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Tell Me: Are Parents Today Overreacting to Child Safety Concerns?

Uploaded: Aug 9, 2018
I was touched by a column I recently read in The New York Times, “Motherhood in the Age of Fear,” by Kim Brooks, a mother who left her 4-year-old son alone in a car on a cold winter’s day while she ran quickly into a store in Virginia to get something for her kids upcoming Chicago flight home. When she landed, her punishment started for her child neglect, and it went on for a year.

What is happening to parents today, I wondered as I read it. As she said, “We now live in a country where it is seen as abnormal, or even criminal, to allow children to be away from direct adult supervision, even for a second.”

Her son had put up a fuss about getting out of the car. She knew that she was “supposed” to do, but then asked why. “Why did I have to fight this battle? He wasn’t asking to Rollerblade in traffic. He just wanted to sit in the car. Why couldn’t I leave him, just this once?”

Someone reported her, took photos of the child alone and the car’s license, and when she arrived in Chicago she got a call from the police asking her to call about an “incident” in a parking lot earlier that day. “The police seemed to think it was child abuse or neglect — that someone could have hurt or kidnapped my son while I was gone,” she wrote. And then she felt guilty about what she had done and worried about being a bad parent.

To me, she was not a bad parent, but a practical one. The car doors were locked and childproof, her store visit took five minutes, and the kid was throwing a fit about getting out of the car.

I’ve been there and done that, and having raised four boys, all a year apart, I knew exactly what she was talking about.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services was notified and soon charged her with contributing to the delinquency of a minor (her own son). Two years later, she was sentenced to 100 hours of community service for her “terrible” (my word) parental misdeed.

Brooks’ problem is not unique Situations like this are happening all over the country. A friend of mine in Palo Alto told me that one day she let her 9-year-old walk home alone from the park a block away. She soon got a call from a parent neighbor, telling her, “I just saw your son walk home alone! Why did you let that happen?”

I think I understand why parents do that – they are concerned about child safety. When they see abduction on TV of a kidnapping in Rhode Island, they tell each other, “That could happen here.”

Sure it could, but to me, it’s an exaggerated fear. We can’t constantly worry about all the terrible things that could happen to our children. These are irrational fears – way out of bounds.

Maybe because I am of an older generation -- a parent whose kids were free to roam -- that I wonder and worry about today’s children, who do not walk to school or play in a park on their own. They can’t wait in cars, nor are they allowed to take long walks or ride bikes along paths or even play out in front of their own homes.

Another mother I know was picking up her high school freshman after school each day, and if she couldn’t do it, she asked a neighbor to pick him up. High school! When I was in 8th grade, I was allowed to go into New York City alone for the day. I loved it.

Perhaps I don’t understand the concerns of today’s parents. But I would like to hear your views – are we overprotecting our kids today? Are parents applying too much peer pressure on other mothers?

Brooks concluded, “As one mother put it to me, ‘I don’t know if I’m afraid for my kids, or if I’m afraid other people will be afraid and will judge me for my lack of fear.’ In other words, risk assessment and moral judgment are intertwined.”

I couldn’t agree more with her. Do you?

Comments

 +   2 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Aug 9, 2018 at 11:23 pm

The number one question that will describe a human being's life is what kind of parents did they pick. Kind of unfair how lucky some people are isn't it? So, why are all these bad choices being made?

Trying to guard against anyone having a horrid, incompetent or malicious parent from a legislative, police and judicial point of view seems not to work really great.

To really care about the life of another one has to do more than just make sure they are forced to be born, that is just the start. There is so much more that goes into building a good human being and citizen, and it seems at least from the gruesome stories we read more frequently these days we as a country are not doing as good a job as we used to. Weight that against as a country we have seen fit to put a higher priority on tax cuts for those who are so wealthy they do not need it, and it is clear we have values confused, or do values even figure into any of this anymore? Values are only if you value other people.

Thankfully in my own life I've never known a dangerous parent, or encounters a malicious or criminal parent, but one thing that always has made me curious is whether it really does any good to imprison someone who has probably the biggest mistake of their life, and that they will if they are halfway human be tortured by for the rest of their lives anyway?

