Fear of Everything Is the Best Policy

April 27, 2011

It’s April, and the school year is coming to a close.

And every morning before school, I see the children waiting for the bus across the street from my house.

I don’t think I would really notice the kids…except it also appears that a bunch of adults are waiting to catch the bus to school too.  Maybe they’re in remedial fourth grade.

But they’re not a bunch of adult fourth graders.  Every child has a parent waiting for the bus with them.  You know, standing next to them…in public.

And every afternoon, there are cars lined up along my street.  The same parents are waiting to pick their kids up…from the bus. I am incredulous.

And every day, I say the same thing to myself…

What is wrong with you people?  Get off my lawn, you street urchins!

Because it’s not just the bus stop.  The way I see things, it says everything about what kind of kids we’re raising.

Mom, Get Out of Here!

Let me say that from a very young age, I would’ve slapped my mother if she had dared show her face at the bus stop.  A few parents were there the first week of school.  We had one or two bus stop parents that let us sit in their vans if it was raining (yes, we got in strangers’ cars.)  But we didn’t have a gaggle of parents waiting with us one-hundred and fifty-seven days after the first day of school.

These kids seem different.  They have no shame in Mommy or Daddy escorting them to the bus stop every day.  And Mommy and Daddy seem to have nothing better to do.  Have these kids still not figured out how to wait for the bus by themselves?  It’s pretty easy.  But most elementary schools today have more kids getting picked up by their parents than riding the buses.

And what is with parents waiting every afternoon for fifteen minutes in their cars for the bus to drop their precious angels off after a day of government sponsored daycare?  God forbid the little crumb-crunchers learn how to walk an entire block to their house, unlock the door, and get their own dang Oreos.

Maybe it’s not this way in your neighborhood, but mine can’t be the only one.

Where Have All The Kids Gone?

We’ve got a great little park in my neighborhood.  I never see kids playing there.  There’s an awesome creek that runs through the park too.  It’s begging to have forts and foot bridges built next to it and crawdads caught from it.  No kids there either.

We never have more than ten trick-or-treaters on Halloween.  I know we have more than ten kids in the hood.  I see them every day waiting for the bus.

I know where all the kids have gone.  After the bus ride (and car ride), it’s off to some little league game or other organized activity.  Kids don’t have free time anymore.  There isn’t even such a thing as “disorganized play,” because kids aren’t friends with the neighbor kids.  They only play with an organized team.  They’re never out of Mommy’s watchful gaze.

It’s a Big Scary World.  Better Just Stay Inside.

You know it didn’t used to be this way.  You got to do so many things you’d never let your kids do!

Parents keep a tighter leash on their kids today because they’re afraid. They are afraid of everything. They are afraid of the bus stop.  They are afraid of the park.  They are afraid of Halloween.  Their kids don’t know how to play outside the structure of a sport or the artificial environment of a video game, but at least they’re safe. And the only thing those parents are accomplishing is they are raising kids who are also afraid of everything, rather than kids who can actually take care of themselves.

I’m sure glad my Dad taught me how to walk through a parking garage at night, rather than just being afraid of it.  I’m really glad I learned how to take care of myself outdoors, rather than just avoiding the outdoors.  I’m really glad I was taught what to do in an emergency, rather than just worry about what could happen.  I’m really glad I learned how to deal with strangers, rather than just be afraid of them.

Go ahead and tell me the world is so much more dangerous than it used to be.  Yeah, sure is.  And kids used to be ten times as able to deal with danger.  Today, instead of having kids that are able to deal with a world that’s ten times as dangerous, we’ve got kids that just learn to be ten times as afraid of it.

Have you seen this increase in parental fear?  What did you get away with when you were a kid that you’d never let your kids do?

83 responses to Fear of Everything Is the Best Policy

  1. Hi Matt,

    As Boy Scouts in Florida in the 1950s, I and my friends chased alligators. Swam with them in the lake.

    As an adult raising my own six kids, I walked my kids to school everyday as friendly neighborhood denizens threw rocks and bottles at us every morning and afternoon.

    Alligator infested waters then were safer than the bus stops of today.

    I could say that God protected us on those walks to and from school, or that the denizens just don’t know how to aim right in throwing rocks, but my three daughters and three sons all managed to grow up, get through college, and found homes of their own.

    Now they drive themselves instead of walk or catch school buses… just as dangerous. I worry about them just as much now as then.

    You can never be too paranoid!


    • Sounds like you lived in a rough neighborhood. There are no rock throwers here. :)

      Oh, and my brother and I joined Boy Scouts for the sole reason that we saw a flier and were under the impression that we’d get to handle fire and guns. We were right. I stayed in until I graduated and even put a few years in as an adult counselor.

      • Only a matter of time before kids attend school “virtually” via their IPAD or other tablet. Then they won’t even have to leave home or leave the confines of the family vehicle. It is pretty ridiculous to see a line of cars (at a school bus stop) with parents inside them guarding their children. Not something you saw in the past. Only a matter of time before the old fashioned public school and face to face contact goes the way of the dinosaur. Sad but true. Many parents are able to work from home now so why not let Johny and Suzie attend school virtually in the home classroom. They will be nice and safe and the parent will have total control. I would hate to be a child growing up now with constant parental surveillance.

  2. Great thoughts Matt. I would have personally died or disappeared if my parents had come to the bus stop or driven to it. I can remember walking to school (man was that a long time ago). Now it seems the bus picks the kids up from across the street to take them to school. I even walked from my house to the bus stop…rain, snow or shine. I think parents have transferred their fear to their children. I never walked home alone…I always had friends to walk with. We laughed. Joked. Ran. Bragged. Ogled the girls. But we were together. As for the parks not being used: can you say video games? Wii? PSP? (For the record: I also agree that our kids are way too busy in outside the family things as well). Just my .02 worth.
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  3. Well, I don’t mind that involved parent thing AT ALL. Do you know how many stinkin’ times I’ve seen destructive kids roaming the aisles in the grocery store and pitching fits, and the parents not doing anything about it? I have FOUR autistic children and I can train my own a dang sight better than these losers. We have our moments (!!!) but still. It seems instead of all fearful parents, we have extreme parenting either way. Another whole set of parents let anything go on the kid wants to get into! I have to be more on the protective side in certain areas because of my children’s disabilities, but I think there is a balance there between protectiveness and encouraging independence. :)
    Happy Elf Mom recently posted..Carnival of Homeschooling!

