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This Day and Age

The other day when paying for gas inside the store, my three year old asked for a treat. I said no and before Sean had a chance to complain, a man whipped out a dollar bill and gave it to him. I protested, but the woman with him said, "He does this all the time. He likes to." We thanked the man, Sean chose M&M's and we went on our way.

At the time, I thought how nice it was of the man to give Sean the dollar. From outward appearances, he did not seem to have a lot and a dollar may have been a sacrifice.

As the day progressed, a few more thoughts came to me about what had happened. One, I do not love someone, especially a stranger, undermining my authority with my child. Two, and most importantly, I do not want Sean becoming comfortable taking money, treats or anything from strangers. Finally, I thought about how in this day and age, it is a shame that I have to go through this whole thought process. Couldn't the scenario just be: nice man gives boy a dollar, boy gets candy, everyone feels good? I am not so sure anymore.

A week ago, I had a conversation with two other moms - one with six grown children and the other with three young boys. For some reason we started talking about how different it is for kids now because of how much more we know about all the ways our children can be unsafe.

There are many changes that have happened over the past 30-40 years in regard to parenting and children - but one that we discussed for quite awhile was how once we reached age 6, we played outside by ourselves. At 8 or 9 years old, our parents did not see us until dinnertime and even then it was for a quick few minutes. Night time play meant hide-n-seek and catching fireflies.

Today, at least with the friends and families I know, roaming the neighborhood playing until called in for dinner is unheard of. We are all the so-called "helicopter" parents, hovering above, guiding our children's discussions, conflicts, activities and made-up games. No one questions or challenges these changes, and we certainly would judge the mom who would let her kid walk the two blocks to school alone. Yes, everything has changed. All I am saying is that it may not necessarily mean progress.

Am I trying to start a campaign to let our kids run free Do I think our kids are missing anything? Perhaps, but they do not know it. My memories of those summer days will live with me forever, and I believe my sons' memories will be with them forever and be just as important as mine are to me. They will just be different than mine.

So off I go to plan play dates, sign-up for camps and schedule our summer. Maybe I can include a walk in our forest-like backyard, the kids could go it alone, while I stand on the back porch armed with binoculars, mace and cell phone. That certainly is a different image than the ones we produced of our moms from our summer days...


  1. Vanessa,
    I read two blogs every day: yours and Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy. She has written a book by the same name, and I would highly recommend it. Her general point is this: Kids should be safe, but there is such a thing as "too" safe, especially when it flies in the face of statistics and reality. Thanks in part to the 24-hour news cycle, incredibly rare situations are dramatized over and over again, making us feel we are much less safe than we actually are. Add to that the recent phenomenon that says that parents are 100% responsible for making sure that we expose our children to zero risk... and how realistic/possible does that sound? Check it out... : ) I think you'll like it.

  2. I was going to post about Free Range Kids too. So, what Leslie said. We'll see what reality may bring in the near future.

  3. I will check it out - I am intrigued and glad others are talking about this. I do wonder how the current tight hold on kids affects their growth and development into mature, independent adults.

    And if anyone has info on how to get real statistics on crime 40 years ago and crime currently, I'd be interested in seeing them.

    Thank you for sharing a great resource.

  4. Hey -- Thanks for recommending my blog, commenters. And Vanessa -- I look forward to your visits! Statistically, our kids are SAFER than we were, growing up in the 70s and 80s, but I know it doesn't feel that way. What it does feel like is: A stranger reached out to you and your child and instinctively, you appreciated it! You saw that he is good to kids, and maybe even made a sacrifice, and enjoyed spreading a little cheer...before you got into the "what if"s. Our media DWELLS on the "what if"s and a lot of folks congratulate each other on thinking up the very worst ones. is great to appreciate the world! -- Lenore "Free-Range" SKenazy

  5. VMI: You're right to worry about how the hovering and paranoia are affecting our kids' development. A recent survey, for example, showed that a majority of teenagers believe that torture is a legitimate intelligence-gathering technique. Previous studies showed that a majority of teenagers thought news outlets should have to get government approval to run certain kinds of stories.

    One of the big dangers is that if you feel that the world is a dangerous place, you'll be inclined to accept all kinds of harmful measures that merely promise to make you safer. Another is that unstructured interaction with other people is a necessary step for the development of empathy, and depriving kids of the opportunity to do so (which includes negotiating, dealing with people who are unpleasant to you, etc.) will result in adults who are less empathetic. I think both of those were going on with the torture example.

  6. And here's an article sent to me from another reader:

  7. Vanessa,

    I suggest you try letting the kids roam around the forest-like back yard while you sit inside drinking a cup of tea and enjoying the quiet. Once you do it and they come home unscathed, it gets easier and easier. Especially when you see the excitement on their faces from their "adventure."


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