Motherhood in the age of fear and judgment
July 27, 2018 5:36 PM   Subscribe

People don’t only think that leaving children alone is dangerous and therefore immoral. They also think it is immoral and therefore dangerous. Kim Brooks writes in the NYT: "We now live in a country where it is seen as abnormal, or even criminal, to allow children to be away from direct adult supervision, even for a second." Unsurprisingly, it's mothers who bear the brunt of criticism for making rational (and legal) parenting decisions.
posted by stillmoving (162 comments total) 67 users marked this as a favorite
 
And so now children do not walk to school or play in a park on their own. They do not wait in cars. They do not take long walks through the woods or ride bikes along paths or build secret forts while we are inside working or cooking or leading our lives.


Insanity. Having grown up as a “free range” kid in the 70s, enjoying playing in the woods, roaming the neighborhood at leisure, and solo walks to the store, it aches to read this.
posted by darkstar at 6:00 PM on July 27, 2018 [110 favorites]


If I'd had to spend every waking hour in the company of the adults in my life as a child, I don't think it would have gone well for me.
posted by amtho at 6:07 PM on July 27, 2018 [66 favorites]


And more to that, darkstar, kids are instead:

...safe at camp, inside their houses, buckled into car seats, plugged into screens, never enjoying what the writer Mona Simpson called “the luxury of being unnoticed, of being left alone.”
posted by stillmoving at 6:11 PM on July 27, 2018 [34 favorites]


This is really lovely writing and keen insight. I swear, I spent half my childhood in parked cars, reading instead of being forced to stand in line at the bank or whatever. Poor kids.
posted by dame at 6:20 PM on July 27, 2018 [37 favorites]


100 hours of community service for something completely normal and innocuous is not an okay outcome, even if the result could have been even more absurd
posted by vibratory manner of working at 6:25 PM on July 27, 2018 [39 favorites]


My childhood was spent roaming my neighborhood parent free, recklessly surviving by the skin of my teeth and coming home at sunset dirty as hell and just as hungry.
posted by nikaspark at 6:27 PM on July 27, 2018 [13 favorites]


How the hell did our norms change so rapidly?

I’m reading this article feeling mad as hell because whyyyyyy people whyyyyy.

“protecting the children” is a dog whistle of the patriarchy.
posted by nikaspark at 6:33 PM on July 27, 2018 [56 favorites]


Oh I just answered my own question. Our norms changed so rapidly because men let them.
posted by nikaspark at 6:34 PM on July 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


My kid is newly six and I am not an anxious parent (I save my generalized anxiety for other, totally irrational nonsense) and I feel this article very hard.

I even detect judgement when I'm riding the bus with him and I'm on my phone instead of interacting with him. He's obsessed with buses and doesn't want to talk when we're on the bus, he's too busy announcing all the bus stops. Like, I'm not a monster and I know my kid. Bus time is quiet time for him to indulge his obsession (and me to indulge mine--hello politics megathread). (Also people insist on moving so we can sit right next to each other even though that's totally unnecessary and I try to politely refuse but it doesn't seem to matter. I'm required to sit next to him I guess.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:37 PM on July 27, 2018 [48 favorites]


This is really lovely writing and keen insight. I swear, I spent half my childhood in parked cars, reading instead of being forced to stand in line at the bank or whatever.

My dad would drop me off at the library when it opened and often pick me up at the end of the day. As long as I had a book, a few bucks for some snacks/emergency phone call, and a sack lunch, I was a happy child.

I also recall my parents going to the grocery store and just letting me wander around the neighborhood. “We'll be back in an hour, if anything terrible happens, go to Mrs. Smith, if not, leave her alone and just play with Joey.”
posted by Fizz at 6:38 PM on July 27, 2018 [17 favorites]


Actually, here in eastern WA (greater Spokane area), I've seen MORE free-range children in the past 12 months than I have probably in the previous 5 years put together. Roaming in small packs or riding bikes or walking to the corner store. Both in smaller towns and in Spokane proper. It's felt a little weird, really, because it had been so long since I saw that kind of thing being allowed. I don't know what flipped the switch, but I'm glad to see kids learning how to navigate being in the world and not constantly being directed.
posted by hippybear at 6:40 PM on July 27, 2018 [34 favorites]


Joey was my childhood friend who once dared me to ride on my skateboard cross-legged down the biggest hill in town. My hand got caught under the wheel and scraped all the way down, I have a scar to this day. My dad was cool when I came into the house bleeding. “That looks painful but at least you're going to have a wicked scar!”

My dad is legit the coolest.
posted by Fizz at 6:40 PM on July 27, 2018 [21 favorites]


I wonder if the anxiety about the children is predicated on class and xenophobia.
posted by nikaspark at 6:43 PM on July 27, 2018 [21 favorites]


I’m sure the greater incidence/awareness of child molesters is a big part of the shift here. I don’t know if it’s because there is more of it going on now than in past generations, or if we are just hearing about it more on the news, etc.

I mean, there are some legit reasons for child supervision and concerns for their safety when they’re unsupervised. It’s just that, as the article points out, the criminalization of parental laissez-faire has become an excessive reaction.
posted by darkstar at 6:46 PM on July 27, 2018 [19 favorites]


I was actually chastised yesterday by a bus driver for leaving my 18 year old and 15 year old “home alone”. I was soooo confused, both kids are independent, take public transit alone, and spend hours in the forest on our property or spending hours on the tube in the “lazy river” leading to our docks. They LOVE having full run of the house, where they can pretend to be the independent adults they are about to be.
posted by saucysault at 6:47 PM on July 27, 2018 [41 favorites]


I’m sure the greater incidence/awareness of child molesters is a big part of the shift here. I don’t know if it’s because there is more of it going on in the past generation, or if we are just hearing about it more on the news, etc.

I think it's more the multi-platform, multi-direction, 24-hour news cycle is what creates this feeling that it's happening OH SO OFTEN when really it's just that it's coming at you from so many directions for so long that it feels like a constant barrage of incidents. It's few incidents, much coverage.
posted by hippybear at 6:49 PM on July 27, 2018 [34 favorites]


An 18-year old shouldn’t be left home alone? That’s just crazy talk.

I mean, many babysitters are only 14 or so...or has that changed, too?
posted by darkstar at 6:50 PM on July 27, 2018 [26 favorites]


If I'd had to spend every waking hour in the company of the adults in my life as a child, I don't think it would have gone well for me.

pretty sure i'd be the most notorious serial killer in human history had i not been allowed to spend a zillion hours of childhood reading unsupervised beneath the AMNH whale with a paper bag full of liverwurst sandwiches
posted by poffin boffin at 6:51 PM on July 27, 2018 [51 favorites]


Today I saw two 10 year old kids running a lemonade stand in front of their house. That was great, but having both their parents sitting a few feet behind them on lawn chairs to keep them safe was creepy.
posted by monotreme at 6:52 PM on July 27, 2018 [11 favorites]


I was actually chastised yesterday by a bus driver for leaving my 18 year old and 15 year old “home alone”.

Wait, what?!?!

Man, my parents left me alone with my younger sister at probably too young an age, but we couldn't afford a babysitter and they trusted me to not set the house on fire and to know how to handle a situation. I'm 7 years older than her, so I was like half baby-sitter/parent/older brother.

THE RULES: No answering the door, NO MATTER WHAT. Phone calls with a secret way of calling (before caller id or an answering machine- ring twice, then stops, then rings once, then we call you back and you answer). Only microwave and even then, nothing cooked beyond 2 minutes. No stove. No ignoring your sister. If something crazy happens, you call the police, then you call us. My family worked our dry-cleaners about 2 blocks away.

I'm sure all of this sounds insane but this was like 1991, both my parents worked full time and sometimes it wasn't easy to keep us both in the back of a dry-cleaners in the summer next to a boiler. We had toys, books, video-games, television, VHS. It was often just us for like 4 hours after school before our parents came home.
posted by Fizz at 6:55 PM on July 27, 2018 [31 favorites]


safe from the gangs of crazed lemon fiends that wander the nation slaughtering anyone who dares profane their holy fruit
posted by poffin boffin at 6:55 PM on July 27, 2018 [44 favorites]


You can join the military and go to war at 17, but you shouldn't be left home alone at 18? LOL I woulda laughed in their face.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 6:56 PM on July 27, 2018 [33 favorites]


My earliest memories of this panic comes during the Reagan era with the PMRC. I remember being a young teen feeling like “why are y’all adults tripping out so hard?”

Pretty sure every generation has a story like that, but to me the PMRC feels like genesis of today’s cultural anxiety about kids safety. Prior to that was the “kids faces on milk cartons” but that didn’t seem to have the same urgent “protect the kids” feeling that the PMRC did.
posted by nikaspark at 6:58 PM on July 27, 2018 [7 favorites]


you can date a republican supreme court justice from alabama at 14 though, that's ok in this country
posted by poffin boffin at 7:00 PM on July 27, 2018 [114 favorites]


I don't know about people being more aware of child molesters now. I feel like the dangers of child kidnapping/molestation hit a fever pitch in the 1980's and even then it was considered normal to leave your kid in the parking lot while the mom when into the grocery store or wherever. I spent lots of time in parked cars from about the age of 7 or 8 and no one ever gave my mom shit about it, even though we were obviously lower middle class. I don't think I ever really see kids that age in cars by themselves anymore, even on cool cloudy days.

I will leave my three year old son in the car on occasion if I'm going into a small store like Starbucks or something where I can still be in visual contact with the car, but wouldn't do so if I were going into a supermarket. I don't know think there's any rational basis for that decision, and I probably wouldn't leave him at all if I didn't have dark rear windows that make it basically impossible to see him inside. I tell myself all the time that the most dangerous thing I expose him to on a daily basis is driving around in the car, but no one thinks I'm irresponsible for doing that.
posted by skewed at 7:01 PM on July 27, 2018 [7 favorites]


oh, by the way stillmoving, I loved this article when I read it this afternoon at work and decided I would post my very first FPP about it when I got home. Beaten to the punch!
posted by skewed at 7:02 PM on July 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


“100 days community service”?!
“18 years supervised probation”?!?!?!?!

I’m just so sorry for all the people living in the US....
posted by AxelT at 7:05 PM on July 27, 2018 [17 favorites]


Yet another reason the birth rate keeps falling... People without kids see moms in public trying to herd their kids hither and yon, and it looks damned unpleasant and stressful a lot of the time. The commercials for modern parenting just don't make it look like a very compelling gig. I say this as a harried mom.

Today on the way home from work/daycare I saw an elementary-age boy riding his bike solo across the street and I pointed him out to my younger children as a boy who is both brave and cool. But in my heart I thought, that boy has some brave, cool parents!
posted by potrzebie at 7:06 PM on July 27, 2018 [32 favorites]


I would argue there are less molestors/roaming child snatchers now then there were say in the Victorian era. It’s just that 24 hour news cycle and “if it bleeds it leads” has terrified the public. But awareness and the way we all live so much more connected (phones/cameras/internet) has probably lessened most creeps potential hunting time/zones. Would be interested to see statistics.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 7:06 PM on July 27, 2018 [7 favorites]


When I was home alone with my baby daughter, I ordered delivery. I didn’t know whether I could leave my daughter upstairs while I got the food (I’m in a condo). I thought if Something Happened, people would say I was a bad mom so I brought her with me to get the food. It wasn’t a big deal but it was unnecessary and a silly reason to make that decision.
posted by kat518 at 7:08 PM on July 27, 2018 [23 favorites]


if people were truly concerned about child molestation they would encourage their kids to spend time away from supervision since the vast, vast majority of crimes against kids are committed by family members in the home and by known, trusted adults. for every john wayne gacy there's ten thousand creepy uncles and parish priests and gym coaches.
posted by poffin boffin at 7:10 PM on July 27, 2018 [143 favorites]


if people were truly concerned about child molestation they would encourage their kids to spend time away from supervision since the vast, vast majority of crimes against kids are committed by family members in the home and by known, trusted adults.

This. The era of great anxiety about "stranger danger" can usefully be read as a displacement of unease at the secret knowledge that the greatest danger to children is from trusted family, teachers, or clergy.
posted by thelonius at 7:12 PM on July 27, 2018 [25 favorites]


creates this feeling that it's happening OH SO OFTEN when really it's just that it's coming at you from so many directions

It actually does happen a fucking lot, this isn’t hyperbole. There are a shit-ton of adults molesting kids. It doesn’t have a whole lot to do with not letting kids be free range though, since the majority of molesters are the ones purportedly supervising the kids in question.
posted by JenMarie at 7:13 PM on July 27, 2018 [34 favorites]


none of whom will ever face legal or social repercussions for their crimes because it might "ruin their lives".
posted by poffin boffin at 7:14 PM on July 27, 2018 [40 favorites]


Boy do I ever want to see charging statistics on this sort of crap broken down by sex because I have some pretty strong suspicions how they'd shake out..
posted by Nerd of the North at 7:21 PM on July 27, 2018 [8 favorites]


So, I was teaching a class today about how violent crime in the US peaked in the early 1990s and has dropped enormously since then (probably due to reductions in lead in the environment during the 1970s). When it comes to crime, the world is so. much. safer. than it was 25 years ago. But we don't seem to have gotten the message.

