G.K. Chesterton, a journalist who gets it. For “man falling off scaffolding” substitute any tragic story of a child in the news.
G.K. Chesterton, a journalist who gets it. For “man falling off scaffolding” substitute any tragic story of a child in the news.
“It is the one great weakness of journalism as a picture of our modern existence, that it must be a picture made up entirely of exceptions..We announce on flaring posters that a man has fallen off a scaffolding. We do not announce on flaring posters that a man has not fallen off a scaffolding. Yet this latter fact is fundamentally more exciting, as indicating that that moving tower of terror and mystery, a man, is still abroad upon the earth. That the man has not fallen off aÂ scaffolding is really more sensational; and it is also some thousand times more common..But journalism cannot reasonably be expected thus to insist upon the permanent miracles. Busy editors cannot be expected to put on their posters, “Mr. Wilkinson Still Safe,” or “Mr. Jones, of Worthing, Not Dead Yet.” They cannot announce the happiness of mankind at all..They cannot describe all the forks that are not stolen, or all the marriages that are not judiciously dissolved. Hence the complex picture they give of life is of necessity fallacious; they can only represent what is unusual. However democratic they may be, they are only concerned with the minority.” —Â GK Chesterton
As you can probably guess from his language and examples — and photo — Â GK is no longer with us. In fact, thisÂ poet, theologian and “man of towering genius” (so George Bernard Shaw called him) died in 1936, but his words are no less true today. The news reports the exceptions. We see them so often — the kidnappings, the rapes, the kids who die in hot cars — we think they are common when they are anything but. — L
But young parents today are so brainwashed, that even pointing out the obvious (stated in your blog) is useless. They will just shake their heads, sigh, and point out that “it is different now”. Over and over. I do it anyway, but it would be more effective if someone young /their age sincerely would say so. The fear conditioning has been alarmingly successful.
Miriam, I respectfully disagree with your view of “young parents.” Being a young parent myself, we are Free-Ranging our kids, and it’s all the older people in my family and my husband’s family saying “that’s not safe. Things are different now.”
There is definitely more fear coming from those relatives that regularly watch the news, so Lenore and GK are definitely on to something!
Am I a young parent? I’m 33. I had my first at 20, so I’m used to thinking of myself as a “young” parent, but maybe I’m old now. 😛
When I definitely was young, I was a bit more overprotective because I was less confident. I didn’t know what kids were capable of, and what it was “ok” to allow. Having an older parent tell me that the kids would be fine would have definitely helped me along to being Free Range.
Lenore: I love Chesterton! Great post. 😀
Respectfully, I also disagree. As Mr. Chesterson indicates, this is certainly not anything new. “If it bleeds, it leads” has long been the focus of news. Whether it is to sell papers or to advocate a certain cause, this has always been true.
I have some friends that work for a trade group for the video game industry. They have been fighting a long battle with politicians and parent groups over bans and restrictions on sales. One of them has written several articles, pointing out the long history of this kind of hysteria, from dime novels and comic books in the mid 20th century, up to heavy mental music and Dungeons and Dragons in the 1980’s. Parents in the past were no more capable of resisting fear then parents of today.
IMO, Free Ranging takes a lot of effort. It isn’t as simple as just doing what was done in the past. Some modern safety practices, such as better car designs and limiting the use of asbestos, are beneficial. The key is to question policies and practices and see what works and what doesn’t and to also questions laws, rules, and regulations to see if they are necessary or they are doing more harm than good.
I think Miriam has something of a point — it seems like (I’ll substitute “contemporary” for “young” here) parents today are more unified in a culture of fear — or at least, that culture has taken over the “common culture” a lot more. Not that there aren’t many exceptions, but it’s more run-of-the-mill for people to have the fearful attitude.
Read some older fiction, back into the 19th century, and you’ll see characters portrayed who constantly feared their children would be taken by gypsies, or damaged by unhealthy air (not London smog, which was obviously harmful, but stuff like “twilight air”), or whatever. It’s not a new thing.
But what may be a new thing is that the perpetually fearful are the ones running the show now, writing the mainstream articles, and getting the policies passed in the schools and community groups.
“comic books in the mid 20th century”
Worth reading is this book:
C.K. Chesterton was a genius, with stupendous hair.
What we should be asking ourselves is why, when the rate of violent crime is lower than it’s been in years, is our the Justice Department insisting that child sexual exploitation is rampant, and that predators are lurking everywhere?
What little statistical evidence they offer to back up these claims are seriously flawed, and yet they go on bellowing about “predators,” and throwing people in jail who have no business being there, at tremendous expense to us, the taxpayers.
