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August 25, 2008 12:14 PM   Subscribe

A recent LA Times Piece bemoans the lack of freedom today's children enjoy. Given the rise of such articles, is this a shared consensus? Judging by the reaction's to Lenore Skenazy's child rearing practices, maybe not. The explosive popularity of The Dangerous Books for boys suggests there is a real movement to get kids outside. The New York Times and Reason magazine aren't so impressed. The American Enterprise Institute and Rush Limbaugh seem to think it's a Boy/Girl problem. Gever Tulley (TED talk video) of The Tinkering School thinks a little bit of danger is good; he lets kids play with power tools. (Youtube Videos)

Previously on mefi:
Those mud pies were actually good for you.
Free Range Kids
Go Play Outside!
The Myth of the Media Myth: Games and Non-Gamers
"We're not supposed to get more than one injury a day. I usually get three or four."
posted by Telf (61 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
As I was about to post this, Metafilter kindly informed me that DU had just done a post about the Tinkering School. I largely wanted to bring the LA Times editorial into discussion and I noticed that there had never been a post on the Dangerous Book for Boys. Hopefully this isn't too redundant.

I have been thinking about this subject for a while, more in the context of how society has become so rigid. I think a little bit of law breaking is healthy. I'm actually saddened by how much more difficult it has become for underaged kids to use fake IDs. Say what you will, I think that using a fake ID to buy alcohol is a right of passage that rewards kids' "can do spirit" with alcohol and people of the opposite sex. It's kind of like Soviet Era black markets, sure they were officially illegal, but they allowed society to function. A little bit of wiggle room with things like under aged drinking or building baseball diamonds on private land seems to do more good in the long run.
posted by Telf at 12:21 PM on August 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm actually saddened by how much more difficult it has become for underaged kids to use fake IDs.

Would you be saddened by how difficult it has/should become to steal an identity by altering an ID? Buying booze isn't the only thing IDs are for.
posted by spicynuts at 12:27 PM on August 25, 2008


Aren't consensuses generally shared?
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:27 PM on August 25, 2008


From the Rush Limbaugh link:

It's by Conn and Hal Iggulden. They're obviously not illegal immigrants

Wait, what?
posted by sondrialiac at 12:30 PM on August 25, 2008


Would you be saddened by how difficult it has/should become to steal an identity by altering an ID? Buying booze isn't the only thing IDs are for.

Well, it's pretty obvious that the Telf was referring to IDs for the purposes of getting into bars. I'm pretty sure that the vast majority of Fake IDs used by teenagers is for drinking, rather then say, grand larceny.
posted by delmoi at 12:32 PM on August 25, 2008


Fun fact: Mefi member mothershock was coauthor of Daring Book for Girls and was interviewed in MeFi podcast 19.
posted by ardgedee at 12:33 PM on August 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


No I didn't, but I still have an opinion. (Naturally. Also: MetaFilter: I still have an opinion.)

First of all, I hope this doesn't get derailed into an AEI/Limbaugh lolfest. That said, the Dangerous Book for Boys, which IIRC includes at least one prayer entry, was quickly countered with the Daring Book for Girls. That's another data point in the line graph of a hypothesis that a lot of the handwringing over Kids Today is mere lawn monitoring.

However, I do think it's good to get kids actually doing stuff. It doesn't, as Tulley seems to think, need to be dangerous and isn't exactly a freedom issue, at least not in the way this FPP thinks it is. (Kids may be being prevented from using chainsaws, but they aren't being prevented from doing tons of other creative things.) Kids who do stuff are kids who actually know stuff (rather than have merely learned stuff) and knowledge is power.

And this isn't just me being fashionably anti-intellectual. I'm more of a learner than a doer myself and I'm only recently overcoming that. My older son is the same way and he (and I) both know a bunch of stuff that's much better than nothing. My younger son is exactly the opposite. He's only 7 but I've already consulted him on various things because he's the goto guy on stuff like the details of ladybug coloration and how to best use toothpicks as armatures in clay sculptures.)
posted by DU at 12:35 PM on August 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that the vast majority of Fake IDs used by teenagers is for drinking, rather then say, grand larceny.


Wasn't my point - if IDs are easy to fake, as they were when I was in high school, then they are easy to fake for EVERYONE, including larcenists. I'm willing to sacrifice a teenagers easy access to booze (besides, making it difficult should INCREASE their creativity by posing a bigger challenge - lazy freakin teens!!) for more security from larcenists.
posted by spicynuts at 12:46 PM on August 25, 2008


Charlie Brooker - Children today are mollycoddled prisoners
posted by Artw at 12:57 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Kids who do stuff are kids who actually know stuff (rather than have merely learned stuff) and knowledge is power.

