We have criminalized 1970’s and 80’s parenting

This NYT Op-Ed “Motherhood in the Age of Fear” from Kim Brooks, based on her new book, is so good.  I’ve certainly complained here before about just how incredibly stupid we are about modern parenting, but this really brings a lot of different strands together in a particularly compelling and disturbing way.  You really ought to read the whole thing:

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.

We read, in the news or on social media, about children who have been kidnapped, raped and killed, about children forgotten for hours in broiling cars. We do not think about the statistical probabilities or compare the likelihood of such events with far more present dangers, like increasing rates of childhood diabetes or depression. Statistically speaking, according to the writer Warwick Cairns, you would have to leave a child alone in a public place for 750,000 years before he would be snatched by a stranger. Statistically speaking, a child is far more likely to be killed in a car on the way to a store than waiting in one that is parked. But we have decided such reasoning is beside the point. We have decided to do whatever we have to do to feel safe from such horrors, no matter how rare they might be.

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…

I was beginning to understand that it didn’t matter if what I’d done was dangerous; it only mattered if other parents felt it was dangerous. When it comes to kids’ safety, feelings are facts.

As one mother put it to me, “I don’t know if I’m afraid for my kids, or if I’m afraid other people will be afraid and will judge me for my lack of fear.” In other words, risk assessment and moral judgment are intertwined…

That same year, an Arizona woman named Shanesha Taylor was chargedwith two counts of felony child abuse and sentenced to 18 years of supervised probation, all because she had no child care and had to leave her two younger children in the car while she went on a job interview.

In a country that provides no subsidized child care and no mandatory family leave, no assurance of flexibility in the workplace for parents, no universal preschool and minimal safety nets for vulnerable families, making it a crime to offer children independence in effect makes it a crime to be poor.

I spent plenty of time alone in the car when I was a kid.  I wandered all over my neighborhood learning independence.  It was great.  And the point is not anecdote, but as a society we have completely given into irrational fears about child safety. That’s not okay.  And our public policy with regards to parenting sure as hell should not be reflecting that.

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