Why, I wonder, would our government want to scare us all half to death, to the point that we become obsessed with the idea that we’re not safe anymore, and that we need protection from the myriad of fiends who want to steal our children?
How much longer are we going to stand by and agree that yes, the emperor’s new clothes are splendid, when we should be saying, “Hey! He’s naked! This is all just a ruse!”
Yay Lenore! I’m not Catholic, and I’m not a particular fan of mystery stories, but I think Chesterton is one of the two or three most quotable men in history. It’s amazing how often he says exactly the right thing.
I used some of this passage when I taught journalism. Love it!
But little did I know that Chesterton had such amazing FREE-RANGE HAIR!!
Forget the comb, my friends – towering genius has no time for it!!
This reminds me of an old joke:
An elderly man is talking to a group at the pub and says “My family built Church at the center of town. I built the walls of the Church with my own two hands. I laid the brick and spread the mortar. Does the down know me as McMillan the Mason? NO!”
“Then I made the gargoyles that adorn the roof. Working the stone with a hammer and chisel. Does the down know me as McMillan the Stone Carver? NO!”
“Lastly, I made the pews. Fitting the boards, sanding and finishing the wood. Does the down know me as McMillan the Carpenter? NO!”
The man paused, looked down at his pint and says “But if you screw one sheep…”
So many things we fear about our children seeing and experiencing never come to pass. But so many of the fear mongering adults are oblivious to that fact.
I most recently attended an Atlanta Braves game with my friend and after the game, he told me how upset he was at seeing a father sitting in front of us with his two very cute young sons, drinking a beer. Now the father wasn’t drunk or acting uncivil. He was just enjoying a beer. So Wayne thought that was a terrible influence on his young sons. I tried explaining to Wayne that most likely, those two little boys will turn out just fine and seeing their father drink an occasional beer will not affect them one iota! In fact, most of us who turned out just fine saw their parents take an occasional drink but many of us adults seem oblivious to that. I tried explaining to Wayne that it is not healthy to shelter children from the real world and it would probably do those kids more harm for the father to put on this facad that he’s a tee totaler but then drink alcohol behind his kids’ back. With that being the case, when those two kids turn 18 and go away to college, how are they gonna process seeing 21-year-old college students drunk and acting like imbeciles from too much booze?
The same goes for athletics. Nowadays when we see a young 10-year-old kid who actually LOVES exercising and eating right and who trains hard BY HIS OWN CHOICE and has the physique to show for it, the first thing people think is, “He’s too young for that and is gonna hurt himself!” “He’s gotta be stopped!” Adults nowadays automically assume the kid is being forced into this diet and exercise regime when it’s really the child’s choice. Perhaps there is an adult bodybuilder or olympic athlete that the kid idols and therefore, is trying to emulate. Goodness, let him!!!
In actuality, all of our olympic athletes started training hard and competing in their respective sport when they were young children AND THEY ALL TURNED OUT JUST FINE AND MANY HAVE OLYMPIC METALS TO PROVE IT!!!! But Americans seem oblivious to that fact when they see a young athletic prodigy. “Is he too young for this?” is always the question asked nowadays and my answer is NO!
Yea yea, I know, there have been cases in the media of kids being abused by being forced to exercise BUT that is NOT always the case and is usually the exception and not the rule!!!!
“the Justice Department insisting that child sexual exploitation is rampant, and that predators are lurking everywhere?”
Dear Justice Department:
If this is true, could they please be in prison (instead of you expecting all of us to live like WE’RE in prison)?
“I most recently attended an Atlanta Braves game with my friend and after the game, he told me how upset he was at seeing a father sitting in front of us with his two very cute young sons, drinking a beer. Now the father wasnâ€™t drunk or acting uncivil. He was just enjoying a beer. So Wayne thought that was a terrible influence on his young sons”
Is that completely asinine or am I just terribly influenced by my parents who happily drank beer/wine/whatever in front of us kids as long as I can remember (and no, they weren’t alcoholics and I’ve never seen them drunk)?
Papilio, yes, it’s asinine.
Yes that is nuts. And I say this despite the fact that my parents don’t drink. Still they wanted me to understand that one can drink responsibly in social settings, and pointed out differences in drinking habits so I could learn to see the difference between responsible and irresponsible drinking despite their lack of example.
I went to back to school night. There were two seventh graders (probably 12 or 13) following their parents around the school. One of them was embarrassed when the English teacher asked her about a group project. Most of us adults were only away from home for 2 1/2 hours.
I was so happy when I went home and my daughter was embarrassed for them. She wants to work in eighth grade and earn service hours but she only wants to see me in the hallway.
