I could have been arrested. Some might say I should have been. But thanks to the passage of time, I can continue leading my reckless life while the children I “endangered” have safely reached adulthood. Today parents like me are being arrested for letting children play in parks unsupervised. I picture my face on a TV screen over a scrolling subtitle: “Mother Arrested for Sending Children to the Los Angeles Science Museum ALONE.” Yep, that was me.
My three children (2nd, 4th & 5th grade) had a day off from school on the same day I was doing some crucial work for my Masters Degree at USC. When I couldn’t find a baby sitter, I brought them along to spend the day at the museum. I made them swear to hold hands when they crossed the street, I offered them lunch in the college cafeteria, and promised each of them a dollar if they didn’t fight.
According to them, it was a great day. They saw a skeleton and had cokes for lunch. Looking back, I suppose I took a big chance, but at the time it seemed like a good deal for everyone.
We lived in a safe suburb where children once scudded down the streets like leaves before the wind. My kids walked to school until fourth grade, when they were allowed to ride bikes. They had lots of walking company and lots of fun. My daughter’s biggest complaint about mononucleosis was having to ride to school.“Walking with my friends is the only fun part of the day,” she lamented. I’ve heard nothing about attacks on children, yet today, all but a few are driven to school.
Because we lived near the Pacific, we let our children go down the cliff in groups of three. If there was an accident, one could stay and one run for help. They learned to leave the tide pools alone, find interesting driftwood, and watch for incoming tides. How are children supposed to develop agility, judgment, and bravery if they can’t have this sort of adventure?
When all their activities are monitored by adults, youngsters miss the great reality check of dealing with their peers.
Parents have told me the relentless reporting of crimes has made them afraid and tightened their vigilance. We all know bad things do happen to children, but in our town, young people have more to fear from being cocooned than from being preyed upon. Adults are so terrified of something going wrong, that they never allow their charges to take any risks at all. They have created bogeymen where none exist.
Loving but hovering parents are raising children so protected they can’t manage on their own after leaving home. College counseling offices have seen a huge upsurge in calls from students needing help with minor aggravations like a roommate dispute or a stray mouse–problems young adults used to solve by themselves. Many freshmen call home daily for advice on their studies.
Lenore Skenazy, a New York mother, got called World’s Worst Mom for allowing her nine year old son to ride the subway alone. She has written a book called “Free Range Kids. How to Raise Safe, Self-reliant Children (Without Going Nuts With Worry).” I say hooray for Lenore and her Free Range Kids Project, which guides children through once-forbidden activities, while allaying their parents’ fears. She says: “Kids need roots and wings. Parents give them roots. I give them wings.” Don’t all parents want their children to have wings?