Kids are the New ’50s Housewives (Stuck at Home “For Their Own Good”)

What do today’s kids and ’50s housewives have in common? Way too much, as I suggest in my essay for today’s Washington Post parenting blog.

As I point out in my piece, in the 1940s women were working in factories, doing all the jobs men did — and earning their own keep. After the war, they were suddenly told: What on earth are you doing out here? The outside world is too dangerous for you, you sweet, silly creatures!  We’re only saying this for your own good. You can’t make it out here. Go home!

Which sounds remarkably like what we are telling kids today. Kids who, just a generation ago, were perfectly capable of making their way in the outside world — babysitting, playing in the park, walking to school — are now being told: What on earth are you doing out here? The world is too dangerous for you, you sweet, silly creatures! We’re only saying this for your own good. Go  home! (Or, alternatively,  “Go to soccer practice, which we will drive you to and pick you up from.”)

Betty Friedan started the women’s liberation movement with her book, ‘The Feminine Mystique,” arguing that it is wrong to treat half the  population as less competent than the other half, even under the guise of “caring.” As in, “I care so much, I’m not letting you live a full life.” Moreover, it was driving at least some of the housewives crazy with boredom!

My book, “Free-Range Kids,” posits the same thing, only about children:  How is it that another group of previously competent human beings — children — have  suddenly been told that they’re incapable of doing  anything on their own anymore? Especially since, as my book goes to great pains to show, the crime rate is back to the level of 1970? (And it is lower now than it was in the rest of the ’70s and ’80s.)

There is no real reason kids today cannot be as free as kids a generation ago. That’s why, like the housewives of the ’50s, they  need a liberation movement, too. Free-Range Kids is proud to sound the trumpets.

And even willing to burn a few baby knee pads.  — Lenore


P.S. And on a completely different topic, I am about to be interviewed, 1 – 2 p.m. EST, on Parenting Unplugged Radio:

IM any questions during the broadcast to:

“See you on the radio!” L.

Couldn’t Have Said It Better Myself!

So I didn’t. I’m simply reprinting this great comment here, to share with all and sundry. There is so much to chew on  and a whole lot of insight.  Thank you, commenter Lloyd Gray, whoever and wherever you are! (He wrote this under the post about the mom who let her son walk to soccer and got slammed by the police.)

“There has been a concurrent rise in concerns about automobile crash survival (read: airbags and SUV’s), and municipal water (bottled water being sold in places where what comes out of the tap is not only safer than the bottled stuff, but tastes fine as well) .

“We, as a society, have decided to embrace all fears, and protect against them equally. The issue is twofold: the inability to do reasonable risk assessment on one hand, and the ability to pay for increased levels of vigilance on the other. Where they meet is our current society: people who pay for stuff they don’t need to avoid doing risk assessment, and to avoid upsetting peer standards. The question is, ‘Who benefits?’

“With SUV’s and bottled water, the answer is obvious: corporate interests (with SUV’s, selling high profit, inefficient vehicles; with bottled water, selling something that 10 years ago was essentially free).

“I think Free-ranging your kids is also a feminist issue(and I say this as a man who was a stay at home parent until my son was in grade one). Every one of these articles (that I have seen) has been about a MOTHER allowing her child to do something which someone else decided could put the child at risk. It is about increasing the burden on women: of denying their right, and fitness, to make judgments about their children’s abilities; making supervision of children an onerous full-time occupation(or at least a MORE onerous one). It is about creating artificially high standards as a salve to couples who have two careers and have to pay for care. 

“This is a political issue, and it’s about much more than the security of children. It’s about how our society allocates it’s resources, and about how corporations encourage fears and capitalize on them. It is all the more interesting as we move from a period of unmatched prosperity and uncontrolled consumption to the era of financial uncertainty, peak oil,  and global warming.

“In the 1940’s our parents went through World War 2 and the horrors and deprivations it brought. Genocide, displaced populations(if you’re a European reader), military service and the potential of death or disability, food and gas rationing, and the reduction of access to consumer goods. Yet we are told not to accept the tiny actuarial risk of traveling in a small car or allowing our child to walk to school by himself.

“Over the next few years, the costs of these choices will come into true perspective, and perhaps we’ll see change. To summarize: Free-ranging your child is a political act. It’s green, it’s anti-corporate, and it’s feminist. Those who are against it have an agenda, and I’m pretty certain it’s different from mine (and, with any luck, yours).”