The Negative Effects of Child Fear Mongering

November 5th, 2008.

I was sitting in the middle of the long, white driveway that snaked its way toward the family garage. The day was so hot the heat from the pavement periodically burned my thighs. But instead of abandoning my project, I merely shifted position until I was propped up on my knees. While my backside temporarily cooled, I reached into my bucket and grabbed another piece of chalk. Carefully, I used it to draw a number 7 in the appropriate box of my hopscotch board. I stared critically at it for a moment, wondering if I should draw a line through it like Barbie, my best friend from school, usually did. I continued to deliberate until I heard my front door slam.

I looked up quickly to see my Mother carefully maneuvering her way in my direction. A giant purse was slung over her shoulder and her arms were loaded with packages. The heel of her stiletto got caught in the crack of the sidewalk and her entire body jerked with the effort of remaining upright. However, I was completely unsurprised when my Mom recovered from her brief moment of clumsiness without dropping a single package. She was nearly an expert when it came to walking in those shoes.

“V!” she called to me, “Come on, we’ve got to go!”

“Where are we going?” I questioned mildly.

“I’ve got to run some errands,” she answered, “Get in the car.”

Errands. How incredibly boring. I wanted no part of it.

“Couldn’t I stay here?” I asked hopefully, “I’ve got to finish this hopscotch board.”

“I’m afraid not,” she insisted, “It would be too late for me to find you a babysitter now.”

The force of my Mother’s words caused me to rear back so suddenly I lost my balance and landed unceremoniously on my butt. Shame and humiliation turned my cheeks a fiery shade of red. I blinked my eyes quickly as if I’d been recently slapped. My lips pursed dramatically; I’m sure I looked like I just swallowed a rotten lemon.

“Mother,” I whispered, shocked and insulted, “I do not need a babysitter. I am not a baby. I am six years old! I am a kid!”

“Well, that may be so,” she said, slightly amused, “But you still need a babysitter.”

Almost too stunned to answer, I replied, “I am old enough to take care of myself!”

“Is that so? What would you do all day here by yourself?”

“I’d finish my hopscotch!”

“And then what?”

“I’d go inside and play with my toys!”

“What if you got hungry?”

“I’d make myself something to eat!”

I was nearly dumbfounded. I couldn’t understand why she was asking me all of these questions. Could it be my own Mother thought I was a total idiot?

“Would you use the stove or the microwave without an adult? Would you leave this house without asking?”


My Mother stared at me skeptically for a moment. I stared back, face pensive, heart thumping in my chest a million beats a minute. Suddenly, her face relaxed.

Then, “OK, I will let you try it on one condition.”

I nodded eagerly.

“You don’t mention this to your Father.”

“I won’t!”

“And don’t touch anything you’re not supposed to!”

“I promise I won’t!”

With a satisfied grunt, my Mother whirled around and loaded her packages into her car. A few minutes later, after gunning her engine dramatically, she was gone.

Then the entire world blew up.

Actually, no. After my Mother left, I completed my hopscotch, wandered back into the house to escape the heat, made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and curled up on the sofa and watched some cartoons. It was, literally and figuratively, no big deal.

Later that night, my Mother actually let it slip that she left me alone all day by myself. My Father started to protest and my Mom started to panic. But before their argument could spiral out of control, I quickly came to my Mother’s defense.

“Dad!” I insisted, “It was no big deal. What do you think I am? Some sort of baby? I am six years old! I ride the school bus and everything!”

My Dad looked at me thoughtfully. “You were OK? You weren’t scared to be by yourself?”

“Scared!” I nearly spit the word at him.

My Dad chuckled. “Well, of course you weren’t scared! You’re very mature and independent, aren’t you?”

“I am!”

My Dad laughed again and gave me a great, big hug…and I never felt so proud in my entire goddamn life. Mature and independent? Oh yeah, that was so me.

Of course, this was back when being ‘mature and independent’ was considered a good thing. You know, back before we insisted on turning our children into perpetual toddlers or overcautious ninnies.

A couple days ago, I was giving a 12 year old boy a ride home. Upon arriving in the parking lot and seeing my truck waiting for us, he stopped short.

“Uh…where will I sit?” he asked.

“Up front,” I answered, “With me.”

“But what about the airbags?” he questioned further.

“Don’t worry,” I chided gently, “I’ll disable the airbags.”

“Don’t you…think it’s a bit dangerous to let a child ride up front like that?”

It took me a second to realize that he was, indeed, referring to himself as the child. But that wasn’t even the part that really got to me. What really set me on edge was that I was standing with a 12 year old young man, no more than 2 inches shorter than me, who was honestly and sincerely scared of riding in the front seat of a car. When I was a wee misanthropic tot, riding in the front seat was a fucking badge of honor!

Even worse than that, he’s not all that abnormal. I look around me and all I see are droves of frightened kids. Ten year olds who have not yet worked up the nerve to get on a bicycle, teenagers who have never gone swimming, 5 year olds who refuse to even wipe themselves for the fear of germs touching their perfectly sanitized hands.

When did childhood become so terrifying? When did growing up get so scary?

This summer, I took a camping trip with a youth group. We were in a gated resort at a site no more than 500 feet from a playground. A bored little girl, who looked about 8, dawdled by a picnic table.

“Why don’t you go over to the playground?” I suggested.

“I’m waiting for you.”

“Honey,” I told her, “I’m not going to the playground. I’m going to stay here and set up camp. Why not head over there and play with the kids?”

“Without an adult?”

Holy Christ.

“We’re going to be right here. We can see you from here and you’ll be able to see us.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Why not? Don’t you want to play with the other kids?”

“How would I even make friends?”

“The same way you make friends any other time. You just go up, introduce yourself, and ask them to play.”

That little girl looked at me like I was the stupidest person in the world. “I never do that. My Mom does that for me.”

“Are you kidding me?” I asked.

She shook her head vehemently in reply. So I walked her to the park and realized that she was absolutely right. That playground was jammed packed full of overprotective Moms leading nerve wracked children over to other nerve wracked children, introducing the nearly silent kids to each other as they struggled to hide behind Mommy’s legs, choosing a game for everyone to play, and in some cases, even sticking around to make sure everyone was ‘playing nicely.’

It’s no wonder why there are so many teenagers and young adults with a severe lack of social skills. Growing up, no one gave them the chance to practice. Back in my day, you either worked up the courage to ask another kid to play or you played alone. Needless to say, it didn’t take long for most of us to become first class schmoozers.

A child has a statistically better shot at being struck by lightning than he has of being kidnapped. Yet, I’ve met some kids who have had the stranger danger mantra cripple them so completely it’s highly doubtful they’d let a fireman pull them out a burning building!

I’ve met children who fear bears, tornadoes, and going to hell. They’re afraid of falling down, getting an infection, burning to death and drowning. They’re afraid to hike in the woods, build a tree house, or ride their bike around the block. They won’t go in water above their bellybuttons, they won’t go on a roller coaster, and they won’t introduce themselves to another kid their age. They can’t use a butter knife, they’re not allowed to stir something sitting on the stove and most of them can’t even play alone in their own backyards. Yet, we seem surprised when they turn out neurotic, antisocial, co-dependent, whiny little babies far into adulthood. What can you expect after experiencing a childhood of near constant fear mongering?

Listen, it’s a good thing to teach your kid to wear his seat belt and caution him against doing anything overly reckless. But when you overdue it to the extent the kid won’t even get in the fucking car, you’re doing more harm than good. We should be easing our child’s fears, not instigating them.

Ultimately, the goal of parenting is to raise confident, independent, well rounded adults. How can you possibly accomplish that when your parental caution turns into downright hysterics and your frightened children decide to opt out of growing up completely?

I’m sorry, but no one raised a ‘mature and independent’ child by inadvertently scaring the shit out of them.

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85 Responses to The Negative Effects of Child Fear Mongering

  1. VA: The Negative Effects of Child Fear Mongering

    […] Original post: The Negative Effects of Child Fear Mongering […]

  2. radionoob

    My roommate’s parents still do it even though we just graduated college. When the last big hurricane blew through his mother argued to get him to drive into the city to flee or batten down with them rather than flee north away from the hurricane.

  3. thepooka

    The car thing is *bad*, and the draconian laws regarding how children are allowed to ride in cars now don’t help a bit. They are legally required to be in car seats until age 8 in my state. I would have died of shame if my parents had still been strapping me into a car seat when I was 8…it’s infantilizing in a really disturbing way. And according to Steven Levitt’s data it doesn’t really help that much!

    Here’s the TED talk where he explains it:

    I wish I could warn the parents of this country: the daughter who won’t risk scraping a knee or breaking a bone on her bike now will become the woman who opts for elective cesarean and all its attendant health risks later, because she has no coping skills for dealing with the ordinary pain of living.

  4. Nyxelestia

    Dear god, YES, this is pathetic. I know a fucking high school sophomore who apparently still has mommy shampoo her hair for her. And I can think of many, many kids who probably had their parents introduce them to other kids in elementary school. IT SHOWS.

    Helicopter parents need to be slaughtered, for the good of humanity. Give us helirentcide! Heli-rent-cide! HELIRENTCIDE!