Here's a hopeful thought, though: maybe today's generation of parents, who were young adults during or just after that crime wave, are all fearful, but perhaps tomorrow's parents, who have grown up entirely in the lower crime era, will be more relaxed.
posted by wyzewoman at 7:24 PM on July 27, 2018 [20 favorites]



Boy do I ever want to see charging statistics on this sort of crap broken down by sex because I have some pretty strong suspicions how they'd shake out..


Yeah, a woman who is not living up to the cop's expectations as a mother is a failed human; a man doing the same thing is probably just absent-minded or out of his element. People are probably in general just a lot less likely to question a stranger's parenting decisions if that parent is male.
posted by skewed at 7:25 PM on July 27, 2018 [14 favorites]


I’m sure the greater incidence/awareness of child molesters is a big part of the shift here

Awareness, maybe. Incidence, not at all. Child molestation is nothing new, as scholarship, old newspapers, and some candid conversations with honest grandparents can readily attest. The only new thing there is a society willing to let go of some of the shame, silence, suppression and complicity that allowed it to run rampant and unchecked for centuries.

When we talk about the increase in parental fear, us a mistake not to bring in the political uses of fear. For decades now, political agendas have been advanced by amplifying the sense that crime is rampant and the world is unsafe and needs ever harsher control.
posted by Miko at 7:30 PM on July 27, 2018 [34 favorites]


Yes, hippybear! I'm in Spokane and I've definitely noticed all the kids running wild this year. Especially in my neighborhood. They're all over the place on their bikes even some little bitty ones still on training wheels and they all know each other and it's this whole world of magical kid-life going on and it makes me so happy.
posted by ilovewinter at 7:32 PM on July 27, 2018 [27 favorites]


I've heard urban planners talk about the "popsicle test," which is the idea that in an ideal neighborhood, an 8-year-old should be able to go to the store and buy a popsicle on their own.

I'm not sure those urban planners are living in America, though. I live in a fairly dense area with lots of kids, and there are at least 4 places within a few blocks of my house that sell popsicles. I've never seen an unaccompanied 8-year-old at any of those stores, or honestly in any store in the last 10 years.

It takes time to learn how to navigate the world, sustain yourself, talk to strangers, and make decisions on your own. The expectation that kids go from supervised activities 24/7 at 17 to making life-changing decisions like where to go for college and how much loans to take out at 18 is unrealistic. The kids can do it, but they need a few years of practice first.
posted by miyabo at 7:38 PM on July 27, 2018 [20 favorites]


I find that this varies WILDLY neighborhood to neighborhood. Where I grew up was between a farm and a fairly small rural town, so of course we were free-range as could be, the inverse is what would have been considered abuse. "You're letting him sit around inside all day?!" is a comment I've heard before. When I went off to college in a more rural small town in MN, there were rarely kids playing outside alone, even in yards. They would be in the parks with a parent, or in large supervised groups associated with a program or day care. (I think this was because of all the scary liberal college kids with their drugs, not a pedo thing) Then I moved to Central Hillside in Duluth, and it became more common, but almost exclusively children of color. The population there is mostly older homeowners and college kids renting. Then, this june I moved to Lincoln Park, where it is almost exclusively families and young renters and is significantly poorer, there could not possibly be more kids out on the streets, riding bikes (and razor scooters wtf when did those become a thing again?), playing basketball, just walking around and talking, just having lives. They act carefree in a way I haven't seen for years, and are totally unafraid of strangers who appear to be local. Earlier this week I was picking raspberries and a random kid walking that alley came up and asked for some, like in a 50's Norman Rockwell scene. These groups almost never have adults with them, and their races generally scan with the demographics of the area, and one thing I will say, they are very often, maybe usually, mixed groups of any description. That is a very heartening, these kids seem alright to me.

So what I've come to think is that stranger danger and this sort of fear/judgement is largely a problem of the affluent white suburban/urban culture. It has certainly never been a part of mine, a white guy from a rural, poor background, and it doesn't match much with people like me who lived in larger 'small towns'.

This is not to discount the obvious misogyny and media storm and political angles and fear of pedophiles, but I would like to introduce class and race into the conversation. When there's a case like these, the person who reports the 'crime' usually seems to be someone who is or perceives themselves to be of a higher social standing, and it's used as a tool to 'correct' the behavior of the perceived poor. 'Why is that kid alone in that park instead of in a scheduled activity?!'. I don't have enough personal experience living in areas with anything that isn't a 90%+ white population, but I do remember that the people who got called out publicly for parenting issues tended to be Native, the main minority population. CPS actually has turned it into a cottage industry, but that's a different FPP.
posted by neonrev at 7:41 PM on July 27, 2018 [43 favorites]


I love my daughter (almost 6) but fuck if this piece doesn’t make me want to get my tubes tied.
posted by eirias at 7:45 PM on July 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


Some of it is down to changing demographics -- in the 1950s and 1960s, 2/3 of American households had children under the age of 18. Today it's around 1/3, due to fewer households having children, fewer children per household, fewer multigenerational households (i.e., grandma has her own house, one of the 2/3 without kids), more divorce, etc. At the same time, many neighborhoods are virtually empty of people during the daytime -- few stay-at-home moms, few live-in grandparents. And neighborhoods (on average) are a LOT more spread-out and a lot less pedestrian-friendly.

When I was growing up in the 80s, literally every other house had children ... more than that, really, as we were in a family-friendly suburb. I'm back in that same suburb, and we live on a street pretty dense with children (we have one of the biggest bus stops on the school bus route!), but today that means out of 40 homes on our block, around 15 of them have kids, 8 of them elementary school aged. I was initially excited that there were so many 6-year-old kids (5 of them!) on the block so my 6-year-old could have playdates after school, but the kids are all in aftercare until dinnertime.

Anyway, with few adults home to watch over the roving children, and fewer children to rove with, parents are less willing to let their kids run around the neighborhood unsupervised. (And most of the kids I see doing so, at least under the age of 12 or so, are sibling groups.) And in a way that's understandable; I knew most of the families on my block growing up because most of them had kids, and I knew which ones had moms at home during the day and where I could stop in if I skinned a knee or needed to call my mom. My kids only know a handful of families on the block, there are only two parents at home during the day (and one nanny), and I'm not suuuuuuuuuuuper comfortable with my kids running wild up and down the street, not so much because of child snatchers or molesters, but because what would they do if they got hit by a car? What would they do if they knocked out a couple teeth in a bike accident? (ahem.) There just isn't the safety net of adults to step in when kids make mistakes or have accidents ... not adults who are great parents, or even adults known to my children (although that'd be nice), but just adults who are THERE. It's a freakin' ghost town during the daytime!

But yes I have been the victim, several times in several different circumstances some of which make me sick to my stomach to think about, of people who think the amount of independence I allow my children (which isn't that much! I'm cautious by nature!) is WAY TOO MUCH, including a scold on a liberal, "cool" parenting group that allegedly had "free-range" parents who chastised me for letting my children ride their bikes in the neighborhood while I supervised from just inside my house where the A/C is (but I can see and hear them). Or the nosy jerk where I used to live who'd get really upset every time I let my kids run ahead of me to the corner and wait for me at the corner, who EVERY TIME would be like, "Ma'am, is there a problem? Are your children running away? Should I call someone to help you?" How about you dial 1-800-STFU, my dude?

Fundamentally, mothers aren't trusted to make risk assessments. Same reason states want to criminalize drinking during pregnancy, or taking or not taking various medications, or make eating the wrong food negligence.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:52 PM on July 27, 2018 [85 favorites]


/an 8-year-old should be able to go to the store and buy a popsicle on their own.

Heck. When I was eight (1977), I walked to the corner store, on my own, to buy my parents’ cigarettes. True story.
posted by Miko at 8:00 PM on July 27, 2018 [91 favorites]


Also, I’m not sure I buy the idea that the norms changed because fewer adults are home during the day. That was true in my working-class neighborhood in the 70s and 80s, too. For much of my childhood, no adults were home during the day. We had our moms’ and grabdmoms’ phone numbers at their jobs to call after school, but few adults were just sitting around at home in towns like mine. And this has been true for most of the history of the industrialized West, except for the affluent. A child of 8 or 9 was well old enough to look after herself, let alone look after other children, for most families, most of the time, until the late 20th century. And working parents were largely unavailable. The notion of kids needing constant supervision is extremely recent, and the more I think about it, quite class-bound. From the 1800s through the 1950s, the only children who were constantly chaperoned and whose whereabouts were always known were upper-middle-class/wealthy children, most of them overseen by a staff member. Perhaps one aspect of this is the gradual creep of norms in the US toward those set by the upper middle class.
posted by Miko at 8:09 PM on July 27, 2018 [31 favorites]


Though, another thought, since settlement patterns were denser before massive suburbanization, a neighborhood with even fewer adults at home could feel more supervised, simply because of proximity. Also the likelihood of local businesses open as a safe spot (eg the corner Popsicles & Cigarettes Mart), instead of big boxes out on the access road.
posted by Miko at 8:13 PM on July 27, 2018 [15 favorites]


Also, I’m not sure I buy the idea that the norms changed because fewer adults are home during the day.

Totally agreed. When I was a kid, I wasn't hanging out in a part of the neighborhood which was in view of all the kitchen sink windows or the street. I was out back outside the long wall of cinderblock which defined the neighborhood yards in the vacant lots along the drainage ditch building a fort out of found wood and being surprised to find the occasional Penthouse amongst the tumbleweeds. We didn't live in a world of adult observation if we didn't want to. Be back by dinnertime!
posted by hippybear at 8:30 PM on July 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


I remember friends, relatives, strangers, the Korean lady at the barbecue ace, all giving my mother a hard time for being overprotective. We weren't allowed to leave our own yard when playing outside, she wouldn't leave us with anyone but her own mother or twin sister, we couldn't go to the houses of kids whose parents she didn't know, no trick-or-treating at strange houses, hold my hand while crossing a city street, don't play in those woods where that girl was raped and murdered a couple years ago, etc. But even that seems laissez-faire by today's standards.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:33 PM on July 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


Denser development also means lower car speeds and more places to take shelter from the heat. And if the parents were working, it was more likely there'd be grandparents around.

I buy that as one factor, but I do think another factor is the ... infantilization of kids. for lack of a better term. Like, can you rely on a 12-year-old to take care of younger kids? For most of history the answer has been yes. Now all of a sudden it's "maybe". Can a 12-year-old ride a plane or a train by themself? Can they walk to school without getting lost or hit by a car? 12-year-olds very clearly did these things as recently as the 1990s, but in 2003 my mother caught criticism for letting me do that. shit like that.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 8:34 PM on July 27, 2018 [12 favorites]


an 8-year-old should be able to go to the store and buy a popsicle on their own.
Heck. When I was eight (1977), I walked to the corner store, on my own, to buy my parents’ cigarettes. True story.


Lol, my mom who is a year younger has the same story. Pack of smokes and a pnoy beer. They didn't even have to ask.

I am still unsure about norms changing as universally as it can seem. When I was 13 (2005), I started driving by myself from time to time for small chores and to school. This was not strictly speaking legal, I had a permit but was required to have someone 18 or older with me, but it was also universally accepted that unless it was something serious, the police would overlook that and at worst escort you home.
As far as I know, that is still all true, certainly out around the farm, maybe less so in Aberdeen since it's grown so much, but legally speaking, still a thing that is possible.
posted by neonrev at 8:34 PM on July 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


Not only did we not sit in car seats until we were 15 or whatever the acceptable age is these days, whenever we took any trip in the car we rode in the wayback which didn’t even have seats, much less seat belts.

And you can always tell someone who grew up before the mid 1980’s because almost all of us have a scar on our chins from falling off the playground equipment.

We survived; why can’t kids today survive?
posted by jwest at 8:42 PM on July 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


And if the parents were working, it was more likely there'd be grandparents around.

Not so sure about that. I had one grandma around, but she was working too. The other set were states away. And I can’t recall any of my neighbor kids’ grandparents being around. Local grandparents were probably more common before World War II, but I would doubt they were the norm after all that moving around due to war work, great migration and suburban expansion. .

Some of it has to do with just plain lower reproduction rates. Like when Victorian families got smaller, kids got more precious and more sentimentalized. Perhaps achieving greater control over reproduction through the Pill and legal abortion had a similar gradual effect on parental perceptions of children as less a near-inevitable aspect of sexually active adulthood and more a lifestyle choice to be optimized in all ways.
posted by Miko at 8:45 PM on July 27, 2018 [16 favorites]


We are continuing to normalize insane societal regulations regarding oversight of children. This has been discussed for a decade or so on Metafilter and everywhere else. Please stop it, everyone. Children are not at danger in these random situations. They are more endangered by our paranoia on their behalf.
posted by kozad at 8:48 PM on July 27, 2018 [10 favorites]


We survived

Not all of us. I have no beef with requiring seat belts, though we didn’t use them at all either until my mom’s near fatal car accident converted us all as a family into non-negotiable seatbelt-wearers. And there were some horrific accidents on old, badly designed and maintained playground equipment. For some of us our childhood injuries make a great funny story, others got seriously maimed or lost their lives and aren’t around to laugh about it. How much protection is enough, how much is too much?
posted by Miko at 8:48 PM on July 27, 2018 [56 favorites]


We survived; why can’t kids today survive?

