My Top Parenting Pet Peeve?

 

I have a lot of grievances about how we as a society talk about parenting, and the prevalence of fear-mongering about every single thing is probably my highest. As a society, we seem incapable of assessing risk: we helicopter kids in the worst ways imaginable (mom at the playground: you don’t have to wait for your four-year-old at the bottom of that slide), and yet 80 percent of our kids are strapped into unsafe car seat configurations, despite the fact that car accidents are the number one cause of death for children.

One of the reasons people are having fewer kids is because parents are held to an unreasonable standard by strangers in public all the time. I cannot count how many times I’ve been yelled at for my parenting by random people; you’d think I was an actual child abuser. Most recently, last week I let my three-year-old son walk 15 feet behind me in the mall while I ran ahead to call the elevator. A man saw him, got hysterical “Where is his mother?” and when I casually said “he’s mine” I was screamed the riot act about abduction. I looked around at other people like “is he for real?” and was met with a dozen disapproving stares, not of his behavior, but of mine.

Here’s the thing about stranger abduction: it is incredibly uncommon. How uncommon?  If we were able to assess risk and statistics, parents consumed with fear of stranger abduction should never let their children walk outside if it’s raining; because being hit by lightning is five times more likely than being kidnapped by a stranger. You know the stories because they are so exceedingly rare, they make national news. Elizabeth Smart, a teenage girl abducted from her bed at home is still famous because of her kidnapping, well over a decade later. And even more surprising given how frenzied our society is about stranger abduction: it’s getting even rarer.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post, David Finkelhor, an expert on missing children explained:

Stranger abductions, such as the case of the three young women in Cleveland, are fearsome because they appear random and so often involve rape or homicide. But children taken by strangers or slight acquaintances represent only one-hundredth of 1 percent of all missing children.

Which is what infuriated me so much about this video on Facebook, which has been shared almost half a million times and viewed over 147 million times already, is how senseless it is, and how it feeds into this culture of fear. In it, a father on his phone doesn’t notice when a man sneaks up to his son playing on the playground in order to “abduct him.”

The comments are, predictably, filled with parent-shaming sanctimony from people who want to feel justified never letting their children out of their sight for a moment, who have never zoned out at a playground.

To those sharing it in my newsfeed, I say: spare me. If you want to be a hovering control freak and raise a child incapable of being alone, or even walking alone, for 10 seconds, fine. But don’t pretend that other people’s children are somehow endangered for being given a few minutes of unsupervised fun in a total bubble, either at a suburban playground or in a mall.

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  1. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    This has been going on since my kids were little thirty years ago. It’s very frustrating.

    My kids grew up in the Adam Walsh and Child Find era. A horrible thing to have happened, and I think the extra vigilance was probably a good thing, given the child molestation scandals in churches and schools that started to come out in the 1990s.

    But at that time, I heard a Massachusetts State Police officer say pretty much what you have written. Paraphrasing, “This milk carton thing is causing parents to be way more nervous than they need to be. Look, if a child were kidnapped by someone the child didn’t know, the entire police force would turn out to find the child. It simply doesn’t happen.”

    There are too many people without children watching every single thing parents do. They have nothing better to do than criticize. It was driving me nuts thirty years ago.

    That said, I became the laughing stock of my town one time. My Brownie troop was doing some activity on the playground of our elementary school during a ice cream social that was going on at the middle school. I was sitting with the kids out on the playground when this strange person came up to me and asked to take little Suzie back to the middle school where her mother, a teacher there, was helping out with ice cream social. I said, “Absolutely not. I have never seen you before in my life.”

    This went all over town, people laughing at me. In all fairness to those doing the laughing, the person trying to pick up Suzie was also a middle school teacher. But I had never met her.

    Too bad. I was responsible for those twenty kids. :) :)

    • #1
  2. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    When my wife and I were walking through our neighborhood on Sunday, I was very happy to see two girls, probably 8 or so, walking to the playground on their own.  Just as I had done years ago.

