Reading Dana Liebelson’s article about incarcerated teenagers in the Huffington Post and especially watching the videos of guards restraining teenagers made me sick to my stomach. And it reminded me of how often our parenting practices and policies towards children are driven by fear.
Headlines in newspapers in the 1980’s and 1990’s resounded with fears about the new dangers of teen predators, angry teen boys, and gangs. One result of that was policies allowing teenagers to be tried as adults in our courts, and imprisoning adolescents in adult facilities. According to Liebelson, the number of youth incarcerated in prisons and jails doubled from 1985-1995, with almost 6000 kids being held in adult facilities by 2013. The fears about out of control teens ended up being unfounded.
Kids today are spending less time outdoors in nature and more time in supervised activities, and the amount of geography parents allow them to roam freely has dwindled. Why? Because parents are so afraid they will be abducted. 24/7 news coverage of abductions leaves parents with the message to hold your kids close and not let them out of your sight. This occurs despite the fact that crimes against children have gone down significantly in the past 30 years.
One last example of how anxiety is driving parenting practices is the relentless pushing of our children to be the best. I see this played out with grades, sports, other activities like dance and cheer, popularity, and the race to achieve acceptance into top tier universities. Parents are so afraid their kids will get behind their peers that they become hyper focused on giving their children a leg up, an edge. We don’t strive to keep up with the Jones’ next door with their new appliances like we did in the 1950’s. Today it’s all about keeping up with the Jone’s children. These unrealistic fears have created undue pressure and stress on kids and families.
The perception of these fears is far worse than the reality. We need to wake up to the facts and not allow ourselves to be carried away by the media-driven panic that often surrounds these issues.
Never parent out of fear. Make parenting decisions based upon your child’s individual needs, your family’s values, and trusting your gut. Don’t allow the culture to sway your better judgment.