Given child mortality/accident-induced disability rates from that era, isn't the answer "because those who didn't aren't around to ask that question"?
posted by CrystalDave at 8:49 PM on July 27, 2018 [67 favorites]


Back in the 70s we had these things, they were these sort of nylon mesh and webbing assemblies, which we put on front to back (they had to be fastened for us) and then there was a loop that the (lap belt only) seatbelt was slipped through and buckled and pulled tight (no automatic tensioners in those days!)

It was like some kind of weird quasi-NASA restraint system for children during an accident. The momentum would be caught by the belt (as intended) but the kid literally couldn't fly farther than the belt because of this harness they were wearing. Kind of brilliant, really.

And yet my parents let me right my bike 2 miles along major streets at age 9 to see Star Wars 59 times the summer it came out using money I earned by distributing my own flyers and mowing lawns all summer. At age 9.

Parents knew when safety was important.
posted by hippybear at 8:50 PM on July 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


Heck. When I was eight (1977), I walked to the corner store, on my own, to buy my parents’ cigarettes.

That reminds me of something I hadn't thought of in years - when I was a teen in the early-mid 70's, some afternoons my friend's alcoholic and already-buzzed parents would call ahead to the local liquor store and give us the money to cycle to the store to pick up their booze for the evening. Hey, at least they weren't driving, right?
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:50 PM on July 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


Given child mortality/accident-induced disability rates from that era, isn't the answer "because those who didn't aren't around to ask that question"?

I'd welcome a link to these data resources.
posted by hippybear at 8:51 PM on July 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


I guessed at least half the comments here would be pushback against the article from people in favor of the new child supervision norms. I'm pleased to see I was wrong. I think of Mefites as overly cautious about almost everything but maybe it's not as bad as I thought.
posted by Redstart at 9:04 PM on July 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


My mother saw one of her grade-school classmates die in a playground fall, right in front of her. She saw another kid seriously injured on a carnival ride. One of her cousins was horribly scarred on his face, even after his head injuries healed, in another playground fall. So, it wasn't all sunshine and lollipops for everybody.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:08 PM on July 27, 2018 [31 favorites]


But that has a lot less to do with supervision by mothers than with shockingly unsafe playground equipment which until about 10 years ago was the norm. I was a highly supervised child and I still managed to gore myself a few times on the old style wood and steel playgrounds.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:11 PM on July 27, 2018 [14 favorites]


So, it wasn't all sunshine and lollipops for everybody.

In my latchkey-kid city neighborhood there was always some creep masturbating in his car, but the free-range Mayberry life sure sounds swell.
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:15 PM on July 27, 2018 [14 favorites]


I want to be a free range parent, my neighbourhood is full of free range kids but damn some times I need to bite a pencil I’m so irrationally afraid. I mean my kid is only 3 so I have a while to go. But by my peers’ standards I’m down right lax.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:16 PM on July 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


Yeah, there is a huge difference between child safety in terms of the design and standards of commercial products and constructions and child safety in terms of parental standards.
I have zero problems requiring higher standards and getting pissed when they are not met when it comes to companies that cater to kids, I have a complex network of problems when it comes to holding parents to some single highest standard.
posted by neonrev at 9:18 PM on July 27, 2018 [13 favorites]


They also think it is immoral and therefore dangerous.

This seems most obvious to me in stuff like... you know, I don't think being more sheltered really harms kids in a material way, but I do think it harms their mothers a lot. I get that there's at least a perception that a kid just wandering around is more in danger, now, and that those dangers seem pretty bad. But like... there's also a lot of judgment and awfulness around things like "letting your elementary-aged kid have a tablet for a few hours on a Saturday morning so you can go back to sleep", it seems like, too. And yeah, those things don't get the cops called on you, but there's still the general core of "how can you possibly prioritize your own sleep over supervising your child's proper use of screen time", like sleep isn't some kind of core human need? A lot of ideas have built up that might not involve people thinking you're guilty of actual neglect, but they load up a lot of judgment on women having their own lives if that involves anything less than optimal child-rearing technique in the process, and I can't help but think that's related.
posted by Sequence at 9:25 PM on July 27, 2018 [49 favorites]


I mean my kid is only 3 so I have a while to go.

You have the opportunity to awaken within your child a profound sense of curiosity, respect, insight, courage, retreat (when necessary), and Find A Helper (when necessary) and a lot of other practical skills like map reading (probably GMaps at this point) etc over the next 3-5 years, at which point they will have most likely proven themselves capable in the world on their own.

I mean, he's 3 now. By the time he's 7 or 8, he will have changed entirely as a human. And you have the power to help him understand how the world works. Do this for him. There are probably places online which have outlines about how to teach your 6 year old how to use Google Maps on their phone, for example.

And there are also help button apps which can be installed which should be taught to youngsters out and about, just as in the same way when I was growing up I had to have 3 friendly family numbers memorized (I carried a library of probably 100, to be honest), to use if I was lost and/or needed help.
posted by hippybear at 9:26 PM on July 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


It also really depends on the kid. I was highly supervised- because I had to be. I didn’t get my autism diagnosis til 26 but yeah- I was a different spacey weirdo kid. A kid who totally would tell a stranger where mommy lived or go to a car to pet an imaginary dog or just plain wander off. Mom discovered this early after a few disappearing acts I pulled at the zoo and the grocery store at a pretty young age and yeah- I was not a kid that could be left alone til I was like 14. Once I was older I was fine, but I really did have to be very closely watched. But the vast majority of neurotypical kids are not like me, and totally can be left alone, or in a car, etc etc. it’s really open season on mother’s thats fueling this, but count me among the children who desperately needed supervision. We exist! There are dozens of us!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:37 PM on July 27, 2018 [11 favorites]


As another mid-life youngster who left home after breakfast and came back at dusk, and sometimes slipped out again late on stormy nights when the rocky gutters were like creeks and the river was roiling, I would not be the person I am without my own experiential learning granted through that 'right to be unnoticed'. Especially as a female. Those pre-pubescent years were glorious. I was of no interest to anyone; no body bothered me. I could ride my bike or walk anywhere, hangout down the river and in the bush, make friends around the neighbourhood (and learn early what a good vibe/bad vibe was), catch buses and overnight trains, pick my risks and take my chances, and learn to trust my own judgement.

This article identifies a confluence of explicit limitations, hidden expectations and moralised assumptions, placed solely and individually on female parents. It shows how a woman's life in motherhood, like their bodies, does not belong to her but to society via the children. It exposes an interwoven network of cultural gaslighting: accused of crimes that don't exist; expecting mother to take child out of car at all times, but never have uncooperative children or children with agency; providing no social support such as subsidised childcare, healthcare, or parental allowance, leaving many in poverty. And most of all, blaming a mother's inability to meet all of her children's and society's temporal, physical, economic and racial challenges, along with the god-damned generalised misogyny that infects the air like a cultural fart, and turning that into a moral issue? That sure is some fucked-up gaslighting. If you can't win at the world, ladies, you're a bad mother.

It takes a village.

Parenting in public should be a private matter unless explicit laws are broken. Policing private mothering practices to such an extent is yet another way to shift the responsibility of a safe community for children from social institutions, onto the private shoulders of women. Twisting the meaning of 'abandonment' to include 'ducking into the shop for five minutes while child is calm and happy in the equivalent of a climate-controlled safe-room', exposes an ignorant, bitter and punitive mindset. And worst of all , it's doing the kids damage. We are creating a generation of people who lack resilience and problem-solving skills, who then parent with even more fear and uncertainty.

I'm not sure if there's a grand plan, but it certainly benefits grand capitalist programs. If children must be in a controlled environment, children's activities become centred on adult needs and resources. Props in child-play are now bought not imagined from sticks or sheets; to play 'a game' means digital media, not sidewalk chalk and stones. Social risks and rewards become private goods and responsibilities.

It takes a social village.
posted by Thella at 9:41 PM on July 27, 2018 [54 favorites]


Yes, Homo neanderthalensis, you and those like you are recognized and respected and understood, I believe, especially here. The oversupervision of children who don't need it is probably logarithmic tables of scale away from the undersupervision of kids who do need it because those raising those who require more attention are known for years before their peers are (supposedly) off riding their bikes to the movies.

I really hope you had the supervision and grounding you needed while growing up so you're in a good space now, whatever that means for you.
posted by hippybear at 9:45 PM on July 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


When I was eight (1977), I walked to the corner store, on my own, to buy my parents’ cigarettes. True story.

Me too. And if the corner store was out, I was expected to go to the gas station about 3/4 of a mile away. No one batted an eyelash.

When the Monsters were wee, I was a SAHM. Then I was a WAHM. I could do no right. "You're a Mom? Fuck you, you're too stupid to breathe." I'm amazed I didn't snap and kill some petrified busybody.

Things people sicced CPS on me for, an incomplete list:

I left Elder Monster asleep in his crib when I took the trash down 2 flights of stairs and across the parking lot to the dumpster.

I let both of them run about in their diapers/Underoos when it was super hot.

We built a Snow Family when Younger Monster was 3. Evidently, he was going to die if he played with snow while bundled up like he was about to summit Everest.

Elder Monster was skinny like his Dad, not fat like me. Social worker about pissed herself when she showed up. She said the complaint was that my kid was malnourished. He was at the table scarfing down granola while he colored. The fruit bowl was full. I showed her my full pantry, fridge, and chest freezer while he decided he needed a banana to go with the granola. Social worker spotted our family portrait, apologized, and left.

Elder Monster didn't wear socks.

I was "addicted to the Internet". I had begun working from home. A neighbor disapproved.

Younger Monster wouldn't eat the lunch I packed for him, because lunch was at 11AM and he wasn't hungry yet.

We aren't Christian.

They had chores. I shit you not.

I allowed them to ride their bikes without me when Younger Monster was in middle school.

There were more. All were stupid. NONE were directed at my husband. Mothers are policed pretty hard in this country. I do not know how Mothers of Color manage to deal with that on top of all the other horseshit they contend with.
posted by MissySedai at 9:48 PM on July 27, 2018 [124 favorites]


MissySedai: there's a whole essay of its own contained in your condensed outline.
posted by hippybear at 9:53 PM on July 27, 2018 [17 favorites]


I mean I did, hippybear, and then at 14 I chafed like crazy and demanded to take the bus by myself, and because my parents were older and more like yours, I did! From 14 on I took myself to school on the bus with no supervision and that was it. Basically I needed close watching until i didn’t and then i got to wander and weave though San Francisco all I wanted, just maybe at an older age then my cohort. So I really feel for the kids who until 18 or even older are watched like hawks because even weird autistic me got to be a teenager apart from my parents, if not at the same age as my cohort. Also, I looked a lot younger than I was, at 14 I could pass for 11 and I rode everywhere and no one worried that I was abandoned. Some of that is the privilige of my skin color of course but some of it is the benefit of living in San Francisco for sure. Parents know their kids! If they need to be watched more closely then watch them! But most don’t! Free the kids! And free their mothers while you’re at it! It makes for a better society that’s for sure.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:55 PM on July 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


You are literally writing the outline for your essay. Maybe take the weekend and type that out and find a platform (Medium?) for it. I'm like, Wow, I want to have this as a narrative as the person lived it. Episodic, yes, but fleshed out? definitely.
posted by hippybear at 10:01 PM on July 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


I particularly enjoy when Baby Boomers mock my parenting because I keep my kid booked to a steady stream of playdates and enrolled in a slew of activities, as though I'm some maniacal pushy parent making my kid miserable. Uh, no, Baby Boomers. I'm trying to keep my kid from being miserable. Since your generation got all hysterical from Unsolved Mysteries, Dateline, and Nancy Grace and decided kids can't ride around their own neighborhoods on their bikes and stood by while the economy got tanked such that I can't afford a second kid, it's the only way he gets to interact with other kids his age outside of school.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:15 PM on July 27, 2018 [33 favorites]


I don't have kids, but if I did, it would be a struggle to find that balance between the free-range childhood that I knew as a kid, and the helicoptering of today. I know it's generally better for kids to have more freedom. But that fear of something happening to your kid has to be overwhelming.

Adding to that, if something ever did occur, the internal blame would be tremendous. But I'm afraid the societal judgement, especially online, would be catastrophic.
posted by hydra77 at 10:21 PM on July 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


Having tons of kids walk and ride to school made it safer when I was a kid. Now a kid walking to school is all alone. The tide of parenting has moved in an unfortunate direction.
A parent near me had problems when she (GASP) let her elementary school child walk home from school.
In the 50s I walked every day from kindergarten on.
posted by cccorlew at 10:30 PM on July 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


It is interesting that Australia, so far, is way more relaxed than the United States regarding children being in groups or walking by themselves. The helicoptering I have seen in Australia is nothing to the US, which I am so grateful for. I can send my kids to the park down the block without getting the stink eye! We were known in our last neighborhood for having the kids go to the park down the block and ride their bikes around the immediate neighborhood without monitoring...I got some hard looks...so much Minnesota Nice those days.
posted by jadepearl at 10:40 PM on July 27, 2018 [3 favorites]


. The helicoptering I have seen in Australia is nothing to the US, which I am so grateful for.

