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.