I'd have to agree. Especially in the early years - a child that gets out there and interacts with her surroundings develops curiosity about things around her, and the thought processes that lead to problem solving.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:01 PM on August 25, 2008 [4 favorites]


Limbaugh link no longer works.

No big loss, though. Trips to the Dominican Republic to bang underaged girls don't really make you an expert on child development anyway.
posted by felix betachat at 1:01 PM on August 25, 2008 [7 favorites]


The next edition of the Dangerous Book needs to show kids how to make and use a still. Then they wouldn't need fake ID and they would learn a useful skill.
posted by pracowity at 1:03 PM on August 25, 2008 [8 favorites]


Did the OP use "think" and "Rush Limbaugh" in the same sentence?
First of all, I hope this doesn't get derailed into an AEI/Limbaugh lolfest.
Oops, too late!

Seriously, if the AEI is involved, they are probably out to slander teenagers, just like they were involved in the slandering of black folks with The Bell Curve. (They have never been respectable in such regards.)

I've long thought America has a serious youth-hatred problem, it's nice too see the L.A. Times piece show they can be trusted in this "dangerous" world of ours:
Izzy survived unscathed. He wasn't abducted by a perverted stranger or pushed under an oncoming train by a homicidal maniac. He didn't even get lost. According to Skenazy, who wrote about it in a New York Sun column, he arrived home "ecstatic with independence."
posted by Critical_Beatdown at 1:04 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Last week I let me daughter go by herself to the Safeway that's pretty much right across the street. I hate it that she has none of the freedom to wander that I had when I was a kid. She was thrilled to go by herself, which is kind of sad. And the problem was that, once there, she couldn't get served by anyone. I'm sure she waited politely in front of the counter waiting for someone to server her, but, as a ten-year-old not attached to an adult, she was invisible. Which is very sad.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 1:14 PM on August 25, 2008 [3 favorites]


/instead of "server" her, I of course meant to say "sever" her, so please correct that in your mind.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 1:15 PM on August 25, 2008


What an appropriate topic for this, the first day of school here in Oakland CA.

I had read a lot of this before, and having grown up in NYC in the shabby (scary?) seventies, riding the bus alone to school and meeting my best friend at the playground in Central Park for some before school climbing activities (danger! danger! will robinson!) it was still a stretch to watch my fourth and final child at nine scootering away on his own last spring. He was in third grade. My neighborhood is kind of safe, in the day time, the gunfire usually waits till after dark, but still.

Meanwhile, on long car rides my two teenage boys will, from time to time, lapse into longwinded (it's genetic) reminiscences of all the truly dangerous things they did back when they were surrounded by other scruffy homeschoolers. Roof sitting, fire plays a part, mischief of more kinds than I care to remember. I'm glad they did things on their own. Weeklong campouts in the redwoods and Joshua Tree provided many opportunities for utterly unsupervised child wildness which never devolved into the Lord of the Rings, either.

It was the one gift I gave them which I will never regret.

Time to go pick up youngest one. After tomorrow, he will scooter home freely, on his own.

By the way, Games are Forbidden in the Labyrinth.
posted by emhutchinson at 1:15 PM on August 25, 2008


Maybe a bit of a derail but The Big Book of Boy Stuff not only came out before The Dangerous Book, but also blows it out of the water.
posted by Camofrog at 1:17 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Don't we go through this every few years? That old "today's" parents completely suck from the parents of the previous generation rant? I think each generation -- on the whole -- have their good points and not so good points. I am looking out my window of a busy main street and I see walking without adult supervision -- so the notion that this is a generation of "helicopter" parents who are constantly hovering over their precious little ones is a nice myth. Some parents think they are the hovering type because their kids have a cell phone and gripe to teachers because the kid didn't get an "A+" on every assignment. It's not quite the same.

What we do have is a generation of kids who are less physically active than previous generations -- and that we have tangible proof. Otherwise, my experiences tell me:

1. Kids are a lot smarter and nicer than adult give them credit for. They actually have something on the ball and have the ability to learn.

2. Kids are also less street savvy than most parents give them credit for. You can talk kids into believing all sorts of weird things because they simply lack life experience. (I remember from the child psych courses that one psychologist referred to this half-jokingly as "pseudo-stupidity").

But I found that growing up and I really don't see a difference between the kids I knew as a kid and now. I think less structure, less fear-mongering and less pressure on kids would be a pretty good starting point.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 1:17 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Devolved into the Lord of the Rings?

