My parents were and still are the most important people in my world. But they did leave my brother and me alone at home, without a nanny or a babysitter, while they went dancing at clubs ten years ago. If something like that were to happen today, my parents might be reported to Child Protective Services and convicted of negligence. Today, children are considered fragile, weak things that parents should coddle and smother with too much attention. Children are not only spoiled but also suffocated.
In his book, “Paranoid Parenting,” sociologist Frank Furedi noted that in 1971, about eight in ten children were allowed to walk to school alone. When his book was published in 2002, the number had dropped to less than one in ten children. That’s probably due to recent changing in parenting habits. In recent years, there has been an upward spike in the cult of paranoid parenting. Parents are undoubtedly feeling the heat – none of them want to seem incompetent. They don’t want to be at fault if their child contracts skin cancer from frolicking in the sun for 20 minutes or falls from the balcony of another child’s house while at a play date.
Besides the negative effect this phase has on children, it is taxing parents financially. Entrepreneurs have long understood and taken advantage of parents’ trend of fear and they’re bringing in big bucks as a result. A visit to a bookstore or some surfing on the Internet provides the evidence. There are a myriad of parenting guidebooks, manuals, kits and, to my utmost horror, a website that sells products like child locators, detoxification products and scout survival kits. The online store is aptly called the Paranoid Parent Stop Worrying Shop. And while parents’ intentions are good at heart, this kind of overprotective, overbearing fussing actually has a negative impact.
All the mollycoddling leads to an excessively dependent child. Parents are robbing children out of a crucial learning period in their lives with stringent rules, excessive attention and a rigid lifestyle. These are the kind of children who spend their lives being told what to wear, how much sugar to put in coffee (if they’re allowed caffeine, that is) and when to study.
When children aren’t expected to learn things for themselves, they lose valuable skills they will need to survive once they’re on their own. Once children are away from their parents – like at college, for example – they won’t have someone sitting with them while they study or bringing them cookies and milk as they burn the midnight oil. If children need to fail to learn, they should be allowed to fail.
Admittedly, as a 20 year-old, I am no expert on how to raise a child. But I have confidence in the way my parents did it. It did not include guidebooks of any sort. When considering my upbringing, one word comes to mind: values. I’m talking about values like respect, kindness and bravery. These are, by far, the most valuable things a parent can teach a child. It’s not as easy as simply looking something up in a guidebook, but it’s much more effective. Values keep children safe and on track and also teach them to do things independently. When parents teach values. They don’t tell their children what to think. They tell them how to think. That makes all the difference.
My father taught me to ride a bicycle without training wheels when I was four years old. My brother and I ate a lot of ice cream. Despite that, we turned out all right. So, parents: throw out those guidebooks and chill a little.
Sutha K Kanagasingam is an LSA junior.