Archive for April, 2008

Worry & the American Spirit

I was reading my friend Ed Gilbreath’s blog and was intrigued by an article he wrote about. As I typed out my comments I realized that they were turning into a blog post, so I decided to just post it here.

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Lenore Skenazy equipped her 9-year-old son with a map, a subway card, and 20 bucks, then dropped him off at a New York department store to find his way home by himself. Skenazy goes into detail in her article in the NY Sun. Her actions were met with an array of criticism mixes with dashes of praise.

It is interesting how different parents parent in different ways. So often this is among ethnic and socioeconomic status. I am from a low/working class African-American family and I would say that I had a limited freedom growing up, but had more freedom than some of my white friends and much more freedom than my friends who were middle and upper/middle class. Annette Lareau wrote an interesting book, called Unequal Childhoods, about the differences in the family life of children and the different advantages and disadvantages.

I am not a parent, not even close at this point, so I am speaking as an observer not a participant. Overall it does seem like many are really over protected, they have this in case this happens, that in case that happens, but they usually can’t just be. Skenazy’s thoughts on the mater can be seen in this small piece of her website.

. . . Somehow, a whole lot of parents are just convinced that nothing outside the home is safe. At the same time, they’re also convinced that their children are helpless to fend for themselves. While most of these parents walked to school as kids, or hiked the woods — or even took public transportation — they can’t imagine their own offspring doing the same thing.

I actually think that this protectiveness may, sociologically, align itself with a deeper transformation in our culture. You usually (not always) see this height of protectiveness in suburban America; I think that that goes along with the greater suburban attitude. Since Levittown suburbia has been a place of escape, and urban flight was/is an example of families being protective (in some circumstances this makes since). This escapist and protective attitude perhaps has also shifted to the way families raise children.

Ironically, often suburbia creates a spatial isolation. The montra of escapism not only causes people to disconnect from the city (at one point), but also endangers forming connections in the suburbs (exponentially affected by the physical construct of suburbia –isolated yards, curvaceous roads, gated neighborhoods etc.). The connection with this isolation from ones physical community, and a protective escapism, I think, has caused parents to be extremely protective with their children. One the one hand parents may feel as if they are the only ones who can protect their children (isolationism) and subsequently parents may just be acting out internal protective attitudes (escapism).

The attitude of safety seems to permeate our culture, everyone is seeking to be safe, and intrinsically this is not negative, but what happens – I can speak from my own life – is that that since of safety trumps what I am supposed to be doing, God’s will, enjoyment and a peace in God. Saying this, for the Christian, concern based on wisdom is apart of a biblical precedent; but concern based on fear or fear that influences and thus confounds wisdom is detrimental.

Free Range Kids, it the website/blog set up by Lenore Skenazy. It is worth a look. Also check out the NBC segment.