Whether or not that was intentional, I kind of like it.
posted by brennen at 1:20 PM on August 25, 2008


The explosive popularity of The Dangerous Books for boys

I bought that book and was actually disappointed that it includes no explosives instruction whatever. Forewarned is forearmed (or not)

All the hand-wringing about kids not playing independently outside is fear, pure and simple. I blame local TV news. ("Coming up -- Could your shampoo kill you?") For thirty years we've had it drilled into us that our neighborhoods are crawling with pedophiles, kidnappers and halloween candy-doctorers, and parents have unsurprisingly (and uncritically) responded by locking up their kids. Today my wife looks at me like I'm a madman when I suggest our eight year old son might possibly be OK walking over a few blocks by himself to see if his friend is around to play. This is in a quiet suburb where probably a third of the houses he's going to pass are families that know him.

Unfortunately, when kids' safety is at stake, nobody's going to jump on any bandwagon that urges balance and rationality. It's too likely to get drowned out -- literally -- by the bleeping of the latest Amber Alert. Nobody will ever get a Peabody for reporting on the benefits of unstructured, unsupervised outside play.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:25 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


I can't speak for the world at large, but Americans today are risk-averse to the point of insanity. I think it's due largely to easy access to nationwide news reporting of sensationalistic, panic-inducing (ratings-grabbing) news. 100 years ago, if a child was molested, kidnapped, or killed in your town, you might hear about it, maybe through a neighbor. If it happened across the country, probably not. Even 30 years ago, when I was a kid, we didn't have CNN, FoxNews, etc. reporting 'round the clock on YET ANOTHER missing child. Oh God, NOT AGAIN -- when will it stop?? What if that was MY KID???

So even though the actual crime rate has dropped from years ago, parents perceive a much higher risk and are much more protective of their kids than they used to be. And it's gotten completely irrational. There's a child-molester behind every shrub, a murderer in every motel.

And it goes beyond the parent-child relationship: I mean, who hasn't seen the looping footage of 9-11 9-11 9-11...? It was BIG NEWS! OH NOES the terrorists are going to kill us all!! This is so *completely* worth spending $1.5T and invading an innocent country! All those people, gahhhhhhh!!!! Nevermind the *actual* risks of car wrecks, heart attacks, cancer...

When I was a child, me and my brother used to walk half a mile to elementary school -- BY OURSELVES. That was normal. Now, parents drive their kids a single block to school. We used to play in the woods all day, swam in the lake, unsupervised. Now, it's "don't go in the woods, there might be hunters." If somebody raised their kids the way my folks raised me, Child Protective Services would certainly take them away.

I'm all for rational risk vs. reward assessment -- wear your seatbelt, wear a helmet, don't ride in the back of the pickup, etc. But it's gotten crazy. We've become a nation of cowards.

My lawn. Get off it.
posted by LordSludge at 1:39 PM on August 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


There's a recent Penn & Teller: Bullshit! episode on this phenomenon called Stranger Danger which is worth seeing. It's available on a service that rhymes with "tit-borrent".
posted by porn in the woods at 1:44 PM on August 25, 2008


Don't we go through this every few years? That old "today's" parents completely suck from the parents of the previous generation rant? I think each generation -- on the whole -- have their good points and not so good points.

I agree. I find these discussions so tedious and pointless. Reminds me of the e-mail forwards I get from the Boomers in my family about how they used to run and scamper outdoors without fear of pedophiles or drive-bys. Wonderful. Today's world is quite a bit different. If today's parents feel that their children need some extra care or attention, so what? Many years ago, children were kind of a cross between pets, livestock and vessels for inherited money. Today, we actually care about what dangers they might encounter. I don't see how a parent being protective of her child's safety necessarily prevents that child from being able to go outside and explore the world.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:44 PM on August 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm willing to sacrifice a teenagers easy access to booze (besides, making it difficult should INCREASE their creativity by posing a bigger challenge - lazy freakin teens!!) for more security from larcenists.

So what does that have to do with the relative sadness of such a sacrifice? I mean, if a mother sacrifices her child so the rest of the family would survive, would it be incomprehensible for her to feel sad about it?
posted by delmoi at 1:46 PM on August 25, 2008


Well, I built dirt jumps for my kids in the backyard, plus a 200' zip line, plus we injure them fairly frequently on the MTB trails, the ski hills, the hockey ice and so on.

When other kids come round to our house the joke is that we should fill in one of those rental car forms, showing what new scrapes and bruises we added. And yes I have very good liability insurance and yes they are required to wear helmets!

I actually think this is a rural vs. urban issue mainly. The kids round here (rural canada) have ridiculous amounts of freedom and risk to enjoy.
posted by unSane at 1:46 PM on August 25, 2008


Given the rise of such articles, is this a shared consensus?

