Tag: Parenting

The Captive Child

The Atlantic has a long but must-read article by Hannah Rosin on the overprotected child. In it, she documents how children today, despite increased safety and lower crime rates, have far less freedom to explore and be kids than previous generations did. We’ve harped on this before, but Rosin cites example after example of how little freedom we allow our children and how much of what makes childhood fun (and important) is being taken away.

There are too many good part to quote selectively. But here’s a key one:

I used to puzzle over a particular statistic that routinely comes up in articles about time use: even though women work vastly more hours now than they did in the 1970s, mothers—and fathers—of all income levels spend much more time with their children than they used to. This seemed impossible to me until recently, when I began to think about my own life. My mother didn’t work all that much when I was younger, but she didn’t spend vast amounts of time with me, either. She didn’t arrange my playdates or drive me to swimming lessons or introduce me to cool music she liked. On weekdays after school she just expected me to show up for dinner; on weekends I barely saw her at all. I, on the other hand, might easily spend every waking Saturday hour with one if not all three of my children, taking one to a soccer game, the second to a theater program, the third to a friend’s house, or just hanging out with them at home. When my daughter was about 10, my husband suddenly realized that in her whole life, she had probably not spent more than 10 minutes unsupervised by an adult. Not 10 minutes in 10 years.

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?

As an academic, I see the impact of this on young adults. We seem to be getting more and more “adults” who simply can’t function with mom and dad or some equivalent. They not only don’t object to parents calling professors about grades or coming to job interviews with them, they expect it. They expect their professors to hold their hands and cater to their every whim like their parents did.

But, ironically, given their first taste of even moderate freedom, many engage in dumb risky behavior. Only whereas previous generations’ risky behavior involved forts and creeks, these involve alcohol. That’s not a good tradeoff. Everyone has to take risks in life to realize where the boundaries are and when there fears are reasonable. Aren’t they better off taking those risks on the playground than the dorm room?

Not all college students are like this, of course. Not even a majority. But every professor or researcher I know has a recent tale of a kid who can’t cut the apron strings or who can’t function like an adult. Maybe they’ll grow up at some point. But wouldn’t it better for them to grow up a little as kids instead of trying to compress it all into four years of college?

I fear we’re fighting a losing battle on the Free Range Kids front. Our legal system massively favors over-parenting — in divorce fights, the kids are almost always given to the more overbearing parent. But there are still a few glimmers of hope that we can rescue childhood from the iron triangle of politicians, lawyers and media hysterics that have taken it away.

Stamping Out Fitness

I’ve been sitting on this story for a day, hoping against hope that it was all a big misunderstanding or a prank or satire (a few weeks ago, I almost got fooled by the “playing sports without balls” radio story). But I have yet to see a debunking, so:

Linn’s Stamp News reports that the US Postal Service will destroy the entire press run of a stamp series aimed at getting children to be more active. According to Linn’s reporter Bill McAllister, three of the stamps in the fifteen stamp series raised safety concerns among sports figures on the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition. The stamps in question depicted children performing a cannonball dive, skateboarding without kneepads, and doing a headstand without a helmet. The unsafe depictions came to light after USPS Marketing chief Nagisa Manabe asked Michelle Obama to take part in a first day ceremony for the stamps. That was apparently the first time the stamps had been reviewed by the Sports Council

I don’t have a problem with FLOTUS’s “Just Move!” campaign. I’m dubious it will be effective but if it gets a few kids to pry their lardy asses off of a few couches, it will probably be the biggest single achievement of this Administration. But … come on. Who does a headstand with a helmet? Who doesn’t do a cannonball? Since when is a cannonball unsafe?

Someone on the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition needs to come up with a better explanation, an apology or a debunking. Because if this story is real, it shows that the disease of Helicopter Parenting has infested the highest levels of …

… oh … right.

Kid Shaming


Kaylee was relentlessly harassing one of her classmates over the course of three weeks and verbally tearing apart the girl’s clothing, according to KTSU-TV/Fox. Kaylee’s stepmother, Ally, told the Salt Lake City TV station that Kaylee went as far to call the girl a “sleaze” and a “slob.”

When Ally received a note from the school alerting her of Kaylee’s bullying, she talked about the issue with her stepdaughter and was perplexed when the young girl seemed apathetic to the damage she’d caused. The bullied student was so hurt that she wanted to leave the school.

Ally decided to get creative to teach Kaylee a lesson. The stepmom spent about $50 at a thrift store and purchased clothes she knew Ally would be embarrassed to wear. The clothes were poorly fitting and dated. (Anyone with a daughter might know that fourth grade is often the year when a girl starts to show interest in fashion and care about what she wears to school.)

“I thought this was a perfect moment for us to really teach her, this is right, this is wrong, which path are you going to take? And then it’s her choice,” Ally told KTSU.

How did Kaylee react to her public shaming? When her stepmother presented her with the thrift store outfits, she cried.

But the fourth grader followed her stepmother’s instructions, wore the unstylish threads for two days, and put up with her friends saying meaning things about her clothes. In the end, Kaylee admitted that she learned a lesson, has decided that teasing other kids is mean, and promises to be more kind to her peers.