    • Great point, we have extreme parenting. And not much of American parenting lands on the “Tiger Mom” side in my opinion. It sounds like you are doing a great job (four autistic kids, wow!) I have seen many parents of disabled children go soft on them because the kids attract sympathy, and they don’t want to be “hard” on them, but then the kids grow up to be a mess and can’t function in public. I even had to supervise some of these kids on field trips.

  4. My school bus stop was directly across the street from my house, and sometimes my mother would sit on the front porch until the bus came. That was bad enough. Occasionally a mother would come and wait with her child at the bus stop. And we all knew (1) there was something wrong with the mother or (2) something wrong with the kid or (3) something wrong with both.
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  5. Jeremy’s Confessions April 27, 2011 at 6:25 am

    “157 days later.” You’re not counting the days till school is out, are you?

  6. Fear is certainly the big deal. I suppose the media sensationalizes abductions and germs so much, that we fear them more.

    We took the bus (actually my Kindergarten (1964) bus driver is a friend on Facebook!). Eddie watched out for us, drove too fast over the big bump, and listened to his fire scanner. The bus stop was a few houses down the street.

    We walked to the center of town over a mile away most every day all summer long. We rode bikes everywhere. I haven’t seen a kid on a bike in years; just Zen bikers on their way to cushy jobs at Harvard.

    We have kids in the neighborhood, we see them getting out of mini-vans, but no other time. Too busy. We don’t know our neighbors, but we’ve invited them to our annual open house each holiday season.

    The problem is that life is about entertainment. TV, movies, iPods, video games, online social networking, and kids don’t get a chance to be creative, to solve problems, and worse, learn about relationships.

    We work on getting play-dates for our only minor child. We shut of the entertainment and give her art supplies, or take her for walks in interesting places. We don’t let he out of sight, it truly isn’t that safe. We had a gun fight in front of the house last summer.

    I am not basically fearful. We’d love to let her ride the bus, but it was cut from the budget to save teaching jobs. At 7, I don’t think we are ready let her mess around in the local park. She still isn’t good at looking both ways.
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  7. I admit, my mother drove me to the bus stop. Then again, the bus stop was about a half-mile down the one road from home to the Post Office (which was the “main” bus stop in our stoplight-less grouping of buildings). Oh, on that road was a dog that loved to take a bite out of people.

    Or that’s what my mother told me.

    Then again, I didn’t even know what a “parking garage” was until I was in my mid-to-late 20’s. Well, maybe I saw one on TV, but something as huge and full of people and void of empty space as New York City couldn’t be real … could it?
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  8. Matt:

    I live in a suburb northeast of Houston filled with professional “helicopter” parents.

    Last night I attended a school meeting to hear about proposed schedule changes for the high school, primarily to find out the effects on the Band program (my daughter’s main concern). The parents were all in an uproar because this change would be “stressful” for their high school children. The core fear wasn’t about stress, though, it was about how the change might affect these over-achieving kids’ chances at entering college as sophomores because they had taken oodles of AP classes. Unfortunately, my daughter (who has the smarts) isn’t the least bit interested in taking AP classes. I never get to boost about her college-readiness and National Merit Scholar kid.

    However, I do some selective “hovering”, much to my 17-year-old 11th grade daughter’s frustration–recently I took her and a friend downtown to Houston to attend an indie band concert on a Friday evening(the venue was safe but the neighborhood was a warehouse district with scattered bars). I had to put up with my daughter’s protests about me not trusting her but, frankly, I wasn’t worried about the wasn’t the concert (I left the girls at the concert and went to a bookstore several city blocks away), but I was concerned about young girls driving 45 miles (one way) at night. Freeway breakdowns are dangerous. Waiting at the bus stop in my neighborhood is not, but parents still wait for their kids.

    My daughter is a Venturing Scout (a co-ed Boy Scout program for teens to young adults) and has, on her own, applied to work at a BSA camp in Maui this summer. My husband, bless him, said he wasn’t aware that the job was in Maui (he thought it would be at one of the Texas camps) even though he had been informed. My daughter worked hard to earn this position. She’ll have a great experience for 5 weeks and I won’t have to listen to her arguments about why she should be able to drive down to Houston for concerts!

    Great topic. We’re not doing our kids any favors by micro-managing our kids. I pick my “hovering” roles carefully.

    • Yeah, you’ve got to be selective in your hovering. Teach your daughter how to handle a dangerous neighborhood under your watch, so she can go out on her own and be prepared when she’s in her 20s. That’s awesome about her being a Venture Scout. After my friends and I earned our Eagle ranks and graduated, we started a Venture crew and even recruited some girls.

  9. While I agree that overscheduling kids and extreme-fear parenting is a big problem, I have to disagree with a lot of this (and I typically agree with your posts)!

    We’ve chosen public school for our kids, primarily because we don’t want them to live a sheltered life (this was an intentional decision: http://heresthediehl.wordpress.com/2010/07/19/going-public/). I want them to experience what it’s like to be tested while they’re living under my roof, not when they turn 18 and we release them into the wild aka college.


    The bus? It’s the worst part of public education, in my opinion. Not that there isn’t a nugget of learning that can happen there, but because it’s COMPLETELY unsupervised (literally, I think unless someone lost an arm, the boys’ driver wouldn’t have a clue what was going on) it’s a free-for-all. In how many other circumstances do you place up to 35 kids ages 5-10 in an unsupervised situation? Most of the bullying happens on the bus (and we live in what would be considered a “nice” neighborhood…bullying isn’t limited to “bad” neighborhoods). We’ve decided not to use it next year at all. It’s still MY job to keep my kids safe, and to me, there is a difference between “safe” and “overprotected”.