Haven't read the article, but have to answer this with "no no no no NO!"

There is a certain kind of writer that knows he can throw out the these kind of broad generalizations without much of anything to back them up (Kids are too sheltered! Paris hilton is destroying america! people who talk on cell phones in public should be flogged amirite) and that there's a certain uncritical segment of the population who will eat it up.

Just because one guy writes this in the LA Times and 13 smaller papers across the midwest rip it off tomorrow, doesn't make it a "consensus." Opinion columnists are like assholes- everybody's got one.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:48 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Just wanted to make a few corrections. Hopefully a mod will be able to clear up that horribly superfluous apostrophe in the post.

My apologies to fantabulous timewaster and DU for misattributing a previous post. I should have been more careful.

Also the Rush Limbaugh links seems to have stopped working since earlier today. Here is a cached version of it.
posted by Telf at 1:53 PM on August 25, 2008


I'm actually saddened by how much more difficult it has become for underaged kids to use fake IDs.

Meh. Kids still have older siblings and parents that don't watch their stash as closely. And now they have the interwebs to order their fake IDs. I'm sure the underage drinking crowd is still a long way from being scarce.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 1:57 PM on August 25, 2008


Kids still have older siblings and parents that don't watch their stash as closely.

And there are also still homeless people, last time I checked. I never owned a fake ID so long as there were street people who were willing to buy us alcohol in exchange for a couple extra bucks. We were some pretty enlightened and compassionate teenagers, we were.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:00 PM on August 25, 2008


All the hand-wringing about kids not playing independently outside is fear, pure and simple. I blame local TV news.

This phenomenon in America, the sort of crippling culture of fear and suspicion we have, is really striking once you've spent a couple months in another country where things are still relatively normal. And it doesn't only extend to the way we rear our children.

Until I started spending one to two month-long summer stints with my mom and her family in Germany, I didn't even notice how weirdly claustrophobic and paranoid American culture had become. (The first shock came when I stopped to lock the car door as my mom and I were leaving her car parked in downtown Frankfurt early into my first trip; my mom, looking at me like I was crazy, asked what I was doing, and then when I explained I was trying to lock the door, she looked even more nonplussed than before and said "Why?")

During those visits, on a typical day, you'd see groups of kids as young as four or five running around playing unsupervised in my mom's neighborhood (my little sister usually being among them), each with their own little leather coin purses carrying a few DMs they could use to buy ice cream or a snack for themselves while they were out. Then I'd come back to the states and look around my neighborhood and see nothing but tumbleweeds rolling around where you'd expect to see kids, the seemingly ubiquitous mechanical shrieking of hyper-sensitive car alarm systems going off where once there might have been the sounds of children squealing and laughing.

It's really weird how much basic trust seems to have eroded in our society. Another time, I was watching one of my sister's teachers interacting with other kids in her class. One little girl fell and hurt her knee, and the teacher came over and kissed the injury to make the little girl feel better, and I thought, Wow--I bet a teacher in America could get in trouble just for doing that. I'm not sure if that's true or not (I'd like to think not), but it seems so likely, given the current state of absolute mind-numbing paranoia surrounding all aspects of child care.

But then, I have a young son myself, who recently started day care (by necessity). And I'm no better about it. Every tiny incident seems magnified to a sign of the worst kinds of neglect or abuse in my imagination. It's either how we're inculcated or its something about the environment. But either way, we have become a paranoid society.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:24 PM on August 25, 2008 [4 favorites]


Outside? But that's where the child molesters and crack cocaine lives!
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:34 PM on August 25, 2008


The very idea that "unstructured play time" needs to be defended is appalling to me.
posted by JHarris at 2:42 PM on August 25, 2008


Obligatory link.
posted by Telf at 2:42 PM on August 25, 2008


I don't see how a parent being protective of her child's safety necessarily prevents that child from being able to go outside and explore the world.

Liberty and safety, like Ben Franklin discussed. Often to increase one, or the perception of one (perceived vs real safety makes sense, does perceived vs. real liberty?), you must decrease the other.

Meh. Kids still have older siblings and parents that don't watch their stash as closely. And now they have the interwebs to order their fake IDs. I'm sure the underage drinking crowd is still a long way from being scarce.

I think mostly they'd get ripped off on the internet trying to order fake IDs.

The thing about making the IDs harder is that, often enough, as far as I know a lot (most?) didn't actually make it harder. There's perceived safety, i.e. when the DMVs were rolling out these new IDs they were big on the barcodes, except that's not a barrier at all since you can just make up a barcode that matches the fake info on front. It got harder because you have to invest a sum of cash in fancier equipment and materials to print with and on, rather than using your inkjet printer and a laminator. So starting up making fake IDs isn't cost-feasible to DIY like it once was, but I don't think there have been any huge barriers put up to commercial operations. Our government loves propping up markets both above and below the table.

