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.

FILED UNDER: Media, Parenting, Popular Culture, , ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. Hal says:

    Well, considering all the fear mongering regarding pretty much everything and considering that the fear mongering has only increased since 9/11 and now with Iraq/Iran, I’m hardly surprised.

    What’s going to be funny, though, it to hear that this is all the liberal’s fault, making us wimps. Can’t think of a reason off hand, but I’m sure the creativity of the Right will jump to the challenge.

  2. Steve Plunk says:

    Jeesh Hal, this is about child rearing not post 9/11 politics and the Iraqi war. There are actually things going on in the world that aren’t being manipulated by Dick Cheney.

    I will bite and say it is a result of liberal policies. What started out as legitimate concern for child welfare has been hijacked into complete nanny statism by touchy feely progressive thinkers who have little respect for a parents right to raise kids as they wish. Various social service agencies have now injected themselves into family discipline rather than realize the government should stay out of certain things.

  3. floyd says:

    BRAVO!!
    I have often philosophized that we had reached a generation that concentrated on raising CHILDREN.
    They have been successful! It was a bad idea!
    Now let’s get back to raising ADULTS !

  4. Hal says:

    Various social service agencies have now injected themselves into family discipline rather than realize the government should stay out of certain things.

    Really? Describe the mechanism whereby this results in the effects observed. I mean, seriously, dude. People aren’t letting their kids run around because social service agencies? Being a parent, I can tell you that there haven’t been any social service agencies poking themselves into my family’s discipline. I’m pretty confident that there isn’t much poking into anyone else’s either. For proof, one merely has to go to any junior high or high school to witness the complete lack of any regard for any families’ discipline.

    Rather, and I hear this from any number of my friends, they consistently speak of the world being a “dangerous place” and they’re scared for their kids getting picked up by sickos, getting mauled by gangs, etc, etc. I really doubt any of those fears were placed their via anyone in social services.

    Geebus, is that the best you can do?

  5. Michael says:

    touchy feely progressive thinkers who have little respect for a parents right to raise kids as they wish. Various social service agencies have now injected themselves into family discipline rather than realize the government should stay out of certain things.

    We’ve always had a line that separated parental discretion and child abuse/neglect. So your complaint shouldn’t be that the line exists, but that the line has moved.

    The government’s job is to protect _all_ it’s citizens, from foreigners, other citizens, and yes, when necessary, from their own parents. The problem is that our society’s structure and norms are ever changing, and so the line dividing parent’s rights and government obligation is also ever changing.

    That said, I agree that this has nothing to do with 9/11 or terrorist fear-mongering. The trend existed long before 2001.

  6. floyd says:

    Oh!! I forgot…..It’s ALL the fault of LIBERALS![lol]

  7. floyd says:

    Hal& Michael;
    What you describe is directly related to the abdication,even rejection, of fatherhood in our society.

  8. Hal says:

    What you describe is directly related to the abdication,even rejection, of fatherhood in our society.

    Yes, what we’re all missing is daddy. That’s why the right LOVES daddy and hates mommy…

    Sorry, but I’m not buying it. I ran around like a wild child throughout my youth and it wasn’t because a strong father figure was present.

    Geebus.

    This is like a Rorschach test. Endless amusement as I get to see the internals of the inner conservative exposed.

  9. Michael says:

    What you describe is directly related to the abdication,even rejection, of fatherhood in our society.

    That’s going to be awfully hard for you to prove, but I imagine it will be entertaining to watch you try.

  10. How Did I Ever Survive?…

    Over-protective parents are attacking a New York mom who let her nine year-old son ride the subway alone.  While nine might seem kind of young, whenever anything like this makes the news, I’m reminded of what I did when I……

  11. floyd says:

    “”Yes, what we’re all missing is daddy. That’s why the right LOVES daddy and hates mommy…””
    “””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””
    HUH??? Why would espousing the virtues of a whole family imply hatred of motherhood? A mother needs the help and support of a father in the home.
    Support of Fatherhood is support of motherhood.
    …………………………………………..

    “”Sorry, but I’m not buying it. I ran around like a wild child throughout my youth and it wasn’t because a strong father figure was present.””
    “”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””
    Please…reread this and see if it makes sense to you.
    …………………………………………..
    …………………………………………..

    A metaphorical lamentation…….
    A Rorschach test….my comments are just spilled ink imbued with meaning only by those who stare at them without comprehension, ahh… the frustration![lol]

  12. floyd says:

    MICHAEL:
    Watch this space!!! Perhaps the wait will entertain you as well.[lol]

  13. MichaelB says:

    Seinfeld had a great episode about this phenomenon – I believe it was called “Bubble Boy”.

    Truly, we are all bubble boys now.

  14. Michael says:

    Watch this space!!! Perhaps the wait will entertain you as well.[lol]

    I’m beginning to think not, you’re going more for the Andy Dick comedy it seems, where I was hoping for more of a Colbert.

  15. floyd says:

    Michael;
    You see Michael, proof is required of a proposition.
    Facts are the the things which are used to support a proposition.[sometimes]
    What I stated was self evident.
    Therefore, I have no interest in treating it as a proposition.
    If you disagree with this statement, then “spill some ink!”

  16. Michael says:

    What I stated was self evident.

    I don’t think that phrase means what you think it means.

