Mommyshame

STFU Parents: How NOT to be a Paranoid Parent on Facebook

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Something I’ve heard a lot from both parents and non-parents over the years is that the world is now a far more dangerous place and poses an increased threat to children’s safety compared to decades past. If those people are referring to an increased threat of accidental shootings in the home or in the family car, I would have to agree. But in terms of “stranger danger” and other crimes, the statistics show otherwise in almost every type of imagined scenario. In fact, as noted on the Free Range Kids site, crime is down overall, but the perception of crime is up. New York Magazine even ran a story this week with the headline ‘The Psychology of Why Americans Are Afraid of Historically Low Crime Levels.’

 

Given that we live in a world where horrific bombings and mass shootings now occur on a daily basis, it’s understandable how this irrational perception has come to exist. But the residual outcome of that fear is a lack of humanity shown to the people in our own communities. Parents are so concerned about their children, or their neighbors’ children, on such a micro level, the police and CPS get involved when kids are simply discovered to be walking home from school or playing in their own front yard without a parent standing two feet away, watching like a hawk.

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I’ve heard from countless parents who are scared to let their kids (even as old at 11) do pretty much anything on their own anymore, because they’ve seen so many news reports about children being taken from their parents after being allowed to play in a park alone or sit in the car for 20 minutes while an adult grocery shops. All it takes is one quick call for a child to get picked up and questioned by police and his parent(s) arrested. There’s almost always an “arrest first, ask questions later” response to these types of situations. For those of us who grew up without the fear of our parent(s) being arrested for letting us develop our independence, these reports always come as a bit of a shock. It’s hard to change our thinking from, “Let kids learn by giving them freedom when they’re emotionally ready,” to, “Children under the age of 12 are not allowed to be anywhere alone at any time, ever.” When I was 11, I was babysitting and responsible for someone else’s child. Today, a parent could get charged with negligence for trusting a kid to take care of other kids, even when it’s their own sibling. It’s lunacy. One mother summed this up by sending me a picture of a letter that her nosy neighbor left her rather than knocking on her door and having an adult, neighbor-to-neighbor conversation:

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If this letter doesn’t enrage you, then I’m afraid we have nothing in common and you may as well stop reading this column right now. Not only do “concerned neighbors” feel that it’s appropriate to tell their neighbors how to parent, but they also see fit to call the police on them for NO REASON AT ALL. Never in this letter does she say, “Your kids appear to be in distress.” Never does she indicate that they appear to be in danger. It’s the fiction in her head that has created this “dangerous” narrative, and yet she feels justified in threatening her neighbor because she lives in a nanny state (nay, a nanny country!) that responds by treating her unfounded paranoia as perfectly valid. This is illogical, and it makes me sad for kids who don’t get to experience what the rest of us did when we were children. The freedom to play, ride bikes, and go to the park or walk to school alone is empowering for kids and a healthy, crucial part of growing up. But in the case of Busybodies V. Their Neighbors, the Busybodies are given more credence almost every single time. 

No story better embodies this than the one I read in the form of an op-ed last October. Titled ‘Dear Cambridge neighbor who called the police,’ the letter outlines a father’s sorrow and frustration after being treated like a criminal by six police officers who responded after a woman called 911 over a man “taking pictures of children” at the local park. After explaining in the letter that he’s been a neighborhood resident for more than 30 years and his own son grew up playing in that very park, he added this:

“You must be new in the neighborhood. I am often in the park, on foot or on a bike, talking to friends who have children who play in the playground. I know you were standing very near to me for the entire time I was on the bench, though I could not figure out why. Now I know: you were taking my picture. Suggestion: the next time you suspect someone is up to no good, perhaps you should say hello, speak to them first and, if still anxious, ask what they are taking pictures of. That’s what people do in a neighborhood park: talk to each other. This would save someone the humiliation and degradation of being stopped and held by the police, and might save the police from wasting their time when they could be doing something more useful.”

There’s no doubt in my mind that this notion of “safety” is what’s causing everyone to go ballistic when they see a stranger — especially a “strange man” — taking pictures or even just taking a walk in a location where child might be playing. It’s also why some parents appear proud of hovering over their kids, because the more they hover, the more they presumably care about their children. Parents who have that mentality believe that if another parent isn’t hovering over her child, she’s negligent and/or unable to make parenting decisions herself. To those people who pride themselves on helicopter parenting, nothing and I mean NOTHING is “too safe” for their precious angel who probably can’t tie his own shoes. Even if it puts other people out. Especially if it puts other people out. If you’re someone who complains about policies that help ensure that a child is super duper EXTRA safe, then you’re essentially a monster and you should stop talking immediately.

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See that? If Amanda replies to Candice and says, “I choose to believe that kids can walk a few extra feet to their front door without being “taken by sex offenders,” the chances of Candice de-friending Amanda are about 99.99%. You’re either fully on-board the fear-mongering train or you’re an enemy who doesn’t care about the safety of children. It’s as simple as that! People like Candice are part of the reason that home security systems are so popular, and they’re most definitely the reason that ridiculous companies like this one are advertising in New Albany, Indiana (population 37,000):

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If you’re not a parent who fears the worst about your own kids, your neighbors, and complete and total strangers in your community, you’re probably living next door to or around the corner from someone who does, and THAT is what’s truly scary. Let’s check out some examples of how not to be a paranoid parent in 2016, according to Facebook.

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