This article in huffpo by Megan Rosker titled America Is Safer Than Ever, So Why Are Parents So Scared? has gotten my gander today, and I have THOUGHTS. So here they are.
This is an interview with the writer of the best-selling Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy, and her book basically says that parents are so afraid their kids might be abducted that they don’t allow the children to just play outside like kids of yesteryear. That parents are too busy helicopter parenting or sanitizing their children’s lives and the result is, according to her, overweight children who watch TV all day, and stressed out kids dealing with too much pressure. I agree with part of what she has to say. At first I thought that she might be on to something – that children don’t need constant supervision or an infinite number of safety measures to ensure a good childhood. And I agree with those things. But I feel like she’s missing a very valueable point, and maybe she addresses this in her book, but the problem isn’t the over-sanitization of children’s playtime. The problem is that the children that are most at risk for childhood obesity are the children who go home to empty houses after school and their entertainment options at home are probably going to be video games and television and boxed dinners. They can’t go outside. It’s not safe. Those parents can’t just let their kids go have free range over their neighborhood, because there’s actual reason for those parents to be worried.
I do believe that we “sanitize” a lot of little kids’ lives. Scientists are starting to say that overly cleaning and sanitation of kids is causing more environmental allergies because kids have less exposure, and that if you don’t allow your child to come in contact with basic “outside” elements, they won’t be able to build up an immune system – like leaves and dirt and sticks and whatever. Children need to have their hands washed, but basic soap and water is fine. No need for crazy triclosan antibacterial washes. No one is saying to let your kid eat dirt. But they are saying that your kid needs to play in the dirt. But that’s not all she mentions in this article.
She argues that parents are too scared about childhood abductions that they don’t pay attention to the actual problems. Yes, the numbers are down for childhood abuse and abductions, but it’s not because there are less creeps. It’s because parents are more cautious about safety measures for their kids. The abduction rates were higher when kids ran around outside at all times of the day unsupervised. Kids were hurt, they were abused, they were abducted in larger numbers than they are now. There was greater opportunity. Kids are taught more about how to spot a predator than they were in the 60′s and 70′s. Predators knew that kids were often unsupervised for large parts of the day then. It is not the case now. Childhood abduction and abuse numbers are down because parents and kids both know the actual dangers that are out there and there is dialogue about it. I read a few years ago about this, but as much as I’ve searched for that OP-ED, I can’t find it again. But the breakdown was that children are safer now not because there are fewer predators, but because there is more awareness and parents are more cautious.
The author of Free Range Kids eschews teaching emotional intelligence to young kids because they know what a smile means inherently. I honestly think this lady is off her rocker. I think that teaching children emotional intelligence – the ability to verbalize their feelings and recognize those feelings in others seems so important to me, that not teaching kids that simply because her generation wasn’t taught that seems daft. Her generation also wasn’t taught about Stegasaurus, so does that mean we shouldn’t teach kids now about dinosaur species we’ve found since then? (Yes, that was a little bit hyperbolic, but you get what I mean.)
I think what she was trying to say is that there are a lot of parents out there who probably do over manage the lives of their children, and that this is probably going to come bite us all in the butt when those children get older. There are more teens with anxiety and depression now, because there’s a lot more pressure put on them than ever before to make the best grades and be the best athlete and get to the best college. This kind of over-managing is probably what Skenazy is speaking to, and I understand that. I understand that she’s trying to speak to the parents who tend to want to control every aspect of the lives of their children. But I think it’s 100% irresponsible of her to say that you should just let your kids go outside and play because America is safer now than ever before. It’s safer because WE DON’T DO THAT. It’s safer not because there are less predators, or because they are all locked up or in the offender registry. It’s safer because kids have more supervision than before.
Incase you can’t tell, I feel very strongly about protecting our children from predators. And I wanted to share think link that has been passed around facebook a few times recently. It’s from Checklist Mommy, Tricky People Are The New Strangers. And I think all parents need to read it.