  5. elcastillano

    I wonder if this is why V didn’t originally allow comments.

  6. sawaboof

    Nyxelestia, I hate helicopter parents too… but I can definitely see why someone would have their mom shampoo their hair for them. Scalp massages are nice. 🙂

    V, I love the little reapers, but the text in your banner looks like you bought it at Hot Topic. Not that you care, I just thought maybe that wasn’t quite the look you were going for.

  7. blossom

    Absolutely fucking right. I should forward most of your articles about today’s kids to my fellow kindergarten teachers…it’s the same shit we bitch about, but without all the cussing. Parents these days haven’t got a fucking clue. I’ve had kids who can’t wipe their own ass…their mother has done it for the last five years. And then, mom is perplexed as to a) why I can’t just do it b) why it’s not my job to teach them how and c) why their academics are faltering!!

    A) Lemme get this straight. You want me in a bathroom, alone with your child, and they are nekkid from the waist down, and I’m SUPPOSED to touch them? Isn’t that called a felony!? And besides…I barely want to deal with my own shit…why would I volunteer to deal with your kids’?

    B) I’m sorry, you’re right, I should teach them to wipe their ass and nose…I’ll just skip all this counting and reading shit. Cuz successful people are good asswipers. Isn’t there some inspirational story about how Lincoln loved to wipe his ass or something? Oh, wait…no…he loved to read. My bad.

    C) Their academics are in the shitter because you are just now teaching them to wipe their ass (after me sending notes and shitty underwear home daily for six weeks), so of course, every bathroom break is 10 minutes long. And of course, they never need to go to the bathroom when we’re doing something stupid and pointless…they gotta go exactly when we start working on the skill they suck at the most.

    Ok, that’s my soapbox for the day.

  8. spriteless

    I just went to a pool party with some friends, and learned one of them couldn’t swim. It never occurred to me that this might be why. Of course, since you linked me the last shrink, you’ve probably read his rant on how college students are babies.

    To my experience, the rich are being babies too long the most. Hmm. I wish people were thinking about helping society rather than giving their kid every advantage. Might help kids be less greedy.

  9. ascher26

    OMG…I couldn’t have said it better if I tried. I am a mother of a 2.5 year old girl and what I see go on at playdates ASTOUNDS me. Mothers hover over their kids and direct them to do this and look at that constantly. Not to mention the barrage of questions spewing from their mouths the ENTIRE time, are you thirsty?, do you want some juice?, how about a snack?, are you hot?, would you rather go outside?, is this show ok or do you want to watch something else?. It is endless…just let the kids play for the love of God!!!!!!!!! They are learning ZERO social skills because they only interact with their parent…on a playdate! They could just stay home if that is the goal. So when I let my daughter make her own way, all the other mothers look at me as tho I must not care, maybe I don’t love her, maybe I can’t be bothered. The judgement if you’re not a “Helicopter Mom” is unbelievable.

    This I know…when I was little and not in school…I was out of the house from morning until night making my way with the kids in my neighborhood. Somedays it worked out and somedays it didn’t but guess what, I learned lessons about life. Lessons that help me today.

    When I see these parents solving every problem for their child and literally anticipating every need before the child can even articulate it, I can only shake my head and marvel at the disservice that is being done.

  10. MonkWren

    One sincerely hopes that the increasing backlash against helicopter parents renders this trend obsolete soon (though not soon enough). As a psychologist, the behavior I see amongst parents is simply appalling, for all of the reasons listed above. Numerous studies have come out in the past few years showing not only that “helicopter parenting” has become more prevalent, but also that it has long-reaching effects lasting well into adulthood. Rates of 20-somethings behaving recklessly and immaturely have greatly increased, as they’ve never had a chance to truly “play” before, and now that they have adult privileges, the possibilities (and consequences) are far greater than when they were children. How can we expect an 18-year-old to vote when he’s never made a decision in his or her life, period, much less an important decision?

  11. amaiakuyume

    Hoo boy, I knew as soon as I saw the title I was going to agree with this one.

    I am 19. Until the age of 16 I never left the house unaccompanied by an adult, as I had been conditioned to believe I would most probably be raped and murdered if I did. I was also forced to be helpless in a lot of small ways that added up, my mother refused to allow me to brush my own hair, use a real knife or go to a public toilet without an adult standing outside the door into my teenage years, for example. Since I turned 18, I have managed to attend university, find employment and build some semblance of a social life, but it has been an struggle at times. I consider the way I was raised to be borderline, if not actual, emotional abuse, but I am so glad to finally break free of the constant fear.

  12. MatthewT

    This stuff is so true that its sad. On Halloween I only had 3 groups of kids come to my house, and one of them was full of people my age(~16). On monday I asked around and it turns out that several churches had offered “Trick or Treat Alternatives”. What the hell that even means I don’t know, I guess mommies are scared little timmy will be molested by the man behind the door before he can even utter Trick or Treat.

  13. galaticsmurf

    It extends even farther than this, parents are way to over protective. Back in Wisconsin, kids could no longer play tag, red rover, and numerous other games at recess for fear of them getting hurt and stupid parents threatening to sue the schools and teachers. I have fond memories of playing red rover in school in blatantly close-lining people, well ok, I was usually the one getting close-lined, but I turned out alright and I had a blast as a kid. As a whole, people are becoming overly protective, overly cautious and unable to think for themselves.

  14. bethanythemartian

    Oh my goodness. I’m 24, and as a child I had the lovely ‘inside or outside’ option. Which meant I could go outside and play all day with my younger brother, which started when he and I were…3 and 6, or 4 and 7. I can’t remember when we moved to that apartment complex. Anyway, we had one rule, which was stay on the one side of the apartment complex. We could get exceptions to the rule if we asked Mom. We had to be in by sundown.

    That was it. If we came and went too often, we were likely to get confined to the house (or confined outside, forbidden from coming in until the sun set). There was none of this hovering by mom. Heck, I was baby sitting by ten or eleven.

    My mother did make double-damn sure we knew our home phone number and address, so if we got lost we could call/flag a cop and get home. Which NEVER HAPPENED.

    And I was just beginning to think I didn’t know anybody like that, when I remembered my boss at work. She didn’t let her 6-year-old play in their FENCED IN back yard alone. Not the neighborhood, just the damn back yard. I mean, Jesus! And she can’t figure out why the kid is peeing her bed.

  15. diasdiem

    My family lived out in the boonies, and my brother and I would go all over the countryside, crossing over barbed wire fences onto neighbor’s ranch land, wandering around in the woods, no fear of breaking legs or getting attacked by wild dogs or getting snake bit or anything like that.

    This reminds me of Paul Erdos (AIR-dosh). He was a Hungarian mathematician famous for brilliant and elegant mathematical proofs, as well as his prolific writing of collaborative mathematics papers. There’s a thing called an Erdos number, a sort of six degrees of Kevin Bacon in the math world. Erdos himself had an Erdos number of zero, someone who wrote a paper with him was 1, a person who wrote a paper who had written a paper with Erdos was a 2, and so on.

    He was also famous for his eccentricity, thought to be a product of his overprotective upbringing. He had two sisters who died of scarlet fever before he was born, and his father spent several years as a prisoner of war, so his mother was severely protective of him. It was said that he didn’t tie his own shoes until he was 14 or butter his own bread until he was 21. He was mostly home-schooled as a child. As a result he was never completely independent. He couldn’t handle his own finances. He was mechanically inept. A math professor of mine told a story of how Erdos had to be shown how to operate the blinds in his apartment, an then failed to work the blinds at his office because the cord had to be pulled in the opposite direction as the blinds at his apartment. I asked this professor how Erdos tied his shoes, and he replied “He wore sandals.”

    Of course, at least Erdos was a mathematical genius. That’s a one-in-a-million shot. If you raise your kid like that, all he’s probably going to be is a pussy.

  16. eatingdust

    Reminds me of
    My mother FREAKED out when i told her that my kid walks the dog alone. She’s 7 and just goes around the block closest to our house.

    I went to mexico when i was 15, but supposedly, that’s different.

    Nice layout!

  17. Divine Q

    why on earth do you feel the need to say “I’M SORRY”?

    pls… don’t be

  18. spriteless

    On the site design, the scribble letters lose the effect when the two ‘e’s are identical. The lynch mob’s a nice touch, though.

    I just thought, many a man-child can be perfectly functioning in the military. A job where they feed, shelter, cloth, and train people, that they can make a lifetime career of, especially should they go to the front lines,

  19. A

    Yes, I totally agree with everything V said and with most of the comments posted here. However, we must all remember that when we grew up, our parents didn’t have to worry about being prosecuted for child endangerment or neglect when they did things like leave us at home alone or in the car while they popped into the grocery to pick up some milk or let us walk by ourselves down to the local community pool. Because we as parents have to be more fearful of what may happen to US, we’re almost guaranteed to be more overprotective than our parents were. I’m not saying these things couldn’t have happened to our parents as well, but we’ve become such a ‘point the finger at someone else’ society that it’s almost habit to try and place blame where none is warranted. Unfortunately, when someone points a finger these days, the consequences can be fairly harsh and even harm the rest of our lives (some of the examples I’ve listed above can be charged as felonies in some states).

