Providing a Catholic framework on the truth and meaning of sexuality, love, and family

The Tethered Generation

by Vicki ThornThis is the age of the hovering “helicopter” parents; the “lawn mower” parents, who mow down all obstacles facing their child; and the “black hawk” parents, who will go to all lengths – ethical or not – in order to assure a certain outcome for their offspring.Parenting in the last few years has taken on a new obsessive face: We must keep our children safe at all costs, and we must monitor every movement to assure this safety.What has changed in society that we now are obsessed with such worry? Is it perhaps that in controlling the number of our children, we see each child less as a blessing than as an investment of time and money? Perhaps children are now possessions instead of gifts on loan from God?Recently I stumbled onto a 2007 column by Ellen Goodman about the lengths parents will go to protect and monitor their children. Books like A Nation of Wimps, by Hara Estroff Marano (2008), and Free Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry, by Lenore Skenazy (2009), move far beyond that early column, describing in greater detail how parents will “save” their children from what used to be considered normal life experience.Protection begins as soon as the baby emerges, with the advent of alarm bracelets and security systems meant to protect against strangers wandering into the nursery. Then we bring the precious baby home, and we are bombarded with items to increase surveillance, keep the baby safe and empty our pocketbooks.We have all the usual items including baby monitors, not only audio but video as well. There are baby knee pads to keep their little knees safe from abrasion as they learn to crawl – and oh, did I mention, they are designed to keep the child from skidding with special little traction beads?  One product review says, “It helps her with traction to keep from spinning out.” It continues, “Unfortunately, she did not like the feel on her legs and refused to wear them.”Another product called “Thudguard” is a $39 helmet to protect toddlers from head and brain injuries as they learn to walk. “A head injury can be traumatic for both infant and parent,” the Thudguard website warns, but when asked how many times he’s seen life-threatening injuries due to a toddler’s spill while learning to walk, Dr. F. Sessions Cole – director of the St. Louis Children’s Hospital – says never.There are special car mirrors so you can make sure your child is ok in the car seat and a heat sensitive bath mat. If the water is too hot, the words “too hot!” appear on the mat. Someone has developed a harness to hold your toddler up while learning to walk.There is, of course, an entire industry that has grown up around this parental fear that feeds it. There are professional babyproofers who will come to examine your home for a fee, and there is $1.7 billion worth of products and promotion that convince parents that minor dangers are major.This obsession with protecting our children from all possible injuries isn’t limited to infanthood – recess is being eliminated for older children, not because kids need more study time but out of schools’ fear of lawsuits over playground injuries. Tag and dodgeball have been eliminated in many school districts.Zangle allows us to check in to school to see how things are going with our children throughout the school day via our computer. Jackets with sewn-in GPS systems allow us to track them for $500, plus $20 a month. MyNutriKids keeps track of the lunchroom, allowing you to print out your child’s eating history for the past thirty days. Alltrack monitors your teen driver and can even honk the horn if he speeds – hopefully not startling him into an accident.  “Geofencing” services on cell phones can alert the parent if the child has left a prescribed area.Needless to say, there are dangers in the world, but the media has exaggerated them. For instance, according to A Nation of Wimps, “kidnapping composes less than two percent of all crimes against juveniles, and 76 percent of the kidnappings are perpetrated by family members of acquaintances.” Yet the societal perception is that there is someone waiting to snatch our children on every corner.In the old days, we climbed the tree and fell out, breaking an arm. We went to the hospital, got a cast, and our parents said “be more careful next time!” The first thing we did was try to climb the tree again, this time making sure not to step on the small branch that brought us down last time. We learned that bad things happen, but also that we can survive them and learn from them. A sense of competence was achieved that served us through the rest of life’s bumps!In her Boston Globe column, Ellen Goodman wrote, “Teens are never really on their own. We may be protecting them right out of the ability to make their own decisions. Including their own mistakes.”I ask, how are parents ever to keep up with all this without losing their perspective and their minds? How can you enjoy your child with such fear in your heart?  How will our young feel competent to take on life if someone has always intervened on their behalf? At this rate, I find it amazing that any of us ever made it to adulthood!pastedGraphic.pdf(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Headline Bistro or the Knights of Columbus.)

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