Parenting Through Reason
When I first heard the story about Lenore Skenazy, the New York woman who made headlines for allowing her nine-year-old to ride on the subway alone, the first thing I thought to myself is: Why is this news? New York City is one of the safest cities in America now. Why shouldn’t a kid ride the subway alone? It turns out, though, that for hordes of frothing-at-the-mouth parents, what she did was tantamount to child abuse. She is now defending herself in the New York Sun in an article I’d encourage everyone to read:
No, I did not give him a cell phone. Didn’t want to lose it. And no, I didn’t trail him, like a mommy private eye. I trusted him to figure out that he should take the Lexington Avenue subway down, and the 34th Street crosstown bus home. If he couldn’t do that, I trusted him to ask a stranger. And then I even trusted that stranger not to think, “Gee, I was about to catch my train home, but now I think I’ll abduct this adorable child instead.”
Long story short: My son got home, ecstatic with independence.
Long story longer, and analyzed, to boot: Half the people I’ve told this episode to now want to turn me in for child abuse. As if keeping kids under lock and key and helmet and cell phone and nanny and surveillance is the right way to rear kids. It’s not. It’s debilitating — for us and for them.
This is absolutely right — read the whole thing. When I was a kid, me and my friends would frequently go out and — GASP! — play while unsupervised by an adult! Occasionally we even got hurt! Why there were bruises, and one of my buddies broke his arm when he fell out of a tree. Horrors! I even, on two separate occasions — brace yourself for this — flew on an airplane by myself. How I managed to go unkidnapped is a miracle.
To be fair, there’s obviously a certain age where one can debate the line where adult supervision is necessary, but nine is definitely a good age to start exploring one’s life without the constant stare of parental authority. How are you going to learn independence if there’s always somebody hovering over you, making sure you don’t get a boo-boo?
Nowadays, when I drive through neighborhoods, even my old ones, there’s one thing I can count on not seeing — and that’s kids playing outside. I never see kids under the age of 14 or so unaccompanied by adults on airplanes, buses, or other modes of transportation. Nowadays, there are whole industries devoted to tracking kids–by their fingerprints, by their cell phones, by RFID tags in their backpacks.
That’s American parenting for you — ensuring that kids grow up being used to not having privacy, not having independence, and always having somebody watching over them.
Call me crazy, but I think there might be a problem there.