Half-Assed Overparenting

Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer Is Much Faster, by Dave Barry – Barry’s latest book is a collection of essays all loosely related to the topic of happiness, although sometimes the connection is a stretch. He covers such topics as the World Cup, his trip to Russia with Ridley Pearson, driving in Florida, and Google Glass. One thing Barry is always good at is parodies of radio and television programs, and here he includes a bit about how cable news always manages to make everything sound dramatic without really saying or even knowing anything about it. He becomes a bit more sentimental writing a letter of advice for his grandson, and ponders that life might have been more fun for his parents than for the Baby Boomers.

When Barry recently appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher promoting this book, he and Maher discussed the last issue quite a bit. Now, if there’s something I know nothing about, it’s raising children. I don’t have any, and I don’t expect I ever will. I’ve just never been interested, and didn’t think I’d do a good job anyway. In a way, having children seems to me to be saying, “Well, I’ve done everything I can with my own life. Now I can concentrate on someone else.” I know most people don’t see it that way, and I suppose that’s good for the perpetuation of the species. But anyway, Maher and Barry pointed out that “parenting” only recently became a verb, and in some ways it appears that modern parents are making child-rearing much more difficult than it needs to be. I mean, every animal on Earth is capable of raising offspring, right? So it can’t be THAT hard.

In today’s media, you’re always hearing stories about how kids were taken into police custody because they walked two blocks home from the playground with no adult supervision. Obviously it’s important to protect kids, but you’d think from the parental omnipresence that’s touted these days that the world is a lot more dangerous than it used to be, and I don’t think that’s true. Now, don’t think I’m siding with the people who say, “We didn’t have seat belts growing up, and we turned out all right!” Well, yeah, YOU did, but what about all the other people who didn’t? But that’s not quite the same anyway, as that’s more to do with safety standards and scientific development than with people’s attitudes. And there are some things that are common nowadays that seem weird to me, like not letting kids have peanuts or making school-age children sit in car seats, but they probably are implemented with people’s actual health and safety in mind. I’m not sure why that means everyone who definitely ISN’T allergic to peanuts can’t eat them, though, unless they’re all planning on kissing the kid who is. I guess the privacy issue is important to me because I was always someone spent a lot of time alone, and not because I was up to anything bad.

On the other hand, I sometimes come across people complaining that kids never play outside anymore, and instead are always just staring at their phones and tablets. Maybe kids are playing outside less BECAUSE of incidents like the cops picking up children who are alone at the playground? And we can’t forget about the parents who enroll their kids in a slew of extracurricular activities, some of which do take place outside, but which encourage following rules over imagination and individuality.

Not to mention that, if your kid is just sitting around all day, you don’t have to do anywhere near as much work to stop them from getting into trouble. And if you’re worried about the kids on their iPods not having social lives, well, some of us didn’t get along with the other children AND didn’t have the Internet. It’s a good way for people who are nervous about face-to-face communication to socialize with others. That’s not to say you shouldn’t play outside, because being cooped up in the house except when you go to school isn’t that good for the constitution. And I still see children playing outside, although I guess I can’t tell you the statistics.

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2 Responses to Half-Assed Overparenting

  1. Yeah, that’s about right. To save my sanity I long ago decided not to put too much stock into what anyone else says about the “right” way to parent, because diving into that minefield when I became a mom was just… yeah. We’ve just this spring started allowing our 8 and 6 year old to go to the playground across the street alone as long as they stick together, and that’s been fine– the biggest incident happened just today, when M managed to get herself stuck in a baby swing so S just ran back here to get me to go help her. It’s sad that they’re probably in more danger from busybodies calling CPS than from whatever the busybodies are worried about.

    In contrast, once a week I do library outreach at The Projects just a few blocks on the other side of the park. The kids in that neighborhood are ALWAYS outside, swarming together, big kids looking out for little kids, grown ups keeping an eye on everyone as they go abouto their own business, very Takes a Village child-rearing. I’m kind of amazed at the difference in culture just a few blocks over where all the middle class kids hide inside with the exception of my own kids. But dear lord, do my kids need that time outside.

    • Nathan says:

      It does seem like this is very much a middle-class kind of thing, which is weird as those kids are probably not in as much danger as poor kids as a general rule. I also get the impression that poorer areas tend to use libraries as free day care.

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