    • Good point about the lack of supervision at bus stops. On the other hand, I had a bully when I was a kid, and my parents did their best to teach me how to deal with him, but it was up to me to do what needed to be done. I was a lot better off defending myself (which eventually scared him off) then I would’ve been had my Mom or Dad stepped in to defend me.

      I find it strange in my neighborhood that the parents don’t even seem to trust or communicate with each other. Every parent is out there. There’s no rotation, or a couple of dedicated parents. Every parent feels they need to personally supervise their own kids.

      • Yes, it’s sad when parents can’t find the time to chat, especially if they’re all at the bus stop. Thankfully, that’s not the case where I live. However, it’s due to frequent conversations that I know that there is one neighbor who I wouldn’t trust to watch my kids at the bus stop (which just so happens to be in front of my house, so we lucked out if we actually do choose to use the bus again).

        I certainly think that there’s a time to teach kids how to deal with a bully. But as a parent, submitting them daily to a situation like that isn’t always the healthiest thing, even after you’ve taught them the things to say, etc.
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      • I had to deal with several bullies at school and on the bus. (The kids at the bus stop weren’t too bad, usually, probably because (a) it was the bus stop for both the elementary school bus and the high school bus, and (b) the parents would’ve found out anyhow.) I was always the one who got in trouble.

        Then again, I’ll freely admit that my father taught me how to be so dependent on him that I started being a mess when his health began to fail, and now, 18 years after his death, I still lack confidence in myself.
        Joe Sewell recently posted..Look for the Christian Label

  10. I’m going to have to disagree with you on this one Matt. When you have a child, you’ll know what I’m talking about. My daughter and I were once playing outside and I went to the mailbox and I turned around and I couldn’t find her for a whole minute. That was a long flipping minute.

    My 4 year old is going to preschool this coming fall and I’m dreading her getting on the bus and going to school by herself.

    I get your overall post. Like if you got in a car accident and decided to never drive again, then that’s a illegitimate fear. But once you have kids you’ll see what I’m talking about. You just worry about them and they’re always on your mind.

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    • Couldn’t agree more (especially the “illegitimate fear” comment)! Something just changes in you the minute you are completely responsible for your child(ren).
      Nicole @ Here’s the Diehl recently posted..Brotherly Love

    • I totally understand that parents always worry about their kids. That’s not a worry that’s going to go away. You’ll still worry about your kids when they are adults. But I think you see my overall point. There are a lot of things that are worth being afraid of – but adults have to teach children to deal with them, rather than living their lives in fear.

      Yes, I don’t have kids, and I admit that I can’t know what it’s really like to have kids. But I think that offers me an advantage in that I can write objectively on the topic. Every parent in history has had to let their kids get into situations the parents are afraid of.

      • If you choose to have children at some point it would be interesting to find out if your opinions change. I had a lot of opinions about parenting until I became a parent. You really don’t know until you’re there. I’m not sure a lack of children makes you an objective writer on the subject.

      • I think it’s unfair to state that Matt doesn’t understand what he is writing about because he doesn’t have kids. I do believe he works with kids. And I think he was once a kid, himself. I haven’t had the experience of raising a child from birth but I do have step daughters that I love and care about (and worry about). I’m also very active in my niece and nephews lives. I completely agree with everything Matt is saying. This country is raising weak, pale, afraid citizens who know a lot about video games and computers but little about independence and the satisfaction of a job well done. When I was a child I walked to school in nice weather in my Catholic School uniform in one of the worst neighborhoods in town with my two sisters. We got made fun of a lot, but it didn’t ruin us, it made us tough. We rode the bus in the winter and we often got home before my mother did, we had our own keys. We watched ourselves after the 1st grade, before that we hung out with the neighbor lady. Each year we were afforded bigger boundaries and more freedom in our neighborhood. It started with a block and it grew as we did. We did a lot of exploring, we wrote neighborhood newspapers from our investigative reporting on our bikes, we learned to find the beauty and fun in the world around us. We also had something amazing to take away when we got in trouble. I remember being grounded to the yard, or worse yet, to the house. Not being allowed to go outside and play with the neighbor kids was the worst punishment ever, it meant I was going to miss the kickball game in the lot across the street.

        My parents knew the dangers out there. There were a lot of naughty kids that were not parented in our neighborhood, but my parents prepared us with strong parenting and taught how to deal with such things and not get involved with bad kids, but we still played kickball with these kids, my parents understood the lessons we could learn. I didn’t play video games, I didn’t know what a computer was. But I knew what fun was.

        And the statistics have shown violence against children has decreased, but the media attention has increased. We will always worry, but we need to let our children learn some lessons themselves. Today there is so much focus put on “good parenting” and now focus put on strong families. These children are blessings that we love, but we are supposed to be preparing them to leave us. Not making them more dependent on us. Kids should actually be our third priority. The other two priorities (God, spouse)will be there always, our kids won’t. But that’s another topic…
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        • Thanks Carla. :) The way I think about it is, I don’t necessarily have to have kids to have an objective opinion of what is good for kids for the same reason I don’t need my doctor to have every disease I have in order to prescribe medication. I don’t claim to be a doctor, but I have a lot of experience working with kids.

  11. I see the results of this helicopter-style parenting everyday at work- at a university. Many kids raised this way turn into young adults who struggle to do anything by themselves. They don’t want to check their email to find out when they are supposed to register for the next semester’s classes or when their tuition bill is due. Some bring their parents in to complain over a grade they were given! And the parents are there, “protecting” their 22 year old “babies”… sigh…
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  12. Matt, great post and thoughts that I echo myself, but it’s obvious that you don’t have kids. You’ve nailed the hammer on the head – parents are afraid, so kids pay the price.

