Too Safe for Children?

September 16, 2007
Posted by Jay Livingston

“The city went about its business, and in many ways the place was heady and wide open in ways that just aren’t possible now.”

The New York Times devotes its entire City section to the idea of being seventeen in the city. This sentence is from a nostaligic piece on being seventeen in 1980. The author, Christopher Sorrentino, has the uneasy sense that kids today are more sheltered. “Apron strings were untied a lot younger then,” he says. “Parents didn’t hover so much,” says the Times blurb.

Sorrentino adds, “I should confess that I can’t imagine making a similar arrangement with my own kids . . . Are you kidding? The kid’s going to be 12, and my heart’s in my mouth if I send her out for a quart of milk.”

This dilemma isn’t confined to New York, this nagging thought that in giving kids more safety we've also deprived them of something important. Alongside all the news stories about the dangers of toys and priests and candy and everything else, there has been a small but noticeable backlash. Sorrentino’s article is part of this ambivalence – the sense that protection is becoming overprotection. The Dangerous Book for Boys has been a best seller, largely because its title and publicity promise a more rugged, less cautious ideal of childhood. Elsewhere, Jeff Zaslow in a Wall Street Journal article – linked to by a couple of sociology bloggers (Ezster, Anomie) – complains that the concern about child sexual abuse has poisoned the atmosphere. Children are taught to fear men, and men are afraid to go near children other than their own. Last Halloween, I contrasted today’s trick-or-treating with that of my youth, when kids would range far from home unaccompanied by parents.

Apparently, it’s not just in the US that childhood has become more circumscribed.. The London Daily Mail posted a map showing the roaming area of children over four generations in the same family in roughly the same part of Sheffield. Back in 1919, Great-grandfather at age eight had a range of six miles. Today, the eight-year-old in the family is allowed to walk 1/6 mile – to the end of the street.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting perspective.
Could you give me a source for the map? I think it could be useful for a project of mine.

Jay Livingston said...

Here's the URL for the original article.