    There is definitely a line that many people cross that make them neurotically overprotective and these people really have no excuse. But just because someone like me won’t let my 5 yr old walk by himself down to his friend’s house by himself (3 blocks down and around the corner another 2 blocks) doesn’t make me a coddler or a fear mongering mother. If a cop were to drive by while he was walking alone, he could very easily pick him up, dump him in child protective services and haul me down to the police station…all for something that I used to do all the time at his age. I would love to give him this freedom, but I have been taught to fear – not by my parents – but by our community “support” system.

  20. Christi Lee

    Posts like this one is the reason why I keep coming back. I could not have said it better myself. I do think 6 is a little young to be left completely alone in a house, but you survived right? I was left alone at home at 9 years old. My brother and I fought a lot, and it would have been nice if there was an adult who could have broken up our fights but we lived. I see examples of the children you wrote about all the time. My sis-in-law only lets us (all the family) spend time with my nephew alone when she needs a sitter. I called and wanted to take him (he is 7) to a baseball game and she’s like, “Without us”? Oh…”He wont want to go alone…” Traslation: My baby alone without me? Shivers….WTF?

    She never lets him out of her sight. It’s weird. We a a big loving family and my nephew loves us. I a scared to think about what a wussy he is going to turn out as because she is so over protective and he can’t do anything by himself. *blah*

  21. anastasia

    V, you honestly make me scared. Come on. Are you sure that all the kids had their mums on their backs all the time? Are you sure that none of the kids were talking? Are you really sure that all the kids were socially challenged freaks? You’re exaggerating. When I was a kid (which wasn’t long ago, so things haven’t changed much) everyone played together and it got rough often. The parents just sat on the benches and chatted. That was in Russia. Then when I moved to England, it was the same. Then when I stayed in America, it was the same. The parents didn’t care! Either that playground was full of deranged mommies, or you’re making this up.

  22. stubbyd

    As ever, all this article does is show how out of touch you were and are. As a 6 yr old you were a spoilt brat whom got their own way.

    As an adult dealing with a CHILD of 12 you haven’t got a clue.

    I sometimes wonder why I even read this trash.

    @anastasia – of course she’s making most of it up for effect. This site is like a soap. Addictive but patently untrue.

  23. reddeth

    While I disagree with the severity you’re talking about, I do agree, the nanny state typically ruins kids.

    It has taken the boogie-man out of the closet, and set him loose in the entire world.

  24. diasdiem

    In the future there will be no more “Empty Nest Syndrome” because kids won’t have the sack to ever leave the nest.

    V may not know how to deal with a child of 12, but follow her lead and you’ll never have to deal with a child of 21.

    I’ve heard the whole helicopter parent thing has gotten so bad that parents have started interfering in their children’s college business, and also with job interviews and careers after they graduate.

    It’s definitely better to back off a bit when kids are younger. Cuts and bruises and the occasional emergency room visit build character, and they’ll be better for it. You won’t always be around to help them. When they’re young, you can throw them in the water and see if they can swim, but still be nearby with a life preserver. If they wait until they’re grown to learn to fend for themselves, it’ll be more like throwing them off a cliff and seeing if they can fly.

  25. AndrewJC

    When I was five or six years old, I was in New York City with my family and somehow, in the middle of Grand Central Station, I got separate from the rest of my family.

    I took a couple of minutes looking for them myself, realized that they were nowhere to be found, and then prompty located a New York City Policeman and informed him that I was lost.

    Luckily, I was wearing a bright red hooded sweatshirt, and shortly after finding the cop, my mother found me.

    Was I scared? Honestly, it was so long ago that I don’t remember. But what I do know is that I had been told many times about what to do in a situation like that, and it was second nature for me to find a person of authority.

    And this was in the ’80s, when NYC wasn’t exactly as safe as it is nowadays.

    The biggest problem I see with kids today isn’t that they’re afraid to do things. It’s that they aren’t taught how to think for themselves enough to do things without parental guidance.

  26. Anders

    Guess it’s better than when I turned 6.

    It was my birthday and I wanted to show them I was an adult too.

    …I decided to walk to school alone – it wasn’t far, just two blocks; but the big deal was there was a fairly speedy road inbetween.

    How did it go?

    You know the “look both ways before you cross” rule?

    There’s an extra part to add. After you’ve looked both ways, LOOK AGAIN.

    Result: I got hit by the side-view mirror of a car going 5 km/h.
    Day in the hospital. yay!

  27. range

    Happens in Quebec as well. In French, we call it Enfant-roi syndrome, the king-child syndrome. Kids are coddled and spoiled.

    Happens in Asia (Taiwan) as well. I call those kids spoiled rotten because they have rotten teeth, literally. The parents give their children too many sweets and the kids don’t know how to brush their teeth.

    Kids have their mouths filled with cavities and black, rotten teeth.

  28. laurakat

    The only fear-mongering my parents’ encouraged was the fear of what my parents would say to me if they found out I was such a fucking pussy! Are you fucking kidding me?? In what way is this kind of parenting effective or useful–what skills are you teaching your children, the skill of being scared of every new experience? The skill of being completely unable to function in unfamiliar circumstances? The skill of being a perpetual victim to their own neuroses?

  29. thepooka

    Matthew T: As a Christian, I feel qualified to shed some light on this. When churches talk about “Trick-or-Treat Alternatives”, they’re talking about one of two things, and both of them suck donkey balls.

    Option A: Trunk or Treat
    Trunk or Treat is for the helicopter parents who are afraid their children will be poisoned or kidnapped. All the church parents get together in a parking lot, decorate their cars, fill the trunks with candy, and then the children trick or treat…in the parking lot. It’s isolationist and irrationally paranoid, and only teaches bad things to the poor, leashed children involved. Plus, it won’t actually decrease your child’s chance of getting sabotaged treats, because remember that kid who found a razor blade in his apple? Remember him? That razor blade was put there by his own *father*.

    Children, if you want to be safe, don’t let your parents touch your Halloween candy.

    Option B: Harvest Parties
    Harvest parties were invented by the mewling, milk-fed, Chick-tract distributing brand of Christian that thinks that while Christmas has somehow escaped all its pagan roots, costumes and sanctioned begging are somehow so witchy and evil that they will corrupt our five-year-olds. The result of this, of course, will be rock n’ roll. Harvest parties are usually costume-free events with movies and stupid games, scrubbed free of all potential spookiness and fun. There’s still candy, though. Lots of candy. We wouldn’t want our kids skinny and fast enough to escape their cages, after all.

    I’ll admit, I “supervised” my niece on Halloween night until she was 12 or so. It wasn’t that she wasn’t ready to trick-or-treat alone; I wasn’t ready to stop trick-or-treating. It makes me sad and angry in a very personal way, whenever I hear another tale of the wimpification of Halloween.

  30. dotlizard

    i could not agree more without spraining something. but, as @ascher26 noted, there is such a tremendous amount of peer pressure — on the adults — to over-protect. and it’s not all social – these helicopter moms (i call them “smothers”) would not hesitate to phone child social services on you, or call a cop. and dog help you if “something” happens and you end up needing medical or police help — any failures on your part to be a proper “smother” will be duly investigated by the proper authorities.

    the fear culture is so deeply rooted, i don’t know what it’s going to take to get us back to normal. not too long ago i read a great article comparing three generations that grew up in the same rural town in the UK somewhere, on how far they were allowed to go unattended at the age of, i think, 8 or 10. the grandfather was allowed to go 6 -7 miles to the local fishing hole. the father was allowed to go 2 miles to school. the the child was not allowed to leave the yard.

    can you imagine? a fishing hole? someone could drown, or put an eye out with a fishhook! unimaginable freedoms. i think those were what made them ‘the good old days’.

  31. lostlogic

    V… is… back!!! YAY. So true.

  32. jholt89

    I’m 19 years old, and my mother was very far from perfect, but I couldn’t be more glad that she didn’t do this method of raising me, my brother on the other hand, due to a collaboration of my mother and step-ass I mean father, turned into a neurotic wreck, he’s just now at 12 not afraid to go outside by himself.

  33. allieloopy

    I am a foster parent and I hovered, I admit it. Hey, they were my first kids! But once I got a clue and started giving them responsibilities then all heck broke loose.
    My 11 yr old foster son wasn’t allowed to wash HIS OWN laundry, even if he wanted to! He couldn’t pick up dog poo in the yard or make dinner for everyone. The social worker said it’s like we are making our foster kids work for us. Well duh! I worked for my mom, dishes and babysitting 4 sibs from age 10 on. Shortly after I was cooking alone also.

    Recently I decided to unsmother my daughters. They actually cut up salad stuff…with sharp knives! No one died.
    Last week my 7 yr olds teacher tells me that my kids shoes were untied all day. When I told the teacher “well she needs to learn to tie them” then I got a nasty look! Heck, how will the kids ever learn?
    I got in trouble on gym day too. We had a war about what shoes to wear. She didn’t want her sneakers, I told her the consequence and she chose to wear dress shoes. Then I get nagged by the teacher because she couldn’t participate in gym. Hey, I warned her and she made her choice. Not my problem.