As far as getting out and exercise as a man of a certain age, I am continually surprised at the tiny children, that can barely be seen, riding bikes too and from school in heavy Palo Alto traffic. That is a risk I don't think my parents would have let me take.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 10, 2018 at 7:36 am

The real problem, as far as I see it, is the type of adults these protected children become. I have read that adolescence today lasts to the age of 30 and I have seen evidence of this myself.

Children who have never been allowed to take risks, to learn from mistakes, to depend on adult intervention are generally unable to function independently as adults in their 20s and who knows how much longer. Anecdotally I have come across parents who temporarily move to the area their child goes to college and attempt to meet professors to discuss grades. They follow their child into the job market and accompany them on job interviews. I don't know where this will end but it can't be healthy for either.

Jordan Peterson addresses this type of parenting in his 12 rules. "Don't interfere with children when they are skateboarding".


 +   9 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Aug 10, 2018 at 6:44 pm

Adolescence is defined as the period following the onset of puberty during which a child develops into an adult. The world today is far more complex, with far more events to process, far more people, far more facts all thrown at kids that much faster for it. Children mentally and physically and most likely emotionally are encountering things in all dimensions that children 20 years ago never did, never mind a century ago.

Trying to shame kids who take longer or need longer to develop mentally in todays world than a farm hick fly-over stater might when they can sprout a thin mustache and think they are an adult - is really out of line. People mature at their own rate and it is not because they are not encountering dangers or reality in the real world ... come on, and trying to substitute an anecdote for a long-term longitudinal study is just silly, as is most of Jordan Peterson's triteness that happens to coincide with the myths of immaturity of the new generations or the feminization of men from the libertarian elites who think a real man can do anything ... because they are somehow losing something Harvey Weinstein's generation had?

One can never tell if people who made wild generalizations like some of what we are hearing are jealous become other people's parents actually took their duty as parents seriously. Some political things need to be left to the states, and some social things needs to be left to the parents and children to work out without people's ill-informed judgement.


 +   12 people like this
Posted by Elizabeth , a resident of Downtown North,
on Aug 10, 2018 at 8:04 pm

Statistically, the suburbs are safer now than they were thirty years ago. So why are parents now more afraid? I blame modern media distortion, which nationally amplifies stories of endangered children that used to stay in the local paper.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Aug 11, 2018 at 1:00 am

I always thought parents' biggest fear was their child choosing the wrong mate.
We seem to have turned away from arranged marriages,
though at least now computer algorithms are doing more of the selection.
This blog post looks clearly more focused on younger children,
but some comments here are extending the subject well into college years.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by margaret, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Aug 11, 2018 at 10:46 am

Is every kind of so-called safety merely a way of building walls around ourselves?

The 'safety' fence we put up by the railroad has made Palo Alto seem like a 4 mile long prison. Always another fence. Schools are prisons now, by any other objective measure. When we were a child here, the ability to roam freely throughout the town was peaceful and wonderful. Now it is hell for children.

What has happened to us?



 +   8 people like this
Posted by chromosomal, a resident of Mountain View,
on Aug 12, 2018 at 3:56 pm

"Jordan Peterson addresses this type of parenting in his 12 rules."

The lobster you-tube celebrity guy? Who collects Stalinist art to "remind" himself of evil? (or so he claims in his book)

Don't interrupt kids on a skateboard? Drivel.

This is the guy who won't ever shut up, unless you ask him to name any feminist he admires. Embarrassing silence. (hear it - Web Link )

So apparently, the rule is "Don't interfere with children when they are skateboarding" as long as they're boys.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 12, 2018 at 5:10 pm

Er, this thread is about parenting, not feminists.

For anyone interested, his other rules which could be on topic pertaining to this thread include, stand up straight with your shoulders back, don't raise children that you wouldn't want to be around, listen to someone expecting that you might learn something from them and if you want to change the world first start by cleaning your room. I may not have the exact wording but hopefully you get the idea.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Aug 12, 2018 at 10:25 pm

"What has happened to us?"

