Lenore Skenazy writes on “American overparenting,” but I think what is hit upon more fundamentally here is America’s lack of social and cultural trust:
“My daughter always says, ‘Oh, I wish we could have more playdates like in Brazil!’” says Claudia Jorge, whose family of four recently relocated to Havertown, Pennsylvania. “Here we have to schedule them; there she just goes and knocks on the neighbor’s door.”
Tully, the 11-year-old, makes a similar observation about American playdates. “In New Jersey, the parents were watching us all the time. It was kind of weird.”
Jenny Engleka raised her daughter in Mexico, Panama, and Germany before moving back to New Jersey a few years ago when the girl was 12. In Hamburg, she recalls, “kids are traveling all the time by themselves” starting at age 6 or 7. But here, children’s activities are far more likely to be both structured and supervised. “Your weekends are filled up with soccer games. Even for kids that are mediocre players, they’re still quite involved.”
And once they’re in a league, there isn’t much wiggle room. You come, you play, mom drives you home. In Germany, says Molly, the 13-year-old, if someone wants to stay and keep playing lacrosse after practice has ended, she just does. “My sister’s gotten a lot better at lacrosse since she’s been able to go on her own time without bugging my parents about it.”
If the coach is still around, sometimes she—or he!—will take the kid home.
Trust is still normal in most of the world. And something about that trust allows kids to expand. Abby Morton, who raised her kids in Thailand for two years while she and her husband worked there as teachers, still remembers the recycling project one of her sixth-grade students brought in. He’d taken some scrap metal and fashioned it into a working crossbow. “It could shoot a spear!” says Morton, now back in Boston. So she took the class outside and let them try it.
But in the home of the brave, a kid can’t hold a pencil on the school bus.
It’s obvious enough that physical security, surveillance, and locks are inversely related to trust. Strangely, those things are also sometimes inversely related to actual safety, in situations wherein there is lots of security, but those security measures are also frequently compromised or violated.
Generally speaking, I don’t think Americans realize how mislead we are in our media and entertainment culture into thinking that our nation is vastly more dangerous on a day-to-day basis than it really is. We seek an illusory sense of safety and peace, but risk further corroding the fundamental social and cultural trust that’s necessary to sustain authentic peace.
If you want peace, be peaceful. If you want trust, then trust.