    This in West Los Angeles / Culver City.  Bravo to their parents.

    • #2
  3. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    Well, I had a moment over Christmas.

    I was in charge of the two granddaughters (2 and 1) while their parents went out to dinner.

    I left the two of them in the living room to go out back and feed the dogs. And then I hear the two year old talking …

    Rushed to the living room, and there she was chatting with the UPS driver. He’d knocked on the door and she had answered, then engaged him in conversation.

    I don’t know who was more scared – me or him. His eyes were the size of saucers.

    Granddaughter and I had a chat about not opening the door while I kicked myself for the door not being locked.

    The next morning I confessed all to daughter – daughter asked granddaughter: What did you say to the UPS man?

    Granddaughter: Thank you!

     

     

    • #3
  4. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Threat assessment in general is a lost art.

    • #4
  5. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    TBA (View Comment):
    Threat assessment in general is a lost art.

    Guess which sex is better at it, on average. Guess which sex we hate today.

    • #5
  6. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus
    @JClimacus

    Parents are more over-protective yet lazier than they used to be.

    My top parental peeve is parents who do not teach their children how to behave in public places – especially restaurants. My wife and I very much enjoy going out to eat, but it is so common now to be sat next to a table with unruly and noisy children. So much so that we often preemptively ask to be sat as far away from any children as possible.

    We did the same things with our kids our parents did with us: We trained our children how to behave in restaurants, practicing at home before we allowed them to go out with us. And if they misbehaved, one of us took the miscreant out of the restaurant and sat in the car with him while the others ate. Eventually, they learn. We used to get regular compliments on how well-behaved our children were. But our kids were just what used to be normal.

    Parenting is hard work. Parents nowadays don’t want to arrange for or pay for a babysitter, so they drag the kids with them. And they don’t want to sit in the parking lot with a misbehaving kid, so they either use handheld electronics as a pacifier or simply let the kids run riot. And the same parents who panic over the illusory danger of abduction will let their toddler play with forks and knives, banging away on the table and potentially sticking it in their own eye.

    And they feel entitled. My wife has occasionally spoken to parents with out of control kids and they nearly always respond indignantly – how dare we judge their parenting! Don’t we know how tough it is?? Yeah, we do. But unlike them, we were willing to put in the work it took to be good parents.

    • #6
  7. Blue State Curmudgeon Inactive
    Blue State Curmudgeon
    @BlueStateCurmudgeon

    I’m sure this dates me but I can remember growing up in suburban Long Island; I would tell my parents in the morning I was going out in the neighborhood to play with my friends and the next time they saw me was when I came home for dinner.  They were great parents but helicopter parenting just didn’t exist then.

    • #7
  8. PHenry Member
    PHenry
    @PHenry

    Blue State Curmudgeon (View Comment):
    I would tell my parents in the morning I was going out in the neighborhood to play with my friends and the next time they saw me was when I came home for dinner.

    “OK honey, be home when the street lights come on” was Mom’s response.  We had no cell phones or beepers, just the loosely defined ‘neighborhood’ as a boundary.

    Yet, somehow, we all survived intact.

    Those were different times, to be sure. Were we just naïve?

    • #8
  9. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    The fear infects the kids, too.  My wife was a teacher’s aide at an elementary school. One year, she drew bus duty on the first day of school. She spotted a child, who appeared lost and confused, not in a bus line, not knowing where to go. (Not uncommon on the first day of school.) She approached the boy and asked him if he needed help finding his ride home, to which the tearful child began yelling, “Stranger danger! Stranger danger!”

    • #9
  10. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad


    Bethany Mandel
    :In an op-ed for the Washington Post, David Finkelhor, an expert on missing children explained:

    Stranger abductions, such as the case of the three young women in Cleveland, are fearsome because they appear random and so often involve rape or homicide. But children taken by strangers or slight acquaintances represent only one-hundredth of 1 percent of all missing children.

