Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Wrong Dangers?

Just read a great piece about Protecting Our Kids From the Wrong Dangers, in the NY Times by Lisa Belkin. Here's a taste:
If history is any guide, we seem to veer between overreaction and underreaction — all while defining our own response as “moderate.” There is an inherent hypocrisy in our attempts to control our odds — putting the organic veggies (there is no actual data proving that organic foods increase longevity) in the trunk of our car (researchers tell us there is “evidence” but not “proof” that car emissions accelerate heart disease), then checking our e-mail on our cellphone at the next red light (2,600 traffic deaths a year are caused by drivers using cellphones, according to a Harvard study).
As a wired-to-be-neurotic mother with fully paranoid parents and one worrywart kid, I find this subject really fascinating. In reading the piece, I was reminded of a part of a book called Freeing Your Child From Anxiety by Tamar Chansky, which mentions an important thing to keep in mind when battling worry is this: just because something is really terrible to imagine doesn't mean it is likely to happen. Pretty obvious, I know, but when we start to imagine something awful, we get so sidetracked by what a terrible thing it would be, that we forget to consider that facts say its pretty improbable.

Everyone, especially modern parents, needs a gentle realignment in perspective sometimes. I know I need to be talked down from the ledge of overbearing, oversheltering, overparenting parenthood pretty frequently. I am, without a doubt, what people inclined to use labels would call a helicopter mom: its just in my genes, for better or worse. My parents called the cops no less than four times during my high school career, whenever I was more than an hour late coming home after school (making out with the b-friend, every time, so there). I come from a long line of mothers who don't even make an attempt to control the crazy and who think "smothering" is a positive parenting term. So hovering is a major improvement.

But let me just say that it annoys me to no end that we've grown accustomed to using terms like "helicopter mom" and "free-range kids." I get where Lenore Skenazy is coming from, and I think its beyond ridiculous that she got letters accusing her of child abuse for letting her kid take the subway solo (though if my grandmother could write in English, I'm pretty sure one of those would be from her), but the idea of intentionally starting a parenting "movement" with manifesto-type language aggravates me. We're all doing the best we can, in a world that's scary and in which we feel, and are, pretty powerless.

Plus, I often find myself at the playground having to contend with the kids of "free-range" moms who are letting the little ones develop independence, at my expense: I'm stopping them from throwing sand in other kids' faces, and watching them do tricks on the rings over and over again while my own kids get mad at me for not paying attention. So, my word to the wise is this: before you crown your kids free-range, make sure they're not going to wreak havoc.

But I digress. Give the article a read. Tell me what you think.