Virtual Voices

Both ways uphill in the snow

Family

I don't know her, but I love Lenore Skenazy, the author of Free Range Kids, all the same.

In a September 7 Wall Street Journal piece titled "Whatever Happened to Walking to School?" she once again slaps modern parents right across their overindulgent foreheads:

"First, the 'car kids' are herded into the gym. 'The guards make sure all children sit still and do not move or speak during the process,' reports a dad in Tennessee. Outside, 'People get there 45 minutes early to get a spot. And the scary thing is, most of the kids live within biking distance,' says Kim Meyer, a mom in Greensboro, N.C.

"When the bell finally rings, the first car races into the pick-up spot, whereupon the car-line monitor barks into a walkie-talkie: 'Devin's mom is here!'

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"Devin is grabbed from the gym, escorted to the sidewalk and hustled into the car as if under enemy fire. His mom peels out and the next car pulls up. 'Sydney's mom is here!'"

What the heck? This sounds more like a covert military operation than (what should be) a predecessor to cookies and milk.

I live directly across the street from our local elementary school and so, five days a week, have a front-row-seat view of this phenomenon. From 3:20 to 3:50 each afternoon, the school becomes one of the most dangerous areas in greater Wichita. I ban my daughter from driving to Wal-Mart during this time because doing so means she has to drive past the school---an act that has probably saved her life more than once. People back in, so they can easily get out. Those who park normally spend several minutes with their reverse lights on, inching their way backward into two opposing lanes of oncoming traffic. Guard moms who walk a handful of kids across the street monitor five different crossing areas. I suspect these brave kids are more likely to get run over by a mom-driving minivan in the two-block vicinity of the school than they are by crossing a major street. Heck, maybe that's why just today I saw my neighbor picking up her son, turning around, and driving back to her house a whopping four doors down from the school.

Whatever. Walking or riding or biking or busing or flying home Jetson-style isn't the point.

Parents not allowing their children to walk to school is just the tip of the 21st-century parenting iceberg. The fact that we don't make our children walk home from school is just one more on a long and growing list of ways parents overdo, overcompensate, coddle, or otherwise hyperparent their children. We're so "nice" to our kids that we've become rotten parents. Rather than doing what is right and best for them, we do what best assuages our parental guilt/control freakishness/paranoia. We've become Secret Service agents, protecting them against the teensiest skinned knee, the slightest discomfort, knowing all the while that the greatest growth we ever went through as children came from, you guessed it, hard times.

This last week I read Jeannette Wall's delightful memoir, The Glass Castle, in which she and her three siblings endure one of the most unusual---and what we call in today's psychobabble terminology "neglectful"--childhoods I've ever heard of. Those kids were basically on their own, but (surprise!) they not only survived, but also learned to be resourceful, independent, creative, and hard-working.

We don't need to purposely ignore our kids in order to falsely induce such great attributes, but we would be wise---especially when it comes to micromanaging, over-controlling, or otherwise manipulating the world in order to make it a more cushy place for our kids---to do less for them, rather than more. Even if it means making them walk 10.2 feet to school. Uphill. Both ways. In the snow.

Amy Henry
Amy Henry

Amy is a married mother of six and a WORLD correspondent from Kansas. Follow her other "scribbles" at Whole Mama or by reading her book Humpty Dumpty Just Needed a Nap: What Children’s Stories Teach Us About Life, Love, and Mothering. Follow Amy on Twitter @wholemama.

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