That's really good to know! Cause I often read (jaw droppingly horrible) articles like this, and I'm like "... it really doesn't seem that bad to me?" Interesting to know the norms are so different over here.

As a parent, I think there's a feeling that you can't do anything right. It's hard for me to judge, I grew up in the country, on a farm. Walking along the (one) road was a death wish as people flew down it. Certainly, I spent hours by myself off in the bush, and you know what? That was irresponsible of my parents. If I had broken a leg, or been bitten by a snake (ours are deadly, the paddocks and rainforest were riddled with them), there's no way my parents could have found me quickly, if at all. My kid's urban life is like childhood on a different planet compared to mine.
posted by smoke at 10:46 PM on July 27, 2018 [7 favorites]


I ducked into a 7-11 to get some cash from an ATM and left my 5-year-old (strapped in her carseat) in the locked car (with the windows partly rolled down on a relatively cool day). As I did so, several thoughts ran through my head:

1) Was someone going to call CPS on me (probably not, seeing as it took less than 3 minutes for me to get cash and make change and my neighborhood is pretty chill and my child was clearly well taken care of).
2) How many damn times my own mother had done exactly this with me, minus the benefit of a convenient carseat. In fact, she'd do whole shopping trips without me. Just leave me and my sister. In a car. In the fricking desert. "Roll down the windows, kids, so you don't suffocate!" "Okay, Mom!" "Have you got your Mad Libs??" "Yes, Mom!!!!"

And why. Why are we like this. I should be able to pop into a store without dragging my kid out of her carseat. She doesn't want to go. I don't want her to go. It's an inconvenience all around and she's not in any danger waiting for me in the car which is safely locked and in no danger of overheating.

But here I am. Lugging around the momguilt. Worried someone's going to show up and try and take my kids away. Because I needed money for her field trip that day.

We do let her run around, unsupervised, in the backyard. We give her boundaries and we make it clear we trust her. Violate the trust, she loses the privilege until we think she's ready for it again. Simple as that. If she wanted to run a lemonade stand, I'd probably let her, and I probably wouldn't hover...much. I'd check on her. Honestly, she still doesn't fully grock busy street + cars = big hurt. That's where I'd worry. Just tonight I had to yank her out of harm's way because she was too busy singing about pirouettes to notice the SUV barreling toward her in a parking lot. And that's a 5-year-old for you. In a year or two, that won't be a problem, and we'll reevaluate and we won't be hovering as much. Right now she's still very much at a higher elevation that needs firm guidance. I love it, but I have to be wary of it if I want to see it live well to old age.
posted by offalark at 10:54 PM on July 27, 2018 [11 favorites]


I think I was about 13 or 14 when my parents started letting me walk by myself to the DC Metro station, go to Union Station, get on the train to NY, get off at Penn Station, and, if my dad wasn’t able to meet me, take the Subway to his apartment. It was empowering, to say the least.

I just spent a couple weeks with my nephews, and I keep thinking about all the absurd pressure on parents to sort of maximize returns on investments. Like, my nephew’s daycare is good, but they only let the kids play, and research shows that kids learn more through “enriched play,” so maybe it’s in his best interest to go somewhere else. Or, like, you want your kid to go to the best school possible, so you start the prep early, the extracurricular, etc.

It really starts to feel like everyone just wants to plug in numbers and apply them to kids’ lives. Minimize odds of bad stuff, however slim they may be. Maximize odds of good stuff, at whatever cost. Control every variable to make everything as good as it can theoretically be. Any less is a failure to maximize potential. It’s amazing how quickly left-leaning people turn into “where is this child’s mother? Is he being supervised?” types.

We’ve got an incredibly precarious situation right now, and the slightest slip could have dire consequences (think medical bills, etc). I wonder if this kind of stuff gives us a feeling of control, like if we call the authorities on this parent, we’re doing our part to make the world a little more stable. Either way, I’m really sorry parents are subjected to this all the time.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 11:07 PM on July 27, 2018 [13 favorites]


From the article:
Dr. Sarnecka, the cognitive scientist, has an answer to this. Her study found that subjects were far less judgmental of fathers. When participants were told a father had left his child for a few minutes to run into work, they estimated the level of risk to the child as about equal to when he left because of circumstances beyond his control.
This article isn't just about the rise of overprotectiveness in American culture, but also how it intersects with the patriarchy. The most clear example of what's going on is the similar situation with pregnacy and mother-scolding.

In both pregnancy and parenting, there is an increased social awareness of risk that is leveraged as a means to regulate specifically women's behavior.

In the case of fetal development, it's the case there are a number of empirically verified risks that were previously unknown. This has been at least moderately exaggerated, but many of the risks are real and only recently recognized.

In the case of childcare, however, there are just a few examples of risks that, while previously known, have only been recognized (or reevaluated) to be substantial enough to change social norms. These are primarily related to accidental injury, such as in vehicles, playground equipment, and poisoning (including pharmaceutical) in the home. Almost everything else is hyperbole, particularly stranger abuse and abduction.

But in both these categories we see an almost unlimited social (and even legal) acceptability of public chastisement and punishment specifically of mothers, with far more leniency toward fathers.

This is sometimes called "drive-by mommying". Strangers, in public, feel entitled to police what pregnant women eat and drink, and they feel entitled to police a mother's supervision of her children.

Note that this has always been true to some degree -- I think that's evidence of the patriarchal notion of women being valued primarily as baby-machines and therefore implicitly a kind of public property. On the informal, small scale, it manifests socially in interactions in communities and families. On the formal, large scale, it manifests as law and public policy that appropriates women's sexuality, reproductive health, and childcare burdens as property of the state. In other words, informally women's bodies are community property, and formally women's bodies are state property (usually not in so many words, but surprisingly close).

I really don't think that any particular type or instance of this kind of social censure is rightly understood if not placed in this context. It makes a lot of things explicable which otherwise are not, such as the leniancy with regard to child supervision by fathers.

As noted both in the article and here, this is amplified when issues of classism and racism are involved.

With regard to child sexual assault, I strongly agree with the comments above that the real risk are the people entrusted with the kids, not strangers, but also that this huge mismatch between true risk and percieved risk functions as a means to divert public attention away from the true risk.

This closely parallels the popular narrative about sexual assault of women. While stranger rape represents something in the range of around 15% of all rape and acquaintance rape the remaining ~85%, almost all popular and civic attention is focused on stranger rape.

This is also very patriarchal, in two different respects.

First, with both sexual assault of children and adults, the perpetrators are not only almost always close to the victims, they are almost always men. Men as a class benefit from the lack of scrutiny they otherwise would warrant.

Second, with both sexual assault of children and adults, the responsibility/safety is primarily placed upon women, as mothers or victims, not men, as fathers or perpetrators. Indeed, this is even true when the perpetrator is a child's father . . . the mother is still scrutinized and often villified. (This is a telling, extreme example.) So men, as a class, are not held as responsible for these crimes as they otherwise would be, instead much of the burden is shifted onto women.

Note that although it's true that, when reported and prosecuted, the male perpetrator faces strong stigmatization and criminal penalties, given that the majority of the crimes committed are in the acquaintance assault group that is under-recognized and under-reported, the vast majority of men who commit these crimes face no stigma or criminal penalty even while women -- as mothers or potential victims -- incur a burden of constant fear and responsibility for these crimes in the form of continual assessment of their own behavior, with an implicit (often explicit) social critcism or villification.

When this whole picture is painted, it's quite clear what's happening, what's driving this, and who benefits.

We talk about helicopter parenting, but the truth is that this recent trend of constant planning and supervision as the "correct" parenting style isn't about parenting but mothering. The burden of this labor-intensive and socially scrutinized parenting falls mostly on mothers, not fathers.

Given this, and the main argument I sketch out above, I propose that one of -- if not the -- primary motivation for this broad social change is a backlash to second-wave feminism and the dominance of two-working parent households. There may be a variety of other ways in which society has changed that are involved, but I think that a backlash against women, a backlash against women becoming more highly educated and employed and economically self-sufficient, is a huge part of what's driving this change.

If so, in this analysis this millennial shift would properly be understood as the leading indicator of the era of misogyny and patriarchy, while the rise of explicit hate groups and movements such as the MRAs and other internet misogynists are closer to trailing indicators.

This makes sense because the much more available, more "low-hanging fruit", was the anxiety surrounding children: What about the children? Regressive social attitudes about women were most easily advanced through what seems to be sensible, rational changes to childraising. Later, with those seeds planted, and with the ongoing failure of reform of male gender roles (which, in some respect, this shift in childraising makes more difficult), a new generation of men are produced who are inclined to attribute all social ills to the failure of women to be subordinate to men as sex objects and nannies.

It's all of a piece: you can't fully make sense of this oft-discussed social change in parenting without this larger context. After all, by almost all metrics of things independent of childraising style, children are safer, healthier, and better-educated than ever before. Thus hyper-vigilant parenting style hasn't itself shown substantial gains in child welfare, as far as I can tell. All the gains are elsewhere. So why this? Patriarchy, that's why.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:20 PM on July 27, 2018 [179 favorites]


*slow clap*

Flagged as fantastic Ivan Fyodorovich.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 11:31 PM on July 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


Like everyone else here, this trend seems weird and harmful to me. Who are all of the people calling the cops every time a child and parent stop holding hands? Why aren't they on Metafilter arguing about it? I wonder what their demographics are like and why I don't know any of them.
posted by value of information at 11:41 PM on July 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


I can tell you the two reasons I was over-protective. 1. My very youngest sister died. 2. My ex threatened to kidnap both my kids and take them out of the country. This particular threat is very common and if it is made even once, ought to be grounds for strictly supervised visitation or none at all.
I personally grew up in the 1960s and until the riots in San Francisco my younger sister and I had lots of freedom to go all over the city on our own. We sometimes took advantage of TelHi and went to baseball games at Candlestick Park for 50¢, the 50¢ covered bus fare!and a sack lunch consisting of a bologna sandwich, a little carton of milk a cookie or a piece of fruit. Saw Willie Mays, and was out of the house. I sent my two to Disneyland through a Parks & Rec thing. They had a total ball. Also 3 weeks of Summer Camp. I used the time to work extra shifts and make money for presents come Christmas. Also to hAve fun on my own. Still until we left the big city, I totally did not feel safe letting them walk to school on their own. Admittedly they were younger in the big city. I might have let them have more independance earlier without the kidnap threat and the stalking.
Once we were someplace slightly safer, I had to work. They were latch-key kids. I feel they turned out well.
The time out of my constant supervision was good. They knew how to handle themselves.
Another thing, some of a kid’s safety is do they have sensible friends? Are they thrill-seekers? If they aren’t total thrill-seekers and will use some common sense, kids will do ok. Being too sheltered is terrible for kids.
Getting back to the question of kidnapping, rich people began to seriously fear kidnapping as a result of the Lindbergh Case. Very rich people understandably were terrified, but the reporting of that case changed things even for middle class people. Poor people’s kids weren’t kidnapped for ransom. Poor people’s kids had to work at young ages too.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:48 PM on July 27, 2018 [5 favorites]


You are literally writing the outline for your essay. Maybe take the weekend and type that out and find a platform (Medium?) for it. I'm like, Wow, I want to have this as a narrative as the person lived it. Episodic, yes, but fleshed out? definitely.

I'm not sure I could do more than all caps "CPS are not your personal Gestapo, Debra."

I do appreciate your kind words, though.
posted by MissySedai at 12:04 AM on July 28, 2018 [26 favorites]


It wasn't JUST unsafe equipment that caused playground deaths and injuries - inadequate supervision of the kids using it was also an important factor.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:14 AM on July 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


Yes, society is over-protective of pregnant women; except that social institutions and society are virtually silent on the increased risk to the mother and fetus to die via intimate partner violence. We have signs in restaurants about the dangers of alcohol on pregnancy but turn a blind eye to how the stress of abuse also negatively affects fetus development. Not to mention that because of the abuse (often motivated by the fear of the male abuser that the unborn child “is not theirs”); pregnancy-associated suicide and homicide each account for more deaths than many of the more “traditional” obstetrical causes of maternal mortality that receive greater attention.
posted by saucysault at 12:15 AM on July 28, 2018 [28 favorites]


I was actually chastised yesterday by a bus driver for leaving my 18 year old and 15 year old “home alone”.
What the ever-loving fuck. By 15, I had already been paying taxes for a couple of years. I'm 8 months pregnant right now with a child I am having rather late in life and I can't believe the level of supervision a mom is expected to give her child these days. How in the hell do mothers get anything else done in the day? What the hell do you do if you have to work? Daycare is so damned expensive! How can anybody afford to get through the summer without mortgaging their home to pay for the camps and daycare needed to provide 24 hour care for their children until they are teenagers? Can I just decide not to have this baby? This article scares the SHIT out of me. I was left alone so much as a kid, I don't think I can be my child's jailer for the next 12 years without losing my mind.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:18 AM on July 28, 2018 [8 favorites]


"Yes, society is over-protective of pregnant women; except that social institutions and society are virtually silent on the increased risk to the mother and fetus to die via intimate partner violence."