    On Saturdays, our only relaxing day, the kids get up, make their own breakfast and usually thier lunch too. If we aren’t doing a family thing they also have to occupy themselves without my help. Seems to be working fine and the girls love to “take over” the kitchen.
    So you can try to raise them right but get ready for people to think you are an abusive parent!

  34. LTerminus

    I had really good parents growing up. I’m 18, and I moved out in September. I got to go outside and play, and i could cook as long as i was careful. I got a pocket knife for my 12th birthday.

    Unfortunately, the rest of the parents in my town (small town, one school) were not great parents. Consequently, other kids weren’t allowed to play with me, because I was a bad influence. I grew up in isolation from pretty much everyone else my age, destroying my chance at having normal social skills.

    One of my friends moms, when we were ten or eleven, forbade me from ever coming over again after I had convinced him to leave the backyard so we could run across the street and use the merry-go-round at the park. It was around 50 feet away, and directly in front of, my friends house.

    Afterwords, the mother complained enough that she got the whole park torn down because the swings, merry-go-round, slide, etc were unsafe.

  35. kirili

    I just want to make a comment about universality: your posts are, wisely enough, confined to what you know. People in less rich social setups should stop expecting this to reflect their world.

    However, there IS a sense of universality in that because of colonialisation and perhaps our humaness, the rich all over the world have similar trends in their ridiculousness.

    Of course there are parents like those mentioned above in the case of Erdos whose own specific psychosis they take out on the child.

    Hey, for some reason I assume you DID watch it, but if you haven’t then watch the Colbert Report for November 5th. There’s a great segment on fear psychosis.

  36. xiolamoon

    I am also a foster parent, and am therefore bound by various stupid laws and requirements to follow some of these asinine requirements lest my fosterchild be taken away. A few days ago S. came home from school with a “you must be this tall” poster indicating that he needed to be in a booster seat, since he’s under 5′ tall. I am 5’3″. He was angry, mortified, etc. He said, “I’m not a BABY. Those seats are for BABIES!”

    All I could say was, “I know, kiddo, but it’s the law.”

    V. you are an inspiration in so many ways.


  37. Dexter

    I loved playing in dirt, being out until I could no longer ride my bike with the kids on my block, playing on the railroad track trying to outrun the train or putting coins on the track right before the train passed to see the coin flattened out, digging holes in the dirt next to the tracks, then cover them with leaves and see people falling through them… my 10 year old cousin’s playtime now-a-days: being in his room, by himself, playing with cars. He can’t go out and play with the kids from the block because he could get run-over or kidnapped, he can’t play video games because he’ll become addicted, he can’t go over to other kids houses because can we really trust the parents? BULLSHIT! I feel so bad for him. Whenever I’m there, I TRY to talk his stupid mother out of all these fears, it works for about a week according to my cousin, then it’s paranoia all over again.

  38. diasdiem

    Oh god, the playground equipment. The stupid playground equipment they make these days. Nothing that’s higher than 8 feet off the ground. Plastic slides all of about 10 feet long. Stuff with steering wheels bolted on so you can pretend your driving. Stupid shit.

    Our school playground had actual swings that you would slingshot yourself out of and launch like 12 feet in the air. Monkey bars. Metal slides that burned your ass in the hot sun, that were so long you were shooting at like 30 mph at the poor bastard who went down ahead of you but didn’t get out of the way in time so you crashed into him and you both went skidding across the playground in a hail of bloody pea gravel. But the best of all was the merry-go-round. A metal merry go round on a heavily greased axle, that you would load with like 20 kids and spin around as fast as you could in an early experiment in centrifugal force, spinning faster and faster, flinging kids off one by one into nearby playground equipment, passers-by, and oak trees. Last one still on wins 🙂

  39. a1

    It’s true. Kids are raised by parents who fear everything. Life shouldn’t be lived with baseless fear.
    I recommend books by Gavin de Becker, such as Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane). It’s about being safe, but not neurotic.
    (Also check out The Gift of Fear.)

  40. Viola

    If I were a mommy, I sure as fuck wouldn’t let my kid have as much freedom as you’re suggesting. Groups of kids walking places… that’s one thing. But letting my six year old walk to the park by herself? I don’t think so. I agree with not meddling in your kid’s social practices, but right-out letting them go unsupervised is just asking for bad things to happen.

  41. diasdiem

    We lived near a dry creek bed that would flood after a hard rain. On one such occasion when I was like 5 or 6 I walked out there barefoot to see it and stepped on a twig full of mesquite thorns. Didn’t scream or cry, just hobbled back to the house with the 2 inch-thorn still stuck in my foot. Mom found me sitting on the bathroom counter with my foot in the sink pulling the thorn out, and was a little freaked to discover that I had been within a few feet of some very quickly rushing water.

  42. Exodus

    Dear Lord. I am SO glad my parents never did that shit to me. I HAD to start sitting in the front seat when I was 8 because I was already 5’6″. Now I’m 6’2″, and I’m only 13. If someone fears for my safety and says, “Maybe I can turn the airbags off for you.”, my thoughts are, “Bitch, keep those fucking airbags on. If your dumb ass crashes and I die because you turned off the airbags, I’m gonna make sure your ass gets smited.”. What I say is completely different: “That’s OK. I’ll be fine.”

  43. Bumpkin

    I just had to chime in on this. I grew up in the jungles of Central America and it was not uncommon for me to be forced to build a shelter for the night (or two) and care for myself when flash-floods would cut me off from my way home. This was when I was 8 or 9 years old. It must have been hard on my parents, but they never really let on. I’d been raised along with the natives and knew how to take care of myself, could speak the language and was friendly and known to several nearby tribes. No big deal.

    When I became a parent myself I tried to instill the same independence and self-reliance in my own kids. It wasn’t easy – I had CPS called on me more than once – but I also felt much more unease with the world my kids were exposed to. Maybe cities and crowds just aren’t my thing.

    Anyway, I wanted to relate the most horrific time of my life. We had taken the kids to Europe (“before they got too old”) when they were 11 and 12. We were getting on a subway at Piccadilly Circus in London during evening rush hour when someone changed their mind about riding and pushed my 11-year-old son out the door as they exited. I watched in horror as the door closed with my son banging on the outside hollering to wait for him. Watching him slip into the distance as we sped off and seeing the expression on his face about killed me.

    I got off at the next stop and boarded the next train back while my wife and daughter stayed at the platform. I searched and searched but could not find him in the crowds. Finally I found one of their emergency phones and called for help.

    To make an agonizingly long story short, after almost six hours we had all of London police and transit authorities looking for our son. It was dark, our hotel was at the other end of town. Due to a reservation mixup we weren’t able to check in yet. I had had stashed our luggage that morning at the new hotel while mom and the kids went shopping and then we toured the whole day waiting for our room to come available so my son didn’t even know which hotel we were in. Oh, and no cell phones. All we could do was wait in our new room while police looked and reviewed video footage. Well you can about imagine what kinds of things were going through my mind. An imagination can be a terrible thing.

    While we are all sitting in our hotel room hours later waiting for a call from the “bobbies” the phone rings. It’s the front desk. Our son wants to know if we’d checked in yet. Yes. He’s here in the lobby. Boy did he have a story to tell. Remember, he’s 11 years old. He’d never even seen a school-bus before, let alone had any city experience.

    Turns out, after an initial bout of panic, he remembered that we’d arrived from Heathrow at Paddington Station and that our hotel was supposed to be close to there. He left the subway and went topside since he’d never been on a subway before and wasn’t sure he knew how to use it (we’re country bumpkins) but felt sure he could find his way by walking. So he spent the next six or seven hours walking around London, looking for things he recognized from our touring and soon he saw things from when we’d first arrived. He found Paddington Station and started waling around in circles stopping at each hotel to see if it was ours.

    The kicker is he had a grand time. He still talks about it to this day (he’s 19) and refers to it as one of his fondest memories. As to why he didn’t find a policeman or ask for directions from anyone, he said it never occurred to him and that he was shy.

    Just goes to show. I could’ve died, but he was having the time of his life.

  44. generaldiscontent

    This kind of stuff drives me up the wall. We had a couple of kids of some distant in-law at my parent’s house for a family gathering last summer. One of Mom’s cats had just had kittens a few weeks before, and I was holding a couple of them. The kids walked into the room, and I held up a cat and asked them “Would you like to hold the kittens?” (All kids love puppies & kittens, right?) The kids let out a SHRIEK, curl up in a ball on the carpet, and start SOBBING. Turns out their (s)mother had an major paranoia about dog bites (among many, many other things) and had conditioned them to be COMPLETELY TERRIFIED of ALL animals – even three-week-old kittens. Yeah, those kids are gonna be real well-adjusted when they grow up…

  45. thepooka

    Bumpkin: What happened to your son happened to me in DC when I was on a school trip many years ago. Every other kid in the group wanted my teacher to get off on the next stop and start the search for me, but she refused and got off at our stop by the hotel. Like your son, after my initial bout of panic (cut short by a disgusted subway security guard: “there’s another one in two minutes!”) I rode the subway back to our hotel by myself, and found the group waiting there. My time “missing”? 15 minutes, the duration of the subway ride.

