The Kids Are All Right
Illustration by Kristina Micotti
A few weeks ago, America reached a new level of ridiculousness when a couple in Maryland were investigated for neglect of their 10- and six-year-old children after letting their kids walk home from a park unaccompanied. This followed the story from the summer of a fast-food worker who was arrested for letting her nine-year-old play with dozens of other kids at a nearby park while she worked.
In both cases, it was another parent who alerted authorities to the “neglect” these children were enduring—or, as anyone in my generation would have called these very same acts, “walking home from the park” and “playing at the park.”
Seriously. When we were kids, we’d leave the house in the morning on our bikes and return when the streetlights came on, without a lick of adult supervision (or knowledge of our specific whereabouts) for 10 hours at a time. Today, I’m resigned to the probability that my kids won’t get that same rush of independence I had on my first solo public bus ride at age eight. They won’t, as I did, board a Greyhound to Anaheim with pals at age 12 to get picked up by relatives, then dropped at Disneyland to roam free until it closed.
“The world is a different place,” people always say. But actually, it isn’t all that different, except that it is somewhat safer than it used to be. (It’s true! Google it!) We are a different people. We’re fearful, judgmental, and fearful of being judged.
Truth be told, I’d gladly put my kids on the train to be met by their grandparents in Orange County. It would be a great experience for them and an opportunity to acquire life skills they’ll need when they go off to college at MIT and Georgetown. (NO PRESSURE, KIDS! BERKELEY AND NYU ARE FINE TOO!)
But I wouldn’t—not because it’s unsafe, but because there’s no parental solidarity like our folks enjoyed when we were kids. In those days, parents stuck together; they were on the same team. When an adult got up in a kid’s business, it was more likely in support of his parents rather than in judgment of them. If anything, adults might have kept an eye out for a kid traveling alone and helped out if necessary. More likely, they’d just leave him alone. And kids were expected to answer for their actions. If they were playing with fireworks or drinking beer in the canyon they had stolen from the fridge, they were considered culprits of bad behavior, not victims of parents’ inattention.
The direction we’re going right now is robbing kids of so many of the things they need to be competent, responsible, and accountable when they grow up. It’s time for all of us to back off and let our kids be kids—or mark my words, we’ll be lucky if they learn to hitchhike by the time we send them off to college.