The other night my husband and I, along with our two younger children, decided to watch a movie together on a Saturday night. After skimming the selections it was a little um…challenging. I had to satisfy myself, my husband, a soon to be 12 year-old boy and my 5 year-old girl. Now, I of course wanted to watch “Up in the Air” but knew this was not quite a family movie. My daughter wanted “Princess and the Frog”, my son just wanted to go on the computer and my husband wanted some Mommy-Daddy time. Then I saw it, “Yes this will be a perfect Rated R family movie, and it’s FREE!”. A movie seen so many times in my youth I could recite it…“Stand By Me”. Before you judge, I curse like a sailor on a daily basis so I wasn’t opening up my children to anything they hadn’t heard before. My 5 year-old has a fascination with death, so I knew the search for a dead body wouldn’t frighten her and I thought my son would enjoy it as much as I did at his age.
It was really interesting seeing the movie again, as an adult with a completely different perspective. I was struck by so many things in the movie. I had forgotten the movie began with Richard Dreyfuss looking at an article in the paper about his childhood friend’s murder. I was already about to cry because although his real death (River Phoenix) was not murder, life imitating art in this sense was quite tragic.
But I’ll tell you what struck me the most: the kids’ freedom. Their ability to exist and explore. Of course this story is fiction, but in real life my childhood was full of adventure.
This doesn’t appear to be the case anymore. When did we become such a society of helicopter parents? I’m not idealizing the good ol’ days – they were really only golden to white males (middle and upper class white males). Even River Phoenix’s character bemoans his feelings of being trapped and stereotyped in a small town because he’s poor. Today we have a lot more opportunities for growth and the ability “to get out”. But will the next generation have the courage? These children can rarely leave sight of their hovering parents. Don’t start telling me about all the dangers. I refuse to believe that there is a child molester lurking around every corner. If there is, there’s always been one and children today will have no coping skills to fend them off.
I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s. Crime and kidnapping were just as prevalent as it is today, but I still took off on my bike in the morning and didn’t return home until dinner. I actually remember trips to the store with a note from a friend’s mom to purchase her cigarettes. There were bullies, there were fights, there were broken teeth, bones and skin. There was that time I drove my bike off the dock into a moccasin infested lake. My friends and I adventured through the woods, backyards which were supposedly off-limits, and sides of curvy roads with no shoulders. We encountered danger and made it up when it wasn’t there. We rode our bikes across busy streets. We were essentially left alone. We were important to our parents and we knew it, but we also understood we weren’t the only focus of their lives. If there had been a dead body, my friends and I would’ve probably found a way to sneak off and go see it.
Our adventures as kids helped us navigate our much more difficult and challenging teenage adventures. When a friend’s car was stolen in New York City and we weren’t supposed to be there, our parents said “Hmmm, deal with it.” They didn’t come rushing to save us. Of course back then we could still be kids and teenagers and do stupid things and not ruin our life. Now, if a teenager is caught doing some of the things we did, they would probably be thrown in jail or out of school. The consequences are harsher now; is that why we hover? Is it the constant 24 hour news of all the terrible events of the past day? Did we do too much as children and are frightened our children will do the same? Or is it something as vain as believing our child is a complete reflection of us and everything and anything they do shows our incompetency as parents and individuals?
It’s interesting to ponder and I’m sure this constant hovering, over-scheduling, and over involvement will have its consequences. What those will be, who knows? But don’t worry, we’ll find a mother to blame…