I was trolling my Facebook news feed yesterday and came across this article about criminalizing childhood independence. The gist is basically that there are cases throughout the United States where parents are being charged with child abuse, child neglect and so forth, for not being vigilant enough in monitoring their children, "This has been a nationwide pattern, thumping parents who are caught not hovering."
This article deeply concerned me, not because I believe that we should hover over our children, or that I am concerned for the children involved in these incidences, or even that I believe that the level of independence subscribed to these children is even justified or ok. My concern is that this yet one more constraint that we insist on placing on parents who are already facing hardships on so many fronts as it is.
It has been my growing belief that in many ways, despite the world being a statistically safer place now, parenting was much easier in my parents' day in age. My mother, raised in a small town in PA in the early 1940s was quite often turned out in the mornings on non-school days and was expected to find some way to entertain herself until the lunch bell rang. They were then turned out again until dinner time. My mother has often commented on the cleanliness of her Mother's house and I have often defended the state of mine by commenting that things are just different now. There just isn't any time to work on the house. I am too busy supervising my children. No longer can you send your kids outside to roam the neighborhood, or go to the park or, heck even play in your own front yard anymore in order to get something done. A dear friend of mine was visited by CPS because she let her upper elementary and middle school boys play in the font yard and the street "unsupervised." First off, she has big picture windows in her front room so she could clean and watch and second off, has anyone heard of street hockey or kick the can? No? Of course not. It is so much safer to park your kids in front of a t.v. screen, or give them a pad so they can play "educational games." It is the only way you will know that they are safe. And if they want playdates, they can just log on to online gaming, that's way safer. *cough, cough* But, at least you know where they are, right?
Mothers in a time crunch, especially working mothers have so many legislative rules to follow now that make their lives so difficult. You can't leave your children in the car while you run in for a gallon of milk. You can't leave the 3 and 6 year old home with the 9 year old while you run a quick errand. You can't even toss everyone into the car anymore. Instead you have to take 15 minutes to buckle them in properly every time you get in and out of the car. You can't even hire the 11 year old next door to watch your little one's so that you can run errands (a job I did for the neighbors across the street for years, but started at 11 watching a 2 and 4 year old). Now they don't want kids under 10 in a house without a child that is 12 and older....or in some states 13 and older. How do parents have a job that say, starts at 8:30 when school starts at 8:40? They aren't supposed to drop off before a certain point, the kids aren't supposed to walk to school by themselves, so parents end up having to pay for before school or after school care which is just another huge added expense to families. These are the families who under the old paradigm, might not need it. I myself was a very responsible latch key kid during certain times in my life.
This year I had to get permission from my school to let my 3rd and 1st grader walk to and from school by themselves. For the record, our house backs up to the school. They don't even have to cross a street until the cross walk in front of the school. It is less than 50 yards/2 minutes. AND I NEEDED PERMISSION. Additionally, I have actually endured comments from other parents, who clearly don't know where I live, about allowing the girls to come to school on their own. It started when my little one decided naptime was 20 minutes before the girls got home from school. It seemed safer to have them walk home together than to leave a sleeping toddler and dash up to the school, and saner than waking him up after 20min and listening to the screaming for the rest of the night.
Meanwhile, why we are penalizing parents here in the States, Raktim Mitra, an urban planner in Toronto published his study, referenced here, that children who are allowed to explore their neighborhoods with other children, rather than in direct supervision of adults were physically healthier, got more exercise than the kids who were under constant adult supervision. It also alludes to the idea that those kids who are not allowed unsupervised time tend to have delayed development in regards to decision making skills.This is not surprising when you think many times in order for parents to get something done and still keeping their kids safe, they utilize screen time since they can't send their kids outside unsupervised, and parents are already under a time crunch as it is.
Our expectations on parents these days is reaching the ridiculous, if not completely untenable. We somehow expect that if we are just vigilant enough that we can somehow bring the child mortality rate to 0, but that is just not possible. And so every time a child dies from a tragic accident we seek to legislate the incident in order to feel like we have some measure of control over the situation. Or we seek to blame the victim by putting the family under a microscope to see what they potentially did wrong so that we can somehow explain how it happened, thus inoculating ourselves against future tragedies.
The fact is that we can not hover over our children protecting them from every single danger they may or may not encounter without subsequently removing any chance they have of growing up to be healthy, self-regulated, responsible adults. We have to let go a little or we end up like the parents of
college students who are unable to function without parental help or parents who attend their adult children's job interviews and even attempt to negotiate their children's salary (read CNN's take on the subject). This phenomenon has become so prevalent that Forbes magazine wrote an article in 2013 on how employers should embrace this trend, and then provides guidelines to follow in order to avoid lawsuits involving breach of privacy and discrimination. We are doing our children a grave disservice. We need to teach them to stand up on their own, deal with disappointment and make good decisions. And then we need to give them opportunities to practice this without fear that "big brother" is going to come knocking on our door and charging us with neglect.
Building independence in your children is a very slow and gradual process and unfortunately it really isn't something you can legislate because each child is different. Taking law and requiring that children under a certain age have to be with children older than a certain age, such as a 9 year old requiring a 13 year old in the house with them is deeply unfair to parents who work jobs with inflexible hours and no way of getting children home from school. Many families can not afford before and after school care, which can be pricey. In this case the parent does what they have to in order to survive, but they risk being arrested if they are found out. And yet our economy is such that we almost require households to have two incomes, but then we turn around and penalize families with young children at every turn by making everything harder for them and then placing them under a giant spotlight of criticism if anything bad happens to their children, from a simple broken bone to a child abduction or fatal accident. The first thing we always ask, "Well, where were the parents?"
We can not keep leveling this culture of fear on families. It isn't healthy or realistic for them and it certainly isn't going to help our children in the long run. We need to learn to trust more, and hope for the best. No one wants to be the one who becomes the statistic, it is unimaginable, but I am pretty sure locking our kids in the house with t.v. and video games while negotiating everything for them all the way up to their first raise as an adult is not really preparing our children to defend themselves. And it is pinching parents even tighter as the proverbial rock and a hard place (read: economics vs. child rearing) gets tighter and expectations of what the perfect parent looks like soar.