A trick that would help is networking those barcode scanning machines with the state database. That would introduce some real difficulty, but that's a big project and actually preventing underage drinking would decrease the profits of the alcohol and entertainment industries.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:42 PM on August 25, 2008


Liberty and safety, like Ben Franklin discussed. Often to increase one, or the perception of one (perceived vs real safety makes sense, does perceived vs. real liberty?), you must decrease the other.

In that case, I disagree with Franklin (although I doubt he was talking about child-rearing). You can send your children to have some pretty nice nature retreats via summer camp or some other group, you can go camping together, you can go hiking together, you can ... well the list goes on.

Believe it or not, it is conceivably possible to let your child explore the world and discover new and exciting things while at the same time keeping their safety in mind.

Why must this be an either/or discussion?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:47 PM on August 25, 2008


Well, I notice the word "together" there a lot - that's not exactly them doing their own thing.
posted by Artw at 2:49 PM on August 25, 2008


Well, I notice the word "together" there a lot - that's not exactly them doing their own thing.

Alright, my point is this:

Here we have a breathless op-ed piece bemoaning the lack of freedom our children have. The tone that continues from this at that children are either a) running around outside, frolicking without a care in the world or b) shut up indoors under a dark cloud of paranoia.

I submit that there are more than two options - that a child can actually see the world, learn new things, go different places, try new activities while their parents still keep the safety of the child in mind.

That's what I don't like about this concern scolding - it assumes kids are either free range or factory farmed. This is not necessarily the case.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:57 PM on August 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


Would you be saddened by how difficult it has/should become to steal an identity by altering an ID? Buying booze isn't the only thing IDs are for.

I think there's a big difference between fudging the numbers on your existing ID, or creating a completely fake ID to buy booze and stealing someone's identity.

It's my fault for conflating two separate trends. My post came about because I've been thinking about how things like traffic cameras, ID cards, tighter airline security, and harsher drug laws completely degrade our everyday quality of life in ways that aren't immediately apparent. This has a lot to do with, but is not exactly the same thing as what I posted about.

The problem is that kids nowadays get in trouble for making potato cannons, for getting into scraps, for getting hurt. I'm not advocating attacking someone with a potato cannon, but I think you should be able to make one with out being a suspected school shooter or potential terrorist. There are a lot of very good reasons for why things are different: more expensive medicals bills, fear of school shootings, fear of sexual abuse, etc. It's just sad in a lot of ways.

This link was posted above, but I probably should have made it more notable. It's from the author of The Dangerous Book for Boys, which like the NY Times link states, is actually quite bland in many ways.

Here's a quote I enjoyed:

Finally, we chose our title -- "The Dangerous Book for Boys." It's about remembering a time when danger wasn't a dirty word. It's safer to put a boy in front of a PlayStation for a while, but not in the long run. The irony of making boys' lives too safe is that later they take worse risks on their own. You only have to push a baby boy hard on a swing and see his face light up. It's not learned behavior -- he's hardwired to enjoy a little risk.
posted by Telf at 3:00 PM on August 25, 2008


Today's world is quite a bit different.

I think this is bullshit. The perception of dangers in the world has changed. The world has just as many (or, in reality, just as few) child molesters, etc. as it always had.
posted by maxwelton at 3:21 PM on August 25, 2008 [4 favorites]


I kind of hope that if someone is old enough to be worrying about fudging their ID then they are out of being a "kid" and are actually more of a teenager (or, since when we're talking about ID we're basically talking about America, in the first few years of adulthood) .
posted by Artw at 3:25 PM on August 25, 2008


You only have to push a baby boy hard on a swing and see his its face light up. It's not learned behavior -- he's humans are hardwired to enjoy a little risk.

Fixed that for you him everyone.
posted by mothershock at 3:26 PM on August 25, 2008


Fixed that for you hi m everyone. I love hitler.

Strikethrough abuse - don't do it.
posted by Artw at 3:29 PM on August 25, 2008 [13 favorites]


Well, it's pretty obvious that the Telf was referring to IDs for the purposes of getting into bars. I'm pretty sure that the vast majority of Fake IDs used by teenagers is for drinking, rather then say, grand larceny.

