Opinion

The price of parental hypervigilance

Truly neglecting your kids is a crime, but most parents today make the opposite mistake

Like most kids of my generation, I spent much of my childhood outdoors, free of direct parental supervision. In the summer, I'd go out the door at 7:30 a.m., return for lunch, and disappear until dinnertime. My wanderings on foot and bike in the Brooklyn of the 1960s took me miles from home, to schoolyards, parks, backyards, alleys, empty lots, a bike path adjacent to New York Harbor, and a municipal golf course where we built forts in "the woods" and got chased by maintenance guys whom we easily outran. My days were rich with experience; I usually came home happy, though often bloodied, bruised, and streaked with sweat and dirt. Today, my parents could have been arrested for giving me such a long leash; it's evidently now a crime to let your kids roam beyond your field of vision.

True parental neglect is a terrible crime. But the more prevalent problem today is parental hypervigilance, and I include myself in the indictment. When my daughters were young, I hovered over them whenever they went outside, even on our quiet, dead-end street. Karla and I always knew where the girls were, and even their soccer games, biking, and skating had adult supervision. Most of the other parents I knew were just as protective. Consider the message we were sending with our constant, worried surveillance: The world is a deeply scary place, and you can't handle it without Mommy's and Daddy's help. My daughters have become pretty independent despite me, but I regret that their childhoods were so much more circumscribed than mine. The process of growing up has a purpose, and it's not solely to survive until adulthood.

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