    The other kids said they’d have had no idea what to do in my situation, but you know what? They totally would have. I’m not normally what you call “competent”, but even children can get that moment of calm in the middle of a crisis, if you prepare them to think in terms of handling what comes up.

    I love my dad.

  46. DeadMilkman

    I dont have any kids of my own, and never will. My experience has been with other people’s kids. As a store manager who hires a lot of teenagers it amazes me constantly how totally unprepared many of them are for anything more difficult than watching TV. Now.. it isn’t all the kids. I would say on average about 1 of 10 turn out like this it seems. But it is still more than you would think.

    Recently I had one kid who was 16:
    a). He would barely speak to anyone, even when spoken to. He worked for me for almost 3 months and probably has spoken less than a hundred words to me. This is not an exageration.

    b). He had done almost no work of any kind in his life. I had to teach him how to use a broom, which he was never capable of doing correctly even after I showed him quite a number of times.

    c). He wouldnt try to do anything for himself. If you didnt lead him around and show him exactly what to do at all times he would just stand there and stare into space.

    Now this kid wasn’t actually stupid, nor did he seem to have any learning disabilities. He did very well in school, and I have seen some of his homework, which was calculus, and computer sciences. The problem is that he grew up in an privaliged family (He was driving a Lexus at 16yrs old before he had his first job), and raised by parents who wouldnt allow him to do anything without their presence. The main example being that his father practically handled his entire job seeking process for him. The father was the one who came to the store to get the application, then he was there during the interview, And he was the one who came back and thanked me for giving his a son a chance to work for us. (Despite my serious misgivings, I could see even during the interview that the kid would probably not work out)

    So after stringing the kid along for 3 months I had to fire him, because he was just too incompetent, and not learning anything. The worst part is I felt very bad for the kid, because this stuff was clearly not his fault. I only kept him as long as I did because it is not easy to tell a kid his age that he is too incompetent to make bagel sandwiches.

  47. diasdiem

    Training your children to be afraid of kittens is child abuse. Seriously. That had to be some kind of twisted Manchurian-Candidate-Clockwork-Orange-style brain washing. Call child protection services.

    DeadMilkman: I would called his dad in and fired them both. And made it clear exactly why they were fired. It probably wouldn’t change anything, but it would sure help make up for putting up with 3 months of ineptitude.

    In the fullness of time, when the child reaches puberty, take them into the wilderness and leave them their with nothing but a sharpened stick and a canteen with a day’s worth of water. Let them find their way and survive by their wits. If they do not return when the moon waxes full, they are surely lost, and let their name never be spoken again. So say the tribal elders.

  48. galvanoplastica

    Hail V from the other side of the Atlantic (Spain). I used to think that kids in the US grew up faster and with more freedom and responsibilities than in Spain, driving and working since age 16. I guess I was wrong. Or maybe, as some other users have pointed out, you are speaking about a certain societal strip here (high middle class, parents with some guilt complex and very much dependent on what others think). I feel lucky to have had a relatively “wild” and unsupervised childhood: I played in the street, walked to school and was never afraid of climbing or jumping whatever I felt like (that’s how I broke a wrist, a knee, and sprained both ankles several times… my mom was not sympathetic at these feats, she would scold me for being a tomboy!). In the summers, my brother and I stayed with our grandparents in a mountain village and biked around and played with all the other kids. Hey, we even drank unpasteurized milk almost straight from the cow and berries right out of the bush!! Ah, the good old times.
    I think parenting in Europe has also got much more protective and paranoid, probably not because there are more dangers, but because the media has made us more aware of these dangers. However, I think it is actually safer for kids today in general (call me naive), and I’ll definitely try not to submit to the peer pressure and the fear psychosis when I raise my own children. Overprotecting them in the now is leaving them helpless for the future.
    BTW, great layout, but I would spray some blood (for color), too 😛

  49. ccalladine

    My son has been alone at home during the afternoons, in the inner city, since he was 8. My husband and I had to work, and my son came home from school, let out and played with the dog, did his chores list, and was fine until I got home. He knew my phone number at work and was able to call at any time. He’s 14 now, able to cook a meal for himself, and wanders all around the farm we now live on. I recently found out that if someone had seen him being alone, up until he was age 12 or 13, I could have been put in jail for child endangerment.

    Fortunately, he’s one of those very tall children (6’2″) and never had to use a booster seat until he was 8. We gave that up at 5. He was too tall and too heavy. He said he would have been mortified by that anyway.

    I still can’t fathom why children are so overprotected these days. Yes, we lived in a not too good part of town, but he used common sense and everything was fine. He has friends at his school now who aren’t allowed to go anywhere without their parents. When I was a kid, we traveled to alot of museums around and took my friends with me. Fun and educating. Heaven help all those children in the future.

  50. malex531

    I stayed alone pretty early on, I think I was allowed to use the microwave though. I was one of those *gasp* latchkey children. And once I forgot my key so I had to sit on front step until my mother came home. I never forgot my key again. I can’t imagine the penalty for leaving children home alone now, 5-10? Oh, and I saw a billboard the other day saying children should weigh 50lbs or be in a car seat. Uh, I would have been like 10 years old…in a car seat!!

    I was a substitute teacher for a Montessori school for a few months. It was absolutely ridiculous. If two children had a disagreement, they were put into the “peace corner” for 15 minutes to talk it out…when they were 3. It was important so they learned to, “use their words.” Those children are going to be destroyed in high school.

  51. skot

    How else are personal analysts and pharmaceutical companies supposed to make their money?

    I whole-heartedly agree with you. Since the 80’s, we’ve been raising a society of timid little regressive mice plagued by neuroses and disorders, rather than a continually developing culture of productive, well-rounded individuals. It’s sad to see how we’ve shifted from reaching towards excellence to hiding in safety.

  52. Goldie

    My boys were 4yo and 15 months old when we came to America, and we noticed this trend almost right away. First off, I have to agree about the peer pressure on adults and about CPS hovering over us, making us, in turn, hover over our children. We always tried to find the way around. When my sons wanted to stay at home, rather than tag along with me doing errands, they were instructed not to answer the phone or the doorbell. They had my cell number. When my 12yo wanted to stay home alone overnight when we were out for New Years’ with our friends, he had my cell, the friends’ home number, and detailed instructions. When at 6-7yo, he wanted to stay in the car rather than go to the store with me, I told him to put a blanket over himself and stay under the blanket. When at 10yo he started walking around our neighborhood on his own, he told me himself, “mom if anybody asks, I’m twelve!” Of course, it helps when the kid is tall for his age.
    Another thing, we lived in a poor neighborhood during our first year here, and I noticed that kids there definitely have more freedom than their peers in the affluent areas. Maybe because the adults living there have more important thinsg to do than spy on their neighbors and call child services on them at the drop of a hat – things like, I don’t know, putting food on the table for their families?
    I will have to disagree with Anastasia and say that in Russia, things are completely different. Kids have way more freedom. I walked alone halfway across town to daycare when I was five. My mom picked me up from school on my first day, and I was a latchkey kid from there on out. Okay that was in the 70s, but both my children were born in Russia, and it was basically the same way then.
    The subway story reminds me, when the kids were 12 and 10, we went to Ukraine to visit my inlaws. On the second day, the 12yo got separated from us and got lost, in a town where he knew no one and could not speak the language, and where no one except us spoke English. That was a lil scary. We broke into search groups and combed through the town. Eventually we found him coming out of the apartment building across from the inlaws’. They looked exactly alike and he got them confused. He got used to the town pretty quickly though, and loved the independence. He absolutely loved it that he was able to walk anywhere on his own. Of course it helped that he already knew how to cross a busy street (remember, being outside by himself at 10 years old.)
    Both kids have started cooking their own food at age 12 or so. As far as in the car, we never used booster seats, and have been pretty lax about front-seat rules (tall kids, remember), but I’ve been pretty adamant about buckling up. I don’t want either a kid or an adult flying through my windshield if there’s an accident.
    I’ll stop rambling now and make my point. And that point is, yeah compared to other cultures/generations, we in suburban middle-class America have been screwed, in that we are strongly encouraged to give our children ZERO independence. I think we all agree this is not going to work for our children long-term, so what we need to do is kinda sneak around and circumvent the system as much as we can. It is a challenge, but our children will thank us for it.

  53. Goldie

    malex531, I have to thank the powers that be for the crappy elementary school my kids went to. It sucked balls in more ways than one. Recess among other things was a free-for-all. Grades 1 to 4 all together on the playground, kids happily beating up on whoever they felt like. I’ve got to say it was a blessing in disguise. Both kids learned how to fight, how to get along, how to defend themselves, stand up for their friends, and to recognize a (very rare) situation where you HAVE to go get an adult. Both went to middle school well prepared for it. Don’t get me wrong, the school had zero-tolerance policies on violence – you could get suspended for bringing a plastic fork to school, or to saying the words “hate” or “kill”. They were just too damn lazy to enforce their own policies in the only place where the real violence took place – the school playground. Oh well, it worked out pretty great for my kids in the end.

