I read about america’s worst mom when she became famous last year. She has a book out.
The media dubbed me America’s Worst Mom (Go ahead, Google it.) But that’s not what I am.
I really think I’m a parent who is afraid of some things (bears, cars) and less afraid of others (subways, strangers). But mostly I’m afraid that I, too, have been swept up in the impossible obsession of our era: total safety for our children every second of every day. The idea that we should provide it and actually could provide it. It’s as if we don’t believe in fate anymore, or good luck or bad luck. No, it’s all up to us.
Childhood really has changed since today’s parents were kids, and not just in the United States. Australian children get stared at when they ride the bus alone. Canadian kids stay inside playing video games. After I started a blog called Free Range Kids, I heard from a dad in Ireland who lets his 11-year-old play in the local park, unsupervised, and now a mom down the street won’t let her son go to their house. She thinks the dad is reckless.
What has changed in the English-speaking world that has made childhood independence taboo? The ground has not gradually gotten harder under the jungle gym. The bus stops have not crept farther from home. Crime is actually lower than it was when most of us were growing up. So there is no reality-based reason that children today should be treated as more helpless and vulnerable than we were when we were young.
If this is America’s worst mom, I had the worst mum in England. She made fun of me when I was 10 because I wouldn’t take a two mile bus ride to the doctor’s on my own.
Lucky it wasn’t America because the police would’ve nabbed me.
I have to be honest, though: I write all this in a kind of shaky mood because I just got a call from the police. This morning, I put Izzy, now 10, on a half-hour train ride out to his friend’s house. It sounds like I’m a recidivist, but really: His friend’s family was waiting at the other end to pick him up, and he’s done this a dozen times already. It is a straight shot on a commuter railroad. This particular time, however, the conductor found it outrageous that a 10-year-old should be traveling alone, and summoned the police, who arrived as my son disembarked.
A couple of years ago an older couple accosted me in The Good Guys because I had left my kids watching the big screen TVs while I looked for a stereo. Who knows who might’ve snatched my urchins away in the 4 minutes that they were alone.
Mostly, the world is safe. Mostly, people are good. To emphasize the opposite is to live in the world of tabloid TV. A world filled with worst-case scenarios, not the world we actually live in, which is factually, statistically, and, luckily for us, one of the safest periods for children in the history of the world.
Like the housewives of the 1950s, today’s children need to be liberated. Unlike the housewives of the 50s, the children can’t do it themselves. Though I’d love to see hordes of kids gathering for meetings, staging protests, and burning their baby kneepads and maybe they will, it is really up to us parents to start renormalizing childhood. That begins with us realizing how scared we’ve gotten, even of ridiculously remote dangers.
Locking children away is cruel.
Be free, little children! Be free!