Friday, March 21, 2014

"Stranger Danger" And The Cult of Parental Paranoia

The overprotected kid
I think sensationalized headlines and the nationalization of local news is most responsible for the dramatic change in parenting roles in the last generation..  A horror story out of say, Oregon, which is purely a local story, becomes national news if it is prurient enough.  And that's repeated day in, day out: a non-stop montage of every parent's nightmares.  As a result, while the US is indisputably a safer place today, the perception is the opposite.
It's hard to absorb how much childhood norms have shifted in just one generation. Actions that would have been considered paranoid in the '70s-walking third-graders to school, forbidding your kid to play ball in the street, going down the slide with your child in your lap-are now routine. In fact, they are the markers of good, responsible parenting. One very thorough study of "children's independent mobility," conducted in urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods in the U.K., shows that in 1971, 80 percent of third-graders walked to school alone. By 1990, that measure had dropped to 9 percent, and now it's even lower. When you ask parents why they are more protective than their parents were, they might answer that the world is more dangerous than it was when they were growing up. But this isn't true, or at least not in the way that we think. For example, parents now routinely tell their children never to talk to strangers, even though all available evidence suggests that children have about the same (very slim) chance of being abducted by a stranger as they did a generation ago. Maybe the real question is, how did these fears come to have such a hold over us? And what have our children lost -- and gained -- as we've succumbed to them?
I find now with kids in the house we are part of the trend.  I was a pretty free-range kid, yet as parents we have almost 100% supervision.

It's really weird, when you stop to think about it.  And I'm sure this is a healthy state of affairs.

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