I used to use my fake ID for clicking locks to break into people's houses, MacGyver-style.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:31 PM on August 25, 2008


When I was a kid, there were no organized "play dates," kids in the neighborhood just hung out together and played. We stayed out after dark and played flashlight tag. The playground at our elementary school was on blacktop, not sand or wood chips. We rode our bikes everywhere, and there was no such thing as a bicycle helmet. We rollerskated without knee and elbow pads. I'll always remember one particularly fun August, when there were a bunch of new houses being built on a nearby street and the road was also being paved. There was a HUGE pile of dirt on the side of the road for several weeks, and we had a blast climbing up to the top of it with our bikes and then trying to "ride" down it. We ended up slipping and sliding all the way down, and coming home covered in filth. Mom would ask "What on earth have you been up to??" And we'd look down at our shoes and reply "Nothing."
posted by Oriole Adams at 3:37 PM on August 25, 2008


I submit that there are more than two options - that a child can actually see the world, learn new things, go different places, try new activities while their parents still keep the safety of the child in mind.

Keep the safety of the child in mind, or keep the child in sight? Either way, yes, the kid can see the world, learn new things, go different places and try new activites while leashed to the parent. That doesn't really address the point. I feel sad for kids whose parents are convinced that they can't learn anything of value on their own.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 3:54 PM on August 25, 2008


This weekend was our 10th high school reunion. I've been in grade schools in this county every year, but not back in a High School since 2000. Much to my horror, we took a tour yesterday.

They've just done a bunch of renovations to my new school which include (but are not limited to) a double-magnetic-keylock breezeway, where there's an entrance into the office between both doors. Inside they have a RAPTOR system that scans your ID and tells them if you're a convicted criminal, pedophile, have any warrants, don't pay your parking tickets, have late lunch fines, whatever. Then, inside that breezeway is a foyer that used to be the front of the school. From there each primary hall ways ANOTHER set of bulletproof, autolocking magnetic RFID-style doors. All doors leading outside are doubled, breezewayed, and have the autolocking doors. Every hallway has cameras. Every stairway has all angles on camera. Backpacks are not allowed to be carried by any student, and there are no longer any snack or soda machines on campus. They've also enclosed the end portion of the track so that students no longer have to walk outside in the cold weather between buildings. The new front foyer will have 4 flat panels to show sports highlights and announcements, and the cafeteria will have 6-8 showing ESPN and CNN, because their lives are apparently not already saturated with enough media.

Most of my classmates who showed are l33t haxx0rs like me (/laff) and commented that had we been in such a wired school, we would certainly have focused on causing as much electronic mischief as we possibly could have.

In telling this to my coworker who has 2 small children, her response was "GOOD!". My good friend was a little sad like I was. Here's my thoughts on the subject, because you care.

We are rapidly hurdling toward a civilization where everyone feels they have some unnatural right to not have to make any decisions that might affect their safety or the safety of their children. How horribly scary is the concept of someone else deciding for you the best way to do everything; that you daren't go too fast, or whatever. This new system makes it actually difficult to get in trouble for little things---everything's a flipping catastrophe. My coworker made me further sad because she was upset that the school didn't provide a list of what her children needed for the year because many children couldn't afford the list. Her kids are in third and first grade, respectively. Her words exactly: "I rely on the school to tell me what I need to do regarding their education." WHAT THE FUCK?!

Whatever. I believe that children need to learn the consequences of carelessness, the effects of lying/cheating/stealing/fucking, and that fully and 100% I am willing to risk the lives of the careless for more freedom and enrichment.

I should add that at my highschool there has not been a gun since about 1995, any drug arrests *at* school, any invasions or persons of ill-intent inside the school in any kind of recent history.
posted by TomMelee at 4:06 PM on August 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


/instead of "server" her, I of course meant to say "sever" her, so please correct that in your mind.

Uhm, well, ok. If you insist!
posted by zarah at 4:16 PM on August 25, 2008


Keep the safety of the child in mind, or keep the child in sight?

I prefer the phrasing "Spending time/doing things with your child", personally. But anyway -

There are numerous balances that can be struck. The way I was raised, and the way I'm raising my oldest, was a matter of freedom with certain established ground rules that basically boil down to "Your free time is your own out there. Just let me know where you're going, with whom, how you can be reached and when you'll be back" couple with some basic knowledge of safety (cross only on green, I will never send a stranger to pick you up from some place, etc.).

Is this keeping a child on a short leash? I don't think so, personally. All this wailing and worry over either how terrifying the big bad world is or how we, as a society, are all oppressing our children is overblown horseshit. That said:

The perception of dangers in the world has changed. The world has just as many (or, in reality, just as few) child molesters, etc. as it always ha
d.

