The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The Sheer Idiocy of Helicopter Parenting

So, we have another case of children not being under constant supervision, some idiot reporting it, and cops treating it seriously:

Last month, the two [parents] were found responsible for unsubstantiated child neglect for allowing their kids, 10-year-old Rafi and 6-year-old Dvora, to walk home alone in December. …

The kids had been playing at a park about a mile away and the Meitivs, both scientists, encouraged them to walk home on their own as a lesson in self-reliance.

Oooh. A mile. I used to spend all day wandering around by myself. I went to the downtown YMCA in Vancouver, far more than a mile away, by myself. My school was about a mile away and I walked there and home by myself. I went out and played street hockey and my parents had no idea where I was; it was usually at least half a mile away.

It’s true that the world has changed, mind you: Stranger-crime afflicting children is way down. This might be because of all the helicopter parenting, I grant you, but there’s no credible argument that America or Canada is now more dangerous for children than it was 30 or 40  years ago.

In fact, if something bad is going to happen to your child, a few over-reported cases aside, it will almost certainly be done to them by a family member, a friend of the family, or another trusted adult. The people who are goddamn scary to children, dangerous to children, are the people you trust, not strangers.

Meanwhile, absent unsupervised playtime, absent learning how to handle themselves around strangers, the children don’t properly develop independence or creativity. (Measures of creativity are now in multi-generational decline, coinciding with the rise of helicopter parenting.)

Keeping children so safe they never learn how to be independent, creative adults who are able to take care of themselves is no favor to them. It’s an indulgence in fear. I was going to school by myself in grade two. I was walking Calcutta slums by myself in my early teens. I was traveling by myself in my teens as well.

And yeah, the bad things that happened to me, I can tell you, all happened at the hands of trusted adults and the bad things I suffered at the hands of other children ALL happened at school, supposedly a supervised place.

Binding children hand and foot doesn’t teach them safety, it teaches them fear and dependence.

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  1. My children were not allowed to walk around our big city alone until they were 16. I fought with my older daughter for two years about this. The first day she went out on her own she came back and thanked me. She had been harassed by men in the street and although she was old enough to handle it then, she knew she wasn’t old enough earlier.

    I don’t have an answer for everyone but this “helicopter mom” was a young woman in the city 30 years ago and knows exactly what goes on when a pretty girl is alone.

  2. Cvp

    Keep the middle class so busy that they can’t even consider thinking about all the crap that’s going on around them—and if they won’t go along with all the pointless nonsense they’ve been saddled with, off to the slammer with them.

  3. steeleweed

    Learned helplessness, anyone?

    I walked well over mile to school from the time I was 4. Alone. At -40 and often deep snow. From age 7, I took my .22, some fishing tackle and a hunting knife and spent a week in the woods. Alone.

    When my own kids were school age, all the kids in the neighborhood walked up or down the street to a centrally-located spot and the bus made one stop. Today, each mommy drives the 100 feet from the house to the road and waits for the school bus. And meets the bus in the afternoon. Poor kids are never out of sight.

    The best way to keep kids helpless and lacking both competence and self-confidence is to never let them do anything. The only way to teach is let the kids do.

  4. Almost all boys and the majority of girls will never have a problem. Some will and won’t ever tell anyone. You and your kids are/will be fine. Probably.

    But I bet nobody will ever go on a site like this and say that the child they let roam free was molested, raped, flashed, felt up, or harassed.

  5. Big D

    Well, look. Uhmurca has slid into a near paralysis between concoctions of terrorists in every bottle of Tylenol to spooks in the baby monitor, the cold, hard fact is, Earth is a dangerous place. Approximately 5% (wholly arbitrary statistic) of anyone everywhere is a crazed, dangerous member of some other species that just looks human.

    They can be family, they can be strangers, but if you think about it for a second, risk is concomitant to exposure, i.e. the more you are anywhere, the greater the likelihood that you will experience the freak in that location, and there in no way ever to avoid one on occasion. At least the kids weren’t black.

  6. Peter VE

    If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would say that it’s deliberate: teach all the parents that obedience to authority is always absolute. However, I really think that stupidity and short term thinking almost always trumps evil intent. (Cheney being the exception which proves the rule…)

  7. Ghostwheel

    Yep. Used to walk to junior high school, even in winter. Little over a mile, no big deal at all.

    Used to travel ten to twenty miles into the city when I was, oh, maybe 12 or 13 years old? Rode my bicycle to the bus depot, chained it up, took the bus into the city, from there to my favorite comic book shop. Yes, really, for comics. X-Men, Fantastic Four, those guys.

    Parents never got alarmed. They were not in the least neglectful. What’s the big deal?

    I really can’t wrap my head around these things.

  8. Mary McCurnin

    The stats of children being harmed is down. Down. Huffpo wrote about this several years ago.

    My kids ran free. I ran free. And we are all female. Things did happen. Things like broken bones and muddy shins. But that is ok. We need to move about in what is left of nature. We need the sun and we need to push the boundaries imposed by “authority”. It is the job of children to push their parents out of the way and become vibrant, strong humans. It is the job of parents to let them do this.

  9. mike

    Polly Klaas was in her bedroom. So was Elizabeth Smart. Megan Kanka walked across the street. Adam Walsh was shopping in Sears with his mom. Etan Patz was to walk two blocks, not multiple blocks or a mile, to his bus stop and never got there.

  10. That is true. And the odds of something really bad happening are relatively small; I gather that you didn’t know anyone who was attacked. Just because I knew kids who were attacked doesn’t mean it will happen to anyone you know. Of course, hardly anyone knew *they* had been attacked.