    BUT, you’ve missed the biggest fear (at least for me), what other parents will think. My son is only 10 and I’ve kept it under wraps that I let him run to the neighbours – around the other side of the block, all by himself. I have to keep it a secret because other parents will think VERY badly of me. I mean, it is a busy street and he has to cross it.

    My son, in grade 4 already has friends that have cell phones!! Why? Because in those few minutes when the parent hasn’t shown up on the school yard for school pick up, then the kid can call.

    I hope the conversation will start to shift things.

    • Ooh, good point. My parents were leaving us home alone when I was 10. Probably really “bad” parenting there. But I was ready and responsible. Your kid is ready to cross the street and go to the neighbors.

      • I have been leaving my kids at home for short runs to the grocery store when my oldest was ten. I felt a little guilty about it until I remembered that Pa and Ma Ingalls left their three kids alone for TWO DAYS and none of the kids were older than ten and one of them was a toddler.

        I don’t think your parents were engaged in bad parenting.
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        • Hahahahaha!!! “…until I remembered that Pa and Ma Ingalls…”

          Sadly, the Ingalls would be brought up on child neglect and endangerment charges today. I think most states have laws now that a child must be 8-ish to be left home alone and 12-ish to be left home with younger children in their care.

          (Fyi, my mom would be in jail by today’s standards too.)
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  13. I know you were probably being very serious with this post, but I couldn’t help but laugh the whole way through. Not because of the content, but because of how it was worded… “crumb-crunchers” – LOL I’m still laughing as I type it.

    In my neighborhood, the bus actually drops the kids off at their individual houses. which is annoying if your the car that got stuck behind the bus and you have to stop at every.freaking.house. the bus stops at.

    And careful, watchful, offspring-stalking adults are not the problem in my neighborhood. It’s the parents who let their 5 or 5 year olds go on walks and shopping runs on their own — blocks away from where they live. I think that’s just crazy. At least send the 12 year old with them!

    If you’ve ever watched Tim Hawkins DVD titled “Full Range of Motion,” you’ll get this: “Gun it! We’ll make more!” :)
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  14. Totally with you here. You should check out http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ – the author talks all about childhood being lost to a culture of fear.
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  15. I also want to add another comment. I grew up with way over-protective parents (as a girl, I was sheltered. my bro? not so much!), and when I started college at 17, I was petrified to do many things. I had to take two buses on my commute, and for the first month I just knew someone was going to pull their car over and try to entice me in with some candy or a puppy… or something. I eventually got over my fears, but I couldn’t help feel that my parents had played a major role in stoking them. They wanted to keep me safe, and I appreciate that. But it wound up making for a hard adjustment as an adult.

    But I am glad they did finally give me space at college, especially as I watch the helicopter generation now. I feel far sorrier for them because at some point, you have to be able to stand on your own two feet. I’m nearly seven months pregnant, and I’ve been thinking about how I can keep a proper balance between ensuring my baby’s safety and being overprotective. I know it will be a challenge. But I don’t want to wind up putting my child through what I experienced.
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  16. while I agree that helicopter parenting can be an issue these days – as far as the bus thing goes – at least in the district I live in the K-3 school requires a parent or someone signed off as an appropriate person to pick up be there for a child to get on and off of a bus. If there is no one to release the child to they don’t allow the child off of the bus. I realize that this can sound extreme – but is truly for the protection of these children.

    • Sure, everything is “for the protection” of the kids! Maybe I can see it for kindergarteners and 1st graders. But a 2nd or 3rd grader ought to have been taught to walk home, and not get in a stranger’s car. My family had a “password.” We were told if an adult we don’t recognize tries to pick us up, we ask them to tell us the password – so we would know they were really sent by our parents. We never had to use it, but it was a great, invisible safety feature.

  17. Good thoughts! This is something I think all parents have to wrestle with. You could say physically as well as spiritually. I think every parent has to decide for themselves based on the area they live, their kids developmentally ect. It’s odd too how much we fear physical harm, yet neglect to address how dangerous the internet is, especially now that kid’s have it on everything x-box, ipad, phone. I think parents have to daily deal with a barrage of stories about kids getting hurt, sick, molested from the internet and the news too.

    My kids are still little so I don’t have to think too much about leaving them alone anywhere yet, because it’s not appropriate, parental fear, irrational and rational is part and parcel with the job. It’s scary to send these little people that we had part in creating out into the world. We want them to be better at it than we were, or not have to suffer the things we did.
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  18. There’s always a fine line between being over-protective and not careful enough. We wanted to give our girls enough freedom so that they could learn from their mistakes while they were still living at home. On the other hand, I prayed daily that none of those mistakes would do permanent damage. And one prayer that God seemed to delight in answering was “may they always get caught!”

    Our kids are in their later 20s now, married, successfully functioning adults. I guess we did something right!

    And by the way, my husband was the “bus stop daddy,” not because we were afraid for our kids standing on a corner a block away, but because he loved being there with them (and the other kids) and they loved having him.

  19. My mom had a literal fear of my getting kidnapped – a fear she passed onto me – and even she let me walk to/from the bus stop, play with neighborhood kids, and walk to the store across the busy main street without her.
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    • I should have read the other comments before posting, because now I have to post a second comment.

      I don’t care for the “if you had kids,” argument. It actually removes discussion from the argument. If I adopted this philosophy in ministry, it would kill the ministry. Whenever people offer objective advice or criticism, I can’t say, “Well, if you become a pastor, you’d really understand.”

      I have a kid, and one of the people outside of my parents who has impacted how I interact with my son the most is a lady at church who’s never had kids. She just loves kids and cares about my family. The man I lean on most heavily for advice in ministry is my dad, who’s never been a pastor. An objective outsider opinion is great.
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      • I didn’t mean to imply that Matt’s observations don’t hold weight…as I mentioned in my comment, there ARE too many crazy-overprotective parents out there who never let their kids have some freedom.

