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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Y is for Youth

It takes a village to raise a child

Indeed. It truly does.

It takes a village to maintain cultural standards and celebrate their histories. It takes a village to heal a community in times of trial. It takes a village to create a safe environment for children to grow. It takes a village to afford a strong education for its children. It takes a village to be mindful of its needs and elect elders to ensure their maintenance. It takes a village to set the example of community for the younger generations. It takes a village to adhere to societal constructs to teach the younger generations about the necessity of their continuity.

It does not take each villager to take personal responsibility over every child.

Too many people are taking it upon themselves to demand the means by which all children are raised. Parenting is a singular or dual mission. The opportunities and lessons a child should be afforded are to be determined by the parent(s) regardless of what the rest of the villagers believe. The ideals for the child are to be framed by those the parent(s) find important. Any religious tenets (or not) are to be instilled by those parent(s) to encourage an understanding of their belief system. The definitions of safety and limits are to be determined and offered by the parent(s) to allow for their expectations of limits and safety and free thinking and individualism.

No parent(s) will ever do everything right to raise the perfect human being. Even the idea of "right" is irrelevant as it is subjective. That is the beauty of a free society. There are certainly times when a child's physical or emotional needs are jeopardized in a familial setting that need to have an intervention and be researched. But Americans these days seem all too eager to call out their fellow villagers for failing to meet someone else's standards of raising children.

The new trend in "free-range parenting" is taking a lot of hits right now and being criticized enough to make it to the media. In one generation our society has come to a place of fear and anxiety about whether or not a child should be able to walk home alone. One generation.

When I was a kid my brother and I walked to and from school every day. From kindergarten on. And we didn't live down the street. We lived several blocks. Depending on how much we screwed around on the way, it could take a half hour to get home. And no one ever came looking for us. And we always made it home.

Our street was off of the main street in town. We played baseball and kickball in the street. If we saw a car coming someone would yell, "Car!" and we would all head for the curb. The parents and elders in the neighborhood would always peek out or come sit on the porch every once in a while to see what was going on, but no one told us to get out of the street. And we always made it home.

We used to play until dark. We would try to push the limits of the definition of dark to get as much time to play outside in the summer as we possibly could. We would rush into the house absolutely filthy from riding our bikes down the "Iron Horse Trail" or covered in sap from having spent hours climbing pine trees. My mom would meet us at the door pointing to the stairs with an exasperated "get in the tub." She probably sometimes wished her kids hadn't gone out that day, but we always made it home.

In one generation our society has made a complete 180. We now have titles like "helicopter parents." That phrase exists because it is so common. I never realized it until I heard the phrase defied that I was a helicopter mom. Poor Audrey. She never played outside if I wasn't with her. She wasn't allowed to walk to a friends house, I always drove her. She wasn't allowed to have sleepovers, her friends had to stay at my house. I had so many fears of "what if's" that I neglected to give her an opportunity to feel like she had any independence or ability to set limits for herself or gauge her own safety. Thankfully, she seems to have been able to find her own independence despite my overbearing nature. But I think that has more to do with her being stubborn than anything else.

I was a naïve child until 1983. So I had a good 10 years before I knew there were things to fear in the world. Everything changed when I saw a movie called "Adam." It was the story of a little boy who was at a shopping center with his mother and he was kidnapped and killed by a stranger. It never occurred to me that anyone would do something like that.

I think society allowed itself to be naïve about things like that. Child molestation and kidnappings were things that no one would talk about in polite conversation. It was improper. I honestly think, and this is from the memory of a child, so take it for what it is, that this started things changing. Adam's father, John Walsh, came up with a television show to catch bad guys. It was in the media every week. The missing children were on our milk cartons every day. I literally read their stories in the morning while eating my cereal. And I thought about how scared they would be every day.

The world was never the world I thought it was. And I don't imagine that it ever should be again. But we have to find a place in between where our children are afforded the opportunity to have independence and freedoms to explore the world and find their own path into it. The alternative is kind of scary to imagine. If an entire generation of children grow up to expect to have every moment of their lives monitored and dictated by a caretaker, how will they acclimate to a college environment? How will they learn to be independent as an adult in a romantic relationship? How will they be able to have opportunities for advancement in their chosen career fields? And before they come to any of those hurdles, how will they leave the house?

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