Apparently, All of My Generation’s Parents Were Abusive

I’m utterly flummoxed by the overreaction to a working mother who let her daughter play at a heavily-used park while she worked, and was then arrested for abandoning her daughter (who was then transferred to the custody of child services). Commandante Atrios (boldface mine):

I really have no understanding of how social norms of parenting have changed so much. “Stranger danger” is hardly real. Car accidents and abuse by family members are real. Most 9-year-olds are perfectly capable of being on their own for some length of time without lighting themselves on fire. A playground filled with children and adults is not actually a dangerous place.

When I go back to the neighborhood where I spent some time growing up, I’m always struck by the fact that I never see any children outside, ever….But when I was a kid we’d wander around, ride our bikes, go into the “woods,” go down to the creek, play street hockey in the middle of the road, etc. This was all normal.

I would argue that turning the kids loose until dinner time (with instructions to not cause trouble–which typically meant serious injury or property damage) probably saved a marriage or two in my neighborhood. I think every parent in my neighborhood could have been arrested for ‘abandonment’ at one time or another. Hell, a huge fraction of Steven Spielberg movies could never happen today, because the kids wouldn’t be let out of their parents’ sight.

Maybe our parents did it wrong, but I think things have become a little crazy. And parents might enjoy not having the kids around all the time: they’ll still love you* in the years to come.

*Unless you’re an asshole, of course.

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7 Responses to Apparently, All of My Generation’s Parents Were Abusive

  1. delagar says:

    Yes. And I’d argue that a certain amount of separation from parents and other adults is necessary if children are going to learn how to form community. Running with other kids — without the supervision and interference of adults — teaches us how to interact and negotiate with our peers: how to govern ourselves and one another.

    Clearly, children also need the experience of mentored learning (scouts, sports, all that). But free range, on their own, governing their own lives — nothing replaces that.

    And yes, before (I would guess) 1980 or 1990 most of us had that life from about age eight or nine on.

  2. georgewiman says:

    When I was a kid, I was kind of a loner and spent a lot of time in hidden places. And in activities that actually were dangerous, like digging fossils out of the wall of an abandoned rock quarry near my home. But you know, video games hadn’t been invented yet.

  3. There were definitely laws during my (’70s) childhood specifying the age at which children could be left alone (my father had to look them up after my stay-at-home mother died). I don’t remember exactly what the limits were (I think you could leave a 10 or 11 year old alone, and a 12 or 13 year old could not only be left alone, but could supervise a younger child), but the definition of “alone” seems to have been pretty broad; playing somewhere in the neighborhood with a bunch of other kids, more or less locatable by a parent who remained at home via ringing a bell or looking in the expected places or whatever, didn’t count as “alone.” Whether a similar proximity to a parent’s place of work (which was the case in the current situation) would have counted, I’m not sure. I suspect the race, class, and gender of the parent, and the nature of the surrounding community, would have played a role (as it appears to have done today). There was also a lot more tolerance for kids managing transit (to school, to the neighborhood pool, to the library) on their own, though I think the pool and the library may have had age restrictions similar to the legal ones (mostly to keep librarians, and especially lifeguards, from becoming de facto babysitters). My vague sense is that people felt that kids who were old enough to be properly respectful of traffic were pretty safe in public (because the adults they would encounter were mostly helpful/friendly to neutral, and would serve as a buffer against the few potentially-dangerous adults), but there was some concern about leaving kids home alone, because they could endanger property (e.g. via a kitchen fire) as well as themselves.

    One other memory of that time: when invited to dinner at parishioners’ houses, our pastor and his wife used to show up in their VW van, with their young children asleep in the back. The kids would sleep in the van, parked in the driveway (or in the street) while the adults had dinner, and would knock on the door if they needed anything. This was considered mildly eccentric on the parents’ part (as was the van; this was a somewhat hippie-ish, at least in appearance, pastor), but by no means child endangerment. I’m pretty sure they didn’t do it during extreme cold weather (since it was a camper van, and this took place during the evening hours, and most of us didn’t have a/c anyway, the issue of heat didn’t really come up).

  4. Jay says:

    Agreed. My parents used to throw my brothers and I outside and lock the doors during summer. And we are fairly liberal with our kids – 4.5 and 1.5 years old – too; we live at the end of a cul de sac on a quiet street with the house at back a ways from the road. We have no problem letting the two of them run around the front lawn together and we can always keep an eye from any front window.

    One day, there was this car who came down the street, drove by slow, then turned around and came back and stopped at the end of our driveway. Since this was kind of weird, I came out of the house to see what they wanted – upon seeing me they rolled down a window and said “oh good, we were just worried no one was watching the kids.” Ridiculous!

  5. Dan Dykhuizen says:

    Margaret and I say bravo.

  6. jrkrideau says:

    I must agree with the overprotection. A couple of months ago I heard a ‘child care expert’ saying that one does need to let children have some independence. She also said that she was nervous about letting her 14 year old son take the subway alone in Toronto

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