meaningofstrife

Seeing the best in life's challenges

The War on Childhood

on November 22, 2011

Here’s the link to the article by Lenore Skenazy:  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203699404577046133082764746.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

Lenore Skenazy is one of my heroes.  She wrote the book Free Range Kids, and I have a link to her blog to the right.

This article, in the Wall Street Journal, should be totally shocking, for the simple reason that we are so used to this mindset, we don’t think a thing of it.

Anyone who knows me, knows my 10-yr old has been taking the public bus to school for the past 4 years.  Yeah, the computer teacher was always there too, up until last year.  Now, she takes it by herself, although there are usually some high schoolers on there, too.  She knows most of the adults on the bus, since they are regulars who are headed off to work.  We see them occasionally, and she’ll say, “oh, that guy rides my bus.”

She has had “practice” in how to react when things go wrong (the bus broke down once, and they had to wait for the next one);  how to avoid someone acting weird (ok, it happens, and she knows just to stay away or sit close to the bus driver); and what to do if the bus doesn’t show (“I’d just take the 7:25” said in a very matter-of-fact manner.)

We just had her parent-teacher conference this morning.  Everyone raves about her.  She is so self-sufficient, confident, takes charge.  Very self-aware.  She’s amazing.

Hmm….DO YA THINK THERE MIGHT BE SOME CONNECTION HERE??

Look, I understand the kid was born with a take-charge personality, and not every kid is ready for these things at the same time.  But the idea of someone telling me she would not be capable of doing certain things just because of her age….oooh, that gets me worked up.

In case you can’t get to Lenore’s article, here it is:

By LENORE SKENAZY

Ten is the new two. We live in a society that insists on infantilizing our children, treating them as helpless babies who can’t do a thing safely or successfully without an adult hovering nearby.

Consider the schools around the country that no longer allow kids to be dropped off at the bus stop unless there’s a guardian waiting to walk them home—even if home is two doors down.

Or how about all the libraries I’m hearing about that forbid children under age eight or 10 or 12 to be there without an adult—including in the children’s room? God forbid a kid wants to spend the afternoon reading books by herself.

Over in Europe (where I guess they’ve got nothing else to worry about), the European Union just ruled that children under age eight should always be supervised when . . . wait for it . . . blowing up a balloon. It’s just too darn dangerous. A child could choke! And those little whistle things that uncurl when you blow into them? Those have been classified “unsuitable” for children under age 14. (And somehow they’re suitable for kids above 14?)

The point is: Children are not being allowed to grow up and do the normal things we did as kids, out of the fear that, just maybe, something bad could happen. As if all the good things that happen—from exercise to independence to the joy of blowing up a balloon—don’t matter at all. All that matters is the possibility of risk.

When that’s your focus, nothing seems safe enough, which is why park districts are removing merry-go-rounds (kids could fall off!). A New Jersey day-care owner I spoke with was ordered to saw off all tree branches on her property that were lower than eight feet off the ground. Why? Because kids could run into them. They might even (I shudder to write this) climb them.

Which brings us to the latest casualty in this war on childhood: Train travel. As of Nov. 1, Amtrak raised its unaccompanied minor age from eight to 13. Whereas last month your third grader could get on the train, give the conductor a ticket, and proudly ride to the station where grandma (or, more likely, your ex) was waiting, now you and your kid have to wait another five years. Thirteen is the new eight.

This might make some sense if Amtrak had been experiencing a rash of child kidnappings, or pre-teens gone wild, but that is not the case at all. The government-subsidized train service announced it was making the change “not in response to any incidents,” but rather out of “an abundance of concern . . .”

So Amtrak did this for no good reason? That’s an impressive management style: Change your whole policy because, uh . . . well . . . everyone else is treating kids like babies, so why not follow the crowd?

As for Amtrak’s “abundance of concern,” it doesn’t seem quite abundant enough to cover all the parents who can’t afford an extra ticket, or time off work, but who trust their tweens to get from point A to point B, as generations of kids have done—and still do.

In Japan there is a special fare for unaccompanied minors under age six. The Japanese believe their kids can function independently. But over here, even when Amtrak does allow minors to travel on their own, look at the rules it imposes: 13 to 15 year olds must wear a special wrist band identifying them as youngsters. They cannot travel after 9:05 p.m. They cannot get off at an unmanned station. An adult must be at both ends to sign them in and drop them off.

Why not just put them in a crate with a chew toy and be done with it?

There is one more requirement for teens traveling on Amtrak alone. They also must be “interviewed by station personnel to determine if the child is capable of traveling alone.” So here’s an idea: Do away with the age restrictions and go with a basic interview for all the minors who want to travel solo. If they can tell you where they’re going, how they’ll know when to get off, and what they plan to do for supper, let them ride the rails.

There’s a difference between minors and babies. But if we never let the babies grow up and have some adventures on their own, they could end up as befuddled as Amtrak officials.

Ms. Skenazy is a public speaker and founder of FreeRangeKids.com.


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