Thursday, August 21, 2014

Majority of Americans Want to Make Helicopter Parenting The Law

Did you see Lenore Skenazy's piece about a recent poll in the US? The title pretty much says it all: "Poll: Most Americans Want to Criminalize Pre-Teens Playing Unsupervised". She reports that 68 percent of Americans think there should be a law prohibiting kids 9 and under from playing at the park unsupervised, & further, 43 percent think even 12-year-olds shouldn't be allowed to play at a park alone. Wow. I wonder what the results would be were the poll conducted here in Canada? Are we so different? I don't know. It really does seem ridiculous that the people who think kids shouldn't be alone in a park at 12 years old probably were able to do just that when they were children.

Think back to your childhood: when did you start walking or biking or taking transit to school by yourself? When did you go alone to a friend's house? How old were you when your parent sent you to the store on your own? When did you start babysitting other kids or your siblings? I walked with my sisters to the store at age eight or nine. My mom left me alone for short periods sometimes with my sisters around the same age, from what I remember. I was paid to babysit other people's kids by age 12, sometimes quite late at night.

However much I hate helicopter parenting, I struggle with this issue as my son gets older. I do believe kids today are just as capable as we were. But on the other hand, I lived my first 13 years in towns of 10,000-17,000 where a lot of people recognized me & knew where I lived. When I was a toddler & I took off on my trike, riding several blocks away by myself, someone who knew me brought me back home. When my two-year-old son wandered out our front gate & to the end of the block (he literally walked just 50m from our front gate), he was immediately stopped & helped by passers by, but they didn't know who he was, so the police were called.

As Lenore mentions in her post & much of her work, in fact, the world we live in now is safer than the one we grew up in. Crime rates are lower than they have been in decades. But that's statistics, which don't have the same resonance to us as sensationalist news stories. So let's look at the anecdotal stuff, the horrible tales that stick in your mind... I can't think of anything recent. But I do remember seeing news stories about Clifford Olsen, the monster that was abducting children, torturing them, & murdering them here in BC. Even going by the emotional gut feeling stuff, it was more dangerous when I was a kid.

Probably the most important difference between my childhood experience & my kids' current environment is that there was much less car traffic where I lived. We're on a somewhat busy street & they'll have to cross Kingsway & 12th Avenue to get to our catchment elementary school. Getting hit by a car is far more likely to happen than stranger abduction or pretty much anything else people worry about. I don't know when my kids will be old enough to be as defensive as you need to be as a pedestrian in this city.

What do you think about the poll results in the US? When do you think kids can go to the park on their own? Is your answer different that what you grew up doing? What do you worry will happen to kids? I'd love to hear what you think in the comments!

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