Friday, July 10, 2009

The connection between latchkey kids and grass-fed beef

Roger Ebert recently posted an article on how growing up in America has changed from the Leave it to Beaver days of unsupervised neighborhood havoc to an "overprotective" world of fear, disease, and crime. This topic had recently been in my mind in the last few years as my niece and nephew were born and grew. There have been so many changes in raising children since I was young! Helmets are no longer optional; child seats, too. Latch-key kid is basically a dirty word now, whereas nearly all of my friends were such.

My mother initially thought that maybe things haven't changed as much as I seemed to think. Her opinion was you have to determine the safety of children individually based on their level of responsibility. She felt that my sister and I were trustworthy enough to be left in charge of the house without getting into trouble or burning the place down. She was absolutely correct that a couple of squares like us would just return home and watch Scooby-Doo reruns. Bless her, she's right. But despite the truth of her words, things have changed.

While the basic rule, that children's supervision level must be determined individually, remains true, the environment seems to have changed. There is a fear today of random violence that never seemed to be true before. It's most likely just our human nature to imagine each media horror story as happening to our own loved ones and to devise ways to guard ourselves against vivid threats that have little basis in reality, all while ignoring true killers like high-fat diets and lack of exercise. But human nature or no, it seems undeniable that there is an expectation in America that we must guard our children against every threat, from psychopath to man-eating shark. E. coli has never been more vilified.

But at what point does this paranoia become unacceptable? At what point do we allow children to decide what level of risk they wish to take?

On the first question, I have a feeling we have passed that point already. However, I hesitate to assert my opinion because I have no children of my own. On the second question, there is a strange tension between admiration of the impetuousness of youth and the fear of it. I am inclined to let children demonstrate maturity and reward it with further trust. In any case, I thought Mr. Ebert's article was interesting and thought-provoking.