        However, I DO believe that having your own child changes how you think.
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        • It wasn’t so much you as the person just before you, but it is a common argument. I used to hear it a lot, but I am a lot the same now that I was then. I have changed my personal behaviors that I don’t want copied, but I still think overprotection is crazy.
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  20. I worked at a couple daycares when I was younger, and let me just say — I met so many parents that didn’t even care (or at least didn’t come off as if they cared) about their kids at all. I could tell you stories…

    Some parents asked if we could stay open on the weekends so they wouldn’t have to be at home with their kids all weekend.

    One parent said she brought her daughter in a opening time and didn’t pick her up til closing time not because she was working long hours, but because she wanted time for herself. She’d bring her daughter in on her days off and everything. She said she just “couldn’t handle her” at home. And then she would be confused when her daughter would scream and beg not to go home when her mother would pick her up from caycare.

    It’s a sad, sick world out there. Some parents ought not be parents at all — for multiple reasons.
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  21. I’m college-aged, so I certainly will not be discussing how to be a good parent. People create their own reality now: Facebook, DVR, etc. The fact that people are not communicating with their own neighbors, etc. etc. is what’s sad.

  22. I grew up in a really small town where the bus was reserved for the kids who lived out in the country. Therefore, I walked to school for as long as I can remember. Grade school was several blocks away, and I rarely walked alone – I was usually joined by my sister and cousins. I felt like I had a decent amount of freedom when I was a kid. We had certain physical boundaries at night. But during the day, I remember being all over the neighborhood, often in trees or on the banks of the canal. I had such a great childhood, and want the same for my kids. They’re very small yet, but we’ll see if I do an okay job letting them explore their world, even if it means they might get hurt in the process. 80)
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  23. I’m on both sides of the fence here, Matt. On one end, I can understand most comments about being protective of their kids. And I can only understand from afar because I don’t have kids to call my own. It just seems reasonable that, if a parent loves their children, they would make sure to provide the safest atmosphere possible.

    BUT (and I think this is where I side) I also feel like that love shouldn’t create a bubble for the children. I read somewhere recently that a family was so clean and germophobic that when their kid went to school, he immediately got sick (weak immune system). Same can be said with the world we live in. If you’re constantly watching over your kid, and not teaching him/her lessons of life, I think you are creating more dangerous situations in the long run than in the immediate future.

    I’m so glad I’m not a parent…
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  24. My parents protected me from EVERYTHING. I overcompensated and now fear very, very little. I’m not fearless, but I definitely fear less than I probably should.
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  25. “When I was single, I had 3 philosophies about parenting;
    Now I have 3 kids, and no philosophies.”

    I’ve been a teacher in major metropolitan school districts, and the stories I could tell about bus stops; bus rides, and parents!!!

    Bullying? No longer happens with the big kid on the block pushing around the little kid. Hardly ever involves fighting, and is not limited to boys…

    I think the real question here Matt, why are you home watching these kids out your window EVERY DAY both before and after school! Maybe all the kids at the bus stop have seen some guy gawking out his window and think he’s planning a hostile take-over of the bus stop, with guns and bombs and sex-trafficing links. So now the parents are there to protect them from…well, you. 😉

    And I’ll close with this. Columbine. That is why parents are afraid.

  26. I used to think like you do on this subject. That is, until I unleashed a similar diatribe on a granddaughter whose watchful eye never strays from her children. She did not receive it kindly.

    So, I silently appreciate the world in which I was raised, mourn it’s loss; and if I had the energy, i would really pity the grandkids and their peers for the world they will inherit.
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  27. I used to ride my bike everywhere when I was a kid. I’d ride for hours and my folks would have no idea where I’d gone. Now? My kids can’t go out the apartment door to the car without me yelling for them. Now, given, part of it is likely due to my son’s autism but I’m definitely a very protective parent.
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  28. Even with all the comments about protecting our children and the comparisons to parents who don’t parent at all, I still full heartedly agree with this post. There are some lessons we can’t teach our kids. People are also afraid to discipline and that’s why we have kids running wild. Other commenters have stated that bus’s are a scary place because there are unsupervised children. The bus drivers at our school when I was growing up were married and were also the custodians. They were fun at times and we loved them. But we also feared them. If the bus was too loud the bus driver pulled over, stood up, and yelled at us (I’m sure some of you think this is wrong). If the noise continued, we were threatened with having to stay on the bus 5-10 minutes after getting to school and then deal with the consequences of being tardy, and no kids like to sit quietly on a bus when they are missing morning recess. For the most part we behaved, because we didn’t want to suffer the consequences. It’s funny kids don’t know what consequences are these days, natural or otherwise.

    Here’s a another story about lessons. There was a boy who lived two houses down from us with a single mother. He was very naughty. Had a few run-ins with the cops. He was the same age as my older sister. Since we were allowed outside by ourselves, we befriended him and started playing basketball and other games in his back yard. He started coming over to our house and my dad heard his foul language and told him he was welcome anytime but that language was not. A relationship was formed. We found out this boys dad had left because the boy wasn’t “black enough” (he was bi-racial) and much of his acting out was due to a lack of that father and his feelings of inadequacy (ok I was like 7 I didn’t realize that at the time). Anyways, my dad started inviting him fishing with us, and out to my grandmas in the country where we had a garden. This boy spent much the summers with us- or even just with my dad. Because of our freedom we met this boy and we got to learn a lesson of compassion and love for all from my dad. None of us have every forgotten it.
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  29. Hi Matt

    These are great, great points! While I agree that the first step to getting desirable results in life is to take full accountability (as in, if you want your kids to be safe, be there for them), what we are doing today is so twisted and out of context.

    The average person lives with the mainstream media’s stories floating through their heads of the latest pedophile or abduction. Yes, times have changed, but there is so much more we can do if we expand our awareness of all of our thoughts and actions. If we live in fear, as cliche as it sounds, this is what you will attract more of.

    Living in fear is no way to live. It is hand-tied slavery for lack of a better term.

    Don’t get me wrong, I do not have an answer one way or the other, as every child is different, every neighbourhood has different characteristics, etc. Each parent must assess the situation for themselves.