@Papilio What! A man was drinking a beer, at a ball game, in front of his children? That’s absolutely…normal.
A father demonstrating responsible moderate drinking among adults? The horror!
OMG! I can’t believe you quoted Chesterton! My favorite blogger quoting my favorite writer. My life is complete now. Thank you.
Chesterton is amazing at pointing out the miracle of everyday things. Have you read his short story “A Crazy Tale”? It’s brilliant — the story of a man who loses his memory and is constantly amazed by everyday things, like the sun and the grass. And his novel “The Napoleon of Notting Hill” has a great free-range mindset underlying it…it’s all about being loyal to place, specifically to small, human-sized places, like your street or your neighborhood, which is unnecessary when you’re always shuttling all over town, but if you’re a kid walking or biking in the part of your neighborhood that’s accessible to you, then “Napoleon of Notting Hill” makes so much sense. 🙂
Ok, sorry, my inner Chesterton geek will go back into hiding now. 🙂
@ Steve S: It’s true, parents of generations past had their sense of fears as well. But the difference between generations past, and this generation, is the lack of reasoning and common sense used. In the past, people feared (not as many as today, but still some), but because they stopped to think, reason, and use common sense, they were able to over come, or at least fight those fears to lead a more sane, and relaxed life. These days, parents go in hysterics over the smallest things. Society as whole, sees irrelevant issues as huge uncontrollable ones.
There is a reason why the human race has survived for thousands of years. Up until the digital age, we were all following very similar templates. Yes, we adjust to the times, but in the core of things, it was still the same. When it comes to children, that was teaching them how to be independent, fend for themselves when they are alone, and to learn the fundamentals of life so that they can become confident, productive and successful adults. These days, children are raised to be in protective bubbles till they are 18, in which the parents just kick them out of the nest expecting them to be just fine. The same conditioning that caused people to fear, is the same conditioning parents teach their children to fear. So by the time they reach their teen years, they incapable of doing things on their own. College students, still call their parents to help them with most things. They become forever in a cradle. Because that is how they were raised.
This is prevalent only in this generation. I’m sure there were those like that in the past. But they would have been considered the extreme minority. Today, the old school way of raising children is the minority.
Free Range (or the old ways of rearing children) takes no more effort than…raising children. Raising children is HARD WORK. It’s not suppose to be easy, it never has been. Raising children in this generation is just as difficult as the old ways. If not, more so. Because you now have fear and paranoia added along with stress on a daily basis. Instead of teaching children to be more independent with higher self-esteem, so that the parents job can be that much easier. ie. they aren’t constantly worrying, and trying to keep an eye on their kids. They actually add more work for themselves. Causing them more stress. More stress, means less focus. Less focus means you never really end up paying the attention you had hoped for. It’s an unproductive and detrimental cycle for parents and children alike.
(Sorry about going off-topic…)
So what do these people think will happen when kids see their parents drink a beer? What IS the ‘bad example’?
Is it about doing something you can do but the kids aren’t allowed to yet (but then you also shouldn’t drive when your kids can see it???), or do they believe that ‘drinking alcohol’ automatically equals ‘getting drunk’??
I’m not sure, but maybe they don’t want their kids to see that someone can drink without getting drunk and into trouble? It’s the all or nothing principle that does not allow for any sense of perspective. It is easier to say no drinking whatsoever, just as it is easier to say never leave a child in a car under any circumstance. No thinking or reasoning needed.
@EricS People who rallied against comic or dungeons&dragons never stopped to think. Comic was mostly destroyed and dungeons&dragons were often treated like dangerous people.
The only difference is that their consideration was not physical safety.
My son always asks for a sip of my beer, and if we’re not in a public establishment I give it to him. He’s loved it since he was a toddler. He prefers O’Douls to Coke, and we keep it in the fridge for him at home, and order it for him depending on house rules. We give him a half-glass of champagne when we’re drinking it. We discuss the taste of the wines we’re having with him, and ask for his opinion. He loves fine dining and trying new foods (he enjoyed uni last week). He’s 10.
By the time he’s a teenager he’ll have too sophisticated a palate for keg parties. He’ll be sipping Amarone while the other kids are chugging PBR.
“Teenager drinks alcohol illegally, very much enjoys a glass of Sauterne with his Foie Gras, and port with his cheese, and then bicycles home safely” will again not make the news.
Great quote. Not only are we only seeing the exceptions (because they are what sells news), but the pervasiveness of the press is greater than ever before because of internet and cable news. What may have been unknown on the other side of the country in the past, is now blared across the national and even international headlines. So the appearance is that there is more violence, when in reality there is less.
