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“Leashed” Children: How Much Freedom Should We Give Our Kids?




liz gunnBy Liz Gunn || I read an article recently on Slate  about how kids today have less freedom than kids of previous generations, including my own. At first glance this makes perfect sense to me. There are exponentially more creeps in today’s world, right? Well, no. Not exactly. Although at times it feels like we live in a world lacking morals and human decency, there are statistically speaking no more abductions by strangers now than there were three decades ago.

Most children are actually abducted by someone they know. Of course this is every parent’s worst nightmare anyway … someone snatching up your unsuspecting child the minute you turn your back.

Perhaps, the real-time news cycle we live in makes us think things are a lot more dangerous these days, with daily headlines of Amber Alerts and missing children, but in reality kids are no more likely to be kidnapped by some pervert on the playground now than they were thirty years ago.

Parents should take comfort in the fact that child abductions by strangers are actually very rare (only about three percent of all reported abductions), yet the rules set forth for today’s kids have tightened significantly.

Mentioned in the article, the mother of a nine-year-old girl was arrested in South Carolina recently for letting her daughter play at a park unattended while she worked. I thought back to when I was nine, and I clearly remember walking home from school unsupervised, playing at a nearby ball park with friends after school and walking or riding my bike around the neighborhood at my leisure.

Oddly enough, I had one of the strictest moms!  I had parameters, of course.  I wasn’t allowed to cross Main Street.  I had to be home by dinner, which was well before dark in the summertime.  I was never allowed to get in the car with anyone other than a family member.  At the time, and even now, it actually seemed pretty reasonable.  In today’s world however, my seemingly level-headed mother might find herself arrested.

What has happened?

Why have parents continuously become more overbearing?  There is even a term for it: “Helicopter parenting.”  What I find most intriguing about this whole scenario is that kids today actually seem more mature than kids from my generation did at that age.  The way they speak, the knowledge they possess and the technology they have access to is so far beyond anything I could have even imagined at that age.  It seems as if they are growing up faster and faster.  One might think that with all the ways we have to stay connected, and GPS technology as advanced as it is – children might actually have a longer leash.

When I was nine and my mom dropped me off at a playground, the most advanced technology I had access to was my Swatch watch …so I knew what time to start looking for her to return.  I couldn’t call her or text her if it started raining, or if a friend’s mom offered me a ride home.  I was forced to use common sense.

Bingo!  If there is anything kids today are lacking, I’m afraid that is it.

Kids today can navigate an iPad better than most people my age.  I am nothing short of amazed at how quickly toddlers, even babies really, pick up on technology. But are we cutting out a vital part of growing up by allowing it so early and so frequently?  If so, then parents have good reason to be more protective.  Common sense is the best tool a kid can have in a sticky situation.

By relying so heavily on technology, are we creating a generation that completely lacks common sense?  And is common sense innate or acquired?  If a person is never put in a situation where they are forced to rely on common sense, does it fade away? Does it not develop?  Is it one of our “use it or lose it” skills?

I’m not anti-technology … far from it. I love anything that makes my life more organized or more enjoyable; who wouldn’t?  I am just very curious to see the effect these technologies have on future generations, like my daughter’s.  Personally, I can admit that advanced technology has changed the way I think.  Why would need to remember how to do basic math when my iPhone has a built in calculator?  Why would I need to remember a seven digit phone number when I can just store it in my phone?  I don’t even need your phone number – I can Facebook message you, direct message you on Twitter, email you, etc.

Curious about something?  Anything?  Don’t waste time thinking about it … just Google it.  Technology has quite literally changed the development of my brain.  I only wish we knew for certain what it does to the more impressionable brains of future generations.

We know technology sadly enables the predators, but is it also empowering our kids in their efforts to steer clear of them? Or is it eroding the very common sense and innate watchfulness they need to be honing?  Sounds like the debate over “screen-time,” and how much is too much, may need to be the subject of my next post.

(What do you think? Vote in our poll and post your thoughts in our comment section below).

Liz Gunn is a wife, mom, author, businesswoman, travel enthusiast, food snob, fashionista, lover of great wine and the No. 1 Gamecock football fan … ever.  A graduate of the University of South Carolina, she lives in Columbia with her husband and daughter.

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