stranger things

Why It’s Hard to Raise Your Kids Like The Ones on “Stranger Things”

If you watch Stranger Things with your kids, there’s a good chance they think the strangest things of all are not the slimy monsters without faces but the kids riding their bikes without parental supervision.

I wrote about the Stranger Things phenom in the New York Post last week, asking 21st century questions like:

Why aren’t El, Will, Max, Dustin, Lucas and Mike ever seen in a minivan on their way to soccer? What kind of parent lets their kids battle evil without a phone for emergencies? And, dear God, where are their bike helmets?

Of course, “Stranger Things” is supernatural fiction, but it’s very realistic in one regard: Most ’80s kids, while not facing demons from the Upside Down, faced the fear, fun and freedom that came from a latchkey and a Schwinn.

I went on to compare the child independence that was once just a given with the new norms discovered by a recent survey of 2500 Americans across the geographic and income spectrum. Today’s parents, it found:

…don’t feel comfortable letting their kids walk to school, ride their bike to a friend’s place, or play in a park unsupervised until they are at least 12 years old.

Twelve is also the age parents believe their kids should get phones. So, really, parents don’t think their kids should go out into the world — even their own neighborhood — until they are out there with a communication device.

Which means their kids are sort of independent…but also sort of not. Because unlike the ’80s kids, today’s have a way to instantly contact their parents, and their parents have a way to constantly monitor their kids. The older generation is connected to the younger in a way that was never previously possible.

I realize that cell phones are as normal a part of growing up as bikes were. I gave my kids phones. But once upon a time, knowing that you were on your own, free, and responsible, and trusted, was a big step in growing up. You had to depend on yourself and your friends. Your parents had to believe in you, too. They proved it by letting you go.

It’s not strange to me that kids are feeling more down these days, when there’s simply no way for them to ride around their ever-growing world without their parents, in a way, always riding with them.

4 Responses to Why It’s Hard to Raise Your Kids Like The Ones on “Stranger Things”

  1. Common sense July 26, 2022 at 6:58 am #

    Kids are down and have more anxiety for the same reason prisoners do. Constant 24 hour observation, everything scheduled,no free time, every activity must be for educational or other reason not just for fun, only supervised outings. Most are no longer given or expected to do chore, some thinking it’s akin to child abuse to expect children to help around the house. Instead of working towards something it’s given. Their expected to go to college and when they graduate they are expected to magically over night know how to take care of themselves with no practice. No wonder mental health disorders are at an all time high.

  2. ClemenceDane July 26, 2022 at 2:17 pm #

    My problem is I watch Stranger Things and it just seems normal to me. I don’t notice the “anachronisms” because my brain just immediately clicks back into what I would call “common sense mode.” I have trouble telling when a movie or tv show is set in the past because my mind has never accepted cell phones and helicopter parents as normal.

    When are we going to break these kids out of their strait jackets?

  3. Christopher Byrne July 27, 2022 at 6:56 am #

    Unfettered bike-riding and the “just be home for dinner” mentality is only a small part of the “Stranger Things” ethos. The larger issue, which the physical freedom represents, is that kids had a level of autonomy and agency that they are not given today.

    For us, it was unthinkable that anyone would take out the car for us to go the library, or anywhere that was about a mile away. “That’s why you got a bike.” There was also the city bus…and our feet. Moreover, if you watch the kids in Hawkins and how they interact with adults, the older teens are respected in their requests, and it’s assumed they know how to use a microfilm reader, for example.

    Going into a house haunted by a demon may be an extreme example of kids having agency, but you have to admit that they were free to make their own mistakes, figure out their way into and out of situations, and make choices…for better or worse.

    What’s missing in today’s culture is the respect for kids and their abilities. That might be understandable, given that they haven’t been raised to be independent from earlier days, but we are clearly hobbling kids when we don’t give them the chance to be in charge of their world, even with smart limitations.

    We’ve gone from the cultural assumption that “the kids are all right” to the assumption that “there’s danger at every corner.” Besides the melodrama and egoism of that shift, the kids in “Stranger Things” prove that even when there IS danger around every corner, they can figure out what to do. No wonder kids love it, it’s as much a superpower in today’s world as anything you’d find at Hogwarts.

  4. BW July 27, 2022 at 11:34 am #

    This observation isn’t lost on the Duffer brothers. At one point in season 3, before entering a ventilation duct to infiltrate a secret Soviet lab, Erica Sinclair says “Commence operation child endangerment.”