You’ve all seen them, the social media memes and posts comparing how we played as children in the “good ol’ days” to how kids play now. We stayed out until the street lights came on, or played with two tins cans and string as opposed to cell phones, or rode our bikes to our friends’ homes instead of texting, and it goes on and on. I was following the crowd in this thinking as I thought about how I would never let my daughter walk half a mile to my parents’ house alone as I would fear for her safety, yet I walked home from school every day and stayed by myself until my parents got home two hours later. Then I stopped and wondered why. What has changed?
Why is it that I was able to walk down the block to the park at the end of my street and play at seven years old, yet a parent would now be arrested for child endangerment for doing the same thing? Those kids in “Stand By Me,” if that happened today their parents would be in jail.
Protecting versus over-protecting
The problem, in my opinion, comes from our over-protective culture. We put warning labels on everything and never let our kids out of our sight. Yes, some of the protection is good. I never sat in a car seat, but does that mean I don’t think my three-year-old should have to sit in one? No, much to his dismay, he gets buckled even for a trip that’s half a mile to my parents’ house.
I’m all for protecting our kids. Child endangerment and neglect are very serious and happens all too often in the US. When a parent “knowingly or recklessly exposes a child to a hazard or danger against which they cannot reasonably be expected to protect themselves” or “knowingly acts in a manner that creates a substantial risk to a child or minor’s physical, mental or emotional health or safety,” that is endangerment and neglect. When a child is abused, left without food or decent clothes, I think we can all agree that fits the bill. But does allowing your child to walk home alone make you a criminal? Protecting your child from car crashes, poison in the cabinet, or head injuries from a bike crash are one thing, but the FBI telling someone they can’t leave a 9- and 7-year-old in the car for 10 minutes, that’s a bit much. The laws are so vague that they can be interpreted in any number of ways, and to cover their collective butts, officials throw reality and logic to the wind and err on the side of being overprotective. That then becomes the norm.
The Melodramatic Media
The media doesn’t help either. To make headlines and get as many eyeballs as possible, the media sensationalizes everything. They show only the bloodiest and most horrific parts of a story, downplaying the mundane aspects. When a child is abducted, they don’t tell you that only one-hundredth of one percent of missing children are those taken by strangers, most are taken by one of their parents in a custody battle. Instead they show you a mother, who you probably can relate to, making the possibility of your own child being taken that much more real to you and thus fostering fear. In an article on Huff Post, author of Free Range Kids Lenore Skenazy says, “parents are hypnotized by the media to believe that their children are under constant threat of abduction or harm.”
Walking the Fine Line
As parents, we all want to act in our children’s best interests. Teaching them autonomy is a good thing. But in an age of “CYA” amongst officials (police, judges, social services) who err on the side of protecting the child (even when there is nothing to protect them from), who wants to take the chance that your child will be taken from you? The “system’s” ideas of what is best for our children can overrule us as parents. They don’t however, know us, or our kids. Those few bad apples who would legitimately endanger their children put the rest of us into the line of fire when we act in ways we know are not only not detrimental but good for our kids.
So, do you give into the fear-mongering? Do you stop your kids from riding their bike around the block where you wouldn’t be able to see them for a few minutes? Or do you give them limited but growing freedoms based on their character as they learn grow?
Leave a comment and share your thoughts.