Protecting children too much

Thanks to the relentless scare-mongering by our news media, parents nowadays are terrified that their children will suffer harm, either due to accidents or at the hands of strangers. This has led to them placing very strict limits on their children, to the extent of some never letting them out of their sight, not having play dates with other children, or letting them have sleep overs at friends homes, riding bikes, and so on.

Some parents, like those who let their children walk home from a playground and discovered that someone had reported to the police seeing unaccompanied children and had police pick them up, now find themselves investigated for negligence. Hanna Rosin writes about this and other cases of over-reaction.

Lenore Skenazy, who achieved some notoriety and the label of ‘America’s Worst Mom’ after she allowed her 9-year old son to travel alone on the New York City subway, has now started a show to help wean people out of being helicopter parents, always hovering over her children.

But one family seemed to have carried their fears to an extreme. They were concerned that their 6-year son was too nice and trusting of people and to persuade him otherwise, they got a friend to kidnap him on the street, tie him up, put a bag over his head, hold him in a basement, and frighten him with horrible stories of what was going to happen to him.

To be sure, every parent’s nightmare is to have their child be abducted by a stranger, but that is a very rare occurrence. And to be honest, we were quite protective parents too, not giving our children anywhere near the level of freedom I had when I was their age. Partly this was due to being immigrants and not being sure of the local norms. So I can understand and sympathize with those who worry when their children are out of sight in public places

But when parents are so concerned that they are willing to traumatize their children to make them mistrustful and fearful, we need to think about whether we have gone too far in emphasizing the dangers that society poses.


  1. says

    Well, it seems to me that the people the 6 year old shouldn’t have trusted are his parents, because they are horrible people. I hope he can be placed in a nice family who will help him overcome the trauma.
    In general, I don’t know what I find more frightening: overprotective parents who hover over their children or authorities willing to prosecute those parents who don’t.
    Also, people, please don’t teach children “stranger danger”. Their idea of “stranger” is fundamentally different than yours, so the guy who introduces himself as Joe and tells them that his dog just had a litter and they can pick a puppie does not count as “stranger” to them. Congratulations, you taught them he’s safe.

  2. Anne Fenwick says

    That was such a horrible story. It would be so good if people would start talking about the differences between actual and perceived safety.

    My experiences have been quite interesting. I love my new, urban, multi-cultural area, but I find people of all ethnicities have quite a high suspicion level where their children are concerned. Maybe outside their own groups? And to be fair, you can overcome it, but you have to put in the work. And I’ve heard that within groups is a good place for shitty people to hide. As usual, it isn’t strangers who are the biggest problem.

    Before that, I was in an area where I was mixed up with a group of ex-pats and immigrants who gave each other automatic trust. Out of necessity? Deserved or not deserved? I don’t know. Anyhow, in terms of trustworthiness, the people in both areas seem about the same on average.

  3. Katydid says

    I grew up a free-range kid. At 9 in the mid-1970s, I started my own summer daycare business in my parents’ carport and made a hefty hunk of money because the stay-at-home moms in my neighborhood couldn’t stand the thought of actually spending time with their children. I took “my kids” to the beach all by myself, with no adults in sight, for days of swimming at a lifeguard-less ocean. In college I worked at a sleep-away camp where parents entrusted their children to complete strangers for weeks at a time.

    Then I grew up, got married, and had my own children. My suburban neighborhood was filled with parents who were terrified to let their children out of the house, even though there had never been a problem. My kids were the ones drawing on the driveway with chalk and playing kickball in the cul-de-sac and roller-skating up and down the sidewalk while the other kids looked out the windows. I was “that neglectful parent” because I wasn’t holding their hands every moment of the day.

  4. DsylexicHippo says

    My wife and, although I find it excessive, myself by extension, are such parents. No sleepovers, no unsupervised play outside in the yard etc. It does not help that she works in risk management in the insurance industry and deals with all sorts of “negative” stats involving horrific events (some of them involving children) leading to massive payouts or even bankruptcy of companies. I drop off and pickup my daughter from school because, don’t you know, there are pedophiles driving school buses.

  5. brucegee1962 says

    It’s worth pointing out, though, that there are anti-vaxxers who use the exact same argument about measles — it’s only a handful of cases, mostly localized, with very low mortality (.25% last I heard) and the media is freaking out as if it was Ebola.

    I don’t agree with them, but it’s worth noting that it becomes easier and easier to ignore the drum when the media beats it night and day about everything.

  6. Jackie the social justice WIZZARD!!! says

    This is an extension of rape culture. Like women, children must be kept contained and controlled for their own good. We aren’t afraid of cars or bullies. We’re afraid of child rapists and murders.

    Our streets are considered safe enough when only men feel safe to walk them alone. Our public transportation is considered safe enough when men aren’t being sexually assaulted or at risk for abduction or murder.

    When are society is dangerous for women and children it is considered normal and women and children are expected to plan their lives around that danger.

    I try to let my kids have some of the freedom I had as a kid. I do it knowing that if the shadowy man in a white van does decide to hurt my kids, I will be blamed for not keeping them on lock down.

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