grandma handled these issues was just not quite good enough. Experts tell us this all the time and insecure new parents pass this judgmental attitude with the new grandparents in the early weeks of the grandchildren's arrival. No wonder parents feel like they're "on their own."

They are; of their own doing.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Aug 05, 11:22:00 PM:

Found this interesting section in a New York magazine article on UrbanBaby message boards, discussing Betty Friedan's Problem With No Name:

"All this free-floating anxiety was, Friedan noted with alarm, affecting the children. “Strange new problems are being reported in the growing generations of children whose mothers were always there, driving them around, helping them with their homework—an inability to endure pain or discipline or pursue any self-sustained goal of any sort, a devastating boredom with life. Educators are increasingly uneasy about the dependence, the lack of self-reliance, of the boys and girls who are entering college today.” According to Friedan, a conference in the White House was even called on the subject, to discuss “the physical and muscular deterioration of American children: were they being over-nurtured? Sociologists noted the astounding organization of suburban children’s lives: the lessons, parties, entertainments, play and study groups organized for them.”

"Maybe nothing has changed since 1963. Maybe everything has changed and only the anxieties remain the same, with new labels pasted on top of the old pathologies—every distant “refrigerator mom” replaced by an overanxious “helicopter mom.” Look closely, and the new diagnoses begin to seem like the inverse of the old ones, just another way of pointing out that there is something wrong with mothers, at once neglectful and overprotective. As a culture, we seem perpetually afraid that there is something wrong with our children—that they are spoiled and weak and incapable of growing up."

I'm guessing 1963 is sometime in TH's idyllic age of childhood. Go figure.  

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