I think it's incredibly naive to think only our "perception" of the world has changed. Child predators are able to reach children in ways they couldn't in the good old days. That's a fact. Do I think this means we need to lock our doors and keep our children from going outside? Hell no. As I've said, there are a great many balances that can be struck. We needn't kid ourselves or fly into a panic either way.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:24 PM on August 25, 2008


I was just reading a mix of pulp and true crime stories about kidnappings in the early part of the 20th century, and how common they were. Pearl Buck has a hell of a story, called "Ransom," that's essentially all about how parents regard their children's safety. It's a bit of a snooze for pulp, but it's great for how it treats the parents and how immediately recognizable they are.

Regarding the books, I've often thought of replying with a "The No, Really Dangerous Book for Boys" which will include sections on how to climb into a hay baler, how to light the basement on fire, how to get into strangers cars ("Play it a little cool—pedophiles like you because you're naive. Make sure he gives you your favorite candy. It's OK to be bratty and petulant on this point.") and a smattering of discredited philosophies, both economic and eschatological.
posted by klangklangston at 4:48 PM on August 25, 2008 [4 favorites]


This whole discussion is sort of moot for me because we live in the country on lots of land; my kid can go outside the house and walk around the equivalent of my entire suburban childhood neighborhood and still be in the yard, which lessens any inculcated "stranger danger" paranoia I might have. Also, I work from home, so I suppose she's missing out on some of the "joys" of a 70s-80s latchkey kid" existence. So there's not a whole lot of equivalence between her childhood and mine.

For all that she's fairly autonomous and definitely not massively overscheduled, since I'm a big believer in the virtues of not having to do anything in particular after school. When she gets bored, she has a friend come over and they go out and play. It's different than my childhood, but apparently not oppressively so. Maybe you have to get out of the urban/suburban breeder zone to get away from the idea that one's sprog must be watched every second of the day.
posted by jscalzi at 5:28 PM on August 25, 2008


I live in a community built in the 50's with a sweet old playground. Most, but not all, of the young parents want the old equipment removed because they believe it is dangerous, despite 50 years of evidence to the contrary. At a recent community cleanup, a group of safety nazis simply removed and destroyed a vintage teeter-toter. Every one on the safety side cites statistics, news and gossip. Every one on the risk side cites their own experience.
This appears to be the divide. This discussion reminds me of "The Black Swan". Americans have an absurd quantity of information flowing in. As a consequence, we make up a lot of crazy shit and justify our lame conclusions based on "facts". In my personal experience, the world is objectively much safer now than it was when I was a teenager.

You tell that to young people and they don't believe you.

Has the world changed? Definitely. Have humans changed? Definitely not.
posted by Carmody'sPrize at 5:31 PM on August 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


I always see opinions written by journalists, parents, boomers, complaining that kids are too cooped up and when they were kids they could play free and it was so much better and how much kids suck today and so on.

I don't get it. THEY'RE YOUR KIDS. If they're not, you're still the ones producing and consuming the sort of news that creates paranoia. Go do something about it, it's not like the 6 year old can!
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:45 PM on August 25, 2008 [2 favorites]


(Note: that is chiefly aimed at boomers who forward me e-mails and snotty journalists, not MeFites talking about the problem.)
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:49 PM on August 25, 2008


Has the world changed? Definitely. Have humans changed? Definitely not.

If the world's changed as much as so many of us seem to think, it's at least partly because it's got a serious self-image problem now.

The fact is, fear is an incredibly effective sales pitch--probably the only one that can edge out lust--as people who peddle stuff have probably realized since just a few hours after the dawn of human history, and it's effective for two reasons:

1) Appeals to the fear response literally skirt past the brain's higher reasoning faculties, making the kinds of anecdotal, first-and-second-hand-experience-driven reasoning that Carmody'sPrize posts about here seem more compelling than arguments based in hard fact. Politicians in particular love fear. And marketers love it, too. So our natural fear-response faculties are constantly being tickled in the ribs by various third-parties with agendas other than our self-preservation.

2) Ungrounded, free-floating fears and anxieties, once accepted wholesale into a society's worldview, become self-justifying. Fear evolved as an instinctual response directed at specific, tangible threats to our immediate physical well-being. When we make open-ended commitments to guarding ourselves against vague, free-floating anxieties about personal safety and then adopt social conventions that subtly reinforce the legitimacy of those anxieties, those conventions over time start to look like de facto evidence that our original anxieties were justified. We lock our doors tight, maybe even deadbolt and chain the doors, even in the safest neighborhoods--neighborhoods where no one can even remember a home burglary in their lifetimes--because we live in a society in which our personal safety is always in peril, no matter how much appearances or even hard evidence suggests otherwise. Our proof, in a circular twist, is the fact that we have locks on all the doors and we always use them. We all do. And we'd have to be crazy not to.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:00 PM on August 25, 2008


I view this as a product of the suburbs. At least that was my experience. I grew up in the 80's in Dorchester (a nicer part of the neighborhood, but still). The car was broken into every six months or so, we had plexiglass on the bottom windows, but I was allowed at the tender age of 6 to run around and play on the blocks surrounding my house.

