Thursday, April 24, 2008

Helicopter Parents

Dana Goldstein muses on "helicopter" (i.e., overprotective) parents. The particular "offense" a parent committed was to let her 9 year old ride the New York subway a few blocks from the Upper East Side to the Midtown West neighborhoods in Manhattan, for which she has received criticism for "neglecting" her child.

Firstly, I think *not* letting your child ride the subway between two safe neighborhoods in Manhattan could be argued to be "neglecting" to teach him to be autonomous and independent...but that argument would also be basically ridiculous, because it cheapens the meaning of "child neglect." What's lost is any sense of perspective - if whether or not your child rides the subway alone constitutes "child neglect," what would describe, say, selling your child into prostitution?

One commenter in the Tapped thread gets to something worth mentioning:

The only thing notable or newsworthy here was that this parent let a RICH, WHITE 9-year-old ride the subway alone.

Anyone who has taken the subway to slightly further-flung parts of the city knows that small-to-medium-sized kids routinely ride either alone, or with a friend but no adult -- but those kids are usually neither wealthy nor white.

I find it pretty depressing that parents can get up in arms about the ostensible horror of letting one kid briefly do the kind of thing that most kids with less privilege do, by necessity, all the time. Some kids are apparently just more precious, or media-attention-worthy, than others. The whole universe in which what this parent did is controversial has too much race and class privilege, as far as I'm concerned.

Well, exactly. There is an awful lot of status anxiety in play in the world of upper-middle and upper-class parenting - one mis-step, and you're in danger of being demoted to the increasingly economically strained world the rest of us live in. I think a partial explanation ought to include the increasing strain being put on middle-middle-class and poorer families, who have not gotten a raise in the last 30 years.

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