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By Diana Diamond

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?