Former Latch-Key Kids Who Are Now Parents, Unite!

You have nothing to lose but your guilt! Your children won't be die because you leave them alone for a chunk of the day. Though you may be arrested, true.



Out: No Child Left Behind.

In: No Child Left Alone. Ever!

Writing at Bloomberg View, former Reasoner Virginia Postrel tracks the sad shift from a world in which kids could be left to their own devices for larger and larger periods of time as they got older to a culture in which children need more oversight than convicted serial killers in a super-max prison. Snippets:

Only in the past decade or so has "no child left alone" become the social and legal norm in the U.S. A doctoral student in cognitive science at the University of California at Irvine, [Ashley] Thomas is the lead author of a recently published study designed to understand what's going on. After all, under most circumstances, the objective risk to children left by themselves is extremely low. The chances that a stranger will abduct and kill or not return a child—the great fear driving the new norm—is about 0.00007 percent or one in 1.4 million annually. It's much more dangerous to drive a child somewhere, or even to walk with one across a parking lot, than to leave a kid alone in a well-ventilated car.

Postrel writes up Thomas' study, which unearths a particularly awful reasoning process in what H.L. Mencken called the Great Boob Public:

"People don't only think that leaving children alone is dangerous and therefore immoral," the researchers write. "They also think it is immoral and therefore dangerous. That is, people overestimate the actual danger to children who are left alone by their parents, in order to better support or justify their moral condemnation of parents who do so."

The result is a feedback loop that increases the legal and social penalties for leaving kids alone and reinforces the belief that even the briefest parental absence amounts to child abuse. These beliefs don't just affect busybodies. They lead police, prosecutors, judges and jurors to overestimate risks.

Read more here.

The result of such attitudes? More and more government-gone-wild horror stories of the sort reported at Reason by Lenore Skenazy and others (Postrel links to the mistreatment of Julie Koehler that Skenazy wrote about here).

The "no child left alone" attitude, coming soon to a courtroom near you, is the obvious endpoint of what I talked about in Reason as "Child-Proofing the World" back in 1997.

Encounter Books

Things sure are different nowadays with the kids, and in a most puzzling way. By most standards, the vast, overwhelming majority of American children are doing better than ever. With some notable, insistent, and tragic exceptions, indicators such as mortality and accident rates, life expectancy, and educational attainment all suggest that the kids are more than all right. In fact, they are flourishing, brimming over with the potential to live longer, to live better, and to be smarter than their parents (just as their parents outstripped their parents).

And yet, the national discourse on children–the way we talk about "the kids" and their future—describes a tableau of unremitting fear and trembling, a landscape marked by relentless risk and deprivation. Although apocalyptic rhetoric in general has diminished in recent years—overpopulation, nuclear war, global warming, and the like just don't pack the same wallop they did in years past—the air remains thick with stories of how children must be protected from a world that is conceived largely as a malevolent presence that seeks only to hurt them, a sort of Mad Max environment for the younger set.

While not exactly new, this trend has been intensifying over the past two decades or so, lurching from isolated scares about poisoned Halloween candy in the 1970s and child abduction in the 1980s to a generalized calculus that places perceived harm to children at the center of seemingly every discussion. The tendency is ubiquitous enough to be fair game for parody. On The Simpsons, for instance, one character routinely asks at any public gathering, "What about the children?"

In that nearly 20-year-old story, I pointed to parenting styles and social obsessions prevalent among baby boomers as informing the bizarre mismatch in kids' better-and-better situations and parents' greater-and-greater anxiety about the safety and well-being of their offspring. Read the whole thing for the detailed causes, though a short list includes a decrease in the number of children per family, an increase in the personal and social investment in children, a warped understanding both of how trauma affects kids and how widespread trauma really is, and a media-informed desire to give your kid an advantage in all sorts of activities.

Snowflakes aren't born, they're made. And now we have entered a phase where our overactive imaginations about threats to children have been institutionalized into really bad legal, educational, and social-work systems.

Bonus reading: No Child Left Alone is a new book about this very phenomenon. I'll be talking with the author, Abby W. Schachter, soon, so look for a Reason interview in the coming weeks. It's a book that's well worth reading.

NEXT: New Jersey Police Seize $171 From Man, Charge Him $175 to Challenge It

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  1. Whatever happened to ostracizing helicopter parents? That phase didn’t seem to last long. I blame the internet and its making everything local. A white van in Bozeman drove one to many times by a middle school? Why, that could happen here!

      1. Don’t blame me for the misspellings in the thought bubbles of my fictional soccer moms.

        1. My fictional soccer moms don’t have time for thought bubbles.

          They are too busy shuttling their kids to after school activities.

      2. No, it’s a range. It happened one time, and it happened many times. Hence “one to many”.

  2. On The Simpsons, for instance, one character routinely asks at any public gathering, “What about the children?”

    Helen Lovejoy didn’t go to self-righteous reverend wife school for you to get her catchphrase wrong.

    1. And homer killed her at a football game trying to chase a free t-shirt shot into the stands. Or something like that. And it was one of the greatest days for freedom America has ever experienced.

