How did we get here?
Kids today are not allowed to do many of the things we Gen Xer’s did growing up. My brother and I rode our bikes all over the neighborhood when we were 8-12. By the time I was 12, I was riding all over Arcadia to friends’ houses. This would be considered near-child abuse today. No, I’m not kidding. I admit I feel the pressure to hover over my children like everyone else. We have a park in our neighborhood a couple of blocks away. Last summer I let Audrey (then 13) and Owen, (then 8) ride their bikes there. It is a 2-minute ride. I actually worried for a minute of it. Today’s parent culture whispers in our ears. “Someone is going to kidnap your kids.” “They’re going to get run over by a car.”
I often roll my eyes at klatches of parents huddled together as they scare each other with all the ways their children are unsafe. To hear parents talk today, kidnapping or violent death stalk our children 24-7. It’s a kind of fear porn for parents to talk about all the ways their children can come to harm, and they try to one-up each other with just how paranoid they are. We worry, too, but we choose to find a balance between safety and normal living. And we refuse to join the circle jerks of parents engaging in communal auto-erotic fixations of all the ways they are keeping their children safe from whatever their twisted minds imagine. As fun as that sounds, it's no way to live.
Need an example? At a parent meeting for our kids’ preschool, a woman asked what the school was doing about the homeless people in the nearby wash who wanted to kidnap or murder our children. The wash is 25-feet deep with no stairs or ladders of any kind. It’s surrounded by a fence. In the 12 years we went to this preschool, I never once saw a human in the wash. And even if I had seen someone, I would have worried that the person was trapped. The director of the preschool tried to assure the woman that there weren’t homeless people lurking in the wash, and that there was no way anyone could scale a smooth, flat wall. The woman was not satisfied. She had heard things from a friend who had a husband in law enforcement. Couldn’t the school do something about it? Anything? Several other parents nodded, feeling that pre-orgasmic buildup. I wanted to interrupt the woman, but she seemed really close to orgasm. It would have been cruel to interrupt.
Need a bigger example? Owen goes to a wonderful little Spanish Immersion school here in Pasadena. It’s filled with progressive people who value diversity. But progressive parents are just as prone to freaking out and obsessing over their twisted fantasies as anyone. Last year, there was a bomb threat in LA Unified. Pasadena is not in LAUSD. The bomb threat was hilariously fake. Similar threats had been made in other major school districts, but those districts didn’t take it seriously. LAUSD, however, closed all schools for the day. This was kind of a stupid decision made by the superintendent.
Not to be outdone, a group of parents at San Rafael Elementary school decided to take some extreme measures in response to the non-threat. When I arrived to pick up Owen that day, the school was locked down. No parents were allowed into the school to get their kids. Everyone had to wait at the front of the school for the students to be escorted out, class by class by the teachers. Exactly how grouping all the parents and kids together in a small, confined space made us safer from a bomb threat, real or fake, I don’t know. To this day, we aren’t allowed onto the school campus to pick up the kids.
To recap: no school in Pasadena was threatened in any way. The parents and the principal locked the school down in response to the non-threat. LAUSD overreacted to a fake bomb threat. San Rafael overreacted to nothing but the perverse fantasies in repressed parent minds. I overheard parents talking about terrorism. Terrorism!
If those kinds of parents could channel some of that fervent imagination into their sex lives, married people would have a lot more sex. Which they just aren't having.
There are parents like me who were annoyed at the pointlessness of the whole thing. And I love those people dearly.
Of course terrible things happen to children in the news, but things are safer now than they were in our carefree days of the 70’s and 80’s.
So what happened? How did parents become the paranoid, tethered helicopters they are today?
First, some horribly oversimplified, white-centric generational history:
The Baby Boomers were raised by a tough generation, often called the Builder Generation, that survived major wars like WW2 and Korea. It was largely shaped by the Great Depression, and it was not a fun generation. Judging by the pictures in our family albums, smiling was considered to be a form of either sloth or gluttony. Idle fun was a mortal sin, despite the fact that this generation was born out of the Roaring 20’s. Smacked down by the moral, social, and political consequences of free sex, ridiculously hard drinking, and material excesses, they turned to hard work, overt racism, and stoicism. Generally.
One sad downside of this social reversal was that all the momentum of the Women’s Suffrage movement ended. The social and sexual agency pushed for by the “Flappers” and the older “Right to Vote” women would seemingly disappear during the Depression and would only be grudgingly allowed to re-emerge as “Rosie the Riveter” during WW2.
These people who had lived through so much hardship gave birth to restless, free-spirited kids born into prosperity and economic growth. They would go from Beatles-worshipping hippies to corporate “Yuppies” who drove BMW’s and bought gourmet groceries.
The first “Me” Generation, the Boomers were unwilling to make the personal sacrifices their parents had been forced to make. They wanted more. And they created the infrastructure of popular culture, for better and for worse, that we have today. They created youth culture. Whereas they grew up listening to their parents’ music, they turned to “colored” music like R&B and eventually rock. And then they co-opted the music and made it white. They took drugs. They had the pill. They followed the Grateful Dead around. And then, as the 60’s optimism and rebellion came crashing down with the Vietnam War and assassinations of beloved leaders like MLK and the Kennedy’s, they turned to stability and personal wealth. Disco, with its 70's scenes of excess and hedonism would be the death throes of the fun era for the Boomers.
Generation X was raised by schizophrenic parents. The parents had been through rebellion and fun times. But they did not want their kids to make the same mistakes they had made, so they resorted to the moralistic parenting of their parents. Mom may have lost her virginity to Dad in the back of a VW camper while tripping on acid after a Jefferson Airplane concert, but by golly, her children were going to “Just Say No.”
Ironically, those kids would grow up to be the first generation to never say “no” to their own children.
To be continued…