After a kid faked having a knife and tried to steal my bike (oddly enough, I ended up walking and talking with this kid at a later point and everything was cool), my parents became worried, moved to the suburbs. Just far enough from the beaten path that I didn't make any local friends. While I could go out into the woods to run around, there wasn't much point, as I didn't have anyone who wasn't a car ride away to hang out with.

When your parents have to drive you to see your friends, there's something wrong. If I have kids, I will do my best to prevent that.
posted by Hactar at 8:43 PM on August 25, 2008


You can't convince me that this incessant worrying doesn't contribute to the binge drinking, unprotected sex and drug abuse that hits the ground running just as soon as kids hit university, either.
posted by paisley henosis at 11:06 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


Can't find anyone referencing Carol Honoré's Under Pressure: Rescuing Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting, so I thought I would because it provides a well-written social commentary and a guide for parents on this exact subject. Honoré created quite a buzz in Canadian media when her book came out.
posted by Menomena at 8:49 AM on August 26, 2008


My own adolescence included the freedom of the bike, and plain ol' shoe-rubber, climbing the hill behind the house, playing in the creek, etc. We lived in a small town (~10,000 people), and once in the double-digits, basically had the run of the place. This was in the late 1970s to the mid-80s. At the time, the neighborhoods seemed full of kids. You'd see them walking home from school, playing in the parks, etc. I walked, with my friend, to school half a mile away from kindergarten onward.

Turns out, I've moved back to the same town... and there's no way I'd let my 5-year-old daughter walk to kindergarten. And it's not fear, exactly, just a general wariness — and awareness that things today are different. The neighborhoods seem much less a common ground, and more split between low-rent areas and high-end homes, for one thing. And they are no longer full of children. I have no Census data at hand, but I understand that the birthrate is much lower than in previous decades. Maybe the kids are inside? Or are they literally not around?

Curiously, we had dogs growing up, but they were a family addition; no one I remember had pets instead of kids, which seems more common now. It still strikes me as fundamentally socially unsound.

What's more, children seem different today — not the youngest ones, really, but the older children and younger adults seem more sophisticated, more jaded. We had first-generation Atari, they have video systems so advanced that the US military is using the same platforms for combat training. The parents seem different, too: much less interested in a parenting culture. Certainly, less valued as parents. Somewhere in the past 20 years, we seem to have culturally shifted from a view that adults were presumed to be parents and were afforded a general respect for it. Try telling another person's child to stop doing something stupid today, and you'll get an earful — and not of thanks.

What to do? My daughter isn't walking to kindergarten, and she won't likely be playing the creek — though one can hope. I try to give her unstructured play time, and take her camping, hiking, etc., and hope some middle course presents itself.

(I love the idea of the tinkering school, but that's really beside the point, isn't it?)
posted by slab_lizard at 9:45 AM on August 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, yeah, and the TV cable gets pulled out at the end of this month. For me, for her, it has to.
posted by slab_lizard at 9:51 AM on August 26, 2008


What to do? My daughter isn't walking to kindergarten, and she won't likely be playing the creek — though one can hope. I try to give her unstructured play time, and take her camping, hiking, etc., and hope some middle course presents itself.

There already is a middle way. Or hundreds, really. For her age, the best thing you can do is make outdoor play time with her, take her and her friends some place where they can run around and play while you stay nearby, let her have friends over just as you would let her go to a friend's. As she gets older, the common sense ground rules I brought up here could start to take over - that she do what she pleases so long as you know where she is and how she can be reached, as well as a few crucial safety tips. This level of freedom and trust bolsters her sense of independence and the esteem-building feeling of being trusted, while at the same time providing some simple guidelines for your child to operate within. Seems to be working for mine, anyway, as she's neither terrified of the outside world nor running headlong into traffic (anymore).

Of course I know a few parents who are over-protective, but to be honest, I see a lot more over-concern about how other people are raising their own children than I do these worry-wort parents, wherever they are.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:56 AM on August 26, 2008


Bah. My uncle used to eat sand as a kid, and pick up skunks (he brought one right up to the side door and was petting it, saying "nice kitty! nice kitty! until my grandmother came running outside to put a stop to it) and he turned out fine. Well, mostly, anyway.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 5:14 PM on August 26, 2008


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