Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Over Protection vs. Independence? A debate.

(Posted by Josh)

Who's better prepared to survive in the urban jungle?!

I was sitting down to breakfast reading my copy of the Globe and Mail when I saw this article. Hmmm.

Lenore Skenazy offered her 9-year-old child a transit pass, some cash and a subway map and asked him to travel from Bloomingdale’s to their home.

I recalled my own experience. When did I get my first taste of freedom where I could walk out the front door alone or simply come home from school unescorted? I settled on Grade six or roughly 13 years of age. The gentlemen in cyberspace might say that my freedom lasted six months, the time between leaving my parents' home and being a bachelor before marrying Mere d’erable (Mother Maple). But I digress.

At 13, I could ditch using the door-to-door school bus service and take the Toronto Transit Commission (or TTC) home with some of my buddies who were rebels in their own right. At 13, I could go to the movies with my friends or go to swim lessons at the “Y”. The one condition my parents had was that the weather be warm, I told them precisely where I was going, where I could be reached and when I would be home. Generally speaking, I would go to places that were safe for kids and after a movie or swim lessons, I would call them if I were to crash at a friend’s place to play Colecovision (really, really, REALLY old version of Wii). It seemed all so simple. If I could not produce the requisite phone numbers, names and places, then I could not go there.

As an example, way back in grade two when I first met my long time school chum Terry Bradford (pseudonym) and went over to his house, I did not know his last name and heard it as “Bedford”. My dad looked him up in the phonebook, and said “there is no Bedford in the phone book at that address …come home”. We lived a few doors away so coming home meant a two minute walk. That might seem a bit anal, but once my parents and his parents met at a Victoria Day party, names and addresses were exchanged and everything was cool.

I am torn between parents who metaphorically throw their children into shark-infested waters to teach them to swim, and the other side of the house, post baby-boom parents who themselves grew up with lead paint, peanut butter, cars without car-seats, bikes without helmets, sleds used on snow, lawn darts…the list is endless, but treat their kids as gently as Wedgewood china.

Are the post baby boom generation compensating for their parents’ multiple trips to the “Museum of Fire and Knives”? Are they stressed by the lack of “Mister Yuk” stickers in their kitchen?

Can you really get pneumonia if you do not wear three woolly sweaters in July?

When I was a kid, I went to the fridge for milk and the big kitchen closet that contained the Cheerios, I did not look under the sink. Why? Because I saw where the food came from and it was not from under the sink or in the laundry room. My parents put dangerous materials in closets that were way out of reach for me and without a stepladder, way out of reach for my 5’4” mother. Simple.

How people born in the 1960’s and 1970s survived seems miraculous. I think parents have forgotten that one can be careful without being Ned Flanders. Conversely one can enjoy life and be responsible parents without being Homer Simpson.

I am curious to know what side of the house people are on. Are you Ned Flanders or Homer Simpson?

As far as the article, would I send a nine-year old onto the New York subway alone with the assumption that G-d looks after children, fools and ships named Enterprise? NO WAY.

There are too many risk factors in a city that big. Too many ways to get lost, robbed, roughed up or simply distracted by the bright lights of the big city. Does this child perceive time in the same way adults do? Does he know that his 20 minutes playing the newest Nintendo game on the way home actually added an hour to his trip? What happened to “not talking to strangers”?

If my child absolutely had to travel on the subway alone, I would take him/her on that route a few times so that they would learn the route, know safe havens (donut shops, stores or offices he/she can visit for help/food/telephone) and reinforce that he/she can ask uniformed TTC employees or a police officer for help. I would also let them know they should call me once they arrive at their destination. Anything less and I would be jumping out of my skin with worry.

Speak up. I want to hear from parents and parents in waiting!


3D said...

We are a society of bubblewrap. We cover everything. Hard to allow freedom for kidlets but we will have to use our judgement and see how far they can go. Miss the days of playing outside for hours with no adult in sight.

Keep smilin!

wzgirl said...

NYC Subway is no place for a 9 year old. It was NYC you were talking about, right? Maybe it depends on the time of day & neighborhood, but I'd want my kid at least to be with a friend or *me*. Not a bubble wrapper, but def protective.

Buckeyes & Eggrolls said...

totally would NOT send my 9 yr old out on a NY subway alone. No matter what! However, when my son was about 8 or 9 and we lived in a very, very small town of about 80 homes, I used to let him ride his bike to the corner store for bread, etc when I was cooking. He totally loved the freedom and since he was on a "task" I knew he would be right back home. To this day, my dd (a junior in college) still calls me when she arrives back at school from a visit home. She also leaves me messages when she is going out or traveling anywhere. I was protective but not overly in my mind.

Dolores and Shawn said...

It's a fine line between being cautious and being over protective. While I do believe children do need to be given independence so they can stand on their own two feet one day, I don't think this is the right way to go about it. Leaving a little kid on their own in a city the size of NY is crazy.

Cari said...

I remember being allowed to travel to the Eaton Centre by subway (with a friend) from the age of 10 (I was in Grade 6). I felt very 'grown up' and knew the route well. I'm glad that I had the independence to do that. There were rules, of course -- this was during the day (never at night) and there were specific times to be home, etc.
I don't want my child to be afraid of everything. But I'm not sure I'd send my ten-year-old on the TTC alone. Maybe at 11, though!


Bonnie'n'Clyde said...

Interesting topic. I think that "babyproofing" has gone too far, and I think one of the problems is that parents are either too busy or don't want to take the time to watch their kids and really spend the time teaching them what's safe and what's not. I think this is useful knowledge for kids to have, and they need to learn. At some point, that kid is going to come across things that could harm him/her and he/she ought to have developed the instinct for self-preservation. Think of kids who grow up in tribes in the jungle, or even just in the country where there might be dangerous snakes or animals, pitfalls, etc. These kids have to learn. And their parents have to be willing to spend the time both to watch them and to teach them.
As for the city, I'm afraid I'm in the minority here - I probably would let that kid take that subway ride - on a section of line that I chose (one we had traveled throughout his life), at a time of day that I chose (the difference for me being that I'd want to give him the cell phone). But it depends very much on the child. I think we know our children well enough to know what they're suited to at what stage. For instance, we have a lot of "artifacts" in our house - stone objects, metal objects, vintage toys...our 2-year-old niece can be trusted to go around and pick up and inspect any of those objects, because she's naturally gentle, thoughtful, and cautious. She won't break, poke herself with, or put any of these things in her mouth. This is not true of all children. There are plenty of kids who will put ANYTHING in their mouth. Same with subway safety. I lived in NYC for many years and knew lots of kids who were born and raised there and knew their way around. It's a question of the environment you grow up in, and how you are introduced to it.
There is danger everywhere, but I believe learning survival skills is a better way to go than bubble-wrapping the world. That's just my opinion.