    In the end if we are going to the bus stop out of conscious care, love and precaution – then so be it. If we are going however out of fear, then we have much bigger issues to consider and worry about in our life.

    P.S. YES YES YES about the no free play. Kids are so stressed today because of all the activities they are put in. We all want little Einstein’s and Sports stars. We need to get our Egos out of the way and allow our children to explore some life themselves, foster their imagination and grow their creativity freely, without minute-to-minute planned out activities. Nature is the best teacher.
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  30. Sorry Matt gotta differ with you here – merely because I’ve learned not to judge what other parents do. As someone who is now a parent, I’ve found that I have no idea what other parents are going through and so I don’t judge. You do whatever works when you’re a parent.

    • I welcome the disagreement, and I would agree with you that parents should do whatever works. But my assessment is that what a lot of parents are doing is *not* working. We are creating a lot of fearful children who have difficulty achieving independence later in life.

    • I agree with CCoC. There is more to this issue. First of all, at least in my neighborhood, the younger kids, definitely the kindergarteners, must have a parent present at the bus stop before they will be released from the bus, otherwise they will get carted back to school. In the cold or heat or with a sleeping toddler, many parents choose to wait in the car. When my daughter was in school, I choose to pick her up at the school b/c she was not above the weight limit for the bus safety tests, and further, none of the buses in our district have seat belts. With parenting decisions, it is very difficult to make blanket statements b/c we don’t know all the details…the temperament of the child, the safety history of the school, etc. I know a mom that would wait by the door to grab her child right when he came out of the school b/c he had Asberger’s syndrome. While I agree that we can over-shelter and over-protect our children, I think a critique of parents for opting against buses is really majoring on the minors. We all make mistakes. I would rather parents love too much than completely neglect, abuse or abandon.

  31. Great blog! You’ve touched on some unintended consequences of babying kids. As a mother of four, however, it does feel like a big, scary world and there have been more than one occasion when I have had panic attacks because I send my kids out to walk the dog on a 20 minute route and they take an hour because they stop to say ‘hi’ to horses or people. I only let my kids wander off on their bicycles by twos because “two are better than one” and I want them to let me know that they are wandering the neighborhood before they go.

    Some people would say that since I am homescooling I am taking paranoia to new levels because I won’t even let my lil’ darlings approach the school bus. However, part of the reason that I homeschool is to give my kids the most free time possible and to give them extra time to learn how to clean a house and do other adult chores.

    Regarding the emptiness of playground equipment, another possible reason that kids aren’t in parks is that the play equipment has been made as safe as humanly possible. Ever since they took the danger out of the park equipment, it isn’t as fun or interesting. And, if teens are around, the chances of kids hearing subjects/language that they shouldn’t are pretty good. More than once I have had to say something to teens or pre-teens, even a ten year old, because they were hanging out in the playground dropping f-bombs like they were candy or discussing real or imagined conquests.

    By the way, the greatest parental paranoia builders are the crime map of your neighborhood and the Registered Sex Offender Database for your neighborhood. I spent one night checking out the seedy underside of my idyllic looking neighborhood and decided that ignorance is bliss. Also, I wonder if the only reason that the paranoid, bus-stop parents don’t get ON the bus to make sure their innocent little angel is safe is that they are legally prevented from doing so. ;-).
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  32. I agree with you 100% Matt. My parents were super over-protective just like you were describing. When I went to elementary school they drove me to school everyday when I could’ve easily rode the bus. When I did ride the bus somebody would always be waiting for me at the bottom; rain or shine. Before I entered the 5th grade they decided to homeschool my brothers and I. They thought that the public schools were too bad of an influence, were dangerous, a waste of time, and were inefficient at teaching. So my life until the Junior year of school consisted of sitting at home all day, with my parents. I was almost never out of their site, if I was out of theirs I was in somebody else’s and they made sure of that. Our family went together everywhere, for everything, all the time. I could not watch a PG movie until I was 12 or 13 and even today at 17 that’s all we watch; G or PG.

    My parents were so over-protective that it drove me into a huge mess. I’m not into, “My sin is worse than yours” so I’ll just leave it at that. They thought they were able to protect me, they were surprised when they finally knew what I was doing. Holding on too tight and avoiding all situations only causes more problems than letting them experience all the crap out in the world today and talking to them about it and what the Bible says. I’ve gone back to school my junior year, my parents weren’t fans of the idea, but I’m glad I did. Sure, I hear all the dirty jokes and filthy mouths, all the sexual junk; but now I feel like I’m more prepared for the real world. Trying to send your kid to college after being sheltered in a home all of his or her life is just a bad idea. I, honestly, could not socialize at all because of my parents’ decisions. It wasn’t just “new kid” bad socialization, it was “never been around a human being” socialization. I know there is some “need” for a parent to not want their kid to grow up; but stopping them from growing up…I don’t get that. It happens to everybody.

  33. I’d never let my kids go to public school.
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    • mine do. its a great school, we are very happy with it, and the kids love it.

      however, there is a catholic school nearby that i wouldnt let my kids near. the local police have cited it as being the campus with the highest rate of sexting and pharmaceutical drug selling among kids of any in the area.

      blanket statements dont paint an accurate picture for all scenarios.

  34. Wow. Lots of interesting comments on this post. My opinion has bounced around a bit reading all of the comments. One thing that irritates me though is the constant comparison of “back when I was a kid….” Like it or not the world has changed A LOT since we were kids. Technology, entertainment, science, politics, how food is grown, shopping options, government regulations and on and on and on. To expect our children will be happy, competent and well adjusted outside roaming the streets for hours on end is not realistic. Its like comparing apples to oranges.

    Neighborhoods as we knew them rarely exist today. I live in a pretty average middle class neighborhood yet….

