Why Are We So Overprotective of Our Kids? Is it Because They Cost So Damn Much?


The latest quarterly installment of the Reason-Rupe Poll (whole thing here) underscores just how overprotective Americans have become toward children. In a column for Time, I summarize the findings:

[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.

Read the whole thing here.

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.

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  1. I got a big investment in that critter. I sure as hell ain’t gonna let it roam free.

    1. The H&R staff, meanwhile, have their big investment in the Reason-Rupe poll.

    2. Diversify. Diversify. Diversify.

    3. Then why not sell it?

  2. they should be 13 before they can be trusted to stay home alone

    What are you talking about? It will be at the age of 13 when I stop trusting my kid to stay home alone.

    1. Yeah, that was more in line with my mom’s philosophy, HM.

    2. I’ve been saying that for years now.

  3. William’s father, John Marshal, supported King Stephen when he took the throne in 1135, but in about 1139 he changed sides to back the Empress Matilda in the civil war of succession between her and Stephen which led to the collapse of England into “the Anarchy”.[3]

    When King Stephen besieged Newbury Castle in 1152, according to William’s biographer, he used the young William as a hostage to ensure that John kept his promise to surrender the castle. John, however, used the time allotted to reinforce the castle and alert Matilda’s forces. When Stephen ordered John to surrender immediately or William would be hanged, John replied that he should go ahead saying, “I still have the hammer and the anvil with which to forge still more and better sons!”…..f_Pembroke

    So you saying that John Marshall may have had a point?

    1. Guo Ju wished to serve his aging mother;
      He buried his son, so that she might live,
      The gods rewarded him with golden coins;
      Their brilliant gleam lit up his humble hut.

      1. That doesn’t rhyme.

        1. Just translate it into the original Mandarin and it will all make sense.

          1. It reads even better in its original Klingon.

    2. “I still have the hammer and the anvil with which to forge still more and better sons!”
      I’m definitely using this line on my own kids.

      1. That is at least half the reason I would like to have kids.

        1. Its a good reason to have kids young. Once you get older, its harder to convincingly pull that off.

      2. Bill Cosby – “I’ll get rid of you, make another one look just like you.”

  4. Suffocating control of children is just prep work for suffocating control of adults. By 2030 you won’t be able to stand in your own front yard.

  5. Also since single-kid families are increasingly common there’s no redundancy as there was when 2-4 kids were the norm.

    1. Heard a comedian once say that, with the first kid, you don’t let them eat something that dropped on the floor. But with the fourth kid it’s, “don’t drop acid in the living room.”

  6. 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.

    Why would kids being more expensive make you want to abuse them more? That makes no sense. If they cost that much, why don’t you try not to make them fucking hate you? I assume you’re going to want a return on that investment, after all.

    1. The same reason that printing money doesn’t drive inflation. cause has been disconnected from effect in their brains.

  7. Hey, don’t get me wrong, Nick, I agree with you. But you have to admit that your statement, “The oddest thing is that our attitudes seem to be getting worse the safer kids are getting” begs the question of cause and effect. I’m reminded of a George Will column many years ago that poked fun at liberals who couldn’t understand why crime was going down but incarceration rates were going up.

    1. There was an especially dim witted New York Times reporter named Fox Butterfield (what is it with New York Liberals and ridiculous names) who made an entire career writing articles asking just that question.

  8. There is a little cemetery near my house that dates back to the 1800s. It is not uncommon to find the graves of infants who died within weeks of birth. They never have first names. People waited until it was clear the baby was going to survive before they would Christen the child. People expected that many kids would die before reaching puberty because of childhood diseases. Farm accidents would take a lot more.

    Now, every snowflake is precious.

    1. So hell is full of unnamed little infants, drenched in original sin?

      1. I believe the correct term is “Limbo.”

  9. I cannot believe this poll.
    There must be some sort of statistical abberation or methodology error, because these results are just insane.

    For one thing, it can hardly be humanly possible for parents to supervise their children that closely given the constraints of both parents working, or even one parent working and on parent doing houshold chores. I have to think that these results are the product of parental paranoia and guilt that they aren’t supervising their kids nearly as much as they think they should – and thus compensating by overrepresenting their concern for children.

    1. Sounds like this was a poll of the general population, not of parents.

      If you ask the general population how many security guards a bank needs, the number is going to be higher than if you ask the bank.

      1. ^ This

        Parents understand the trade-offs while the childless have no problem telling parents what they *should* do in their conception of the perfect world.

        Mine are now teens so I have other concerns, but I left them home alone while I ran to the grocery store 2 mile way when they were 8 and 7. I let them play in our immediate neighborhood unsupervised at the same age. I let them sit alone in my car when I picked up dry cleaning at 5 & 6.

  10. The reason has nothing to do with the cost of raising children. It has to do with the non-stop onslaught in the media of reporting of tragic events when they happen infrequently, statistically speaking, to any child anywhere in the US.