Reflexive superoverreaction, punctuated by high profile big payout lawsuits.

Not to mention a rapid decay of aesthetic sensibility, exemplified by that #@$ silly fence installation along the railroad, which is scheduled for further uglification by electrification.

But I digress.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by chromosomal, a resident of Mountain View,
on Aug 13, 2018 at 9:26 am

"Er, this thread is about parenting, not feminists."

(Portion removed)


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Diana Diamond, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 13, 2018 at 11:17 am

Diana Diamond is a registered user.


 +   6 people like this
Posted by chromosomal, a resident of Mountain View,
on Aug 13, 2018 at 12:38 pm

"Er, this thread is about parenting, not feminists."

And the part about '50% of the kids being parented are girls' was removed?

Yet the references to a youtube celebrity who is against feminism, and won't come out against misogyny and sexism, remains?


 +   6 people like this
Posted by Novelera, a resident of Midtown,
on Aug 13, 2018 at 3:03 pm

Novelera is a registered user.

I find the overprotection sad. My sister walked me to school, kindergarten, the first day. Having learned the way, I walked alone from then on. We now know that moving is good for your body. I walked 2 miles in Ohio winters for what they now call middle school and then called junior high and 2.5 for high school.

I played outside until the porch light came on my whole childhood. I climbed a big cherry tree, found a comfortable limb, and read Nancy Drew mysteries.

I had little to no spending money. My father was a bus driver. My parents were young people during the depression, and definitely were world class cheapskates. I now see this as a virtue. You want a class ring; babysit to earn it.

My only child, a boy, was raised in a similar manner. He had a lot of independence and a bike to get around. From 11 years, I had no child care, so he was a latchkey child. When he wanted to go all out for Senior Prom, I set him a long list of work he had to do for me to earn it.

This boy has grown into a responsible adult. He went to school in another state; and, when he lost a roommate he needed to share costs for their tiny apartment, he slept in his car for weeks. He told me later he felt I'd done enough. He didn't even call me.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by My 2 cents, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 14, 2018 at 7:37 pm

@Diana,
I have a lot to say about this issue but this is not the forum. I will say this one thing. We started homeschooling for high school in Palo Alto. The resources to do this today are astonishing. I've heard it said that homeschooling changes the fabric of your existence, and I have discovered that to be so true in so many positive ways I could never have expected.

Everything we thought about children's independence and their relationship with parents from sending them to school turned out to be wrong outside of the narrow confines of the Prussian model of education. The things kids spend most of their time doing through 12th grade was designed to inculcate compliance. I don't understand the neurotic debates about kids being around adults who care about them in their real lives when they are watched by adults and have to run a kind of relentless, meaningless school assignment hamster wheel until they themselves are adults. For many kids in school, their lives are not their own 24/7 until they are out of high school.

It turns out kids can learn way more, achieve way more, while being far more independent and taking charge of their lives in a way families in the school system just have no idea is possible. In school there seems to be a fixed mindset about independence, as if children are born that way or not, despite the school system having been designed to strip away independence year after year.

We weighed what we thought were the pluses and minuses of school with no idea the real negatives of school until we left.

I appreciate the story you shared above as a crazy overreaction of the system. But this is the system everyone condones. What if a teacher locked a kid in a car for ten minutes (sorry but five minutes defies credibility to get anything from a store) on a cold winter day, in a parking lot near the school, on the justification that they just needed ten minutes and the child was okay with it? None of us knows the particulars, how cold was the day, how many times in that jurisdiction someone died in a hot car because the parent thought they were only going to be five minutes, etc. And sure, maybe knowing those particulars, it would still seem unreasonable. Nevertheless we still relegate our kids to an education system in which that exact behavior would result in a teacher being arrested, because we do not give our kids independence in that sphere, either. Why should we be shocked when parents are judged by the same measure?