    1. one of my neighbors is a registered sex offender (in the information age, we are now more aware of where these individuals are)

    2. the increase in rental property has made my neighborhood very transient (i.e. economic changes means fewer people can afford to buy a house and must rent). Most people on the street have lived there for less than 5 years; they’ll move again before we have a chance to really get to know them

    3. one of my neighbors should have a revolving door installed there are so many people and cars over there (i.e. economic changes has increased the number of multigenerational households. Boomerang kids can’t afford to live on their own; retirement isn’t as secure as it use to be so more parents are living with their children)

    4. our neighborhood park is the hangout for teenagers (they don’t have anything else to do as programs and activities for them have been discontinued. They can’t find jobs because too many adults are forced to take the minimum wage jobs)

    I could go on, but my point is, there is so much more going on in the world than we ever had to worry about as kids.

    As a parent I’ll err on the side of caution anyday rather than sitting around after the fact wishing I had been more protective.

    As a teacher, I wish more parents were more involved. It is frightening the number of parents that have no idea what’s going on with their kids.
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  35. I think what I’m sensing here is that there’s a balance in how protective parents should be with their children, and a simple example of being at the “school bus stop” depends on the details. Those who have busses that stop at several points in a suburban neighborhood will have a different outlook than those who had one bus stop within a couple of miles of them. Likewise parents of children with special needs need to be more protective.

    The issue isn’t really “helicopter” parents at a bus stop. The issue is the balance between protection and preparation.

    Here’s another thought, though. Some parents are over-protective and fear-causing because they never got over their own childhood fears.
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  36. My kids are 4, 2, and 1-mo, so I can’t speak to the bus stop issue (although I see plenty of kids walking home on their own (or in groups) in our neighborhood), but it is a constant battle within myself not to hover. My parents didn’t when I was a kid. I don’t ever remember being given geographical limits, although I also don’t remember going too far astray. But I have to fight panic when my kids get out of my sight in our yard which isn’t fully fenced yet.

    And even though I only live a few miles from the house where I grew up and in a similar neighborhood, I’m not sure that I’d let my kids roam like I did. There are just more people/cars/houses now than there were when I was a kid (which really wasn’t that long ago!). There’s more traffic, drivers are more distracted.

    I guess I’m not scared of the child molesters/kidnappers, I’m scared of them running out into traffic. Maybe the child molester/kidnapper fear takes over once you’re sure they’re not going to run out in front of a car.

    Really though, my deepest fear is having to live with myself if something ever happened to one of them that I theoretically could have prevented by being more attentive (i.e., hovering more).

    But you’re right on about the over-scheduled thing. My friends who have kids similar ages as mine constantly have things to do – classes, play dates, etc. No one just _plays_ anymore. Well, my kids do. Right now they cry when I “make” them go outside or into their playroom to play instead of watching more TV or DVDs. Someday they’ll thank me.
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    • “Really though, my deepest fear is having to live with myself if something ever happened to one of them that I theoretically could have prevented by being more attentive (i.e., hovering more).”

      This is exactly how I feel. I have a very close friend who’s daughter nearly drowned and now has no gross motor control, 5 years after the fact. She will forever need to be taken care of and unable to move on her own. Her mom just went inside the house for 3 minutes (they live near a lake). So now, I am keenly aware of what can happen in 3 minutes.

  37. I have two kids: my daughter, who will turn 4 in 2 weeks, and my son who is 6 1/2. I have been struggling with finding the balance with being smart and responsible and not smothering them. They aren’t exactly at the age that I would let either of them run around the neighborhood alone. We did let our son play around the apartment complex with 5 other boys who were 6-10 years old, and that was a stretch for me, I admit. Obviously, my 4 year old is way to young for that.

    We left our kids with my husband’s parents for 2 weeks when we moved last year. During part of that time, the apparently more responsible one was away (Grandma) and Grandpa had them to himself. He left both of them across the street at a playground, when he went back to the house for a few (15??) minutes. Then there was a knock at the door. A woman was bringing my daughter to him, since she had just run in front of her car, which was thankfully stopped at a stop sign. I’m sure it was God’s hand that she stopped, because we are still teaching her to look both ways before crossing the street. Sigh. Maybe 6 year olds were able to watch over 3 year olds 30 years ago, and I’ve been to soft. But I’m guessing it’s more that Grandpa forgot his developmental stages. My kids are lucky they still have a Grandfather, because I almost reached right through the phone to kill him after I heard that. Sigh…..

  38. Not that you should freak out, but maybe you should freak out.

    I live at the edge of my tiny little college town in the mountains.
    The people that live in the house to the left of me work in the IT dept. at the university.
    The people that live to the right of me are both college professors.
    The people who live diagonally across from me teach law at the university.
    The married adult couple who used to live DIRECTLY ACROSS THE STREET from me are in prison for having a meth lab in theire garage.
    Oh yeah, the bus stop is across the street from me.
    Be afraid. Be very afraid.

  39. One of my neighbors follows her kid home from school in her car, so that the kid can socialize with her buddies but still be “safely” guarded by mom.

    good grief.

    i live in a great neighborhood. i am lucky. nonetheless, when i started having my 2nd grader walk herself home from school i caught flak from horrified parents in the hood. plainly, i am an an irresponsible mother.

    on the other hand, i have learned that giving my kid responsibilities and trust reaps rewards for both of us. not only do i know what she is capable of, and know that her confidence is climbing from such responsibility, but she also stretches to challenge herself more as a result. a nice side effect for a child with a naturally cautious nature. and i find i have less need to be hands on, because she can “do for herself” pretty darn well.

    in the words of charlie sheen… #winning.

  40. I was brought up in Northern Ireland during the days when we had mad stuff going on everyday. There were always shootings, bomb threats,actual bombs, beatings. A crazy time. If we were in town on our own and something happened like a bomb threat(which happened twice in my hometown) then my Mum had us go to a familys house depending on where we were.

    Crazy crazy stuff.

    But you know I was never scared of it. It was just the way it was growing up in Northern Ireland.

    And I know that we have terror alerts today and things are a little volatile. But nothing like what we had. I’m not saying this to sound brave or better.