“Iâ€™m not sure, but maybe they donâ€™t want their kids to see that someone can drink without getting drunk and into trouble? ”
It’s possible, but I think it’s more likely a failure to understand that the reason that adults can do things kids can’t is because of maturity, not because adults are “allowed to do things that are bad.” Of course nobody thinks this consciously but it does seem to be the way some people process the reasons kids aren’t allowed to drink and have sex.
Drinking is BAD, only it’s not BAD when adults do it, somehow. But that’s a rather mistaken way of looking at the world — better to teach kids that there are things that are not bad to do, but aren’t appropriate to do until you reach a certain level of maturity, which young kids have not.
“By the time heâ€™s a teenager heâ€™ll have too sophisticated a palate for keg parties. Heâ€™ll be sipping Amarone while the other kids are chugging PBR.”
My kids ask to taste everything too and we let them. They think it’s mostly gross (and hate coffee too) but we explain how a great glass of wine can enhance a lovely meal or an ice cold beer at a hot ball game can be heaven on Earth. Should adults never drink around children? Because when they get to college it’s not like there will be bars or anything…Dangerizing anything (alcohol,smoking,childhood) only backfires, especially with kids.
I’ve heard kids talk about adults they observe smoking cigarettes say “That’s a bad person” based on just the smoking alone. I see obese people all the time. Eating is also an addiction. Should we ban obese parents from binging around their kids? When does this nonsense end? Does anyone talk to their kids anymore?
Add “Blonde Jokes” to the dangers that face our children:
so true, the media over-sensationalises everything. GK was definitely ahead of his time.
@Pentamom: So… people view both alcohol and sex as a black and white, all-or-nothing kind of thing…
And then they try to tell their kids that ALL alcohol and sex is BAD, while at the same time the kids get the message from all the rest of society that both things are in fact good fun, so now it’s fun and forbidden. Perfect teen bait.
@Kate, pentamom: Yes, it does sound like some all-or-nothing reasoning (“reasoning”…) going on there. With smoking I can kind of see that, but moderate levels of alcohol do no harm, and neither does safe consentual sex.
It’s just so dumb to tell kids that sex and alcohol are BAD, while at the same time society says it’s good fun. Are there better ways to get teens to drink and have sex than telling them it’s fun and forbidden??
Congratulations on the new site, Lenore! And on quoting G.K. — he’s one of my favorites.
Oh! – sorry about the doublepost! I thought it didn’t come through, so tried again (“Oops! Couldn’t find this page, blah blah”), and now came here to see if I could try a third time…
@Papilio – so agree with you about the alcohol thing. We don’t drink much at all by choice, but I have always tried to get across to the kids that it is fine to drink in moderation. I do think kids around where we live have odd ideas about actual drunks these days, too – we used to just step around them or over them, but that was in the days when you could go downtown and pick up Dad’s flagon and carry it home in the old brown paper bags (anyone else remember those, or am I showing my age? 🙂 ), so maybe kids aren’t as used to drunks, who tend in my experience to be harmless, at least the fallen-over ones :-).
About sex, though, being harmless – that’s a matter for personal religious and cultural preference. I do pass on to my kids what I believe, which is that pre- and extra-marital sex is wrong, but I also expect that they will do precisely as they like, so am just trying to keep the lines of communication open.
It does amaze me, too, when some of my friends talk about wanting their kids to have sex in their house, because at least then ‘they’re safe, and we know where they are’. Sorry, but that has to be the biggest case of helicoptering around. If my kids consider they are old enough to pursue an adult relationship, which is what sex should be part of, then they’re old enough to get their own apartment….
I think what is new is the pervasiveness of the fear mongering news. It’s in our faces 24/7, thanks to the news stations and the Internet.
Is it wrong to want to compile a list of all the children who managed to walk home safely whenever a tragedy strikes and just kinda want to throw it into everyone’s face?
hineata – I think that there is a difference between teaching children your moral views on sex and teaching children that sex is a bad thing. I know so many parents, likely because they are uncomfortable talking about sex, who treat sex as something dirty and best hidden as opposed to a great part of life, but one that you should really wait until you are older to enjoy for any number of reasons.
What a great quote. What a fantastic author. It’s good to know that common sense is timeless.
@hineata: Ehm… I’m not quite sure what to say. When I wrote ‘harmless’, I was thinking of consequences for health, just like with alcohol use, not of other people’s reactions and religious rules.
