The Danger May Not Be Real, But the Fear Is for Today’s Parents.

Parents' own fears are restricting their kids freedom, and it's not a good thing.

Tell us another one, old man: When we were kids, our parents told us to get lost every afternoon and just be home by dinner. Really, it’s true. We never heard of organized, risk-free playdates. If you think this is just the way we remember things, Lenore Skenazy has the Sesame Street video from the 70s to prove it. Our parents didn’t do this to us; why are we doing it to our children?


Most parents today—myself included—would never grant their children this kind of freedom. What’s at risk just utterly seems to blow away the small chance that anything bad will actually occur. Kids are statistically safer on their own now than when we were young, but still…

So parents in the U.S. are basically terrified, though it’s apparently not true everywhere. Skenazy states pretty clearly in the video what’s got us Americans so spooked.

For parents, it’s media—where both News and Entertainment divisions are happy to leverage the dramatic, audience-grabbing value of the victimization of children—painting a 24/7 image of a world gone wicked for kids. Statistics barely stand a chance, even though by being such obsessives about protecting kids from TV dangers we expose them to a very real one: Infantilization instead of the experiences needed to grow into capable, confident adults.

For the places our kids go—schools, camps, athletic programs, parks, and so on—it’s fear for the institutions’ own survival, since a litigious culture makes the avoidance of legal problems a primary guiding principle that results in limiting kids’ activity level in an effort to reduce liability.

Skenazy is the founder of Free Range Kids, a website that serves as a resource for parents who dare to let their children off the leash, and parents trying to work up the courage to do so themselves. The organization’s motto is “How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry).”

Parents who do loosen the reins may bump up against authority that’s every bit as frightened as parents and as worried as institutions. In a well-publicized case, Danielle and Alexander Meitiv of Silver Spring, Maryland have been duking it out with local authorities ever since 2014. That’s when they let their then-10-year-old Rafi son walk his 6-year-old sister Dvora home unaccompanied from a park about a mile away.

  • Washington Post
  • After someone saw the Meitiv kids walking and called the authorities, Child Protective Services offered the parents a choice: Sign a safety plan that promises you won’t let your kids out without supervision, or lose them. The Meitivs signed, but in April 2015, the kids were taken into protective custody for five hours after being spotted out on their own. In June 2015, the family was finally acquitted of all child-neglect charges.

    There are signs that institutions are beginning to see the danger in letting terror determine child development, with schools—such as this awesome circular kindergarten in Japan—popping up that encourage exploration and deliberately include a little bit of danger. 

  • TED
  • Maybe one day soon all of us parents will finally just suck it up and tell our children to get lost. Out of love, of course.

     

    Headline image: Washington Post

    Related Articles

    Scientists reverse hair loss by making scalp "smell" sandalwood

    It turns out the human scalp has an olfactory receptor that seems to play a crucial role in regulating hair follicle growth and death.

    Photo: malehmann via Flickr
    Surprising Science
    • Scientists treated scalp tissue with a chemical that mimics the odor of sandalwood.
    • This chemical bound to an olfactory receptor in the scalp and stimulated hair growth.
    • The treatment could soon be available to the public.
    Keep reading Show less

    7 habits of the best self-directed learners

    The best self-directed learners use these seven habits to improve their knowledge and skills in any subject.

    (Photo by Peter Cade/Getty Images)
    Personal Growth
    • Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Ellen DeGeneres all dropped out of college, yet they became leaders in their fields. Their secret? Self-directed learning.
    • Self-directed learning can help people expand their knowledge, gain new skills, and improve upon their liberal education.
    • Following habits like Benjamin Franklin's five-hour rule, the 80/20 rule, and SMART goals can help self-directed learners succeed in their pursuits.
    Keep reading Show less

    Early Halloween in this Greek town: 1,000-foot spiderweb

    It happens every few years. Not just in Greece, but also parts of the United States.

    Photo credit: Giannis Giannakopoulos
    Surprising Science
    • Aitoliko, in Western Greece is the town these images are from.
    • Tetragnatha is the genus — known as "stretch spiders" because of their elongated bodies.
    • They can run faster on water than on land. Don't panic, though: they will be gone in days.
    Keep reading Show less