[The poll] documents the ridiculous level of kid-coddling that has now become the new normal. More than two-thirds of us think there ought to be a law that kids as old as 9 should supervised while playing at a public park, which helps explain (though not justify) the arrest of a South Carolina mother who let her phone-enabled daughter play in a busy park while she worked at a nearby McDonald's. We think on average that kids should be 10 years old before they "are allowed to play in the front yard unsupervised." Unless you live on a traffic island or a war zone, that's just nuts.
It gets worse: We think that our precious bundles of joy should be 12 before they can wait alone in a car for five minutes on a cool day or walk to school without an adult, and that they should be 13 before they can be trusted to stay home alone. You'd think that kids raised on Baby Einstein DVDs should be a little more advanced than that.
The oddest thing is that our attitudes seem to be getting worse the safer kids are getting. Read the whole column for info on trends that show children are flourishing and actually less exposed to violence than ever. So why are ever-more-convinced than our young'uns cannot possibly survive on their own for even five minutes?
There are surely many causes for the mainstreaming of helicopter parenting. Kids cost a hell of a lot to raise. The U.S. Department of Agriculture figures a child born in 2013 will set back middle-income parents about $245,000 until age 17 (and that's before college bills kick in). We're having fewer children, so we're putting fewer eggs in a smaller basket, so to speak. According to the Reason-Rupe poll, only 27% of adults thought the media were overestimating threats to the day-to-day safety of children, suggesting that 73% of us are suckers for sensationalistic news coverage that distorts reality (62% of us erroneously think that today's youth face greater dangers than previous generations). More kids are in institutional settings—whether preschool or school itself—at earlier ages, so maybe parents just assume someone will always be on call.
Way back in 1997 (!), I wrote "Child-Proofing the World: By every measure, children are doing better than ever. Why all the anxiety? And where will it end?"
The short answer to where it will end is, apparently, nowhere and never.
Make sure to read Lenore Skenazy's Reason contributions, which detail with humor, brio, and anger the insanity that has taken over American discourse regarding child-rearing. And check out her great site, Free-Range Kids, too, which should be required reading for every parent, would-be parent, and educator.