Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Parenthood and Paranoia

Blokker on Parenthood and Paranoia On January 19, 2015, a strange item appeared on the Today Show. It seems that someone called the local police somewhere in Delaware to investigate two young children who were walking by themselves through the neighborhood. The police found the children and asked if they were lost. The older of the two, who is ten, told the officers that they were not lost, they were walking home. They do it all the time. The officers offered to take the children home in their car; reluctantly, the children agreed. As I understand it, once the police had delivered the children to their home, the police interrogated their father. Upon learning that this was a common practice for this family – letting the kids walk without supervision for short distances through their neighborhood – around the block, to and from school and the park – the police considered arresting the father for negligence. Social Services was brought in, and their agent threatened the father, demanding he sign an agreement that he not allow the kids out on the streets alone pending the investigation. He refused, wanting to consult with his wife and with an attorney, but the agent threatened to remove the children from the home. The parents were considered negligent. Hearing this, I thought: wait a minute! Are we that scared as a nation that we have accepted the certainty of harm to our children if we do not hover over them like helicopter parents? Is America that unsafe? If this is so, it is not these parents who should be investigated, it is our country. There is a deep and growing shame in our over-protectiveness to the point of paranoia. And who needs foreign grown terrorists to keep us afraid? The mother, on Today, pointed out that walking to school was much safer than being driven. Vehicle accidents are the number one cause of death for children in that age group in America, while abductions, though horrific, are extremely rare by comparison. And most car accidents happen within five miles of home, while walking is undeniably healthy. But this is a side point. The real issue here is the change in America that this story represents. Twenty years ago, our children were encouraged to walk or bike to school every day once old enough. In just twenty years, allowing children to do what our children – their parents – were free to do is now, at least in this instance, considered a crime. Freedoms are eroding quickly enough. To allow our fears to dictate repressive new attitudes adds fuel to an already burning fire. I do believe in an abundance of caution, but this story is ridiculous. H. L. Mencken once said, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the population alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” This story from Delaware serves to prove his point and underline my own growing fear that people in the United States have allowed their fears to rein them in. The story may be only symbolic. It may even be isolated. But the alarm bells are tolling, and they toll for thee.

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