    Certainly, there is nothing in the proposition “The abdication and rejection of fatherhood creates an over-protective society” that provides evidence to itself. It doesn’t even contain anecdotal evidence.

    You can’t just label every stupid thing you say “self evident” so that you don’t have to defend it. Self-evidence actually means something.

  17. floyd says:

    michael;
    You are right , you have written some sort of proposition in quotes… Your’s, not mine.

    As for your last statement… If I were in the habit of saying stupid things, wouldn’t it be “wise” to do just what you say can’t be done? Well, It could of course; and I’ll keep it in mind, should I decide to say something stupid at some point in the future![lol]
    The obvious cost is my credibility in your eyes.
    In this case, I can live with that!

    It is after all, one of those kind of arguments that everyone knows both sides and no one’s opinion is altered in the end.
    The futility of it feeds my cynicism.[or vice-versa}

    BTW, what is “self evident” in this “stupid” statement from a certain Preamble…..
    “”We hold these truths to be “SELF-EVIDENT”, that all men are created equal,

    Of course lincoln thought it was only a “proposition”……
    “”and dedicated to the “PROPOSITION” that all men are created equal.””

  18. Michael says:

    You are right , you have written some sort of proposition in quotes… Your’s, not mine.

    You said:
    “What you describe is directly related to the abdication,even rejection, of fatherhood in our society.”, in response to our conversation about the increased protectiveness of our society. I paraphrased you, but it was by no means a misrepresentation of your proposition.

    Well, It could of course; and I’ll keep it in mind, should I decide to say something stupid at some point in the future!

    I’m beginning to suspect that you don’t have conscious control over the stupidity of the things you say.

    BTW, what is “self evident” in this “stupid” statement from a certain Preamble…..
    “”We hold these truths to be “SELF-EVIDENT”, that all men are created equal,

    It’s not actually self-evident, Jefferson just claimed that those signing the declaration held them to be self-evident for the purpose of the document. Many British at the time criticised the rebels for the use of that proposition, because they did not simultaneously abolish slavery in the colonies.

    Of course lincoln thought it was only a “proposition”……
    “”and dedicated to the “PROPOSITION” that all men are created equal.””

    Lincoln was, of course, technically correct.

  19. mq says:

    How times have changed….my husband was raised in NYC during the 60’s and 70’s (back when NYC was actually a dangerous place) and he was not only allowed but expected at a young age to ride the subway, catch a bus, or walk to get himself from point A to point B. That’s how he got to school, home from school, to grandma’s house, etc. Now I guess it’s a sin to expect kids to have the mental capacity to handle that. Or maybe it’s a sin to believe that 99.9% of people aren’t pedophiles or pervs who want to kidnap your kids. I can also remember taking planes by myself at age 9, and yes I did feel like quite the little grown-up 🙂

    Floyd, my mommy and daddy loved me very much. So much in fact that they realized I had the intellectual capacity to take care of myself on a 1 1/2 flight. I shudder to think what these kids nowadays are going to be like when they finally leave the bubble at 18 and have to take care of themselves. One thing’s for sure, they ain’t going to know how to read a subway schedule.

  20. hln says:

    I look back at my own childhood in a small town and am a bit sad my sons won’t experience anything like it.

    I had morning kindergarten, and with 3 kindergarten boys I walked the 3 or 4 blocks to one’s mother’s house to be watched for the afternoon. No adult supervision. Just 4 kids doing what they were told to do and getting there.

    At 8, I was home alone after school for a couple of hours until my parents returned from work. With chores to do, of course. And when I violated some non-related rule, that independence was taken away for a while – to the babysitter I went. Consequence learned – follow the rules, and you get independence.

    I can somewhat understand the masses’ concern about this woman’s decisions, but they are her decisions to make. Child abuse claims are obnoxious, but true and real concern isn’t. We live in a different world 30 years later than my little story. And our parents said the same thing and their parents before them. Likely our kids will too.

    And as a parent, I’ll have to figure out some way to give my kids proper independence while yet maintaining the illusion that mommy knows everything so quit trying to get away with naughtiness. My mom was the master of it; perhaps I can adapt.

  21. floyd says:

    Michael;
    Frustrating ain’t it? Well that’s what happens when someone as smart,polite,and magnanimous,as yourself attempts to pick an argument with someone stupid enough to respond.
    I doubt that you were looking for well thought analysis at any rate, since my original comment was in fact Self-evident to a non-sophist.

    I am in good company with the men who wrote the following and meant what they said, stupid or not!….

    “”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.””

  22. Mr. Grouchypants says:

    I found it interesting that she trusted her son to find his way home, but she didn’t trust him with a cell phone.

  23. RA says:

    It is illegal to leave a 10 year old home alone without a baby sitter. Yet she thinks its OK to leave a 9 year old alone in public.

    Your home is a lot safer than a subway. This woman must be a child hating feminist! I’ll bet she believes in abortion too.

  24. Mick Barker says:

    http://www.seacoastonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080406/NEWS/804060343/-1/NEWS01

    More nanny state behavior modifications that portray adults as abusers and potential felons.

    Slippery slope doesn’t seem to be just a category of fallacious debate.

    No smoking laws, seat belt laws, child safety laws all start out with a good concept, and over time, devolved into puritanical obsession with removing the slightest iota of risk without regard to personal preference, personal responsibility, or individual freedom.

    Welcome to social modification of Orwellian proportion. Progressives think they can handle making your life decisions better than you.