    It’s not about the odds, but the possibility.  A couple of months ago, I made this post about the odds of being killed in a terrorist attack (or of dying in any peculiar way):

    http://ricochet.com/467750/terrorism-its-not-about-the-odds/

    As for losing children in a mall, I’ve had that personal experience before.  When our three daughters were little and all walking, I took them sans spouse to the mall during the Christmas shopping season.  While we were in the toy store, I held youngest daughter’s hand and let the other two roam around and look.  When it came time to leave, I searched the store and could not find them.  And yes, I panicked.  Still holding on to youngest daughter’s hand, we left the store.  As I was headed towards the mall security office (thinking a PA announcement would help) I spotted the other two daughters walking along, holding hands, looking around as if nothing was wrong.  Interestingly, not a single shopper in the mall thought they were lost.  Nonetheless, I quickly caught up with them and reminded them they weren’t suppose to leave the store without me.  To this day, I have no idea how they slipped past me and got back into the main area of the mall (so much for my second career as a security guard).

    Now, to address your experience at the mall:

    Bethany Mandel: A man saw him, got hysterical “Where is his mother?” and when I casually said “he’s mine” I was screamed the riot act about abduction. I looked around at other people like “is he for real?” and was met with a dozen disapproving stares, not of his behavior, but of mine.

    These people were way out of line, especially the man who initiated the hysteria.  I’ve run into a situation of spotting a seemingly lost child at a mall.  I ask out loud, “Are you lost little boy?” (or girl).  So far, there’s always been a parent near by, and the response is usually something like, “Thank you!  I only turned my back for a minute.”

    I hope you told them all to drop dead, but I’m sure you’re too nice a person . . .

     

     

     

    • #10
  11. Chuckles Thatcher
    Chuckles
    @Chuckles

    PHenry (View Comment):

    Blue State Curmudgeon (View Comment):
    I would tell my parents in the morning I was going out in the neighborhood to play with my friends and the next time they saw me was when I came home for dinner.

    “OK honey, be home when the street lights come on” was Mom’s response. We had no cell phones or beepers, just the loosely defined ‘neighborhood’ as a boundary.

    Yet, somehow, we all survived intact.

    Those were different times, to be sure. Were we just naïve?

    I don’t think so.  The OP has that right:  At the same time, they WERE different times.  There was discipline in the public school system, children were disciplined at home, church attendance was much higher, respect for law and order was notable, population density was much less (well, except perhaps Long Island), the total US population having grown from 144 mill when I was born to 172 mill when Blue State Curmudgeon was born to 200 mill when he was ten, and some 325 million today.  My observation has been that, where population density is highest, common decency is lowest.

    • #11
  12. Chuckles Thatcher
    Chuckles
    @Chuckles

    I live in a rural farm area.  The one-lane road that goes past my place is about two miles long with like 8 homes on it and we watch out for one another.  We get something like 20-30 vehicles a day going down the road and they are all regulars.  I see more deer than people on any given day.

    When my son & his wife are up visiting with their teenage kids, she freaks when one of her teenage daughters gets out of sight walking on that road.  The reason?  Someone might drive by and take them.

     

    • #12
  13. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    I go to a lot of Brewer games at Miller Park.  My seats are in the 4th deck.  I don’t park in the stadium parking lot, but on a public street about a mile away, connected to the stadium by a bike trail that runs through the adjacent VA grounds.

    One Sunday last summer I was at a game with my (then) 7-year-old and my sister-in-law.   Usual thing leaving the stadium is for the kid to run  down the ramp ahead of us from the 4th deck to the ground level while we walk at our usual leisurely pace.  Then  he waits at the bottom and stands and points and laughs at us for being so slow.