I have no idea if Kaylee — not her real name — will learn her lesson or not. But I, for one, think the stepmother did the right thing. Yeah, the child psychologists will tell us that shaming is damaging. Check out this Yoda-like quote:

“What happens with that is the person walks away at the end saying, ‘Now I’m really angry, that was humiliating and now I’m angry.”

Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. Suffering leads to having the car keys taken away. Or something.

One problem I’ve always had with child care “experts” is that they tend to not see the shadings in child rearing. Beating your kid every day for arbitrary things is damaging; the occasional spanking is not. Stuffing your child with junk food will make them fat; a bit of Halloween candy is fine. And while routinely humiliating and degrading your child might be damaging, occasionally embarrassing them when they’ve done something wrong never hurt anyone. In fact, I am very positive on the use of humiliation to discipline kids. My dad often kept us in line in high school by threatening to walk us to class. Another friend’s dad, if we were making too much noise, would tell us to cut it out or he’d come downstairs in his underwear and make us cut it out.

I mean, what the hell are we supposed to do? Corporal punishment is out. Humiliation is out. Harsh language is out. It would be lovely if we could discipline kids by sitting down and talking things out like we’re Jimmy Carter. But, more often than not, kids don’t fucking listen. So what are we supposed to do when being progressive and reasonable fails?

The other problem I have is treating children like they are delicate flowers who will wilt the second a parent does something wrong. Or that they are made of glass. Even if what this mother did were wrong, the daughter is going to be just fine. She was forced to wear unfashionable duds for two days? Boo-fucking-hoo. Out in Oklahoma, a bunch of kids just had their school smashed to pieces around them, spent hours buried in debris and watched classmates die. I guarantee you that most of them will recover just fine. So will the girl whose dad blew away her laptop on Youtube last year. (And honestly, it’s not like she sent the daughter to school in rags. The clothes are unfashionable but perfectly fine).

Maybe this girl will learn her lesson or maybe she won’t. But I can’t respond to this story with anything but applause. I wish more parents responds when their kids are being assholes.

Best dad in the whole world?

I thought the crowd here might appreciate the living hell out of this guy. The backstory is, his 15 year old daughter is a spoiled brat and he’s basically had just about enough of it.

Watch the whole video, it’s worth it. Slightly NSFW due to the language he reads from his 15 year old daughter’s Facebook post

I wish he could be all dads.


I can’t imagine what these parents are feeling:

On Wednesday, [parental fears] did come true for one Brooklyn family, as the body of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky was found dismembered two days after he disappeared on a short walk between his day camp and where he was supposed to meet his parents. The boy, who had implored his parents for permission to walk home from camp alone, got lost and ran into a stranger who, the police said, kidnapped and killed him.

For parents across New York City, the tragedy set off a wave of fear, self-doubt and sometimes fatalism, not seen perhaps for 32 years, since Etan Patz, who was 6, vanished after begging to be allowed to walk alone to the bus stop, just two blocks from his home in SoHo.

There’s a lot of blaming the victim going on, with people saying, “How could the parents let him walk home in this day and age?!” But you know me. I’m a huge fan of Lenore Skenazy’s blog. I think we coddle kids way too much. I constantly note that the crime rate it the lowest it has been in half a century. So I find myself agreeing with Ta-Nehisi:

I think the boy’s parents will spend much of their lives questioning themselves. I am so sorry about that, mostly because I don’t think they did a single thing wrong. I was walking home by age seven, and on mass transit by age nine. I suspect a lot of you have similar stories. Moreover, there is no 100 percent protection for children. This is, by far, the hardest reality for a parent to reckon with.

Having a child is like watching your arm split off from you, grow its own brain and then do whatever it feels like. On some level, it’s still yours, but you can’t control it, you can’t save it, and you can only, within reason, really protect it.

Exactly. 8 years old is not too young to walk seven blocks in a very safe neighborhood. Something like this happens only 50-100 times year. It is dwarfed by the number of children taken by car accidents, drownings and their own evil murderous parents. Here’s what I said on Skenazy’s blog:

The proper response to this is defiance: to not let one sick evil individual force all of us to live in fear and terror. Every day of every year, 60 million children go out into the wide world. Of those, maybe a hundred have something like this happen to them. Is preventing this kind of thing worth raising a generation of terrified, helpless, out of shape kids? Better to teach them how to be aware of their surroundings, how to recognize danger and how to ask people for help. The only way to absolutely prevent this is to chain your kid in the basement.

I once got into an argument with a fellow parent about this (he was of the “my kid can walk to school when’s he’s in college” school of parenting). Toward the end of the argument, he threw out what he thought was the trump card: “It’s my job to protect my kids.”

But he’s wrong. It’s your job to raise your kids. It’s your job to bring them up to be functional, independent human beings who can take care of themselves. As someone who works in a university, I’ve seen the kind of kids helicopter parenting produces — timid, helpless individuals who can not deal with even minor setbacks or difficulties. They can’t talk to a professor about their grade; mom and dad have to do that. They can’t seek out a scientist to do work with; we have to come to them. And their personal lives are a wreck as they either can’t approach the opposite sex or are too childish to conduct a relationship properly (e.g., go to a store and buy birth control).

Kletzky’s parents did the right thing. That it ended in a horrible tragedy is not of their doing.