That's a great point. It also strongly supports the argument I made in my previous comment.

I note also that recommendations about eating during pregnancy could, in theory, be directed toward parents and families given that these are often shared meals. One might argue, well, ultimately it's about what the pregnant woman ingests. However, consider the larger category of what families eat, in terms of health recommendations -- those recommendations could, theoretically, be aimed at couples or parents, but they're almost always aimed at women alone. If men aren't expected to share responsibility in that case, they certainly aren't going to be expected to share responsibility for prenatal-health-aware meals when their partner is pregnant. But they should when their meals are shared.

Now, back to domestic violence, one might argue that the push to charge abusers with murder when a fetal death results from domestic abuse is a counterexample to our assertion. However, the problem with this example is that the impetus for this socially comes from the so-called "pro-life" movement and the aim is ultimately about legally categorizing the fetus as a person who can be murdered. It's a means to an end and is only nomimally about prenatal health in the context of domestic violence.

So, again, patriarchy is served by attitudes and policies ostensibly protecting the welfare of children, but which don't, really. As in the examples discussed in this thread, child welfare is minimally -- if at all -- increased while, in contrast, the subjugation of women as merely baby machines is greatly furthered.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:27 AM on July 28, 2018 [6 favorites]


It is absolutely frightening how far this has spiralled out of control in the US/Canada. I had a fairly overprotective, stay-at-home-mother and in the 70s and 80s I did things that were unthinkable now. Waiting in the back of the car, walking home from school with my sister (ages 8 and 5), disappearing on my bike for hours. My toddler son was born and is being raised in Germany, and kids are still fairly "free range" here in comparison to American kids. It was a shock last time I visited my parents in Canada and let my kid have full free range of the playground, while other parents shadowed their small children, narrating what do do, what not do, escorting them up and down the equipment. My own friends and family looked at me pointedly several times on my visit, asking if my kid is really allowed to climb the slide by himself, doesn't need help getting up after a fall, run down a hill...

I highly recommend the parenting book "Achtung Baby" for a really interesting comparison at German vs. American parenting. German kids are raised to be independent and self-sufficient, and in Berlin, I commonly see kids walking to school by themselves, climbing up crazy playground structures, and toddlers running around naked in summer. When I read articles like above, I'm really glad my kid is having the chance to experience childhood in Germany!
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 2:13 AM on July 28, 2018 [15 favorites]


Today, my parents would be locked up. Around the age of 9 I was given so much freedom to roam around the city that today's kids would envy. I was told where not to go, and I didn't. I was told what time to be home, and I was on time (or made a phone call telling them I was late). They insisted to know where I was going and with who. All in all, I was a good kid. Had I been a baddie, I doubt I would have been given so much rope.

I feel bad for todays kids, and their parents. Keeping the kids happy and making sure the neighbors don't get the vapors over their parenting style is no way to live.
posted by james33 at 4:33 AM on July 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


Leave child safely locked in car for 5 minutes: arrest warrant and 100 hours community service.

Leave loaded gun within reach of toddler : “unspeakable tragedy”

That’s how the US deals with parental responsibility. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by lydhre at 5:06 AM on July 28, 2018 [65 favorites]


suburban Melbourne, Australia:

My 12yo started high school this year and gets herself to and from on public transport, and can also get to various friends' houses or the shops or the library. In one of the rare examples of things getting better for kids, she has an (old) iPhone and can look at google maps or call us if plans get fouled up. Lots of the other kids do the same. It was a bit scary the first few times and hasn't always gone precisely to plan but she's really grown into it and I think the responsibility is good for her.
posted by nickzoic at 5:37 AM on July 28, 2018 [4 favorites]


In both pregnancy and parenting, there is an increased social awareness of risk that is leveraged as a means to regulate specifically women's behavior....But in both these categories we see an almost unlimited social (and even legal) acceptability of public chastisement and punishment specifically of mothers, with far more leniency toward fathers. This is sometimes called "drive-by mommying". Strangers, in public, feel entitled to police what pregnant women eat and drink, and they feel entitled to police a mother's supervision of her children.

Yeah, this. I think this is the same sort of thing again as say, stalking and doxxing women for doing well, anything and coming to the notice of bad people who want to punish her for existing while female. Women just can't do stuff that men can do with impunity, even the slightest of shit no matter what it is. If it involves children, then they've got MORALS on their side and it's easy to get the po-po involved and really make those consequences count. And they can do it in real life very easily. I think it's our shitty abusive culture and this is going way beyond the usual mommy wars and helicopter parent stuff, though lord knows that's in it too. It's just that easy to make someone's life hell and make it "their" fault for that happening. If you'd just been a better mom. Is that really true, or is it more like you got seen by the wrong mean girl at the wrong time when she was in a bad mood and wanted to lash out at someone?
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:50 AM on July 28, 2018 [4 favorites]


I was at a playground last week with my 4-y.o. I picked a bench in the shade, busted out the old ebook, and started reading, while she ran up to a group of three kids and they did the usual kids-on-a-playground thing. She was having fun, I was enjoying myself: a true and rare win-win.

Alas, after we'd been there about 30 minutes, a large-ish extended family showed up, and those adults ruined everything. Suddenly there were grownups within 3 feet of every child. An extremely safe three-story slide thing had an adult posted on literally every floor, limiting the amount that kids could move or climb within a landscape literally and recently designed with their safety in mind. A girl who appeared to be about two was told repeatedly not to try a certain ladder because it was too big for her; after she successfully negotiated it, her adult orbit just moved on to the literal next ladder being unsafe.

Were they also talking loudly about how unsafe the roller slide was, how you could break an arm on it? GIRL YOU KNOW IT

The worst part was that their constant noisy hovering and talking and redirecting of the kids made it impossible for me to read, the monsters.

No wait! The worst part was that my kid tried to make friends with the couple of 3-5-y.o.s in the group by playing in a little castle, only to find their adults besieging their tower, breaking up any imaginative play that might have been going on, constantly trying to get little Henry or whatever to play with his cousins, to go on the swing, to try this.

My kid was so freaked out by all the strange adults dominating the playground space that she came up to me, asked to leave, and did not wish to return to the playground later: a true lose-lose. Great work, fellow parents, just really excellently done!
posted by palindromic at 6:01 AM on July 28, 2018 [49 favorites]


It is absolutely class-bound. I remember freaking out the first time I had to leave my then 9yo and 13yo alone one day for work during the summer. The people who looked like me (40something suburban white ladies with American parents) totally understood the struggle. The people who had grown up with less thought I was nuts. "My mom worked 12 hour shifts at the hospital. I could cook a full dinner at age 9. Your kids both have phones and your husband is getting home in 4 hrs?? Why would you even think twice about this??" Having immigrant parents was also a big predictor for thinking this was bullshit.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:04 AM on July 28, 2018 [19 favorites]


Last week I did a presentation at my library about the history of baseball in Toronto. One of the items I put out for patrons to look at was an early-'80s photograph from the Toronto Star showing a bunch of kids (age 10 or thereabouts) playing in the construction rubble of what used to be Maple Leaf Stadium; climbing up chunks of concrete, jumping off them, etc., with not an adult in sight (within the photo, anyway; unfortunately it hasn't been digitized and added to our website, otherwise I'd link to it). They all look like they're having a fucking blast. Now, if I had kids I don't know that I'd let them play unsupervised in the middle of a bunch of jagged chunks of concrete, but I'd like to believe there's a middle way between that and today's madness where my sister told me her kids' school won't even let them play two pitch with wiffle bats and foam balls because Somebody Might Get Hurt.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:18 AM on July 28, 2018 [7 favorites]


Today's kids might be overprotected as all fuck, but they are some rude ass little monsters. My neighborhood is hip deep in affluent young kids, and the local restaurants are filled with them, screaming and running around. The parents do nothing.
posted by gsh at 6:34 AM on July 28, 2018 [7 favorites]


“100 days community service”?!
“18 years supervised probation”?!?!?!?!
I’m just so sorry for all the people living in the US....


I have never really been the kind of person to bitch about the so-called "nanny state".

But holy fucking nanny state, Batman.
posted by rokusan at 6:51 AM on July 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'd welcome a link to these data resources.

Admittedly the focus on playgrounds is a little bit of a sidebar, but there is a fair amount of research and reporting on playground safety history.
1986 article on lack of action regarding safer playground design.
While detailed historical records of injury and safety data aren't widely available, there are accounts of just how dangerous playgrounds used to be. According to one report from 1902, a park in Boston was responsible for "…breaking a total of seven arms belonging to six boys, besides other casualties not reported." In 1938, the National Recreation Association acknowledged the need for safe surface materials but offered no solutions as to what those materials should be. By 1940, liability concerns over injuries led to the publication of recommendations for playground workers to reduce the number of accidents. However, there wasn't much progress on the issue, and asphalt and concrete surfaces remained throughout the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s.
Injury data collected by CPSC demonstrated that most playground injuries consisted of orthopedic and head injuries from falls. In response, ASTM published a standard for safety surfacing under, and around, play equipment. In 1993, they published a standard for playground equipment.
Playground Injuries to Children: Each year in the United States, emergency departments (EDs) treat more than 200,000 children ages 14 and younger for playground-related injuries.1 More than 20,000 of these children are treated for a traumatic brain injury (TBI), including concussion.
Playground injury stats, 2001-2008.
I don't think being more sheltered really harms kids in a material way

There's a lot of evidence that it does harm kids in ways that set them back developmentally and perhaps increase their long-term mental health risks.

In other words, informally women's bodies are community property, and formally women's bodies are state property

This is really succinct and well observed and you're right, the core of the problem.
posted by Miko at 6:54 AM on July 28, 2018 [15 favorites]


Farm labor to pets. That's the transition that's been taking place over the last couple generations. Families used to have a large number of kids because those kids were necessary to keep a farm going 24/7. Farm kids were treated well enough and loved but back then, you trusted the labor to wander around, learn things, get into mischief and so on. But there was always an expectation to become a self-sufficient being.

Now kids are pets. No expectations, no rules, no discipline because you aren't ever mean or angry to your pets! They might run away, never to be seen again! They need to be held and cuddled and watched at all times because clearly they can't be trusted to be by themselves. Plus if you aren't taking pictures of them 24/7, you might miss a cute Facebook moment that would top your neighbor's kid's Facebook moment from last week.

I have nieces and nephews with their own kids. But grandma entertains and takes care of those grandkids. Grandma fixes food for the kids and grandkids. Grandma makes holiday dinners. Grandma even cleans their kid's houses for them because you pamper your pets, right?

One of my nieces is an amazing, intelligent young woman in her 30s who wanted to go to pharmacy school. She got through her bachelors degree and then stopped. Why? Well, if Mom and Dad are giving you down payments for large houses and buying cars for you when you need one and fixing food and cleaning house and taking all of your responsibilities away, why would you better yourself and spend the time in school to become a pharmacist?

I'm a bit afraid of what happens when the pets no longer have their owners around to do everything for them. How can you have basic living skills after having someone do all of those things for you for the first 40 years of life? How are the pets going to take care of their aging parents when they've never learned how to take care of themselves?
posted by ensign_ricky at 6:56 AM on July 28, 2018 [11 favorites]


Rokusan, I actually think it's the opposite of a nanny state. I've found countries with more social supports are more supportive of children playing and exploring on their own. Families are more secure and children have more freedom and more limits at the same time due to astronomer social contract. Look at Japan where kids as young as six take multiple subways to get to school. It's the American freedom of individual combined with the factors listed above that can lead to this. I agree that criminal records and community service are RIDICULOUS punishments for this type of thing.

I'm happy on my block in toronto to still see kids out playing road hockey, riding bikes and going to the corner store.
posted by five_cents at 7:07 AM on July 28, 2018 [13 favorites]


We were at an extended family function, and we mentioned we were glad all our kids were now at the point where we could just kick them outside and they could go occupy themselves (the youngest about 11 or 12), and one of the matriarchs of an inlaw's family interrupted to say how she wouldn't let kids outside unattended these days because of all the pedophiles; I'm sure the highly affluent, very-white suburb she lived in was crawling with pedophiles, but I let the topic drop. This is neither a new thing -- I remember hand-wringing in the 1990s over the same thing, primarily blaming videogames and rock and roll -- and it's not 20-something new parents doing this, some fearful adults in their 60s are the ones calling CPS on people for letting kids learn how to interact with the world outside.

But, if it shows anything, usually the actual story in the news is how unreasonable it was that CPS was called on someone doing laundry while their kid was alone in the back yard. How often are there stories where a kid is quietly playing outside unattended and the public response is "woah, that's over the line"? The story is usually set off by some crank who thinks they know best and most people agree the crank was wrong. The zeitgeist at this time still seems to be "given appropriate circumstances, it's fine for kids at a certain age to be left alone to do their thing," not an uphill battle to return to the Good Old Days.
posted by AzraelBrown at 7:08 AM on July 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


Sorry, re-read my comment about Toronto kids playing outside as smug. It's true that kids still play here, but parents also get in 'trouble' for letting the, get to school on their own before grade six and there isn't as much independence as kids would benefit from. Lots of judgement from other parents.
posted by five_cents at 7:29 AM on July 28, 2018


Note that the people running the United States are absolutely fine with taking immigrant kids away from their parents at the border and having them go it alone. There's no minimum age, two years old is old enough to be alone in immigration jail and appear before court. By the time girls are six they are expected to protect themselves from sexual assault. But maybe this is a false comparison, since those leaders don't see these kids as human. Overprotectionism is only reserved for our tribe.
posted by Nelson at 7:32 AM on July 28, 2018 [43 favorites]


Heck, just last week I was walking home from the neighborhood pool with my (six-year-old, male) child. He had run on ahead of me and was about halfway down the block while I was still near the corner. As he turned up our driveway, a guy in a sports car who had been sitting parked and fiddling with his phone rolled down his window and pointed to Scatterkitten and said, "Is he with you?" in tones that suggested that if he wasn't, the man was about to call the police. I nodded and said "yeah."

