Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Mom, what's a chaperone?

So, the other day or week or whatever, a piece in The Atlantic started doing its viral thing, thus popping up in my Facebook news feed. It's called "The Overprotected Kid," and it details a lot of incredibly obvious stuff, like how kids need to play outside and discover things on their own and not always have parents breathing down their necks. It talks about how it's actually good for kids to not know how they're going to get out of a predicament, and then to get out of that predicament, because that's called growth. But we have reached the point, chronologically, where we now have college kids who have never had to get themselves out of predicaments, and I really wish that the college professors would stop capitulating to their whining. (I should rephrase: I wish they had never started. I wish not a single solitary grade had EVER been changed. Ever. Because: consequences, people!)

One of the interesting lines in the article was that kids are growing up now with the assumption that they are always being watched, and therein lies the problem. Now, of course the parents today offer up lots of good reasons to always be watching their and other kids, chief among them because otherwise the kids are going to be kidnapped. As the Atlantic author points out, child abduction by strangers is as uncommon as it ever was, and it seems to me that basing your entire life around those odds is kind of like doing your monthly budget with the assumption that you are you going to win the lottery. Yeah, you might (especially if you play), but it really has no practical purpose in your plans. Most missing children are either abducted by someone they know, which is often a parent, or they are runaways. And let's not forget that independent teenagers and adults can also be stranger abducted, as horrible cases like the recent one in Ohio remind us (and as Criminal Minds likes to remind us also--why doesn't that create some abduction-of-adults paranoia to accompany the abduction-of-kids paranoia?)

Obviously, I think children should be prepared, as I was, for what to do in "stranger danger" situations. Sometimes you should  talk to strangers, politely, especially in places of business. If it's not one of those times, you should not be afraid to scream, make noise, run away, etc. And no, I'm not advocating for kids to be alone outside all the time --by all means, walk to school with friends, have curfews, keep in touch, come in before the streetlights go on, let your parents know where you are, and all the rest -- but my god, my nephew is ten-and-a-half years old and he is still not allowed to do anything by himself, or even, say, walk through the neighborhood with his eight-year-old sister but no parents to my dad's (their grandpa) house, which is less than half a mile away. I think I was babysitting other people's toddlers when I was ten-and-a-half. I walked to/from school without adults (with friends) from age seven or so. I've seen the car pick-up line at my nephieces' school. It hurts my brain. (This is also due in part to the reconfiguring of gifted education in that school district, making it a magnet program at only one school that necessitates driving longer, non-walk/non-bicycle distances for all the families who live in the zone of other elementary schools but have to schlepp their kids to the one gifted magnet school, and that's annoying and horrible for lots of other reasons too, but also my nephew could not walk the less than half a mile through the residential streets home from elementary school in second grade when he still attended in their very own neighborhood. Is second grade too young? Not with a friend, I'd say, and I daresay that's a good grade to start the whole Mom-walks-to-the-end-of-our-street-then-watches-you-go-down-the-street-toward-school thing even if the kid is alone, but I don't daresay that to my sister, because then we just have a big fight, because I'm not allowed to talk about parenting until I have my own kids or maybe not even then, although my sister herself admits she is "highly paranoid" -- her words, not mine)

OK, that parenthetical bit was so long you probably even forgot we were in parentheses, eh?

The point is: watching. A day or two after seeing some parental friend types post and ruminate about that piece ("Why can't I just send my kids outside to play?" mused the attachment parents, with the obvious implications just hanging there in cyberspace), I was typing something in a Facebook post or comment and it red-squiggly-underlined the word "chaperone" and I was struck. Aghast, I thought, 'My god, is this what it's come to??? We don't even use the word chaperone anymore in this modern/attachment/helicopter parent 21st-century?? Because kids are always being watched so they wouldn't even know what a chaperone is, because there's just always an adult there?!??!! There is no distinction!' Then I realized that the Facebook/Google/Blogger/internet spell-checking overlords apparently prefer the alternative spelling "chaperon" that I think looks incomplete and that I have never before this sentence used in my life.

But I was a little worried for a minute there.

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