  54. raazychx

    I can think of a lot of circumstances where I feel like I’ve been overprotected, really. I’m eighteen right now and in college, and I’ve finally gotten a job, but I’m a little lacking myself in the social department.

    Ah, well, I’m fine now.

    Oh, and by the way, V. You’ll probably kill me for saying this, but I really like the new website design, haha.

  55. C

    My story? Having the bathroom door break in a restaurant. My father still talks about this– Me banging on the door from the inside–“Hello? I’m stuck!” — and telling the very concerned person at the door that I was fine, but “Could you get my dad? He’s…. bald. and sitting by a window.”

    I was 6 or so, and a lot of the other parents there were telling my father all about how their kid would have been screaming and crying.

    I remember my mom telling me that she’d gotten a job, and my brother and I would be walking ourselves home from now– me 9 or 10, my brother a few years younger. I told her that wasn’t possible, we’d get lost. She said we’d walked home with her for months, we’d be fine. Sure enough, we made it, and pretty much had a game of it the entire way– “There’s the pool, we go straight!” “There’s the culvert, we’re going the right way!” “Cat Lady’s house! Turn left!”

    I think a lot of it’s TV and movies. You never have a movie or TV episode about a woman who leaves her kid at home for the few hours every day and the kid grows up well-adjusted and happy. It’s always movies where the kid wanders into the next walmart aisle for 30 seconds or is unsupervised walking home from their friend’s house just this once, and is never seen again.

    Comment quality seems to have improved exponentially. Yay.

  56. embee

    Followed Katy’s blog (Whatever) over here and just wanted to say how much I love this post.

    My kids attend what’s known as a ‘Democratic School’ known as ‘The New School’ ( and this post fits their doctrine to a T.

    Thanks, I forwarded this to another TNS mom… There are so few of us out there who believe kids are capable.

  57. Dexter

    When I was in kindergarten we lived across the street from my school. My mom would wake me up and do my hair (yes I know, so lame I couldn’t fix my own hair -still can’t- I suck at it and I’m 24 now) and she would leave to work. I made my own breakfast, got dressed, got my homework ready and walked across the street to school. After school, I’d come back home and get the key from one of the 5 different spots I would hide it in. I would do my homework, do some chores and I usually had already started dinner by the time my mom would be home at 6pm. Simple things: mac and cheese, steamed veggies, cooked rice, etc.. I was 5 fucking years old. As soon as we moved in to a bigger place with my grandparents, my grandma was the ever protective sweetheart.. she wouldn’t let me lift a finger.. but when she wasn’t home I would go into the kitchen and make my own damn food. 5 year olds now a days, can’t even open the fridge by themselves.

  58. Flyswatter

    My sister, who defines over-protectiveness, has a six-year-old daughter who has never been vaccinated, does not go to school, isn’t being home schooled because my sister wants her to “lead her own quest for knowledge and she’ll have plenty of time to learn to read,” cannot go to the bathroom without my sister sitting on the edge of the toilet seat with her, etc. My sister takes her to work and the child has her own little desk where she keeps her mother in eyesight. My sister can’t go to the restroom without her daughter being there. It’s insane.

    I used to be a Girl Scout leader and I took my Cadette troop of 11-13 year olds camping where there was not a bathroom and then whitewater rafting. A disaster. They were so afraid of the woods being city girls. I told them ghost stories around the campfire and they all freaked out. They were afraid there was a murderous maniac in the woods (It turned out there was–this was when Eric Rudolph had blown up the Women’s Clinic in Birmingham, Alabama and unbeknownst to us, was apparently hiding in the woods not too far from our campsite!). The girls also freaked out about the cold water when they were rafting and I had to exit the raft and take some of them back. Such wimps.

  59. quicksilver

    I can’t agree more with this article and most of the comments… that’s one of the reasons why I live in the province of Quebec in Canada. People here are alot more sane. At my girls school it’s okay for them to give hugs (the younger one does) to the principal. It’s still normal to play tag and red rover. The PTA goes out to a bar after a meeting, with the staff. It’s also nornal that the pincipal joins in shooting a few hoops with kids on his way out at the end of the day.

    In the summer I take my kids to swim in the river or they go to the park by themselves and play with (and yes, gasp, meet) other kids who are doing the same thing.

    Maybe it’s time more people moved here.

  60. Flyswatter

    Oh, I forgot to mention, but when my Girl Scout troop was Brownie age, with their parent’s permission, I gave each of them sharpish knives and had them slice up large marshmellows so they’d get used to handling a knife and also had them go outside and strike matches and throw them into a bucket of water so they’d be able to light a fire. I instilled in them a respect for these tools and insisted on camping trips that they help out with dinner preparation and fire lighting and safety. We had rules we checked off and made scrunchies for their long hair (they also learned to hand sew).

    I wish someone had forced me to learn to strike matches before the age of 12–I didn’t learn until I was 14 and sneaking smokes behind the track at lunchtime and getting embarrassed to get someone else to strike my match for me, LOL!

  61. The L

    Thank you, V! When I was a kid, it wasn’t unusual for children to go trick-or-treating alone once they got old enough to find their way around their own neighborhood.

    This year, the kids who rang my doorbell were mostly 6-10 years old. And most of them had their parents right behind them on the driveway!

    And this was in a gated community with excellent security. They perform background checks before they let you buy a house in this neighborhood. No one can get in without going past the security gate, which is always manned. Pedestrian traffic is monitored. Bicycle traffic is monitored. There is no way some predator can get in to attack. There are sidewalks along every street, so the kids aren’t in danger of being run over.

    I just don’t get it.

  62. lucius

    Excellent post, V, and some very good points from the comments.

    My thought as thus: these neurotic kids (and I myself have seen many) will someday be neurotic adults. How will they make money to support themselves? How will they be informed voters?

    Will they not simply rely on welfare, saddling those who actually are productive and make money? Will they not vote for people who promise to keep the welfare cheques flowing?

  63. Alywait

    I’ve seen both sides, as a kid, re:not that long ago, I made my own lunch for school, rode my bike there, and made sure my little sister got to her school, and picked her up afterwards so we could ride our bikes home together, and this was all under the age of 10. I’ve done my own laundry, got my drivers license and worked a job since I was 14. But I always was safe doing those things, we lived in a small town, I took courses on staying home alone, and another for babysitting, and I was a lifeguard in my teens. My parents were all for letting us be independent but we definatly had to be safe doing it. Then when I got to university I was in for a shock, at least one of my first year roommates didn’t know how to do laundry and brought all of it home, many of the people on my floor couldn’t cook, and others went wild with the freedom. My parents love to tell everyone now about how much those university level students didn’t know how to do.

  64. Mary

    I’m a parent and I’ve seen both sides. I’m not sure it’s a fear issue moreso than a trust issue. I’m a parent and I don’t trust anyone around my kid except for my daycare lady who I researched to death before I allowed him to go there and my family. Plus I remember the kind of shit I pulled as a latchkey kid, and I’m not so sure I want my son pulling the same crap. I can think back to how many times I could have DIED (ie playing on a train trestle and standing in the middle while a train went by, riding my bike across the highway, taking a ride home from a strange man, etc).

    I feel different now that I have a kid, and I’ll tell the god’s honest truth I’m scared for him. I’m scared something will happen to him.

    So maybe VA needs to post on how parents can get over that fear, cause I have no clue.

  65. Parasiet

    It’s not as black and white as you say. Sure, when I was growing up my parents would let me walk to school alone, play near the road with my friends, stay home alone every now and then. But that was back when people only had 1 car per family and there wasn’t a huge new neighbourhood near our smalltown community. There’s just way too many cars around now to let the kids do such things. No matter how much you teach them to be careful near the road and look twice when crossing it, there’s just too much going on for them to keep up with.
    My friend lives in a slightly bigger town called Amsterdam, near downtown. She has a 5 year old and an 8 year old. She sure as hell won’t let them walk to school alone. There’s too many cars, trams, wasted tourists that don’t know how to properly ride a bike… Not a great place to let your kids just walk to school alone. They’ll just have to wait a couple of years.

  66. T-bird

    Hmm, I disagree somewhat. A majority of children I’ve seen whose parents let them be independent ended up smoking, drinking, doing drugs, and having sex by 13. The kids of more helicopter-like parents ended up doing that stuff in their 20’s. There are, of course, kids of both classes that didn’t do it at all.

    But damned if I ever saw a kid of a helicopter parent do drugs in their early or even late teens.

    I just really disagree with “hands off” parenting which I saw in so, so many of friends and which fits the description of the parenting you are praising. They’re effing unhappy too. When you let a kid fend for themselves a majority of the time they feel that no one will ever be there for them. And they’re the ones that become alcoholics by their 17th birthday.

    I Do agree with you when we’re talking about the extremes– intense helicopter parents should not be tolerated. Kids that can’t wipe their ass at 5 years old are not a good thing.

    However, I think some or even a good amount of sheltering can be beneficial when we’re talking about the most risky behavior people engage in. I think just like the 5 year old above, having a 13 year old who isn’t a virgin and gets wasted at parties is also a bad thing.