Half a block.
posted by Scattercat at 7:34 AM on July 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


I too was allowed a great deal of freedom as a kid, as was my 4.5 year younger sibling. My 15 year younger sibling was allowed as much freedom, but rarely got to make use of it, because none of her friends were. But -- other than some of the shove-lots-of-people-in-the-car thing, nothing we were allowed was anything I'd consider terribly risky. And it was great to be able to make our own choices like that.

My friends are having kids -- the oldest is 5, so too young to really get that kind of freedom -- and what continues to floor me is the car seat thing. We had carpools, where we'd have one kid in the front seat, 3 or 4 in the back or the backety back of the station wagon (pre minivan). And now I'd be sure to only have kids in seat belts . . . but you can't carpool anyhow because kids need to be in boosters until they are 10.
posted by jeather at 7:39 AM on July 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


Farm labor to pets. That's the transition that's been taking place over the last couple generations. Families used to have a large number of kids because those kids were necessary to keep a farm going 24/7.

A majority of Americans were urbanites by 1920 and there hasn't been a significant number of farm kids since the second world war.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:47 AM on July 28, 2018 [23 favorites]


Who or what benefits from convincing mothers to doubt their own judgment? To live in fear of community opinion? To feel vulnerable in public spaces when with children? To expend energy on workarounds so authorities don't get called? To feel like fighting back against this bullshit is an invitation to trouble?

So, again, patriarchy is served by attitudes and policies ostensibly protecting the welfare of children, but which don't, really.

Co-goddamn-signed, Ivan.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:05 AM on July 28, 2018 [13 favorites]


Now kids are pets. No expectations, no rules, no discipline because you aren't ever mean or angry to your pets!

There are a bunch of parents in here talking about how difficult it is to raise children. Can we, like, not with this?

one of the matriarchs of an inlaw's family interrupted to say how she wouldn't let kids outside unattended these days because of all the pedophiles

Have you encountered the entire massive Facebook genre of "My upper middle class white family saw a person of color at the grocery store and that surely means we were all seconds away from being human trafficked!"? It's like a whole new fresh heel of racism.

And, I mean, I know a lot of women and men who are suffering the trauma of childhood abuse, and not a single one was abused by a stranger. Uncles, family friends, parents, grandparents, neighbors, yes. Randos in the frozen aisle? No.

And to continue with this disjointed post, another thing that too much hovering can cause is delaying the acquisition of independent social skills. If parents are always stepping in to smooth over kid social disputes, they don't learn how to do it themselves. It's hard to deal with standing by while they're learning because kids are unsocialized little monsters and they get into dumb fights, but they have to figure it out on their own. But it's complicated if you have a more hands off policy but the other parents don't. It's asymmetrical warfare, and you'll definitely get judged.

My kid goes to a public, Title I school that is mostly Black and everyone there has much bigger fish to fry than micromanaging perfectly capable children. I know it's not always smooth sailing on the playground for our son, but no injuries have been reported and he's an only child and needs to learn to deal with social adversity. The neighborhood I live in is working class and we very much do have roaming packs of children. Right now I can hear my son down the street with the two next door kids (together ages 6, 5 and 5), riding bikes and playing cops and bad guys (much to my husband's extreme chagrin). My husband is sitting on the porch because it's a beautiful day, and I can hear other neighbors talking over their fences and stuff. It's kind of idyllic. But we have a friend who lives out in a posh suburb and whenever he comes to visit us, he comments on the sound of playing children in our neighborhood. He says he just doesn't hear it where he lives and he misses it.

(Just heard from down the street, my son shouting "We're going to put Donald Trump in jail!" So I guess that slightly redeems this otherwise problematic game.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:24 AM on July 28, 2018 [37 favorites]


Not only did we not sit in car seats until we were 15 or whatever the acceptable age is these days, whenever we took any trip in the car we rode in the wayback which didn’t even have seats, much less seat belts.... We survived; why can’t kids today survive?
The motor vehicle fatality rate in the US forty years ago was double what it is today. (And it's still the #4 cause of death in the US, even today.)
posted by mbrubeck at 8:45 AM on July 28, 2018 [22 favorites]


Nth-ing the "it's the patriarchy" with a side order of media. Susan Douglas's "The Mommy Myth" is a great resource on the non-accidental nature of ratcheting up expectations of home cleanlyness, decor, child management (and now micromanagement) culinary expectations etc, such that even the most heroic super-woman musy become overwhelmed, need assistance, feel bad and be defeated. This makes some money for industry but more importantly is aggression against and control over women. "oh, you think you can have a career and a family, sorry but you're doing it wrong, go to jail, do not pass go, do not collect 200$"

The (unpaid, of course) foot soldiers and enforcers of this patriachal oppression are women, so that the fight runs counter to gender solidarity, and because men refuse to assume responsibility for the labor it takes to maintain their privilege.

The specifics of hovering: we've spent years watching as entertainment and as warning all sorts of movies and tv shows and news reports about abductions, abuse, murder etc. we can visualize the horror, it comes to mind easily. we always feel like we are in that eery scene in just before it happens and we are addicted to the stress and fear of being in a world of threat. 9/11 and a million forensic shows have made tragedy the most easily imagined outcome from any peaceful idealic scene that used to symbolize childhood.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 8:47 AM on July 28, 2018 [8 favorites]


My parents split up when I was seven, and my mom had to work, because my wealthy father chose to spend more money to fight paying child support than he would have spent just paying it because he wanted to punish my mom, and he didn't think girl children mattered.

At seven, I would get out of school, go to tutorials while waiting for kindergarten to be over, pick up my sister, walk a mile home with a toddler, stopping at the market to pick up dinner, and doing dinner prep, homework and chores. By 12, I had a booming babysitting business, with other kids, some as young as 10, who were babysitting littler kids.

We had relatively free range as kids to explore all the dangerous things like construction zones, and drainage pipes and jumping off bridges. Hell, we were all driving by 15.

And yet, almost 40 years later, I'm twitchy because my teenager spent the night at a friend's house and is planning on walking home, and I'm wondering if I should text him and go get him rather than take the chance that someone calls the cops.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 8:52 AM on July 28, 2018 [10 favorites]


My kid was given free range at a young age (solo trips to the corner coffee shop at age 5) and the thing I worried most about when she was little was traffic not creeps.

The one time she had a person following her it was a "concerned" woman. That freaked her out I think mostly because it made her question her ability to be out and about in the world by herself.
posted by vespabelle at 8:56 AM on July 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


The (unpaid, of course) foot soldiers and enforcers of this patriachal oppression are women

"Hello, CPS? This is Aunt Lydia calling."
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:04 AM on July 28, 2018 [7 favorites]


In my neighborhood in Seattle, I regularly see groups of elementary school students walking home from school without adults. My own 11-year-old is comfortable walking alone from the bus stop or down the block to play. The only thing I ever worry about (or did, when she was a bit younger) is a "concerned" adult calling the police or CPS.
posted by mbrubeck at 9:05 AM on July 28, 2018


Class is definitely a huge factor, and there's a big urban/rural split as well. You go to Penn North in Baltimore and you still see little kids running around unsupervised all over the place. Ditto when I'm in small-town WY with my nieces. But in the DC suburbs, not so much. My neighborhood is full of kids and I only see them in circumscribed conditions.

Like others here, I'm positive that there are multiple events from my childhood that would result in a call to CPS today, and a lot of them probably would have back in the 80s if we hadn't been poor and rural in an area that's predominantly poor and rural, or really if someone had bothered to report my parents. I mean, on many occasions I spent hours in a parked car behind the bar. We didn't have functioning plumbing.

As it was we eventually had to get a weird trailer for my brother and I to sleep in when the social worker decided it wasn't really cool for my sisters and parents to share a room any more.

In retrospect those particular conditions were actually pretty shitty. But on the positive side, we did have boundaries. We were able to play out in the desert, but had to be back at set times, and there were distinct distances past which we weren't supposed to go. I'd take the school bus home alone at 8-9 and start a fire so the house would be warm by the time the rest of the family got home.

Since there were other kids in similar or worse situations, I didn't really think of my family as that fucked up.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:07 AM on July 28, 2018 [6 favorites]


Why aren't they on Metafilter arguing about it?

facebook is free
posted by poffin boffin at 10:08 AM on July 28, 2018 [16 favorites]


I (a dad) live next to a road with almost no cars and a well enforced 10 mph speed limit. I decided to work on teaching my 2 and 4 year olds to cross streets safely (for the 2 year old, stop look and listen and wait for dad to say it is safe to cross) and the 2 year old crossed by himself without waiting for me. While there were no cars driving nearby, I didn't realize that there was a cop parked in a lot nearby, who rushed over (driving more than 10 mph I assume) and lectured me about how unsafe this was and threatened to arrest me all while my 2 year old was still standing in the middle of the street. It took me several minutes to convince him that this conversation would be best had with the 2 year old somewhere other than the spot he was threatening to arrest me for letting him be.

On the other hand, the now 4 and 6 year olds got to spend last weekend playing by the edge of a mountain lake (cold enough I wasn't worried about them going in). We practiced some boundaries, and they got to be more and more independent as the time went on. They talked to a bunch of people without me present, and two or three people later commented of how cool it was that they were so independent. One person did, however, ask what time their mom would be back (she was hiking). It was such a weird comment, but makes all kinds of sense in the context of this thread. Not only was she hiking alone, but the kids were being left 'alone' with dad and were running a bit wild. Therefore she wasn't being responsible for keeping them safe.

On the pregnancy note- it's all so messed up beyond belief. Those signs in California at least have some science behind them. So much else is a total fabrication. For example, there is some good evidence that little kids are more resilient if their mother's exercise during pregnancy. (Thank you Emily Oster for writing an awesome book). We presented one OBGYN (that we didn't continue to see) with data about exercise in pregnancy and asked if she would still recommend that my wife not get her heart rate above some arbitrary value. Her response was that it would be okay if my wife just didn't tell her about how much she exercised.
posted by lab.beetle at 10:56 AM on July 28, 2018 [6 favorites]


Who are all of the people calling the cops every time a child and parent stop holding hands? Why aren't they on Metafilter arguing about it? I wonder what their demographics are like and why I don't know any of them.

Even if only 1 or 2 percent of the population will call the cops or CPS for dumb things, if they do that frequently enough it'll make the rest of us miserable.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:09 AM on July 28, 2018 [8 favorites]


I grew up in the 80s and 90s, and the concern about “stranger danger” was constant and omnipresent. “Don’t talk to strangers,” I heard again and again. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t talk to strangers.

And I wonder about the societal implications of a generation of being told over and over again, “Don’t talk to strangers.” Like, the very idea that someone is automatically a threat simply because you don’t already know them.

And then I think about the current state of American culture. The loss of social cohesion, the tribalism, the hate. The assumption that all “strangers” mean you harm.

Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t talk to strangers.

Don’t talk to strangers.
posted by panama joe at 11:22 AM on July 28, 2018 [32 favorites]




I was grocery shopping with my disabled son and had to use the restroom. He refused to come in with me. I don't blame him. He's 15 and 5"9'. The ladies say mean things and stare.

I left him with the cart outside the door with a promise he wouldn't move. I asked questions he would answer through the door to make sure he was still there. I was as quick as I could be, coming out still damp handed.

I was met outside the door by my son and the store manager who reminded me that hey offer home delivery if I didn't have anyone who could shop with us. I said I got it and we scrambled away.

There were a lot of adults shopping nearby with judgy faces too.

A couple weeks ago a young limited verbal disabled man was jumping on a trampoline in his own backyard alone and the neighbors called the cops that came and tased him.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 12:26 PM on July 28, 2018 [13 favorites]


I'm so happy to live in a neighborhood where my 4 going on 5-year old can run around the corner to her friends house to see if they are home. I'm so happy that the friend's older sister (who is a few years older than her) roams the neighborhood with her crew of three or so girls and puts newsletters they've written up in mailboxes [these also solicit gossip for the next edition, shameless!]) or stage pagents in the street. I love seeing packs of tweens walking the 8 or so blocks to the middle school or high school across one semi-busy roadway or the 20 blocks to the beach, unsupervised.