I, too, had a free roaming the unfenced backyards childhood. I, a sibling, and many neighbor children were molested by the older cousin of boy at the end of the street, something many of us didn't even realize we were not alone in until decades later. Now that there are sex offender registries, it's possible to see the unusual number of sex offenders in the area. Not then.

I am not saying this to suggest everyone lock their children indoors. I am bringing both this and the above up because if we want our children to have independent lives, in this modern age when we want all children to grow up into adulthood and thrive (as opposed to even just 100 years ago when most children were not expected to even survive into adulthood), then we have to be willing to think about how to weave the world we want. It's not enough for those who were not damaged to say that everyone else is just overreacting. If we are going to have this conversation, we have to think about everything, including what happens to kids in relationship to adults in school.

My 2 cents.




 +   5 people like this
Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Aug 14, 2018 at 9:04 pm

In my experience, I climbed trees as a kid in my neighborhood in Ohio.
Here, my kids and others were not allowed to climb a smaller tree on a school property because of lawsuit risk.
California is sue-happy, be advised.

Busy bodies phoning police - wow.

Freedom is important; learning progressively in steps makes sense. Parents have to balance safety and common sense with some growth and a possible risk...

Imagination is cultivated by free time. The little kids I see nowadays are hand-held tech device obsessed; they never have unstructured time to be imaginative. Nannies and tutors and structured activities.

I'm a female only child and I was allowed to wander in woods in my neighborhood even with fairly overprotective conservative parents. I treasure a few photos of me and my friends hiking, messing about in the stream, going on the neighbor's rope swing over the ravine, etc. it was fun! No one thought of suing, either. But then, that was not CA. I have scars on my knees, to be sure, and it's ok.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by My 2 cents, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 15, 2018 at 2:14 pm

P.S.

I just had occasion to go back through old records from school (local) from elementary and middle for my child. Elementary was positive but middle school experience was for us as a family degrading even sometimes to the point of abusive by the institution (things changed when there were special needs).

If only we had known that there was an alternative, what a painful humiliating hurtful waste of years of our lives. Initially, we idealistically thought we could fix things by working with them, we did not realize what damage that would let us in for. Not only that, academically our child was learning far less and was being set up for failure. Yes, the schools can actually damage kids not just emotionally, but in terms of their record and success in high school and beyond. Just even thinking about it again brings back all kinds of stress and heartache. At the root of it all is a genuine disdain for parents and a culture unwilling to work with parents and students as independent partners. School is a huge part of our culture -- if this is what everyone learns in school, why should anyone be surprised that parents don't have the discretion to make choices for their children's independence in other spheres of life? (Why should they be surprised that middle-aged women, who are the main authority figures in early school, have such a difficult time achieving positions of power and authority, when the independence of teens in brick and mortar schools relies so heavily on rejecting the authority of mostly middle-aged women, both at home and at school?)

Another friend said she went to a school information night and was appalled to see how patronizing and denigrating the treatment of parents was. She said the parents didn't even seem to blink over it, they were so used to it by then. She wished she could go back to the school but after seeing how parents were treated, it triggered all kinds of negative memories and they remained homeschoolers.

My point again is that when parents are treated as if they should have no power in the educational sphere and they are regarded with such disdain, why should anyone be surprised that they are regarded this way in other spheres of our culture? Read any school thread in recent years in Palo Alto and the hand-waving overgeneralized parent bashing is sickening. But when people internalize such denigrating beliefs about parents because the system cultivates them over years (for one it makes teachers' lives easier if they have all the power in the relationship and parents have none), why should anyone be surprised that the system treats parents the same?

If we want children to have independent lives, we must see the entire tapestry of their existence, not do the same warmed-over kneejerk blaming of everything on parents who are just trying to do their best under the circumstances.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 15, 2018 at 4:04 pm

Some interesting thoughts here in the last few comments.

As parents, we all start out knowing very little how to parent even those with children in their profession such as teachers or healthcare workers.. Our main experience is from how we ourselves were parented and we tend to pick and choose the parts we liked and the parts we didn't from our own upbringing, even if our thoughts on those parts altered looking back from an adult perspective.

