local public radio station, and caught the tail-end of a Roundtable chat with Mike Levine, executive editor of the Times Herald Record
The newspaper is working on a special report about the shifting makeup of its community -- specifically, the observation that youth services are becoming the cultural center that all things revolve around. The suspicion leads them to believe their's is not the only community affected by such kidifications.
In a nutshell, it seems that the story will be tackling how parents are so involved with PARENTING (as a verb) that kids just can't be kids.
One of the most argued points is the prevalence of organized play. Whereas at one time little "John" and "Jane" could go down the street on their own, find a pick-up baseball game and have 78 at-bats and the relative privacy of only a handful of same-age players watching as they make colossal errors; now "Ethan" and "Madison" climb in mom and dad's mini van wearing their starched uniforms, drive three miles to the league field (drawn with precision chalk lines) and sit on a bench waiting for their three turns at bat only to have three hundred parents watch them strike out each time.
I know we're going to have trouble with this.
As a new parent, who has "drunk the Kool-Aid" offered by every slick magazine telling us how to be Good Parents and enjoy our children, I have to admit this broadcast left me reeling. Just yesterday, the Husband and I had our usual is this "good or bad" talk, when he asked me where ittybit was and I told him "she's in her room, playing with her doll."
"How is that going to affect her socialization skills?" he worried. "She's social enough," I assured him. "She needs to have a private life, too. ... She has to learn to amuse herself."
This debate on parenting seems to have been raging for more than two decades. And, while I think there are numerous factors in play, including perceptions that our world is no longer safe, there's really no single place we can point to and say AH-HA!
MORE pederasts, AH-HA!
MORE crime, AH-HA!
MORE self-help, AH-HA!
MORE media coverage, AH-HA!
MORE things to buy, AH-HA!
MORE self-imposed guilt and stress, AH-HA!
MORE single parents splitting their time with the kids, AH-HA!
MORE working moms, AH-HA!
MORE stay-at-home dads, AH-HA!
Still, as parents in a society that hammers us with being proactive and keeping ourselves safe at all costs, how will we buck this new instinct to retreat into our little family cocoons?
Recently, I was driving down a country road I hadn't been on since I was about 12 and riding my bike to a friend's house. It was a five-mile journey filled with twists and turns, limited sight distances and cars traveling too fast on curves. I couldn't breathe thinking about my own child and how I would NEVER want her to ride alone on this or any other road like it. EVER. I couldn't believe how MY mother had allowed me to ride it alone. Do I not trust her, drivers? Will I be teaching her to be independent and confident or fearful and inept?
But it's more than our own fears that motivates us, according to this editors' assessment. It's also a need to parent. The need to BE the Super Parent all the self-help manuals suggest we can be. To make every single, precious moment as packed with quality as we can manage.To be our kids' cheerleaders, and best buds on the weekends. To be there for every bump, scrape and bad day. To celebrate the good days, and give the high-fives and erase all the BAD parents from the face of the Earth with our Good Parenting Accomplishments.
What this suggests is that parents are going into our children's world more and more, and abandoning the adult one.
As the radio conversation continued, I couldn't help but have that awful feeling of an unwanted truth. We are a nation of consumers, and we are now consuming our kids. This can't be a good thing. ... can it?
Good or bad, the Times Herald Record is looking for thoughts from outside its readership area, specifically if you see the same type of cultural shift happening in your neck of the woods. If you have the time, you might want to drop Mr. Levine a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I know I can't wait to hear what you all have to say.