I don't have much to add because I think in many places it is complicated. But I think, like most complicated things here in the US, we've managed to fuck it up more often than not. I'm planning on not fucking it up out of fear.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:47 PM on July 28, 2018 [4 favorites]


My 5 year old is outside right now. I know he's still there because occasionally he'll go running by. He's very loud.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 2:29 PM on July 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


The Great Indoors, or Childhood's End?
  • In 1919, George, the great-grandfather of the family, was allowed to walk six mile by himself to go fishing at Rother Valley.
  • In 1950, Jack, the grandfather, was allowed to walk one mile by himself to go play in the woods nearby. Like his father, he walked to school.
  • In 1979, Vicky, the mother, could walk by herself to the swimming pool, half a mile away.
  • In 2007, Ed, the son, was only able to walk to the end of the street on his own - a mere 300 yards. He was driven to school, and even to a place where he could ride his bike safely.
Parents have been arrested for letting their children play outside - even while being watched - and investigated for letting their kids play in their own back yards. (One family was arrested and had their kids put into children's services for this, but the parents were not home at the time. I mean, that kid could've starved in that hour!)

I'm just now wondering if there are any cases of single fathers being arrested or investigated for neglect when their child or children are allowed to play unsupervised.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:25 PM on July 28, 2018 [9 favorites]


Astonished to get all the way to the end of this very long thread to find nobody’s yet mentioned Last Child In The Woods or Colin Ward’s work on adventure playgrounds. I’m virtually certain both have been discussed previously here.
posted by adamgreenfield at 4:09 PM on July 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


Willy Wonka was released when I was 7 and and my one year younger neighbor, Johny, went to see at the Jersey Theater by ourselves, each gripping our $1 bill for the ticket and candy. The theater was about five or six blocks away in the little town center and we just walked there on our own. Not just that movies but movies most Saturday afternoons. My parents weren't interested in kid's movies and didn't want to intrude on our lives in any case.
posted by octothorpe at 4:11 PM on July 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


Oh and I also bought cigs for my parents at a young age. They at least would give me a note to give the owner at Veon's Market. "Mr. Veon, please give [octothorpe] two packs of Doral 100s. They are for his parents".
posted by octothorpe at 4:17 PM on July 28, 2018 [5 favorites]


The flip side of this is that a lot of 10 year old kids these days can't be trusted to do a goddamn thing they're told to. I coach a couple sports and 20 years ago you could tell an 11 year old girl to go get a pony our of a field, clean, tack it up and bring it to the arena and they'd do it. Heck most of them could be trusted to feed, water, clean the barn and take care of the dogs and cats too. Same thing skiing "meet at the lift" was all you needed to say. Now you're lucky they can identify a pony reliably or remember what a lift is or where they started at. If I say "stay here a minute" and come back 5 minutes later half of them have wandered off. And these are 8-13 year olds that you see every week. They don't seem to understand that there will be negative consequences to their stupid actions and get way too upset when there are. They have no conception that it's their own damn fault for not listening and not carrying out instructions. We call kids like that "Dougals" and there's always been a percentage that are a bit dopey for their age but for a while there it was all of them. And the parents were 100% to blame. Most of those kids are teens or young adults now and I have no idea if they will ever learn to cope.

Fortunately lately I have noticed that a lot of younger parents from mid 20s-mid 30s are way less protective and have higher expectations than people my older siblings age who were the parents of the worst years (15-20 years older). Their kids are more independent, better socialized and far less maddening to work with. Thank God.
posted by fshgrl at 5:37 PM on July 28, 2018 [7 favorites]


That is not so much "the flip side of this" as it is "the natural consequence of this".
posted by jacquilynne at 6:25 PM on July 28, 2018 [12 favorites]


these are 8-13 year olds that you see every week. They don't seem to understand that there will be negative consequences to their stupid actions

If they've been under direct, constant supervision their entire lives, of course they don't understand consequences. And constant surveillance usually goes along with "never permit them to do anything dangerous."

They've never gotten lost in a supermarket and figured out how to find their parents, never hammered a nail and banged their finger, never climbed a tree and realized they were stuck and would need help getting down. They have no risk-assessment skills, and no awareness of the world around them, because they've never been given a chance to develop their own understanding - it's all been force-fed to them.

And right now, any mother who tries for a different approach literally runs the risk of being arrested for felony child neglect. "Unsupervised" currently includes "parents are in the house; kids are in the back yard." There's a growing contingent that expects adult eyes on a child every moment they are not in their room or the bathroom - of course the kids haven't learned how to do anything on their own.

The host of FreeRangeKids.com (now LetGrow.org) got called "the worst mother in America" for letting her 9-year-old son ride the NY subway.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 7:18 PM on July 28, 2018 [12 favorites]


A majority of Americans were urbanites by 1920 and there hasn't been a significant number of farm kids since the second world war.

While this is true, in urban settings kids were often put to work in family enterprises - like, in the garment industry and food industry, for starters. So their role as labor - and their ability to act indepdendently, carry out vital tasks, and supervise other/younger children - was still really essential to family survival.
posted by Miko at 7:19 PM on July 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


wondering if there are any cases of single fathers being arrested

A male friend of mine has some stories. Once he was at the grocery store with his 7yo daughter. A female stranger approached his daughter and asked if she was okay, if she knew this man, and if she needed to be rescued. Apparently because his wife was not present, this stranger thought it looked suspicious to see a middle aged man with a young girl, and thought she was being abducted.
posted by foobaz at 7:22 PM on July 28, 2018 [6 favorites]


Maybe it's just that I was growing up just as this attitude shift was really getting into gear, but it always seemed to me that the helicopter parenting thing first started out as something mothers were doing all on their own, almost as penance for daring to work outside the home. Given the Catholic/Puritan guilt that pervades much of American society, it seemed reasonable to me.

Having said that, it has undeniably been weaponized in the past 30 years and is increasingly resulting in legal issues for those women who choose to go against the grain. It's quite unreasonable that we hold parents to the standard we often do. It is simply impossible to control life as much as would be required to make the busybody chicken littles check their overactive anxiety. Kids will get hurt and even die. Absent obvious neglect or negligence, it's unreasonable that we punish parents and especially mothers for failing to prevent every low probability high consequence disaster that could befall their children. We are increasingly holding people to an impossible standard because it makes us sad and anxious when bad things happen and pretending like it's actually possible to prevent every tragedy makes some people feel better.

I suspect the dramatic decrease in infant mortality over the past century or so has a lot to do with it. A surprising (to me) number of people don't experience the death of people close to them until well into adulthood these days, so it doesn't surprise me in the least that social norms are changing regarding risk.
posted by wierdo at 8:05 PM on July 28, 2018 [4 favorites]


That's the transition that's been taking place over the last couple generations. Families used to have a large number of kids because those kids were necessary to keep a farm going 24/7.

Ehhhhhh... both of my parents are from big farming families. My grandparents had big families because birth control was impossible to obtain. Those kids were free labor for only part of their existence. For a great deal of their life in the house, they added to the burden. Sure, your eight-year old can help drive a tractor and put silage down for the cows but you are also paying to put them in shoes and food and send them to school and on and on. You are not getting a ton of return on your investment for most of that kid's time at home because an adult is just better at doing those things. I am sure my grandma would have preferred to NOT be pregnant with twins at 45 years of age while also trying to get the cow herd milked, I doubt she was thinking about the future addition to her mini workforce while bending over that huge belly to sanitize cow teats.
posted by Foam Pants at 8:09 PM on July 28, 2018 [4 favorites]


An 18-year old shouldn’t be left home alone? That’s just crazy talk.

I'd say so. I had been in the Marine Corps for a year and a half by the time I was eighteen.
posted by notreally at 8:44 PM on July 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


This topic really hits home. I was a 70s/80s free range kid, exactly the same age as the kids in Stranger Things, doing exactly the same things (without the telekinetic found friend, obviously). My son is on the autism spectrum, and although he's pretty independent at 14 in ways we're happy about, he certainly couldn't have done what I did at 5, 8, 11, or 14. Were we helicopter parents when he was 3 and might act inappropriately at the playground? No, we weren't. Were we being over protective when last Halloween was the first Halloween he and his friends went around our very safe neighborhood by themselves? I don't feel like it. So I feel like there's always a part of the conversation about helicopter parenting and appropriate freedom for kids that gets overlooked by the "when I was kid thing". There's a lot going on in the background with a lot of kids that's overlooked by the larger narrative.
posted by mollweide at 9:09 PM on July 28, 2018 [3 favorites]


I was a 60s/70s free range kid. When I was about 9, some of us were walking through the dense bushes in an open space area near our houses which eventually opened up in this big field. We never knew that was there. Then this plane landed on the field, near where we were standing! A fireman was nearby and called us over. It turns out this was one of the state's large area fire stations with a plane and tractors for handling very big fires.

So did he lock us up and call Child Protective Services? Nope. He and some of the other firemen gave us a tour of the place! (I think they were bored because it wasn't the fire season). Then they said it would probably be best if we didn't explore anywhere near the station for our own safety, which we hardily agreed (that plane scared us to death). We could always ask our parents if we wanted to see the place again. Then they sent us on our way, back into the bushes!

Different times.
posted by eye of newt at 10:25 PM on July 28, 2018 [13 favorites]


Heck. When I was eight (1977), I walked to the corner store, on my own, to buy my parents’ cigarettes. True story.

Stil happens in China... erm, so I am told. "We're fostering independence! It is totally safe!" "You can also buy any treat you like. No, I am not lazy, you need some exercise and I work all day."
posted by Meatbomb at 6:44 AM on July 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


a lot of 10 year old kids these days can't be trusted to do a goddamn thing they're told to

Derail, but this is why my nasty inner worst-case scenario monologue jumps from "Ugh, I never expected to survive the apocalypse when I was old" to "but at least a lot of the people younger than me barely have object permanence, let alone the ability to trap and dress (presumably irradiated) wild game."
posted by aspersioncast at 6:59 AM on July 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


facebook is free

That comment reminds me of a Facebook post a friend of mine made a week ago about how disappointed her 12 year old daughter was when she wouldn't let her go jogging by herself in their neighborhood. They actually live in a nice part of town, and the daughter is a reasonable kid who knows how to stay out of trouble. I was dismayed to see that all of the 60 comments (I just went back and looked) except one told her she was doing the right thing, and all of the ones that cited a reason talked about "perverts" and "pedophiles". I was tempted to comment with facts such as those in this thread, but figured it would just be banging my head against a wall. I don't think it is a coincidence that of the commenters on that Facebook post whose political leanings I know, they are all Trump supporters. The use of fear as a political tool may be effective in winning elections, but it harms people in all sorts of ways.
posted by TedW at 7:14 AM on July 29, 2018 [16 favorites]


I don't feel like fear can explain this shift, I grew up in the height of stranger danger commercials, missing childrenn on milk cartons, fundies running around claiming there were satanic cults sacrificing children, and it still didn't occur to anyone to be freaked out if a kid wasn't chained to a parent at all times. The change is so rapid, it must be generational, but I wouldn't know where to begin parsing out what accounts for it.

I feel like the core of it is not "oh no, something bad might happen to little Johnny, because crime and kidnapping!" and more like it comes from some moral judgment place, where the indictment is of the parent being neglectful.
posted by cj_ at 8:31 AM on July 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


Is anyone aware of any books about this shift?
posted by agregoli at 8:51 AM on July 29, 2018


As part of teaching college, I've seen a new crop of 18 year olds pretty much every year since the mid 90s, so the first bunches are in their late 30s or early 40s by now.

They really haven't gotten any worse.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:59 AM on July 29, 2018 [10 favorites]


I spent a lot of time reading this thread over the weekend, and it was very interesting.

I do notice that there's often a strict axis created here between giving your kids freedom and protecting them, and I'm not sure that this is the axis that my generation (children of boomers) is actually torn between.

For me it's more of: give my kids their own space, vs spend time with my kids and participate in their lives. I definitely grew up enjoying my time of wandering in the suburban woods, but I also didn't really feel like my parents were super excited to spend time with me just to spend time with me, and that has an impact. I don't feel close to my folks as an adult in the same way that others seem to.

I currently have two kids, 4 and 6. I encourage them to be independent, and they certainly spend a lot of time in the backyard by themselves or banging around in their bedroom. But also, there are a lot of times where I say "please go play outside" because I'm trying to get the dishes done, and I can tell that they'd rather I played with them.

I'd love it if my kids could have both, but I'm not going to force them to make their own fun all of the time. It's entirely possible they just aren't that kind of kid.
posted by selfnoise at 11:39 AM on July 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


I thought “what’s the upside to letting my 6 year old cross X Avenue alone?” All I really came up with was “she’ll feel good about herself.” I wound up letting her, but it did not feel like a rational decision at the time.

She will know she can cross streets by herself. She will know this isn't some ability that comes at some distant, nebulous age of "grownup," but something based on criteria that are available to her. She's not old enough to figure out the risks, but she's old enough to know that there are some - and that someone she trusts said this was in the "safe enough" list of activities, this time.

She will know that her own risk assessment is correct sometimes - she thought it was safe enough, and you confirmed it by telling her "yes." She will consider that there may be other "grownup" activities that she might be able to do. She will know that some rules change - that "always hold my hand to cross the street" was conditional, not absolute.