    This particular day, we got to the bottom and he wasn’t there.  Huh.  Looked around for a minute or two, no sign of him.  Not real worried, but let a nearby usher know we had a missing kid.  He put the word out on the radio while I checked the nearby bathrooms.  Few more minutes, still nothing.  Now we get the cops involved…

    Long story short, we eventually got word that the VA police have him – although it still took about 45 minutes after that before he was delivered back to us.  Major communication problems between the four groups involved  – Stadium ushers, stadium security, Milwaukee Police, and VA police, and it wasn’t until I actually saw my kid get out of the police car that I believed they really had him.

    What happened was, he got to the bottom of the ramp and decided to take off for the car (I never really got a good explanation from him of what he was thinking).  He made it all the way to the car, then decided since we weren’t there to turn around and head back to the stadium.  He was about halfway back when a jogger noticed the unattended child, stopped and questioned him, then flagged down the VA police.

    Ironically, we would have been reunited with him a lot sooner if the jogger had just let him go on his way – he’d have been back to the stadium where we were waiting in about 5-10 minutes, instead of the 30-45 minutes we had to wait.

    Two things stick in my mind about the experience:

    1:  My sister-in-law said she thought I was going to have a stroke – the longer this went on the redder my face got.

    2:  As we were all walking back to the car after it was all over and discussing the situation, my Sister-in-law used the f-word (as in “it seemed like nobody knew what the [f-word] they were doing”).  I’ve known her for 18 years, and I had *never* heard her swear before, not even a hell or damm.

     

     

    • #13
  14. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Chuckles (View Comment):

    PHenry (View Comment):

     

    Those were different times, to be sure. Were we just naïve?

    I don’t think so. The OP has that right: At the same time, they WERE different times. There was discipline in the public school system, children were disciplined at home, church attendance was much higher, respect for law and order was notable, population density was much less (well, except perhaps Long Island), the total US population having grown from 144 mill when I was born to 172 mill when Blue State Curmudgeon was born to 200 mill when he was ten, and some 325 million today. My observation has been that, where population density is highest, common decency is lowest.

    It’s been a while since I’ve read the official statistics on this, but child abduction was substantially more common (not that it was common, just more common) 50 or 60 years ago.  For some reason, no matter how much the crime rate drops, many people are inclined to believe we are living in the most dangerous time in history.  This also goes for beliefs about pollution.

    • #14
  15. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Chuckles (View Comment):

    PHenry (View Comment):

    Those were different times, to be sure. Were we just naïve?

    I don’t think so. The OP has that right: At the same time, they WERE different times. There was discipline in the public school system, children were disciplined at home, church attendance was much higher, respect for law and order was notable, population density was much less (well, except perhaps Long Island), the total US population having grown from 144 mill when I was born to 172 mill when Blue State Curmudgeon was born to 200 mill when he was ten, and some 325 million today. My observation has been that, where population density is highest, common decency is lowest.

    It’s been a while since I’ve read the official statistics on this, but child abduction was substantially more common (not that it was common, just more common) 50 or 60 years ago. For some reason, no matter how much the crime rate drops, many people are inclined to believe we are living in the most dangerous time in history. This also goes for beliefs about pollution.

    During the incident I described above, the cop I was talking to reassured me “we’ve never lost a kid yet”.  Intellectually true, and made perfect sense to me as soon as I got my kid back.  In the moment, not terribly helpful!

    I will let him run down the ramp without me again this season.  I put a stop to it for the rest of last season, not because I was fearful something would happen, but as a consequence for not following instructions to wait at the bottom.

    • #15
  16. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    I have lost my kids before – we left one behind in a mall (he sensibly bummed a cell phone call from a passing woman), We lost one in a packed gun show, but the show management handled it fine. I chalk them both up as learning experiences for my kids. I am definitely hands-off, and both those kids know it well.

    I cannot stand the busybodies who, when they see a kid by themselves, don’t look for the parents, or keep an eye on the kid, but instead insist that the only right thing to do is to CALL THE POLICE AND REPORT THE PARENTS. If they actually cared about the kids, that would be one thing, but what they really want to do is nail parents, especially mothers.

