Readers — Two things: First, this being Memorial Day Weekend, I am taking a three-day break! I’ll be back in the saddle on Tuesday, but until then, talk amongst yourselves.
Second, here’s a little thought-provoking note I got the other day that should provide plenty of discussion around the picnic table. (And if you’re reading this in Australia: Sorry! Brrrrr!)
It’s been a great and wild ride since announcing “Take Our Children to the Park…” Day. If you’re near a TV tonight, I’m on CNN at around 8:45 Eastern Time, discussing it. Here are my opeds about it in The Times (of London) and The Guardian. Meantime, I wish everyone, young and old, a wonderful Free-Range weekend! — L.
Dear Free-Range Kids: In an attempt to help promote “Take Your Child To The Park….And Leave Them There Day” I’ve been posting on assorted parenting forums and other bulletin boards where moms congregate. I’ve seen everything from the typical blame the victim–”How would you feel if something terrible happened?”–to the pious– “I would never leave my child alone any place that I wouldn’t leave a million dollars.” It’s that last statement I want to address.
It certainly sounds like a wonderful rule of thumb, but dig a little deeper and it becomes clear how flawed that logic is. For starters, and this may seem to be an astoundingly obvious statement, money isn’t a child. Money doesn’t need to learn how to share, resolve conflict, solve problems, or any of the thousands of other skills children must learn in order to be successful adults. Even if you smack some googly eyes on it, a la the Geico commercial, it’s still just a stack of money and has no needs whatsoever.
Money can’t fight back. If we have done our jobs as parents, our children should know that it’s not safe to go off with strangers. They should have a playbook of what to do if someone threatens them or makes them uncomfortable. Money doesn’t have legs. It can’t run from a threat. It doesn’t have arms with which to defend itself, nor a voice with which to cry for help.
The second problem with this seemingly innocuous statement is a problem of scale. There are, presumably, way more people who would be interested in stealing a stack of money than in doing the same to a child. As Lenore has often pointed out, in this day and age of 24/7 cable news, CSI, Law & Order and other programs in which children are regularly depicted as the victims, it can be hard to remember that every moment is NOT an accident waiting to happen, every stranger is not an immediate threat to our children, and every second a child spends out of our sight is not the moment that they’ll decide to take a long walk off a short pier.
Finally, the implication in the axiom of “Don’t leave your child any place you wouldn’t leave a million dollars” is insidious. The reason WHY just recently bubbled to the surface of my mind as a coherent thought: It is the worst kind of justification for helicopter parenting. The underlying meaning is that any parent who could leave their child alone for even a second in what the writer considered to be an unsafe environment doesn’t value their children. The writer let herself off the hook by making it clear that she considers her children to be worth a million bucks while at the same time implying that I didn’t.
In fact, I think exactly the opposite is true. Not only do I think my child is worth a million bucks, I think other people who interact with him will see his potential. I think those people, if my son is threatened or hurt, will react to protect his potential if I’m not present to do so. I believe that the vast majority of people are inherently good. And I believe that a million bucks, whether stored in the mattress or chained to my side and never spent, is a fortune that has been wasted.