      1. Simpsons trivia question: Which popular characters were killed off on the show?

        Answer: It’s a trick question – the characters they killed off were never very popular.

      2. That was Maude Flanders, not Helen Lovejoy.

        1. Oh damn, right. Thx

          1. Mistakes like that are why you were not kidnapped and diddled as a child.

            1. I assumed it was his tendency to smear himself with his own feces.

              1. Yes, that is also an effective strategy.

          2. Easy mistake to make. They were very similar characters. Both were a couple of uber-christian moral scolds and busybodies. Probably why they decided to kill one of them off.

            1. They killed off Maude because the voice actor didn’t want to be on the show anymore, IIRC.

    2. Won’t SOMEONE think of the children catchphrases?!

  3. In Hitler’s America, children will never be left alone as there will always be state-funded functions for them to attend from public schools to Hitlerjugend. In fact, after the Nazififaction process takes place, no one* will ever be left alone again!

  4. I was a latch key kid in East ny, bklyn from 1st grade on. My mother put some keys on some yarn and I wore that like a necklace. This was during the “ft. Apache, the bronx” era. I never once got pulled off the street and thrown into a van, and to this day I still feel self conscious about that.

    1. Maybe you looked too poor to attract kidnappers after ransoms and too ugly to attract kidnappers who were after your body.

      1. Hence the self counscious insecurity I still suffer from.

        1. Yes! I had forgotten that one!

    2. Wait, you feel self-conscious about never being thrown in a van? Sounds like you need to do some role play with the SO.

    3. As a former altar boy (an adorable one who really wore the hell out of his little cassock and surplice) I can tell you that, unless things have changed drastically, there isn’t a perv waiting behind every other tree or lamppost today any more than back then.

      Your kids are, thanks to their sedentary lifestyles, too rotund to be of interest anyway. Now, I know you’ve all heard as I have that Pokemon Go! was designed to change that and turn today’s fatties into yesteryear’s lookers with surreptitious exercise, but I can assure you no one wants your precious spawn. They’re not enticing, they’re annoying.

      1. When I was an altar boy, the priest we had wasn’t interested in boys – he liked women. Unfortunately, one of the women he liked was a married woman and when her husband found out our priest became an ex-priest. The priest that replaced him was, as far as anybody could tell, only in it for all the free wine.

      2. Now, I know you’ve all heard as I have that Pokemon Go! was designed to change that and turn today’s fatties into yesteryear’s lookers with surreptitious exercise, but I can assure you no one wants your precious spawn.

        Wanting to be around kids is actually a first and second strike for nannies and babysitters at the Casual household;

        First Strike: The broodlings are like mogwai. They’re cute but you definitely need to keep them at arms’ length and follow the rules to a ‘t’. Get them wet or feed them after midnight and you will wake up tied to a table with them swinging from the chandeliers and juggling chainsaws above you.

        Second Strike: We’re libertarians/capitalists, you should hate every minute of the time your with our children and go home every night feeling like you’ve earned every penny. You’re here to keep them in check and enforce the rules not to have fun.

      3. They’re not enticing, they’re annoying.

        “I don’t fancy him”

    1. Oh shit, new season started last night. NO SPOILERS.

      1. I’m like seven seasons behind. Although I caught a few last year.

  5. Our local ISD requires an adult presence when the school bus picks up or drops off. Which doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable for preschoolers, but insisting that a senior’s Mom stand outside where the bus driver can see her is a bit much.

    1. Old Man With Candy hit hardest.

    2. Sounds like a great way to meet lonely stay at home moms.

      1. Only if you also have a kid there. Otherwise, a bit creepy.

        “Don’t worry, babe, I am not here to seduce your kid. I am here for you.”

        1. That’s how Lolita starts!

    3. It’s like that here, too, Hamster. There’s a school bus stop literally one house east of us, and every morning there’s a couple kids (~grade school age) playing while they wait for the bus–and their parents, who spend most of the time on their cell phones.

    4. requires an adult presence when the school bus picks up or drops off

      Utter insanity.

      Does the school district provide an extra parent to sit around at home all day in case you don’t have one?

    5. Our local ISD requires an adult presence when the school bus picks up or drops off. Which doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable for preschoolers, but insisting that a senior’s Mom stand outside where the bus driver can see her is a bit much.

      Not to take their side too much but, if you live in a place where the bus stops and kids get off like this; a HS senior is more than capable of getting a ride from school or walking his or her ass home.

      1. *presses imaginary edit button*

        ride from school = ride from friend at school


    6. Our school district requires it for kindergarten only, fortunately. The boy is in third grade now and so far there hasn’t been any of the usual public school idiocy other than the no-peanut butter silliness. I keep my fingers crossed at all times.

    7. Which is weird because we could walk out of first grade when the last bell rang. Not even sure if they had some sort of permission slip to indicate that a kid was walking/riding a bike home.

  6. Your children won’t be die because you leave them alone

    All your kid are belong to OMWC!