     

    • #16
  17. Kay of MT Inactive
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    All the above is well said, but if you ever had an experience of having your child, or niece, or G-d child dead, your attitude might change. I have had the experience of having 3 small children and several teens be victims, within my circles. As an employee of the Welfare Office in L.A. we sometimes were aware of things that hadn’t been given to the general public. In the early 60s I lived in Reseda CA, and a small boy had been found in a culvert. My children were never, ever, out from under my controlling thumb. Even if only one child out of a thousand children was the victim, it wasn’t going to be my child.

    When we moved to the Sierra Nevada in 1970 I turned them loose to explore the mountains and lakes, and then to the Plumas Forest, they were free to roam on their ponies.  But in the cities in CA during that time, forget about letting your children roam. And frankly, I think it is worse today and I am grateful I have no small children.

    • #17
  18. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    I took my 2 yo to the grocery store once… the ones that have the car carts. There were none left, so my toddler proceeded to scream as I pulled a cart and walked away, around the corner and stopped. By then, my toddler was more upset he couldn’t see me than over the cart, but before I stuck my head back around the corner, some woman asked if he was lost. Big scared eyes searched, found me, and he ran for me.

    Never a fit over a shopping cart again, but I know I got dirty looks for not keeping my child attached.

    I have more fear of strangers calling the police and getting cps involved than I do losing my kids the old-fashioned way.

    I know people think I’m an awful parent, but my kids are safe and know how to be safe.

    • #18
  19. Juliana Member
    Juliana
    @Juliana

    The thing that frightens me is that some children can be very trusting of adults. When I was shopping at a nursery once, a little girl (maybe 5 or 6) was obviously lost – calling for mom, etc. I saw her check the parking lot, but I’m not sure she knew which car was hers. I went up to her and told her we would find her mom. I put my hand out, and she grabbed on and held tight as we walked around to find mom. I could have easily told her any story, got her into a car, and have been gone within a minute or two. When we did find mom a few rows over, not even looking for her, it was “Oh, there you are.” No comment to me for bringing her back.

    It could well be that we were not exactly in a high-crime area, but that wouldn’t make a bit of difference if the child disappeared. A three year old, in a mall, 15 feet behind me. No way. You are just providing an opportunity which you could live to regret. Not that I would tell you to your face in the situation. We had five kids. I know what it’s like to corral them. Just don’t look for sympathy from me when you are on TV crying about your missing child.

    • #19
  20. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Juliana (View Comment):
    I put my hand out, and she grabbed on and held tight as we walked around to find mom. I could have easily told her any story, got her into a car, and have been gone within a minute or two.

    I have the silliest, most clever, effervescent new 6 year old ever. Someone says hi, she just jabber away. Friendly, sweet, you name it.

    If she was lost, she would have held your hand and accepted your offer of help. If you tried to get her in your car, she would have started screaming and runming.

    • #20
  21. ekalenak Coolidge
    ekalenak
    @ekalenak

    Amen. I was blessed to grow up in the 70s. I rode my bike and walked all over the place. I was never in any danger.

    • #21
  22. Manny Coolidge
    Manny
    @Manny

    My mother, who is 84, still remembers losing me as a toddler somewhere at what sounded like an Italian festival.  LOL, it must have been slightly traumatizing.  But no harm done, and that was from small town life in the early 1960s.

    I live in New York City and I wouldn’t feel at ease if I lost a toddler or a little older here in the big Apple.  Complaining about your child just a few feet behind was ludicrous.

    I think Stad expressed all my thoughts on the subject up in Comment #10.  No point in repeating.

    • #22
  23. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Songwriter (View Comment):
    The fear infects the kids, too. My wife was a teacher’s aide at an elementary school. One year, she drew bus duty on the first day of school. She spotted a child, who appeared lost and confused, not in a bus line, not knowing where to go. (Not uncommon on the first day of school.) She approached the boy and asked him if he needed help finding his ride home, to which the tearful child began yelling, “Stranger danger! Stranger danger!”