    Just I agree with you. There are things that we should be wary of, but if my mum hadn’t shown us how to deal with those things we would have been in even more danger.

    And if there are things to be scared of like strangers or bomb threats, should we let those people win by hiding inside.

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  41. What a crazy world we live in. I find that in the past our American society expected all adults to be civil. To be honest, kind, church-going people. Parents were expected to train and discipline their children with those same values. Sure, there were those who are not (a small minority) but we KNEW who they were. We could stay away and be safe. But now we don’t KNOW. We have discovered that not so small minority can now look like us but is not one of us. Values, expectations, and perceptions have shifted and no one is afraid of God anymore.

    That begs the question: Do we even TRUST God anymore for our safety and that of our children? When evil can touch even the faithful, is God really our shepherd and protector? What can we really expect from God in the midst of our fears? Personally, I think people that do not trust God are behaving rationally in hovering around their kids. They have no one else to trust to do that job. For those who do, well, it really does depend on what God said to do, don’t it?

  42. In a small town, it’s easier to not give in to the insanity.

  43. This is so funny because every morning on my way to work, I have to pass these helicopter parents’ vehicles and I wonder if they are so worried & have no other place to be, why don’t they just drop them off at the school? I grew up in possibly the worst area in the city, went to the worst school, and yes, I took the bus or walked. I was surrounded by drugs & violence from a young age, but my parents raised us right so none of my 7 (!!!) brothers/sisters every got into any of that. We learned to be independent & it made us strong.

    Fast forward to last week, when my sis had to fly out of town for several days. Her son was going to miss school because he didn’t have anyone to take him. I suggested he take the bus. His 15-yrd old eyes widened with fear. Never goes outside, just stays in playing vid games. His parents even pack his bookbag & have done his homework/projects for him. All out of love??

    It’s any parent’s instinct to protect as much as possible. But there must be a balance in realizing that you won’t always be there. Training wheels aren’t meant to stay on a bike. The rider must learn how to navigate without them. They prevent spills, but we all eventually outgrow our sippy cups. A parent will always be a parent, but love does not keep the loved in a caged, but rather teaches and encourages them to spread their wings & fly.
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  44. You’ve got to keep in mind, though, that what is acceptable parenting behavior has changed radically since we were children. For example, I’m 40 and grew up in rural New Hampshire. When I was little (4-5 years old), it was acceptable for my mom to run into the grocery store and leave myself and my siblings (who are younger than myself) in the car for 5 – 10 minutes without worrying about us OR what other people would think. I did this the other day with 3 of my 4 children, because one of them had to use the bathroom when we stopped at a fast food place to go through the drive-thru. My oldest is almost 9, and I left my almost 7 year old (who’s autistic) and 4 year old in the car. The car was off, and the doors were locked, and yet I still worried – not about the kids so much, but about what other adults would THINK, and whether I’d get reported for neglecting my kids, even though I was out of their sight for maybe a couple minutes, tops.

    Now there are things I do worry about, as I’m a mom of 2 autistic kids, and they require more supervision than my “typical” kids. But sometimes I wonder how much of our behavior is fueled by what we feel is expected of us, rather than true worries about safety.

  45. Luckily we live in LA where everyone looks out for each other :) Sometimes we just leave the stroller on the front sidewalk so our baby can meet some new people.

    It’s kind of like living in Mayberry without Andy Griffith.

  46. Can I suggest you read “Last Child in the Woods” – it speaks to the issues raised here a lot.

    However, as a parent can I speak of our local area? Several years ago a 13 year old boy was abducted while he was waiting for a bus to take him to the shops. Since then his parents have run a high profile campaign – intially to find him and now to find his body as he is presumed dead. A recent royal inquest interviewed scores of known and convicted peadophiles to try and establish what happened to him.

    This has led to what I call “The Daniel Morcombe” effect here. A deep fear and distrust from parents and the kids are wrapped in cotton wool. I kinda understand why when they are regularly confronted with the anguished parents of Daniel in the local media.

    Thankfully we live in a beautiful country village that still retains its innocence. Our kids can ride their bikes to the main street, skate park and library. But we still take measures to ensure they know risk, and how to minimise it.

    In defence though of helicopter parents – they have been given good reason to hover, particularly if they themselves were the victims of abuse. And there’s more of those around than we care to acknowledge.
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  47. FriendInChrist July 18, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    Cute article. Raises some good points, but it’s kind of faulty. While more than half the kids “back in the day” were playing freely, walking home from the bus stop and such….we now have a good percentage of the others of those kids coming forward today as adults admitting to having been sexually molested or abused while some of us were obliviously playing down the creek. We have friends and neighbors beside us with tragic stories of siblings long gone who drowned in those creeks or were hit by those cars.

    And even just this past week, as parents try to find the balance…a little boy is killed and dismembered while walking home from day camp.

    Remember, a paranoid parent will second guess themselves for years to come…but the parent of the child that is gone will never get another chance to think “I should have went with him.” We weren’t safer 30 years ago, just more ignorant about what some were dealing with.

    Signed a 30 year old who wasn’t protected back when everyone assumed it was safe…just silent.

  48. This response is very late, but better now than never.

    I grew up in the 80’s. I learned how to walk home alone. In the heyday of scary conversion vans without windows on the side roaming neighborhoods to pick up stray children, I learned how to walk home alone. I can’t say that I wasn’t scared, because I was scared out of my mind. For the few few weeks, I would almost run. Then, my run turned into a fast-paced walk. A few months into walking home alone, I learned how to just “walk” and enjoy the walk.

    Walking home alone taught me something very important. It taught me that it was completely okay to be scared out of my mind and still do something anyway. It taught me to be comfortable in pain and still move on. It taught me to turn fear into confidence despite whatever my palpitating heart was telling me. It taught me that the world is a very scary place and you still gotta get home at night, so you better get to steppin! To this day, whenever I don’t know what to do, I get this sudden urge to go to the scariest part of southeast DC in the middle of the night just to walk alone. It’s strangly therapeutic.

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