Neil Remington Abramson drew to my attention a New York Times opinion piece by Ross Douthat, “Forcing every mom and dad to be a helicopter parent”. Some of the concerns expressed by Ross Douthat:
But the pattern — a “criminalization of parenthood”, in the words of The Washington Post’s Radley Balko — still looks slightly nightmarish, and there are forces at work here that we should recognize, name and resist.
First is the upper-class, competition-driven vision of childhood as a rigorously supervised period in which unattended play is abnormal, risky, weird. This perspective hasn’t just led to “the erosion of child culture,” to borrow a quote from Hanna Rosin’s depressing Atlantic essay on “The Overprotected Kid”; it has encouraged bystanders and public servants to regard a deviation from constant supervision as a sign of parental neglect.
Second is the disproportionate anxiety over child safety, fed by media coverage of every abduction, every murdered child, every tragic “hot car” death. Such horrors are real, of course, but the danger is wildly overstated: Crime rates are down, abductions and car deaths are both rare, and most of the parents leaving children (especially non-infants) in cars briefly or letting them roam a little are behaving perfectly responsibly.
Third is an erosion of community and social trust, which has made ordinary neighborliness seem somehow unnatural or archaic, and given us instead what Gracy Olmstead’s article in The American Conservative dubs the “bad Samaritan” phenomenon — the passer-by who passes the buck to law enforcement as expeditiously as possible. (Technology accentuates this problem: Why speak to a parent when you can just snap a smartphone picture for the cops?)
And then finally there’s a policy element — the way these trends interact not only with the rise of single parenthood, but also with a welfare system whose work requirements can put a single mother behind a fast-food counter while her kid is out of school.
Neil commented as follows (reproduced with permission):
I wonder if the rising rates of twenty-somethings still living at home is related to the overprotection of these “children” throughout their lives? If your parents constantly monitor your safety, when do you learn to take care of yourself? And if your hand is hand is held entirely while growing up, do you even know how to let it go and walk for yourself? Would you ever even want to let go of the hand you’d always held, and that had always held you up?
My mother, Jane Remington, stayed at home to safeguard me until I was 10, having worked between 1953 and 1958, until I was five. During those early years, she was a senior market researcher at the McCann Erickson advertising agency, in New York City, and was offered a vice-presidency of a European subsidiary of McCann Erickson, if she remained single. She was a widow, as of 1954, following the murder of my father, William Walter Remington, in prison.
So I had five years of “safety”, between 5 and 10.
I was in nursery school in New York City from the age of 1.5, with a nanny to come home to at the end of the day, while my mother laboured into the evening with McCann Erickson. In keeping with the times, a black nanny. The nanny was employed just in the late afternoon, so there’d be someone home with me. She’d plunk me down in front of the TV. New York City had TV earlier than most places.
When I was 5, my mother remarried and left McCann Erickson. We moved to State College, Pennsylvania, to be with my stepfather. My stepfather, Ed Abramson, was an Associate Professor of Sociology at Penn State. He was 41, and had been an academic at Penn State for 17 years, at that point.
At State College, I had a little red bicycle and I was allowed to ride freely around my neighbourhood and the surrounding countryside. So having a stay home mother after that was a bit superfluous, I guess.
We moved to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, after a year at State College. In Saskatoon at age 6, despite a mom-at-home, I had a blue bicycle and the freedom to go here and there on it. I went to and from school (several blocks) without supervision, even when it was really cold in winter. So did virtually all of the children in the neighbourhood. In summer, we boys in the neighbourhood used to explore new construction sites, exploring half-finished houses, plus make war on each other with thrown dirt lumps, rocks, and pellet guns. I wonder if my mom knew? No one called the cops! I guess it was normal, including no injuries.
And yet I came out OK. I was an entrepreneur-oriented businessperson for 10 years. Now I am a business professor, and have been for 22 years. I wonder how much better (or worse) I might have done, had my mom been holding my hand the whole time?
If grown kids can’t find jobs, homes, careers, and spouses–ll the things we did because we were expected to, how much of that is the result of overprotection? Parents now have ease of mind, since how can they be blamed for any negative outcome, after being so protective?
Helicopter outcome. No responsibility for collateral damage.