There was an interesting Opinion page piece in a recent edition of The New York Times. The piece’s author, Mrs. Kimberly Brooks, recounts a harrowing event in which she was under criminal investigation for basically leaving her child in a car during a cool and cloudy day while she ran into a small store.
Through her story, Mrs. Brooks deducts that, “We now live in a country where it seen as abnormal, or even, criminal, to allow children to be away from direct adult supervision, even for a second.” She argues that statistically speaking, it’s more likely that children will die in a car from being in an accident than being in a car that is simply parked. Given this statistical revelation, perhaps we should just ban kids from cars altogether?
Okay, I am joking.
But Mrs. Brooks is on to something.
Somewhere along the line, we have created a society where we want our kids to be safe rather than strong.
Throughout the late 1990s, we were bombarded with stories of children being in dangerous situations. JonBenét Ramsey was killed in her own home in 1996. The Columbine school massacre occurred in 1999. Add these events to other cultural icons such as television shows such as “America’s Most Wanted” and the faces of missing children plastered at Wal-Mart and milk cartons, the world was perceived as a dangerous place for children.
And as the danger was seen to spread, we covered children in safety.
Those kids that were born and had their formative years during these events are now the tender age of 19-22. These are kids that are either graduating high school or they are graduating from college and entering adulthood.
So how are the kids these days? Well, to hear some reports, things are not going well.
The academic world has become a haven for the “safe space” — physical places where students can retreat from a world that is just too much for them. Sometimes there are puppies and kitties involved.
Some professors are encouraged to give “trigger warnings,” which is basically telling students that controversial content is going to be discussed and it might make you uncomfortable.
As these students are graduating and entering the world of the workforce, things aren’t fairing much better. Recent research from Michigan State University reported in Forbes magazine found that 31 percent of employers received resumes from the parents of potential hires, 9 percent of parents tried to negotiate their child’s salary, 4 percent of parents actually sat in on the interview.
With parental involvement trying to develop safety for their children. Do we think this process will stop after getting the first job? I tend to believe no. The relationship between parents and children are evolving to the point where parents will play a more integral role in their children’s lives no matter what the age.
The consequences of these actions are far and wide. Our desire of safety over strength has now made safety a social norm. There are well documented stories of parents, particularly mothers, being criminally charged for having “abandoned” their children in an unsupervised environment.
I remember as a kid, I can’t recall how many times I was told to get out of the house by my mother. When I was 10 years old, I had a paper route for this fine paper. I can only imagine the societal reaction to having a 10-year-old boy visit upwards of 30 houses per day and on the weekends walk the streets with a considerable amount of cash. Yesterday’s lesson of responsibility becomes today’s case of child endangerment.
Perhaps things have gone just a bit too far. We can’t expect to have fully functioning adults if we don’t give children opportunities to explore and interact with their world. Will there be times when they won’t be completely safe? Yes. Will they live to tell about it? Yes.
Children need and yearn for occasional opportunities to be in unstructured and unsupervised environments. They need to know that they have what it takes to negotiate this world and with the people in it. Otherwise, we are left with a world that is filled with fearful and timid people. No one benefits from that.
William “Bill” Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.