    1. Please to be minding your own business!

  7. When I was in the fourth and fifth grades in 1985-87, my best friend was a latchkey kid, and I spent virtually every afternoon at his house so we could do whatever the hell we wanted. I particularly remember our one-on-one football games, which were just the two of us running into each other over and over again.

    I mean, it’s just amazing how virtually no kids today do what we used to, and it’s not as if it were even that long ago. We’d ride our bikes on a path through the woods to go to 7-Eleven to play video games (Galaga rules!) and buy cheap nachos. We’d go to a big townhouse complex a few streets over where a lot of our friends lived and play these huge football games that were probably 15-20 kids to a team. We’d roam around construction projects nearby and scavenge scrap lumber and nails to make forts. We built a baseball diamond in a vacant lot, digging out an infield and making a pitcher’s mound. Never was there an adult around during those three or four hours between getting out of school and going home for dinner. What a sad world we’ve forced on kids today.

  8. The chances that a stranger will abduct and kill or not return a child?the great fear driving the new norm?is about 0.00007 percent or one in 1.4 million annually

    So what you’re saying is every year 300 children are kidnapped, raped, and brutally murdered. WHAT IF THAT WAS YOUR CHILD?!?!?!?!

    1. I mean, I’d be sad. But punishing all the other parents in the US won’t bring my kid back. Only the weird Indian burial ground locals use for a pet cemetery will do that.

    2. I assume they don’t consider cops and CPS to be strangers.

  9. If we don’t watch our children every second, horrible things could happen to them. For example, the could end up going toilet in the same room as an ugly woman.

  10. It’s strange to me how everyone’s thinking about something can be changed, even at times completely reversed, in less than two generations. Stranger that it happens in huge mass configurations so that everyone’s changing their thinking the same way. This doesn’t seem natural. It doesn’t seem consistent with historical records. It seems that people must have adopted some cultural habit that promotes this sort of event. I did notice years back a change in people when people started picking up the habit (which seems bizarre to me and certainly was wholly contrary to all the habits of television use that were commonplace when I was a child) of having a television running in the background for large parts of the day. I noticed that everyone who followed this trend started going through evolutions in thinking about the same things, reaching the same conclusions. Normal quotidian disagreement in beliefs was reduced considerably amongst these people. I eventually found it difficult to recreationally interact with people who kept a television going all the time. In the last couple years, however, whatever this cultural artefact is it’s adapted to the plateau in televising (seems like forever since anybody I know who didn’t watch television started to pick up the habit), and I’m seeing this same weird mental homogenizing taking effect even in them that were previously resistant. It’s weird and disturbing and kind of sad.

    1. My original hypothesis was that people were being fed their thoughts through passive televising. If a person listens to show in the background without consciously evaluating it, there’s a tendency for any beliefs conveyed in the program to be admitted as probably true. It’s no problem for people who actually reprocess their beliefs, regularly refining and rebuilding and improving their thinking about things. But it seems like that’s not very common, so for regular folks there’s probably some danger. And it certainly seemed to correlate with passive televising. Now, however, it’s clearly spreading outside of TV. Another weird and frightening element to this is that these people ALL believe themselves to members of the normal majority who will never be victims of those in power. Even when this totally contradicts their daily experiences, the two things get somehow compartmentalised so that they still hold to this belief in general whilst setting it aside unevaluated when it would be exploded by actual experience. I know people who complain about being victms of institutionised persecution and in a couple breaths pooh-pooh some legitimate concern about the aggressive state, insisting they are part of the normal majority to whom that would never happen.

    2. That and I’m hearing crap about how Reason doesn’t exist and Good and Evil don’t really exist and moral judgment is meaningless in human society more and more often. We know nothing. If we think we do, that’s a delusion. And this obsession with being “practical” without regard to any particular purpose or aim, where the claim of being “practical” is a way of redirecting attention away from an action’s ultimate purposelessness.

      There’s two creepy statements I’m hearing a lot lately. One is, “It is what it is!”, which I hear all the fucking time from everyone I meet. It’s insane. At this point, I find it necessarily to vehemently disagree and to demand that the speaker demonstrate the truth of the statement. So far, no one succeeds, and very few are capable of even a halfhearted attempt, which is bizarre since it should be something easily defensible. As such, why even say it? And how can it be that the people who can’t prove the truth of the statement are the ones who go around saying it the most? It’s fucking weird.

    3. The other one is more variable, but generally goes along the lines of, “It doesn’t matter what should or shouldn’t be. All that matter is what is.” It’s like we should never consider whether something or other could be improved in any way. It’s even stranger how it’s so often used in reference to things that are entirely and with facility under the control of human intelligences, yet these things are treated as unchangeable facts. Preversely, people who say this one are also very likely to occasionally insist how we can’t know anything and truth is entirely subjective and so forth. But then they won’t listen to questions of moral judgment because they want only to know “what is”, never what could be, something which by their own philosophy is not only impossible to know but objectively nonexistent. People aren’t just stupid. They’re insufferably muddleheaded.

      ~The End~

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