“Free-Range” kids vs. “Leash” kids
“Free-Range” kids vs. “Leash” kids
December 20th, 2014, police in Montgomery County Maryland picked up two children - ages 10 and 6 - who were walking home from a park in their neighborhood. The kids were unarmed, not selling crystal meth, not brandishing gang colors - in actuality, their only crime seemed to be that they were being overly cute; the ten year old was purportedly (protectively) holding the hand of their younger sibling on the jaunt. Oh yeah, how could I forget this important factoid, they were also guilty of forgetting to take their parents with them on their trip to and from the playground. Without delving into the minutiae of the case, the police brought the children to Montgomery County Child Protective Services and the parents were quickly charged with child neglect for not accompanying their children to and from the park.
And then there’s the folks on the opposite side of the philosophical coin. These families have decided to keep that “umbilical cord” thing going, by - LITERALLY - tethering themselves to their tikes. A significant and increasing number of parents are jumping onto the leash/harness bandwagon, citing safety and ease as two factors for the kiddie-cords.
It’s tough to construct an argument in opposition to any parent for doing all that they can to keep their children safe? That doesn’t however, stop many of us from cringing just a bit, when we see a mom “walking” her kid like she would her schnauzer.
Seemingly, the two sides are diametrically opposed. Upon further inspection however, there may be some gray area. As a matter of fact, when I conducted a very statistically sound and scientific poll (not really - in truth, I just asked questions of some people who had children), their responses were almost invariably, “It depends.” Using solid logic, they pointed to variables such as: the safety of the neighborhood, the savvy of the child, the distance the kids would be from their home, would there be other children they knew there, etc. Good stuff, right? Then I asked the dreaded “follow-up” question……..”When you were 10 years old, did your parents have a clue where you were on a nice summer day?” Again, very little variation in response. Very, very few Back-in-the-Day kids had parents who knew where they were on a 24/7 basis.
So what’s the deal? Did our parents just hate us? Were the tax deductions for children Back-in-the-Day not worth it? Weren’t there movies like Taken to scare the snot out of parents in the 70’s?
Follow-up to the follow-up…...I asked MY parents what was up. Here, we’ll be switching our research method from a survey to a case study. At this point, some background may be pertinent, in that we have the potential for a pretty solid “micro-scientific-situation.” My parents raised children that were born fifteen years apart (I was born in the mid-60’s and my kid brother was born on the cusp of the worst decade ever - The 80’s). Some more variables: I spent my early childhood in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. My brother spent his early childhood in Staten Island (as opposed to Brooklyn, a borough where trees actually DID grow). When I was four years old, I would take walks to 86th Street with my mom and she would let me (alone) run up and over the station steps where the elevated D train ran. In essence, I was crossing over the intersection instead of walking with my mom in the street. I remember thinking how cool it was to be able to see the cars and people below - what a treat! Except - wait a minute - I was FOUR! My brother played in gated backyards with his friends - always with a parent to supervise. I walked to elementary school (about a half mile) through a public park with only my (bad-ass, Scooby Doo) lunch box for protection. My brother rode the “Mom Bus” - think prototypical wood-paneled station wagon - to school every day. So what gives? Birth-order stuff? Favoritism? Valium? Nope. According to my mother, and every other parent I spoke with in her approximate cohort, the answer is: “Things were different back then.” Okay Captain(s) Obvious, things WERE different, but HOW? Did pedophiles and other nasty folks not exist in the 60’s and 70’s? Were cars, sticks, stones, and other things that could hurt us, all made of cotton candy Back-in-the-Day?
Nope, yet again.
The answer, according to Lenore Skenazy, author of the New York Times bestseller Free Range Kids, is that it is because we have fallen under the spell of a “paranoid parenting culture.” Skenazy refers to the parenting style as “Yuppy Jujitsu.” By way of example, she points to the statistically convoluted reasoning of the many Ninja Mommas who keep their children on leashes. She explains that the Ninja parent will actively utilize a leash to protect their child from the 1 in 1.5 million chance of being abducted, while allowing the same child to super-size their Happy Meal [there is a 1 in 3 chance of a child becoming obese]. In her book, Skenazy also addresses the issue of how contemporary parents push their children academically...but that’s for a different chapter.
So, were the authorities right to charge the parents of those “Free Range” kids with neglect? Did my mother secretly hope I tripped on the third rail? Will child leashes in the near future be equipped with WiFi and Bluetooth? My head is spinning, and my feelings and convictions on the issue waffle like Bill Clinton in a Doonesbury comic strip. What I am sure of though, is that my mother and her friends were right when they said: “Things were different back then.”