    Ugh, is this a “conservative” answer? I hate to be that person, but I speak as I find.

  67. JoeTheEngineer

    V hits it right on the head. My parents let my older brother and I run around and figure stuff out on our own. We were potty trained at 2 and 3, riding bicycles without training wheels at 3 and 4, riding dirtbikes (80cc and 125cc) through a gravel pit at 5 and 7, and pulling each other with said dirtbike with a skateboard tied behind it around the house at 6 and 7.

    Neither of us drank, smoked, or did a single drug until after we turned 18. Since then, we’ve had a few drinks (I didn’t consume a drop of liquor for 9 years), smoked a little dope in college, and that was about it. We’ve never been afraid of anything, and our parents have never had to worry about us.

    My little brother (5 years younger than I)? They coddled him like a little baby. He didn’t wipe his own ass until he was 8. He was smoking weed with his friends at 14, getting drunk at 15, DUI and possession charges at 18. He barely graduated high school (my older brother worked hard and did well, I worked hard and have a doctorate). He can’t even balance his own checkbook.

    All of our friends and family ask two questions, “What the fuck is up with your little brother? How could he turn into such a fuckup with the two of you as good examples?” Answer: my parents tried to protect him too much.

  68. JoeTheEngineer

    Re: T-Bird

    It’s one thing to take a “hands-off” approach, it’s another to not give a fuck what your kids do.

    My parents let us do what we wanted, but they always paid attention, always gave us praise when we did the right thing, punished us when we did the wrong thing, where there when we needed them, and above all: loved us.

    I don’t believe V is suggesting that parents leave their kids to fend for themselves, I believe she’s saying “take off the damn leash” – which is a symbol of modern parental failure. How many times have you gone to the supermarket and seen a lady with a leash on her kid? 20 years ago they didn’t use leashes, you told your kid “if we get separated, walk to the end, and look up all the aisles for me.” And the kid wandered. Hell, when I was 5, my mom would give me some coupons for what she needed, and I’d find it and bring it back. That doesn’t happen anymore.

  69. Havvy

    Life is all about balance. Too much of one thing, being over or under-protectiveness will destroy whatever it is you want to protect.

  70. Goldie

    Lucius, my thoughts exactly. Except my guess would be that these neurotic adults will vote for the first candidate who tells them that they are surrounded by enemies, and he is the only one strong enough to protect them.
    With luck, half of them will vote as you said, the other half as I said, and in total they will cancel each other out.
    Joe, ITA, that was exactly what I’ve been trying to do as a parent. So far so good, the 10th grader is doing especially well. The 7th grader acts kinda weird but I blame it on hormones.
    My biggest concern as a parent was NOT to teach my kids to follow anyone’s directions blindly, no questions asked. Not even mine. As long as they know how to think for themselves and make their own informed decisions, they will be fine.

  71. tinkerjenn

    I officially worship you.

    I have a 7 year old son and my ex (thank god) mother in law has turned him into a terrified little weenie. I have shared custody, so half the time my kid is with this fear mongering cunt who is raising him because his father is too busy playing games and chasing tail to be bothered.

    I took him to Six Flags, he was terrified of THE KIDDIE RIDES without an adult to ride with him. He would NOT be more than three feet from me because “Mimi said someone would steal me”. Uhm. yeah.

    He is terrified of dogs, one because a neighbor dog is just mean and two because his “Mimi” instills this panic in him that all dogs will bite!

    ALL CATS ARE EVIL! They sneak up on you and everyone is allergic to them!

    He can’t go outside and play or even go in his OWN ROOM and play without an adult watching him or being in his eye-line.

    When he is with me, I try SO HARD to let him be a kid! Eat dirt for fuck’s sake! you won’t like it, but IT WON’T KILL YOU! Drink water out of the faucet! Walk up to another kid and say hi! Chances are, they’ll either say hi back, or walk away..and even if they do, it’s NOT FATAL!

    Anyway, I really appreciated this post. I wish to GOD more people would actually SAY things like this!

    Also, if my kid fucks up, and he kids a spanking, OH MY GOD! HE MIGHT LEARN NOT TO DO THAT SHIT AGAIN!!! It’s not damaging him! My parents put the absolute fear of god into me when I screwed up, and now I’m a fucking ACCOUNTANT!

    /end rant!


  72. The L

    Quick addendum to my previous comment:

    There was an article in Reader’s Digest a few months ago about the “helicopter parenting” trend and the damage it can do. I was reminded of it yesterday when the latest issue arrived, and parents’ letters to the editor were printed in regards to that article.

    2 out of the 3 articles printed agreed with V’s post. I couldn’t help but smile.

  73. The L

    Ack! That was supposed to say “2 out of the three *letters* printed.” Curse you, itchy trigger finger!

  74. La BellaDonna

    I’m beyond horrified. I’m stupified. We don’t have to worry about the next generation pressing the button, because they won’t be able to find the room with the button, they won’t know how to press it, and besides, they’re not allowed to go there by themselves.

    I was a little kid during the 60s and 70s in suburbia. With or without my siblings, I played in the woods (two separate woods), fell into the swamp regularly, followed the brook for miles on foot through the woods to find the source, hunted for coppermouths in the swamp above, walked over a mile to my grammar school and back lugging a bookbag that gave me callouses. I tried smoking when I was 10, and had to chew gum at the same time, it tasted so bad. I decided on the spot it wasn’t worth the effort, and that was it. No drugs, no drinking, never got pregnant. Had numerous adventures which might have raised my parents’ hair, regardless, but was a good kid, with manners. Did my school work. My Mom taught us, boys and girls, how to cook, as soon as we were tall enough to reach the back of the stove safely – that was the only criterion. I was doing my own laundry before I was 10, in addition to other housework. I took riding lessons when I was a little kid, and got bucked off hard the first day and climbed back on as soon as I caught my breath.

    My parents saw it as their responsibility to see that we their children made it to adulthood, becoming adults in our turn on the way. There were parts of my childhood that were miserable, and parts that were horrific, but partly in spite of, and partly because of that, but mostly because of my parents’ attitude, my siblings and I all managed to become adults.

    I don’t know WHAT children today are being prepared for, except a life on welfare or the analyst’s couch. As far as I can tell, they’re being prepared to REMAIN children – all thought of preparing them for adult responsibility is gone.

  75. pjane

    Awesome. It kills me to hear my 8 and 10 year old sons’ teachers all but beg parents NOT to do their children’s homework and projects for them.

    I do think the general fear of CPS contributes to many parents’ overprotectiveness. There are lessons my kids have learned the hard way that may be called endangerment by some. When middle-son was three he was fascinated by fans. Little fingers fit neatly through many fan-guards (all plastic, nothing metal–we’re not HORRIBLE parents) so hubby and I reminded, scolded and redirected attention…to no avail. One day after repeated warnings I said, “That fan will hurt you, DO NOT stick your finger–”
    “Was that your finger?”
    *silent crying and nodding*
    “Did that hurt?”
    *more nodding*
    “Are you going to do that again?”
    “….did it feel better the second time?”
    *sobbing and head-shaking*
    His finger was red, but fine…but by god he hasn’t stuck his finger in a fan since.

    I do catch myself hovering more with the not-quite-4 year old, but only because he’s a bolt-er. He has no fear and given even half a chance he’ll run, putting himself in greater physical danger than a bruised finger.

  76. jsilve1

    Ugh. I can’t read all 780 comments. I like the post though; consider me a new subscriber.

    Anyway, I’m a dad. But my kids are 4 and 1. Until you have a crazy 4 year old and a 20 month old with no fear and live on a road around a blind curve that is supposed to be 25 mph but cars take at up to 50 and that, seriously, the neighbor across the street had to put telephone-pole-sized pylons in to prevent all the cars from skidding into his front yard, and I know it works because I have seen drunks skid off the road at 2AM (well, “heard” is more accurate), until you have that situation, don’t tell me I am being overprotective for not letting my kids play outside alone.

    Of course, they are only 4 and 1 years old.

    Most of the comments seem to address 5 to 10 year olds. When my kids are 5 and 8, fuck it, I’ll let them play with flaming machetes and delicate anthrax spore jars in the backyard if it will give me five minutes to clean the toilet. Some peace, please!

    Sorry, I got off track. Point at hand: I mostly do agree with the post. Germs? Have you ever heard of “building the immune system”? Hello!? What about that whole doesn’t-kill-me-makes-me-stronger-Nietzsche-thing.

    Okay, I’m rambling now. Thanks seeya bye.

  77. reacti0n

    To this article, I completely fucking agree.
    There is an line that parents cross in order to protect their children.
    I am one of those kids who were overprotected, scared shitless by radical situations, and still am to a certain extent. I’m still working on repairing the damage that my parents helped create in my thoughts and personality.
    I am not completely blaming them for how I had turned out, but as a kid, you don’t know what the hell you’re doing.

  78. antjeh

    Gee … as much as I miss San Francsico & our friends in America, I’m sure glad our children get to grow up in Europe.

    We’re pretty much average over here:

    I gave birth to both children at home, with the help of my husband and the midwife, and breastfed them for a couple of years.

