The dilemma of the modern American parent

After reading Jonathan Last’s excellent piece, Safety Not Guaranteed: Yellowstone in the age of the helicopter parent over at the Weekly Standard, I got to thinking about my own kids and the example my wife, Swampette, and I are setting for them.

In Alaska, we hiked along many dangerous trails.
In Alaska, we hiked along many dangerous trails.

We like to think of ourselves as adventurous types.  We’ve taken family trips to Alaska and the Grand Canyon (both before our little girl, the Swampling, was born – but we did take Swampus Junior with us – he was 7 and 8, respectively).  Granted, we “camped” in an RV and a hotel room, but still.  We hiked the trails; we built fires; we stood amazed at nature’s awesome beauty.

We never had any dangerous encounters with the local wildlife, but there were times when I feared for Junior’s safety – was he wandering too close to the edge of the cliff face we were hiking?  What happens if this rapidly-flowing mountain stream carries him away and over the falls?

I’m not ashamed to admit that I was afraid of losing my son to these hazards.  I’m also afraid of him getting hit by a car when I let him ride his bike around the neighborhood.  Mostly because he’s still in that “lovable doofus” stage of childhood and not because he’s lacking in the brains department (sure enough, last time he rode his bike, he took a turn too sharply and somehow managed to sustain a smattering of scrapes).

I look at statistics for injuries and crimes against children, however, and on the whole, American children are safer than they’ve ever been.  Yet on the whole, we’re more frightened than ever of a multitude of boogeymen:  stranger abduction, peanut allergies, traffic accidenJunior in the Wildernessts and whatever else is on the front page of the newspaper this week.

I wonder if I’m doing him a disservice by not encouraging him to get outside and do more things on his own and without supervision.  When I was his age, I’d disappear down neighborhood streets on my bike or into the woods for hours.  I’m sure my mother worried about me, but it never got to the point of her freaking out about where I was.

Maybe it’s because she’s German.  They have different ideas about child-rearing; the idea of a “helicopter parent” is likely foreign to them.

Regardless, the toughest part of being a parent is realizing that your progeny is ready to face some of life’s challenges on his own – if not without your (distant) supervision, then without your help.