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  • April 28, 2014

The Overprotected Kid:

It’s hard to absorb how much child­hood norms have shifted in just one gen­er­a­tion. Actions that would have been con­sid­ered para­noid in the ’70s—walking third-graders to school, for­bid­ding your kid to play ball in the street, going down the slide with your child in your lap—are now rou­tine. In fact, they are the mark­ers of good, respon­si­ble par­ent­ing. One very thor­ough study of “children’s inde­pen­dent mobil­ity,” con­ducted in urban, sub­ur­ban, and rural neigh­bor­hoods in the U.K., shows that in 1971, 80 per­cent of third-graders walked to school alone. By 1990, that mea­sure had dropped to 9 per­cent, and now it’s even lower. When you ask par­ents why they are more pro­tec­tive than their par­ents were, they might answer that the world is more dan­ger­ous than it was when they were grow­ing up. But this isn’t true, or at least not in the way that we think. For exam­ple, par­ents now rou­tinely tell their chil­dren never to talk to strangers, even though all avail­able evi­dence sug­gests that chil­dren have about the same (very slim) chance of being abducted by a stranger as they did a gen­er­a­tion ago. Maybe the real ques­tion is, how did these fears come to have such a hold over us? And what have our chil­dren lost—and gained—as we’ve suc­cumbed to them?

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