    That, and the unrelenting way we have been brainwashed now for 50 years that we are incapable of doing anything without the government telling us what is and is not good for us, and that whatever we did in the past is obviously wrong.

  11. There was an especially dim witted New York Times reporter

    Rhetorical tautologies are unnecessary

    1. I see what you did there.

  12. Call me a sexist, but since we let the broads out of the kitchen and let them get a pair of shoes, they’ve gained larger and larger control of the Power Supply. This has merged the inherent neuroses that women have with the Repository of Force and the results have been negative.

    Kidding aside, societies have gone through periods of mass neurosis, and I believe we are smack dab in the middle of one, whatever the source. The function in every case is the masses want to be paternalized and there are always people willing to fill that roll.

    1. sexist

    2. Kidding aside, societies have gone through periods of mass neurosis, and I believe we are smack dab in the middle of one, whatever the source.

      The source is leftists. They’ve been losing their minds for a while now, and unfortunately we’ve allowed these creeps to take over almost all of society.

      1. What, in your own words, is a “leftist”?

    3. societies have gone through periods of mass neurosis, and I believe we are smack dab in the middle of one, whatever the source

      Source? You’ve got causality backwards;

      societies have gone through brief periods of mass neurosis sensibility, and I believe we are smack dab in the middle of one we are nowhere near one right now


  13. They need those kids to stay alive long enough to put their parents into half-decent nursing homes.

  14. In 1st grade, my 6th grade sister would walk me home. I started doing it alone* in 2nd grade.

    *there were other kids most of the way

    1. I used to walk home alone in kindergarten. Well, I had a “buddy” who walked halfway with me. Then I would walk the rest of the way myself.

      I don’t see why schools can’t just use that system. pair the kids up and have them walk eachother home.

      Plus then it encourages kids to get to know other kids and learn social skills.

      1. Im in a very nice neighborhood. Bordering it is an even nicer neighborhood. In between, but at the front is a new elementary school. Both have very accessible walking routes to the school that doesnt cross traffic and avoids the cars coming to the school.

        Kids arent allowed to walk to school alone. Some parents walk them to school, some catch the bus for a .5 mile ride.

        And the parents who drive them to school have to wait in an insane line, because apparently the kids cant be dropped off at the front door, they have to be escorted into the school, so the first parents who arrive have to wait until the escort system is ready.

        1. Why do parents stand idly by, giving the school the right to determine how their own child gets to school? I’ll raise my kids how I see fit, thanks, and unless I’m beating them or feeding them alcohol and drugs, the school can stay out of it.

      2. Two kids alone? Working together without the supervision of the state?

        Are you trying to turn them all into prepubescent terrorists?

    2. I used to walk to school alone twice a day.

      Yes, we were actually allowed to leave school for lunch hour. Even THAT freaks people out these days.

  15. Sometimes you just have to roll witht e punches dude.

  16. Parents should be free to be over-protective as long as they can refrain from being law-obsessed P.C. douchewaffles. Aside from general pathology I’m sure there are instances where parents have had family backgrounds that fostered a form of vulnerability which is then, unfortunately, projected into their parenting style.

    Perpetuating social fears into law and punishment is where the rubber of I-can-tolerate-your-silly-bullshit meets the road of what-the-fuck-are-you-doing?-STOP-IT!

  17. It’s not just the high cost of children, it’s also the higher stakes from smaller families. I only have one child. Anything happens to her, I’m out of the game completely. By comparison, I was one of three and my parents were 1 of 5 and 1 of 8. Having only one child, I also have a lot more time available to devote to her.

    1. Helicopter all you want, Dan. And look down at me and my hands off style all you want, too. But if you support having the state being involved in my parenting decisions, we’re going to have problems.

      I don’t want to criticize you in particular, because I know nothing about how you interact with your child, but at some point the amount of time one devotes to one’s child can become detrimental to their growth into a functioning adult. It’s evident from the stories I hear from my brother-in-law who teaches undergrad college students.

    2. Enjoy your child. They grow up unbelievably quick.

  18. We are so overprotective because it is illegal to not be. Past parenting practices are now irrelevant. Free range parenting becomes more difficult due to interfering concerned ones.

  19. Since there are no libertarian women, there can be no libertarian children OR parents. So how the hell here does anyone here have the authority to say anything about this subject?

    This case is now closed.

  20. Interesting article. I suppose it would have been nice if NG had explored the connection between cost of raising children and tendency to be over-protective. I read somewhere else a theory that we are having fewer children primarily because of the cost, and that children cost so much because we no longer exploit them as free labor in the home or cheap labor in the marketplace. Basically, we pour resources into them for 18 years, and our only return is the hope that they will support us in our old age, but even that is becoming less common.

    Overall, though, this article describes mainly a cultural development and it isn’t clear how a more libertarian government policy would change things.

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