Kids, On Their Own, and Loving It

A mom in New York left her 9 year old son at Bloomingdales. On purpose.

He had begged her for weeks to let him try to figure out how to get home from somewhere. So she finally gave in, and gave him “a subway map, a MetroCard, a $20 bill, and several quarters, just in case he had to make a call”.

So what happened?

Long story short: My son got home, ecstatic with independence.

Long story longer, and analyzed, to boot: Half the people I’ve told this episode to now want to turn me in for child abuse. As if keeping kids under lock and key and helmet and cell phone and nanny and surveillance is the right way to rear kids. It’s not. It’s debilitating — for us and for them.

Coolest. Mom. Ever.

I did things like this when I was even younger than nine. Not quite on that scale, but I did live in an urban setting (Evanston, Illinois) and rode the El train by myself on occasion. I wasn’t scared; on the contrary, it was exhilarating. It was an adventure, and boys live for adventure. Some girls too, I imagine. But for boys it is an essential part of who they are.

This is hardly news, but parents today have been brainwashed into believing that we live in a dangerous society where the risk of abductions is much, much higher than it really is. And what that risk really is? Approaching zero.

And the cause of this unfounded fear is too much exposure to a media that is in the business of creating drama and celebrating crisis. This world view can safely be ignored.

Of course there are risks to be prepared for — like learning to swim to prevent drowning, and learning to cross streets and ride bikes safely. But risk is part of living life; it isn’t possible, or advisable, to eliminate all risk from our lives, or our kids lives. And living your life in fear, to avoid risks that don’t really exist, is putting unnatural shackles on yourself and your kids.

Part of growing up is learning to be independent, which requires doing things on your own. Parents aren’t doing them any favors when they use nonexistent risk to prevent their kids from accepting the challenges that their development requires, and that their kids crave.

My $.02, anyway.

  1. CGHill said:

    Good show. The kid gets a serious (and deserved!) boost in his self-confidence, Mom comes off as cool, and the minions of the Nanny State look exactly as foolish as you’d expect them to look.

  2. I thought more about this later, and I realized that it might look like I’m condoning such an adventure for any kid at age 9, but I’m not. Some kids, it would be better to wait until they were 10-12 before turning them loose in a similar situation. And who knows, maybe this kid was extra-prepared for such an event, moreso than most.

    But the general point remains: kids today are over-protected by parents in far too many cases. And I have a strong feeling that nearly all of us over-45 types agree, and especially, the men.

    Nobody ever asks: what are the costs for denying our kids these experiences? And are those costs worth it? I have my own ideas, but too often, we don’t even pause to ask the questions.