“Not supervising your kid is awesome right up until some psychopath kidnaps, rapes, and murders them. I want my son to develop fully, but he is gonna have to not die for that to happen.”
That was a reply someone sent to one of my tweets.
It raised my hackles. Does this tweeter not realize we are living in the safest time in human history—that the crime rate today is back to what it was in 1963, when we thought it was safe enough to let kids go out and play? He is painting a gruesome and distorted picture of the world for his son. I feel for the guy. It’s not as if suddenly all parents became individually terrified to the point where they stand next to their kids at the bus stop every morning. If everyone is doing it, clearly it’s because we are living in a culture that is shoving outlandish fear down our throats.
Sometimes people say to me, “It’s just natural to be protective of your child.” And it certainly is! Yet the idea that kids can never have any unsupervised time is new. Most likely, your parents loved you just as much as you love your kids, but they didn’t think that the moment they let you walk around the corner or ride your bike to a friend’s house, you’d get kidnapped, raped and murdered.
That belief is what today’s parents have had dripped into them like morphine.
Well, it’s insidious yet so normal. For instance, last month, a man drove by some 10-year-old boys in suburban Oregon, gave them an Oreo cake from Costco and drove off. It was a bit strange, yes. But it made it to the local news, and on the news, it was reported as a case of “stranger danger”—either a possible poisoning (the cake was not poisoned) or grooming for future illicit sexual encounters (even though the man did not attempt to grab the kids or even get to know them).
Every day, our brains get filled with these tales, cautioning us against a world filled with psychopaths. They loom large in the movies, on crime shows and in desperate local stories in which nothing happened but, in theory, something could have, which is supposedly enough for a three-minute segment on stranger danger in prime time.
When I was on “The Daily Show,” the brilliant Jordan Klepper (now host of his own show!) put it best. Interviewing a very worried psychotherapist who sounded the same alarm as my tweeter—that regardless of our low crime rate today, giving kids any freedom is tantamount to signing their death warrant—Klepper pretended to agree and said, “When there is no crime, then those kids can run out and play, but until that day...” And he pantomimed locking the kids inside.
Which is what the parents of Rapunzel did. And throughout history, we have recognized this as misguided.
It still is.