    You link to the free-range parent story; no doubt the 10 and 6 year old needed to be alone in the fresh air and push against the authority of their parents. Fortunately the parents’ reality show, blog, book and notoriety will help spread the message that everyone’s children are perfectly safe.. The odds of being abducted are small; “stereotypical kidnappings” (“defined as abductions perpetrated by a stranger or slight acquaintance and involving a child who was transported 50 or more miles, detained overnight, held for ransom or with the intent to keep the child permanently, or killed”) only numbered 115 in 1999, versus 52, 800 non-family abductions, half of whom were sexually assaulted.

    You and your children were not one of the thousands abducted and assaulted and neither was anyone you know (as far as you know) so there probably isn’t any reason to think it could happen to your grandchildren. What is life without risk?

  11. Mary McCurnin

    So, Susan of Texas, should we all stay home and kill our bodies by using the computer, phone, tv way too much. The danger of lack of motion and the stilted nature of indoors life kills/hurts more people than the danger of living in the “wild”. Life is dangerous. But not living freely is worse. Teach your children to be careful. Let them be free. It could kill them but it probably won’t. Not doing so would be cowardly.

  12. It’s not a choice between not moving or free range but yes, teach your kids to be careful and hope for the best.

  13. You do not keep your kids safe by never letting bad things happen to them. You keep them safe be letting them learn how to deal with bad things that happen, and that means allowing bad things to happen to them. The immune system works by being exposed to disease.

    Helicopter parenting is putting people into our military who cannot cope with discipline or the conditions of military life, and so we have PTSD and suicides of those who have never even been in combat.

  14. Trixie

    Perhaps I’m not understanding the context here, but I found this the most disturbing from the original article:

    Danielle Meitiv said she started hunting for her kids when they didn’t come home at 6 p.m. as she expected. It wasn’t until two hours later that she learned they were in the Child Protective Services custody, she said.

    Really? I’m so not impressed. I roamed freely as a kid as well, but STRANGER DANGER anyone? A known authority figure? Nope. Not them either. “You want to ‘talk’ to my parents because I rearranged your lawn gnomes? I’m going THIS way, so you’re free to tag along, but that’s as far as it goes.”

    I was well-trained since this is how I learned:

    Which led to increasingly interesting interactions with the Good Humor Man: OPEN THAT FREEZER DOOR NOW YOU PERVERT, I KNOW WHAT’S IN THERE.

    “Free-range” kids “learning independence through gradual freedom”? FAIL.

  15. I need to make a correction in case I am giving the wrong impression. The kids I knew were assaulted by relatives. It is not the fear of my child being snatched off the street that makes me cautious, it is being unable to dismiss child assault as something that would never happen to someone I know or someone like me.

  16. Jessica

    Another factor behind this is class competition. Yes, there is a generous attempt by parents to provide their own children with more opportunities (particularly since so much has been stripped out of public education over the decades), but part of it is the attempt to get a leg up on the competition for eventual college admission. Never too early to start burnishing that resume of extracurriculars.
    Not that this requires sending the police after those who opt out, but as unsupervised childhood becomes less common (and less possible if all the other kids are in one program or another), it becomes easier to stigmatize. Even more so since it will be the working class and minority children who are less likely to be in the various supervised activities.

  17. Mary McCurnin

    “Helicopter parenting is putting people into our military who cannot cope with discipline or the conditions of military life, and so we have PTSD and suicides of those who have never even been in combat.”

    I think the conditions of war and the fact that the United States is the perpetual aggressor and doesn’t take care of its veterans has much more to do with PTSD and suicides than helicopter parents. Helicopter parents are middle class or upper middle class and their kids don’t have to join the service to make a living. Well, maybe not yet.

  18. @Mary McCurtin: How do the “conditions of war” and the United States being “the perpetual aggressor” create PTSD and cause suicide for a soldier who has never been in a combat theater? And why do our veterans need “taking care of” to prevent them from suiciding if they did not develop problems such as PTSD, TBI and such?

    And as to “having to join the service to make a living,” oh please. Some do join because they fail to find jobs elsewhere, but that is a choice. No one is forced to join the military. We dropped the draft decades ago.

    Some people are responsible for their own problems. Not everyhting can be blamed on US government policy.

  19. JustPlainDave

    Being currently engaged in raising a fairly “free range” kid (hate the term – where I come from free range is something you raise to eat) in a very large city I can tell you, the biggest challenge is the rest of the fripping universe actively horning in on your kid “ooooh, are you lost – where are Mommy and Daddy?” when they see they’re travelling alone. So much for security through obscurity.

    Get ’em a cellphone (and remember that if you don’t have a comms plan, you don’t have shit), teach them a healthy degree of paranoia, get them out of the car (which is the really dangerous activity), and let ’em roam – ideally setting some progressive boundaries that let them gradually practice situational awareness (yes, my kid understands condition yellow).

  20. DMC

    Washington Post article from last week noted that teens were at there lowest ebb as a demographic group in the US, that is they constituted the lowest percentage of the population pretty much ever and that they were headed even lower and my first thought was “Crime rates will plummet” due to the fact little known outside dempgraphers’ circles, namely that 18-24 year old males commit the majority of crimes and the over all crime rate has tracked quite accurately with the percentage of 18-24 year olds for at least the last 40 years. Which is to say the parents have less to worry about realisticly but the growing scarcity of children may cause them to overestimate the perils to their special snowflakes. “Anti-Vaxers” would be such a case.

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