She will have the beginnings of awareness that someday, she will be able to make all those decisions by herself.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:44 AM on July 29, 2018 [8 favorites]


We started letting our 8 year old walk home (~3-4 blocks in a somewhat dense city) at his insistence. While my wife & I had relatively free-range childhoods, we were both cautious - less of crime and more the hassle of dealing with other nosy people. I think what let us relax a bit is that one of his classmates blazed the trail and we kept meeting her on the street doing something by herself, including a quite funny interaction where it was clear her parents had given her a cell phone that she wasn't supposed to have at school.

I think that might have pushed my son over the line, and he's quite insistent. Now they walk together sometimes when they leave, and we've only had to go fetch him from the playground once (90 minutes, needed to go shopping). Sadly I have not seen any other gangs of 2nd graders messing around, this seems to need another 2-4 years in this part of the city.

Now I just need to convince him to go buy me beer from the market. :D
posted by temancl at 1:29 PM on July 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


I walked home from school, or, if I played at a friends' house from their house, at dinnertime. From school, a mile and a half. In winter, it might be dark walking home
posted by theora55 at 4:30 PM on July 29, 2018


My parents had deficiencies in some respects, but my being a latchkey-child from the age of 7 was not one of them. You might object that I grew up in a small town, but basically all of the risks we're discussing were as present there as in larger cities.

It certainly contributed to a sense of confidence and self-sufficiency. But more importantly it allowed for a childhood of diverse, self-directed exploration. Today, I strongly dislike the small town where I grew up, but not with regard to my pre-pubescent years. Those years were, in the respects we're discussing, glorious.

Now I live in a tiny enclave lake community within a suburban sprawl. In many respects, this is a very small town (and it is an incorporated village). More people are more likely to know other people here. Golfcarts in the absence of a golf course are ubiquitous here: a leisurely evening golfcart drive around the road circling the lake (along which most homes reside) is an ever-present tradition.

Yet I sometimes sit on the back porch and look into the woods which stretch behind the house and envy the children the opportunity to explore (no woods where I grew up in the Southwest) even as I note there are never, ever any children seen exploring. While the street is deemed safe enough for golf carts and adults to walk day and night, I never see children cycling.

And there are many children here, it's not some hoity-toity retirement village, it's more like a 60s working/middleclass, aspirational-but-affordable place to live. It's still relatively inexpensive, given that it's a suburban lake community. There are no McMansions here -- it's more like the 70s and 80s never ended. And yet children don't roam outside.

To me, at least, this is especially stark and sad.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:42 AM on July 30, 2018 [6 favorites]


I want to be a free range parent, my neighbourhood is full of free range kids but damn some times I need to bite a pencil I’m so irrationally afraid.

Me too. I was around three the first time some weirdo touched me while I was out playing, and I am sorry, but I won't trust random dudes to behave around my daughter. In a parallel universe, she would go to the shop on her own, play outside, and be as independent as possible.

Even in this thread the blame is on parents for being too protective. As if we didn't wish we could let our daughters be self sufficient and on their own.
posted by Tarumba at 7:43 AM on July 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


I've seen this everywhere, and it's infuriating. Women are judged for wanting birth control, for getting an abortion, for the way she behaves while pregnant, for the way she raises the kid(s), for the way the kids turn out. No fathers involved whatsoever, except it's mom's fault that he's not around/uninvolved/MIA. Fucking patriarchy.
posted by corvikate at 8:11 AM on July 30, 2018 [5 favorites]


Today, my parents would be locked up.

- Grade 1 - I walked about a two kilometers each way to school and back alone, later that distance just increased.
- Occasionally, I would take the seldom used factory railspur as a shortcut to school - or just as a shortcut to "playgrounds" - one time, with a friend - sometime between grades 1 & 3, we found a canvas bag just off the tracks in the woods on a raised embankment, overlooking the auto wrecker... The bag contained a pair of binoculars and a handgun (truly weird for Canada - as an adult, I now wonder what sort of crime that I helped foil - or solve (if the gun had already been used))... We dutifully went to the parental units, who then called the police, who took possession of everything.
- We lived a block away from the Welland canal, I would go by myself (or with other free-range friends) to watch the boats. As I got older (still under 9), we could walk our bikes across either the locks, or the train bridges - entirely unsupervised.
- Sooooo many abandoned houses, shacks, vacant lots and derelict factories/businesses were our playgrounds (in addition to the real playgrounds of course), woods, wetlands, creeks, ponds. Even construction sites, with great piles of dirt and rocks (got a nasty nail through my foot once, no long-term ramifications - no real parental freak-out - they understood, kids gonna roam).
- "Kinda" got run over by a car riding my bike... Turning a right-handed corner, very slow speed beside a car doing the same turn and slid out sideways on the gravel and slid under the car - which stopped instantly - nothing broken, not even the bike, the driver was horrified I am sure - but I don't even recall telling my parents about it, because nothing really happened, right?...
- Started "urban exploration" when I was 10, mostly things like the roof of schools, larger storm drains, or more abandoned/semi-abandoned buildings.
- Once lost control of my bike going down a steep, very long gravel road - skinned-up my entire left arm and side... No freak-out...

Yeah - in today's world, CAS/CPS would be sooooo involved...
posted by jkaczor at 9:39 AM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


These stories are always so weird - and I say that as a middle class person with young kids and can vouch for the small amount of roaming they are 'allowed to do' by society. Kids and pets left in cars on the other hand - let that crap die. It should be illegal.

But the part that doesn't square for me (and I have some experience with CPS visits (as a professional, not in their crosshairs) is that we are constantly told that CPS is understaffed (that part I can vouch for) and underbudgeted, but they have the budgets to chase around obvious well-cared for kids? I just don't see it. I've been on a few cases, and it was always (what I would call) cut and dried. There is a joke in The Simpsons about this which rings so true - "people put garbage in the garbage cans. I cannot stress this enough". I'm not saying these edge cases don't exist - of course they do - but they become self-reinforcing just like the park- kid-snatcher does. I see this as a parent - I mean CPS would be chasing 90% of suburban parents if these run-ins were common. Sure, there is a huge racial component - but that is true and over-arching CPS.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:26 AM on July 30, 2018


...there's also a lot of judgment and awfulness around things like "letting your elementary-aged kid have a tablet for a few hours on a Saturday morning so you can go back to sleep"

My dad ran his own pharmacy and closed the store at 9 so we'd all stay up late on weekend nights so we could hang out with my dad. Because of the late nights with four rambunctious kids, my parents slept in. My three brothers and I spent most Saturday and Sunday mornings watching cartoons and movies until an adult woke up. That's just a different kind of screen time.

And I am now remembering the many afternoons, I babysat my three brothers while my mom was doing the books at the store. I started babysitting when I was 7 or 8. I read books while they ran around the house doing goofy boy things.

I need a lot of alone time. I would have been an even more emotional, stressed out kid if I'd had constant parental supervision or scheduled activities.
posted by narancia at 10:55 AM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


Lack of walkable neighborhoods is a part of this. When I was in elementary school in a small town, I crossed a state highway at a stop light to get to school. By the time I was in middle school in the larger city, they told us we could only cross the busy road at the crossing guard, which was 2 blocks out of my way. I recall there being threats of detention if we crossed elsewhere. That was quite the change from 1982 to 1989.
posted by soelo at 1:06 PM on July 30, 2018


there's also a lot of judgment and awfulness around things like "letting your elementary-aged kid have a tablet for a few hours on a Saturday morning so you can go back to sleep"

lol come at me bros

My entire parenting life changed once my kid got old enough to fend for himself on weekend mornings. And honestly that's the main time for him to learn to just hang out by himself. We live in a fairly small home, he's in school or day camp with a zillion other kids crawling all over each other every weekday, and the rest of the time we're all up in each other's biz because we mainly live out of like two rooms. Weekend mornings we leave breakfast out for him and he leaves us the hell alone until 8:30 AM (every year we increase this by a half hour until we get to "do not wake us up unless someone is bleeding or on fire" and that will truly be bliss).

I mean, did you guys not spend like 4 hours every Saturday watching cartoons by yourself (or with siblings) and eating dry cereal in the family room?
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:24 PM on July 30, 2018 [11 favorites]


And then on Sunday mornings, when there weren't cartoons, I watched Victory Garden and Gospel Jubilee. I turned out fine, although I still have this idea that I want to garden but am terrible about followthrough and probably like white gospel more than most of my demographic.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:42 PM on July 30, 2018 [5 favorites]


The most freedom I ever had as a kid was living on American military bases when I was in Junior High and High School. Bases are full of kids of all ages and parents. If the spouse worked outside of the home, that was generally looked down upon (gotta be there for the military!) but there were a lot of activities for kids year-round to keep them busy and cared for and not sitting at home. We roamed in packs to the park, to the bowling alley, to the youth center, to the pool, to the movie theater, to the on-base church for church-youth related things, etc.. You could ride your bike everywhere because it was small and the roads and sidewalks were clean and, most importantly, your local adults had a vested interest in not driving over their co-worker's children or pets. The community was diverse in many ways but the same in the most key way - generally belonging to the same class. You could assume that most everyone was high school educated or higher, that the kids were in school, and that while some people made more money than others, there was nobody outstandingly wealthy or impoverished. I think that sameness is somewhat key in feeling comfortable letting your child roam.

Where I live now, as a regular civilian, is in a neighborhood with some issues. There are no sidewalks and people drive like idiots. Every other person who walks past my house on a given day doesn't really seem like the kind of person I want my kid talking to. I won't let her do a lemonade stand but also for the same reason I won't do a garage sale. There's addiction and homelessness in the vicinity. It's a class range, for sure. My kid has a schoolmate who lives two blocks away, I'm hopeful that I'll be able to let her make the walk by herself one of these days. In loads of other places and other ways, I do give her freedom and more than some other parents. And I've gotten some tsk-tsk-ing from strangers for this on the few times that she needed me and I wasn't right there (though I was nearby). Luckily, no one's felt the need to call the cops on me yet and I can brush off a little shade thrown my way.

The thing is, the neighborhood needs to be cool and at least where I am, it's just not. I don't get the sense that many people are watching out for the kids. Some "free range" kids were throwing water bottles at passing cyclists and cars the other day. When my neighbor stopped his bike to tell them to knock it off, he heard later from another neighbor that the parent was going door-to-door to "tell off the guy who talked to my kid!" People speed down my street because it's a connector. There are no sidewalks. The corner store... I am friendly to that guy every time I am in there but he doesn't seem friendly at all. Ugh. I dunno.

I am doing my part when I can to recognize the kids that are out there and try to at least be a friendly face to them. Smile. Wave. The only parents I get irritated with are the ones who aren't nearby when their kids are being mischievous little asshats. I still wouldn't call the cops on them, though.
posted by amanda at 5:31 PM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


CPS is understaffed (that part I can vouch for) and underbudgeted, but they have the budgets to chase around obvious well-cared for kids? I just don't see it.

It sounds like you're saying, "the people who said CPS investigated them are lying" rather than "nobody should be worried about CPS for such petty things."

If you don't think the reports are lies, then there obviously is grounds for worry for suburban parents - because CPS is arbitrary and capricious, and there's no public accountability for its decisions, especially not for its decisions to investigate based on anonymous calls.

CPS as a whole does not spend its resources going after suburban parents. However, any particular CPS office might decide to investigate a call about "neglect" that includes "11-year-old child is walking home from school unattended" - especially if their other choice is investigating calls in neighborhoods that are rumoured to be violent. So someone grabs the easy case: go pester the suburban mom, take every sign of distrust from her as paranoia and trying to cover up something, and get to start a case file that doesn't involve going into "gang territory."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:01 PM on July 31, 2018


Given that there were no sidewalks within a half mile of the house I grew up in until I was 10, my neighborhood was riddled with cul de sacs and dead ends, I don't think changes in walkability had much to do with the shift away from letting kids roam. Even in the 80s my neighborhood also lacked stay at home parents. We made do with notes and the phone and had the emergency number (and then 911) drilled into our heads from an early age.

That said, I wouldn't be surprised if both of those things are a large part of why people in general seem to be at least mildly opposed to lengthening kids' leashes.
posted by wierdo at 5:47 AM on August 1, 2018


CPS as a whole does not spend its resources going after suburban parents. However, any particular CPS office might decide to investigate a call about "neglect" that includes "11-year-old child is walking home from school unattended" - especially if their other choice is investigating calls in neighborhoods that are rumoured to be violent. So someone grabs the easy case: go pester the suburban mom, take every sign of distrust from her as paranoia and trying to cover up something, and get to start a case file that doesn't involve going into "gang territory."

Man oh man, is the 'suburban mom' not at ALL the common target or the easy case for CPS. The easy case for them is the poor or poc mother, for whom there will never be any public support for and who can't possibly afford to fight it.

I'm super biased because my mother is a teacher and I grew up in SD, where CPS actively engages in false seizures as a funding method, literally selling children, but lol at the idea that CPS is targeting white subarbs moms disproportionately. White suburban moms are far more likely to report to CPS than be targeted by them.

(Also CPS usually goes with police to any situation where they might possibly be in the most remote of danger, they have zero issue going into 'gang territory', that's their bread an butter, poor people that won't have sympathetic headlines written about them.)
posted by neonrev at 3:03 PM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


« Older Fred Rogers was my real-life neighbor   |   The power and politics of the black barbershop Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments