If you watch “Stranger Things” with your kids, chances are they’ll spend some of their time crying. Not because monsters are so scary, but because children are so free. It’s like monkeys at the zoo watching a Jane Goodall documentary.
In almost every episode, Will, Max, Dustin, Lucas, El, and Mike jump on their bikes, and it’s never to go to Kumon or lacrosse practice. They went on an adventure. And when they need help fighting off a big slimy thing that has no face but still manages to eat people, they depend on each other’s bravery, wits and loyalty. .
What kind of parent allows that?
Well, Stranger Things is set in the ’80s, and back then almost every parent in America was giving their kids some free, unsupervised time. Every precious second wasn’t claimed by homework or adult-directed “rewarding” activity – which is why this childhood was so rewarding.
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We forget all the lessons children learn when an adult isn’t teaching them something. Friends, failure, fear – all these are also teachers. Memorables.
But today we believe that children are in danger whenever they are not with an adult. We are afraid that they will be injured or, God forbid, that they will fall behind. So a recent survey of 2,500 Americans from all geographies and incomes found that today’s parents don’t think their children should do almost anything on their own – walk to to school, ride a bike to a friend’s house, or stay home alone – until age 12.
Twelve. It’s college! Raise your hand if you started walking to school in elementary school. Now raise your hand if your school crossing guard wasn’t an adult in uniform, but a child with a belt. Now raise your hand again if you end up marrying yours.
Hmm. Mine seems to be the only hand still raised. (Weird but true. Several years into our marriage, we realized that my husband was my corner guard when he was in sixth grade, and I was in first grade. I guess I fell in love with a man in uniform.)
OK, now 12 is the age of independence, but it’s also the age parents think their kids should have a phone. Chance? Maybe. But it sure seems like parents don’t think their kids should be out in the world — or even in their own neighborhood — until they’re traceable.
Which means the kids are sort of independent…but also kind of not. Because now kids have a way to instantly contact their parents, and parents have a way to constantly monitor their kids. The older generation is connected to the younger in a way that was never possible before.
I realize that cell phones are now an integral part of growing up, like bicycles once were. I gave phones to my children. But once upon a time, knowing that you were alone, free, responsible and trustworthy was an important step in your growth. You had to depend on yourself and your crew. Your parents should also believe in you. They proved it by letting you go.
It’s not strange to me that kids feel more anxious and depressed these days, when there’s just no way for them to navigate their ever-changing world without their parents, somehow. , always riding with them.
Lenore Skenazy is president of Let Grow, contributor to Reason.com and author of “Has the World Gone Skenazy?”