When we first become parents, we wonder little beyond the first few years and somehow after the second child comes along or when the first has hit the preteen years we are so far into survival mode that time to take a step back and see how our children are developing is something we just don't have time for or to some extent interest in doing. Oh yes, we read lots of parenting books that have been "highly recommended" to us, and we often get advice from our parents or extended family members who have been through it all before as well as from peers and quite often peers of our kids and their parents.

The best bit of advice I was given as a new parent was along the lines of "how to raise good teenagers? Well start the day they are born". When someone first told me that I was in shock as all we had was a baby and trying to get several hours sleep a night was as far as we were thinking. But it did get me thinking as every little decision we make when they are that young makes a difference to the type of adult they will become. I didn't understand it then, but I think I do now. The things parents worry about when they have their first baby, the type of crib, stroller, car seat, are all important but looking back 10 years can we actually remember why we chose that particular brand/type? Did we give our toddlers the right toys, the right brand of baby food, the right toddler activities, may well be the right things to think about at the time, but in the big picture of things were they that important.

As our children have matured, I can say for me that if I had made all those "big" decisions back then more along the lines of what type of adult will this make them, as being the criteria for making those decisions, then I would be pleased. Ultimately childhood is preparing for adulthood and whether you want them to be well adjusted adults who can make their own way in the world should be the ultimate goal of all parents.

If children have been protected from harm to such an extent that they haven't experienced failure, hurt or accident of any kind, then as adults they are not going to have any experience of failure, hurt or accident to help them through it. If parents have fought every fight on behalf of their child, then they will not as adults be able to stand up for themselves or deal with life independently. Yes of course we want them to share their concerns with us and even ask us for advice on some of the complicated issues. But if we prevent them from learning through mistakes as children they will have no experience of pain to help them get through their adult life problems.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by mom, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Aug 15, 2018 at 4:57 pm

I agree with you and the person in your story, Diana. Children are overprotected and this creates young adults who cannot function. I see examples of this all around me every day.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by My 2 Cents, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
19 hours ago

@Resident,
That is a very good post. But I would add to that the strange silence of our culture on this topic when it comes to child and parental autonomy in relationship to our educational system. Our system was in fact designed to create human robots for the industrial revolution. The system hasn't changed but our world has. The entire school setup is contrived and on the whole can be extremely negative for many children in today's world even in it's intended implementation. Are parents who intervene protecting children from failure or on an instinctive level from the negative effects of an antiquated and damaging system that needs intervention? This link from The Guardian is a great summary of the topic of education reform:
Web Link

One cannot ask the question of whether parents are too protective and ignore whether the education system is entirely preventing children from having authentic life experiences and leading whole and balanced lives from the time they enter school until the time they are adults. I can tell you that as a homeschool parent, getting to live real life (with its successes and failures) looks entirely different when one is outside the contrived environment of school. Even the article brings up supposed models of education systems by talking up a school where the kids solve imaginary tasks -- why not real ones? Everything about their school lives is overprotective of children living in the real world. So I personally wonder why has this broader issue become focused on blaming parents?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
18 hours ago

2 cents

You make some valid points about school and although I think it is really another topic to what Diana mentioned above, it is still worth talking about.

I have very little experience with homeschooling, but I know families that did succeed at it and others that failed in the sense that by high school they had to put their kids into the school system as they had struggled to homeschool successfully (and I am not sure what they meant in detail so using their words). I do know that academically the kids aren't being educated just covering required material so that they can repeat it back well enough to pass the course not necessarily fully understanding the concepts. Additionally, I think the schools are more interested in bowing to teachers unions and fearful of lawsuits from unhappy parents, than they are in really helping our kids. I have one example from our family of this from a non-academic situation. High school junior left home for school on his bike grabbing some breakfast to eat on his way (not what we want or taught in his earlier years, but at 16 how can you prevent it). He also took his lunch but forgot to take a drink. He arrived at school and went to his first period class and started to feel ill. The teacher sent him to the nurse and he told the nurse he had a headache. She asked him if he wanted to go home sick. He said no because he had a test next period that he didn't want to miss. As a result the nurse called us to go to school to give him a headache table as she was not allowed to do so. The parent designated to do this was myself so I dropped everything to go to the school to the health office and spoke to the nurse and junior. She said she didn't think anything serious was wrong just the headache. I looked at son and asked him when he last ate, he told me had a granola bar. I asked when when he last drank, he said before going to bed. I asked why he didn't drink anything after his ride to school and he told me he had forgotten to bring a drink. I had arrived at school with tylenol and a water bottle. I gave him the water which he drank quickly. I also gave him the tylenol. As soon as he had drunk the water he immediately felt better. It was dehydration that made him feel sick and gave him the headache. The school nurse never asked the right questions. She couldn't do anything to help him because her hands are tied.

