Oct. 17 and 18 I’ll be speaking at the amazing Battle of Ideas in London. The weekend’s wide-ranging topics include “Is Happiness Good for You?” “Can Big Data Save the World?” and “The Lighter Side of the Dark Net.” (Which I can’t wait to hear!)
My session is, “Free-Range Parenting: Reckless or Responsible?” I was invited to speak by Ellie Lee, director of the Centre of Parenting Culture Studies at the University of Kent in Cantebury and co-author of “Parenting Culture Studies” (Palgrave, 2014). She calls herself a “parenting non-expert,” a term I love so much, I plan to borrow it. Here are her thoughts about what she studies, and why:
1 – Those of us who set up the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies have been primarily concerned (over the past 5 years we have been going) to explain how a wide variety of parental actions or attitudes, once considered uncontroversial and also not the business of parenting experts and policy makers, have become blown up into such a big deal.We’ve looked at feeding babies, having a drink when pregnant, disciplining children, playing with them (or not) as some topics. Overall what emerges is that mundane and ordinary ways of raising children have become considered sources of harm. The word ‘abuse’ or the word ‘neglect’ is used remarkably frequently to describe what used to be ordinary. ‘Free Range Parenting’ is a very clear example. It’s actually what used to be ‘bringing up kids’ – or even not something parents thought about that much at all e.g. kids playing out without their mum and dad around, or getting themselves to school. Just normal. Now, this has got turned into something that means parents run the gauntlet (even get arrested in the US). These developments are very important for families and society – they speak to a politics and culture that is very family un-friendly. It’s important that people like me (sociologists of the family) draw attention to how this risk-consciousness about children has emerged and the problems it creates..2 – There is also a level of recognition that children don’t have enough freedom away from the parental gaze. But we in CPCS are very concerened to challenge the way parents themselves get blamed for this, for being ‘over anxious’, ‘cotton wooling’, ‘helicopters’. Sure, alot are, but as long as overblown concerns about child abuse and dangers to children are what we are told about all the time, how else could it be? As the US shows (we think Britain is the same) being a ‘helicopter parent’ is what is culturally sanctioned – doing everything for your kids is the way to help them succeed and stay safe, we are all told, all the time. To not do this means being perceived as a ‘bad parent’. And in any case, it isn’t just parents restricting freedom. The whole structure of school policies and ‘safeguarding’ institutionalises a risk averse outlook. So we ALL (as adults) need to have a serious coming to terms with what has happened and what to do. This is why we have organised the session at the Battle of Ideas – to make a contribution to this.