Lenore Skenazy

The danger of no danger

Children must learn courage or they will always be afraid

We all know about helicopter parents and how terrible they can be. In New York, where I live, a mother sued her child’s $19,000-a-year nursery because her four-year-old was spending too much time playing with two-year-olds, thus ruining her chances of one day getting into an Ivy League university.

Huge story, but I suppose I can’t talk, since I’m the gal who let her nine-year-old take the subway alone and got dubbed ‘America’s Worst Mom’. Still, the other mom’s shame came from not believing her kid would be fine. She didn’t realise that mixed-age play is the greatest thing for kids since the invention of the sippy cup. For her daughter, lording it over those two-year-olds could have taught her how to rule the world.

In general, though, hounding parents for desperately trying to do the best for their kids is pointless. They have very little choice. Ours is a culture that almost insists adults supervise their children 24/7. Several American parents have been arrested for letting their kids go outside on their own. Once it became no longer the norm to let kids be unsupervised, we entered a vicious cycle. Parents helicopter in part because it’s hard — and sometimes illegal — not to.

Even if you’re a mum or dad who wants your kids to walk to school on their own, or play outside till dusk, the chances are they won’t have anyone to walk or play with. In 1971, 80 per cent of eight-year-olds walked to school alone in Britain. By 2006, it was down to 12 per cent of seven- to ten-year-olds.

If we were living in the end times, such hyper-supervision might make sense. But this is the safest era in human history. Britain had a slight uptick in violent crime this year — but it came after a 33-year low.

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