    This is my main concern with this: it’s making kids unnecessarily anxious.

    My big sister became alarmed one day that I was leaving a nightlight on for my two-year-old daughter. I said, “She’s afraid of the dark.” And my sister said, “And you’re teaching her there’s something real to be afraid of.” Excellent point.

    Years later, when my daughter was in kindergarten, we moved halfway through the year (note to parents: kindergarten is not a good year to move kids between schools–the love children have for their kindergarten teacher should not be taken lightly. :)  ). My daughter was afraid to ride the kindergarten bus. I understood that and wanted to “validate” her feelings, so I rode the bus with her. That went on for about a month before the principal called me into his office and said, “You can’t keep doing this. You are confirming her worst fears about riding a bus. She’ll be afraid of it the rest of her life!” How true.

     

    • #23
  24. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    I have this recollection of someone actually mathing out the probability of having your child abducted, and I recall they figured out that if you stuck your kid out in your front yard and waited for him to be abducted, you’d have to wait on average something like 800,000 years for it to happen.

     

    • #24
  25. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    Songwriter (View Comment):
    The fear infects the kids, too. My wife was a teacher’s aide at an elementary school. One year, she drew bus duty on the first day of school. She spotted a child, who appeared lost and confused, not in a bus line, not knowing where to go. (Not uncommon on the first day of school.) She approached the boy and asked him if he needed help finding his ride home, to which the tearful child began yelling, “Stranger danger! Stranger danger!”

    I was so proud of son #1 … when he was around 4 we lost him at the street fair. Much panic; I went in one direction pushing a stroller, my husband in another carrying the 2-year old.

    We contacted security and circled over and over. And finally we found him sitting on the band stand with a nice lady. She had seen him in a panic rushing around looking for us; she said: come sit with me and let’s wait for your folks to find you.

    And we did.

    When I asked him how he knew he could trust the lady, he said it was because she didn’t tell him to get in the car or try and lead him away.

    I’d always told my kids there are good strangers and bad strangers and you can’t tell which they are by looking at them. Only by how they act.

    Stranger danger was a crock and continues to be so. I think it makes parents feel like they are in some sort of control; they’d rather have a neurotic kid and live with a false sense of security. The irony is most kids don’t even know what “stranger” means; most think if the person knows their name, it’s not a stranger.

    • #25
  26. Nicegrizzly Inactive
    Nicegrizzly
    @Nicegrizzly

    Stina (View Comment):
     

    I have more fear of strangers calling the police and getting cps involved than I do losing my kids the old-fashioned way.

    Yes. I know the statistics too, and don’t fear stranger kidnapping. But I do fear the busybodies.

    • #26
  27. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    I let my kids ride bikes and walk on our country road, even though I had a freaky occurrence once myself when walking on the road and a man stopped his truck and started propositioning me. I was enraged and I can be kind of dangerous and he drove off quickly, but it definitely made me start carrying a whacking stick stuffed up my sleeve on my walks. And I did call the cops and let them know what had happened.

    • #27
  28. Kay of MT Inactive
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):
    our country road,

    Is the defining definition. We lived in the country for 5 years and my daughters were free as the breeze. In LA not at all, and mostly in Sacramento in their teens.

    • #28
  29. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Not knowing where your kids are is one of the worst. My daughter got sperated after camp fire in cubscouts. This was in a huge camp with masses of people and cars leaving.

    Two Boy Scouts found her, and brought her to the campsite.

    14 year olds being responsible.

     

     

     

    • #29
  30. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    My 15 year-old has now been hit by a car three times. We make him bike to school, 5 miles away (exceptions being <20F or >90F).

    I know some teachers and administrators at the school think I am the devil’s spawn for being so cruel, but they only express this sentiment to my son, not directly to me. Poultry.

    • #30
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