    At the moment, my three year old daughter is playing with the neighborhood kids on the playground opposite our house, having been indoctrinated not to talk with strangers and to look carefully before crossing the road. I might have to remind her not to keep eating the sand, though. Occasionally I take a glimpse at her out of the kitchen window. She’s absolutely fine and seems very happy, healthy, and well adjusted.

    Our six year old son is at the public school around the corner. We’ve recently started to let him go home by himself, having made sure he is careful and gets off his bicycle when crossing the road.

    As far as I know, the crime & accident rates of children in Northern Europe aren’t any higher than in the US. Both our children certainly seem to be doing very well here.

    Don’t get me wrong. I would never take anybody in my car without seat belts. I try to teach my children hygiene, healthy lifestyle, good manners, and protect them from undue danger. I love my children more than anything and it would kill me if – god forbid – anything were to happen to them!

    But I would also find it a great shame if their natural curiosity, independence, and development would be restricted to such an extreme degree, as it seems to be required by American society and law …

  79. Why We Suck - An Incomplete Review « Banana Biting Boredom

    […] And I definitely enjoy semi-satirical rants. This week I stumbled upon Violent Acre’s rant on fear mongering among children. After reading several other articles I’ve decided to begin following the […]

  80. ebrillblaiddes

    My “preschool” was a backyard with a tire swing and a garden hose. For playdough we made mud. I built little houses out of mud and acorns. There were a few neighbors about my age; on any given day we might all be either in my backyard or that of the next house over (the two yards that had apple trees; free snacks!). Our moms left a window open in case anyone got hurt and had to yell for help. I don’t remember eating dirt but I sure wore plenty of it.

    Early in sixth grade, I missed the bus home, due to a run-in with my locker (it was my first year with a locker, I was still figuring these things out). I thought some bad words and then got practical. This wasn’t quite before cell phones but it was before sixth graders had them, or my parents for that matter. They wouldn’t be anywhere near our home phone and we didn’t have an answering machine, so calling anywhere wasn’t a real option. My bus went that way. I lived on a major street. Surely if I walked that way far enough I would either come to that street or a street I recognized as crossing it. (Waiting in the office didn’t even occur to me.) So…I started walking, and got most of the way home (to where I knew exactly where I was and all) when my dad and sister drove past. My dad was like “oh, OK, stuff happens” about it. A year later, when my sister was in fourth grade, she missed a bus and walked most of the way home too, though not as directly (I got the direction sense in the family). Both of us have had cars break down, she’s had a car wreck where she was driving, I’ve gotten semi-lost in London and semi-stranded in a small town in Wales because of going off of the wrong bus schedule, she’s moved all the way across the country, I’ve lived on my own since the end of junior year and moved halfway across the country…people ask us how we do this stuff, and we don’t know how to answer, because we just do it.

    My cousin-in-law is raising her kids (oldest recently turned 6, youngest is one and a halfish, there’s another in the middle) not to get dirty, not to go outside, not to run around, etc., to where my cousin (the kids’ aunt) is the only one who takes them to the park and they have trouble playing because they don’t have normal strength and coordination for their age. I cannot see another five to eight years of that resulting in them picking a direction and walking home because they missed the bus.

  81. Markus Breitenbach » Blog Archive » Kids, Games and Sociopaths

    […] thought about the consequences of these policies. The kids might turn out like the one in this story illustrating the negative effects of child fear mongering and overprotective parenting. What are kids in Virginia supposed to do? I guess we should have more […]

  82. coolestuk

    This has been a fascinating read. I’m in my mid 40s, and I remember I was 4 years old on the christmas eve when one of my brothers was born. That christmas morning my 5 yr old sis and I were left in charge of three smaller kids whilst my father went to the hospital to visit my mother.

    When each of us started school, our mother or father took us there for the first day – but from then on we all walked the mile or so home in the industrial town where we lived. Throughout the whole of our childhood we would all be playing in old factories, woodyards, forests. Of course many of us got injured, but we all survived. At 18 my father drove me to university and I never lived at home again, and never received any help or money from my parents from then on. I’d never received any pocket money, and had worked in various part-time jobs from the age of 13 (I’d have done it sooner except for my disability).

    My first boyfriend (whom I met when I was 21), had travelled from London to Rome by himself when he was 16, and like me he was completely independent from his parents at the age of 18. Meanwhile his younger sisters were cossetted by the parents. Neither of them left home until they were in their 30s (apart from being way at uni during term time for a few years). They even brought their husbands/partners home to live with their parents!

    Now these two sisters have brought their own children up to be even more cossetted. The five year old has to have his mother go and sit at his friend’s party for 3 hours because he’s too afraid to be there alone. The 5 year old twins of the other sister are not allowed to play unsupervised in the garden outside the parents’ kitchen. This small garden has 6′ high fences all round it, and the garden has nothing in it that could hurt them. But they’re not allowed to play alone in the garden in case one of them is horrid to the other!

    My own neice is now 21 and pregnant. When she visits my elderly parents, she phones them from her mobile to come out of their house to meet her at her car. This is the same town where I walked home from school at the age of 5. My elderly parents have no fear there, yet my neice is terrified of being on the street alone. I feel sorry for the fear that her children will inherit.

    Where I live there is a lovely big park right across from my home, with very high visibility from my block. The street to cross it has frequent traffic on it (but the traffic is restricted to 20 mph by speed bumps), and it is actually less busy than the street outside my home as a child (we lived on a major artery). Yet the kids on my block are made to play in front of the block, whereas we were racing across the road to play in a dilapidated mansion and its grounds. I estimate that some of these kids on my block who are not allowed to cross to the park are about 14 years old.

    It’s so depressing to see such a great resource for kids being completely wasted.

  83. Kerry

    This has touched a chord with me too. I was very overprotected as a child and was schooled at home until I was 8. My mother died suddenly when I was about 12. Somehow it wasn’t the end of my world – I just became the family cook because I got home first each evening. That summer break I discovered rowing and my mates and I took the old rowboat to sea and fished for the meals I cooked. No life jackets then (we could swim well) and the biggest disaster was catching a sting ray too strong to row against and having to start the motor – a no no in my Dad’s eyes. What I realised later in life was that I had learned a huge lesson that summer – I could survive a life shattering incident and end up stronger than before. That lesson is still proving valuable over 50 years later.

    I was fortunate to be able to give my own children such freedom too. I recommend sailing as a sport to any parent with young children. I don’t mean big expensive boats – just little 8 ft Optimist dinghies are all that is needed. The critical thing is that the kids are on their own in those little boats and have make the decisions themselves. Yes – life jackets are worn now and that is a good idea.

    My son, at age 9, was caught in a 40 knot squall and capsized. By the time the rescue boats had sorted out the adults and their problems he was well out to sea, but he had the boat upright and was sailing again. I thought he would be put off sailing for ever but next weekend he was out there again and never looked back. One quote, after a wild race in a Laser when he was about 15. Heck Dad – you don’t need drugs when you can do this stuff! He is still as fearless.

    My daughter was equally competitive in her wee yacht and now will tackle any problem with confidence. I am in awe of her abilities and drive. I think that all of those kids in that yacht club have done well in life. I recall another one at age 8 sailing in a sea so big that the top of his mast was out of sight when he was at the bottom of a swell. He was small then and still is – but he is now the national champion in another hairy class of yacht. His father is of the same ilk.

    Exposure to risk is a basic and essential part of becoming an adult. I would venture to say that it is child abuse to not expose them to manageable risks.

    I recently lived in Vietnam and was initially horrified by the risks people were taking in their urge to get ahead. True, their road toll is shocking and stupidity reigns at times, but the survivors are not wimps. I saw one worker painting a 12 story building – swinging in a bosun’s chair from side to side with a large roller and a bucket of paint. Kick – swing – kick – swing – drop a metre – kick – swing. It took 2 days to do a coat on the entire building!

    I am certain on one thing – if there is a punch-up between a nation in which assessing and accepting risk is just a normal part of daily life, and one in which youth are mollycoddled softies who dare not risk a broken limb in the playground, the outcome is pretty predictable.

  84. Are you an over protective parent? « SEO Searching

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  85. Tiba

    Whoa! Is it that bad in USA? Really? I’m not going to go much in detail in my childhood memories of going to the bakery when I was 7 (with the only danger that I sometimes forgot the change and/or the bread), walking to school on my own also was no problem or even picking up my little brother from the kindergarten. But yeah, I survived making my own knives and working with sharp objects (grew up together with my house, so tried everything my dad was doing too), cooking and running completely wild in the relatives’ farm and swimming without adult supervision in summer with other kids. And even my backyard would have made those kind of parents cringe: many ponds/swamps and many trees to climb.. Reading this I kinda start thinking if it is a lost experience for kids nowadays…
    But on the other hand, at least in Europe (Netherlands, to be precise) I see kids of all ages cycling in little groups on their own to schools which sometimes are 10 or more miles away and similar things. So I hope that by the time I will have my children it will not be THAT bad yet and that they will have a taste of independence and freedom to learn from their own mistakes and injuries. At least usually for my dad the answer was always the same “your own fault, next time be more careful”. Without errors there is no learning.

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