A similar thing happened to someone we know. Teenage girl had cramps at school due to period and went to see the nurse. The nurse sent the girl home. At home the girl took some tylenol and wanted to go back to school because she felt better and she wanted to do her afternoon classes. School wouldn't take her back because she was signed out sick and that meant she couldn't return that day. Rules are rules.

The system is broken.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
17 hours ago

2 cents

As going further into the subject (but please read my post above) and having thought a little about the link you shared, it is an interesting idea about education.

I am reminded of the song from Pink Floyd in the 60s, Another Brick in the Wall, where the children are being sent out from the sausage factory into identical sausages. Strangely enough, those same children, now adults, have been in a law case to get royalties for their voices in the song and their participation in the movie.

It comes down to questioning what education is. Are we preparing kids for future jobs or educating them to be better adults. It is a good question. My own parents at the time I was leaving high school had the view that college was about meeting the right people, or meeting the right person to marry, than to learn the skills required to get a better job. That is indeed one side of the debate. For someone getting a liberal arts degree unless they are going to teach that subject then what is the likelihood of them making a career in that field? Does that mean that they shouldn't study that particular major? Or what about someone who wants to join the family plumbing business, or gardening business? Is there any real need for them to learn anything more than plumbing or gardening with perhaps some business classes? Or what about someone doing a computer science or engineering degree, should they be require to actually do some internship in a real world setting to actually get the degree or should it just be text book knowledge?

I have friends all over the world with children in all sorts of different education systems. I am finding that in other countries teenagers of high school age are learning a lot more than what we are teaching here. Sure it sounds great to require some American history, some arts and some calculus, to round off an education. But in reality how much of that knowledge is really going to be useful to them in the future in their chosen career. Does Algebra II really need to be necessary to someone who is going to sell Real Estate or manage a bakery business?

I see other countries which have a system where a year is spent at about the sophomore age doing the required electives and include not only community service projects but also work experience projects. The students spend a week or two working in a restaurant, or in retail or in an office, actually following the requirements of the business, of learning the importance of team work in a work setting, of cleanliness, of dressing appropriately, of worth ethics, and seeing firsthand why these things matter. Work experience as a graduation requirement, imagine that? I see other countries having requirements of business courses, computer skills, writing skills (in things like business emails rather than critical writing about studied literature) and useful math such as balancing check books, understanding tax forms and reading financial statements. They also prepare students for going for interviews, writing resumes, applying for loans and scholarships and wait for it, preparing them better for necessary exams with practice exams as being part of the curriculum. When did a Palo Alto teacher prepare a student for a SAT other than telling them to get a good night's sleep and have a good breakfast? Why do most Palo Alto students do a private SAT prep class? No our schools are not preparing our students for anything in the real world, I agree. They are just checking boxes and inflating their own egos by limiting the number of As they grade. In the rest of the world, every student who deserves an A grade gets one on their own merit, not because only the top x percent in a class will achieve the top grade. How demoralizing to a class knowing that only the select few will achieve the top grade no matter how hard they work or how good they present their work!

No, I agree that our schools are failing. The system is failing. The rest of the world is succeeding in ways we can't even imagine. No wonder the Googles and the Facebook preferred foreign educated employees, they are actually more prepared for the workforce than our own home grown college grads.



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