As a general, society-wide way to keep teens from getting into sex-related trouble (STD, pregnancy), religious rules are not the most effective strategy…
Countries with a very low teen pregnancy rate educate their teens so they can make their own informed decisions (and those societies allow them to explore this whole sex & romantic relationship thing), rather than just preaching abstinence-only. After all, IF teens decide they want to do it, they will find a way anyway (unless you lock them in the basement 24/7, but there are some legal downsides to that…) – better be realistic about that. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying YOU preach ab-only or that your strategy can’t possibly work for yo and your children!)
Personally I’m all for pre-marital sex; I think it’s important to get to know yourself and your partner and the relationship you have – going through this coming-of-age process – *before* taking that big, important, official intended-for-the-rest-of-your-life decision that marriage still is. What I’m not all for, is sleeping around with loads of different people; I do expect my future kids to be in a serious relationship – but ‘serious’ doesn’t need to be marriage/rest-of-your-life-serious right away.
As for allowing them to have sex ‘under your roof’ – yeah, that’s common practice around here 🙂
@Donna – very true. I think open communication is the best way, and it is a shame when parents don’t talk about it. We seem to be forever talking about it, LOL, thanks to the age the kids are at, and the fact that our church, like many ‘Pente’ types in NZ (which btw in many areas I think may be a little different to the types in the States) is big into people talking about the lives God saved them from, including graphic descriptions of things like abortion, drugs, the results of drugs and booze on sex and pregnancy, teen pregnancy, yada, yada, yada. Anyone who thinks church types shelter their kids from life has never sat through an evangelical service, at least down here :-).
@Papilio – it’s down to beliefs :-). I just want my kids to wait until they are in an adult relationship to have sex, and the adult relationship I think the right one is marriage :-). Personally I’m glad I didn’t do ‘it’, LOL, before I got married, as my fertility ‘ability’ for want of a better word proved to be on the high side of normal, and
I’d probably have a dozen sprogs of different types trailing around behind me by now….
With one of my girls, though, the whole teen sex thing is going to be a moot point, as she won’t be hitting puberty until she’s just about out of her teens anyway. As for the other two, well, as I say, while I hope they’ll follow my beliefs they’ll do what they like….as long as it’s not in my house:-). You wonderful Dutch folk are just a bit more liberal than I am prepared for …. 🙂
PS, just stating my opinions and beliefs, obviously. NZ itself has a high teen pregnancy rate, living together rate, etc. Heck, even the church seems to have a high teen pregnancy rate :-).
The thing that a lot of fear-mongers forget is that most stuff on the news is an exception to the rule. If kids were getting kidnapped every day, they wouldn’t be on the news because it would just be a fact of life.
@Hineata: “itâ€™s down to beliefs :-). ”
I know! That what makes this conversation a bit… risky… I usually try to avoid religious discussions…
“Personally Iâ€™m glad I didnâ€™t do â€˜itâ€™, LOL, before I got married, as my fertility â€˜abilityâ€™ for want of a better word proved to be on the high side of normal, and Iâ€™d probably have a dozen sprogs of different types trailing around behind me by nowâ€¦”
(Wouldn’t they have moved out by now… 😛 )
Ah, but that’s what ‘double Dutch’ is for (finally an English saying/word containing the word ‘Dutch’ that actually makes sense! 🙂 )…
Actually, this is why I would think it a good idea to mandate sex education in schools to teach about STDs and birth control and correct condom use, etc. That way, as a religious parent, you don’t get this situation that you kind of have to contradict yourself by talking about how important abstinence until marriage is AND teach the kids about birth control – you can just loudly disagree with that darned school (that in turn can blame that darned gov’t) for teaching your kids that stuff and tell them your own rules ‘instead’, while the kids still know how to, ehm, keep NZ’s teen pregnancy level down in case they flout your rules. But I guess that could be too liberal as well…? :-/
(Hard for me to know from the far end of the scale…!! 😀 )
@Papilio – oh, I love those ideas :-). The bit about the kids having already moved out, particularly!
And blaming the government …not a bad idea at all (always fun!) – though ours’ is changing as I write (Election Day, oh yay!) so not sure if I’ll have the same government to blame tonight as I did this morning :-).
I wonder how I can blame the government for my youngest’s current crappy behaviour too – not enough subsidies for boarding school? :-).
@Hineata: Hahaha – sounds like you had a looong day with your kids! 😀
I knew blaming the gov’t would work 😛 (Who cares which one? O wait – wow, you guys changed your election system! That seems quite brave. Gotta admit I wonder from time to time what a more proportional system would do in the US…)
Not enough money for his school to attract Snape-like teachers? Or for fun stuff – maybe he dislikes school so much he acts out on Saturday…