Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Parenting outside the bubble

In an Op Ed in the New York Times, Jennifer Finney Boylan writes "We want to shield our children, but it's the worst thing we can do." She talks about her sons exchange trip in his senior year to Cape Town, of allowing him to bungee jump and sky dive, and knowing that in allowing our children to take calculated risks we build resilience, "the courage they need when those perils arise."

In the same newspaper, just a few pages earlier, Monica Davies reports here on Chicago school children whose parents have no say in the sorts of risks they face on a daily basis:

"The first day of school in one neighborhood on this city's far South Side brought a parade of security workers in neon vests, police officers on patrol, an idling city fire truck and, briefly, a police helicopter hovering above. All this to make sure that students from a shuttered elementary school could make it safely past abandoned lots, boarded-up houses and perhaps gang lines to get to their new school less than a half-mile away."

The cost of Safe Passage is $15.7 million, money that could otherwise be spent on stocking libraries with books, on teachers and counselors, and on funding the sort of after school activities that middle class kids take for granted. But in this part of Chicago, rather than being the worst thing we can do, shielding children - in this case  from violence, including gunfire - is the thing that must be done.

I am grateful, no matter how much I rail against it, my children exist in a bubble. And it is that bubble that makes it possible for my children to experience a degree of freedom - and along with that the sort of calculated risks that Finney Boylan references - that under different circumstances would be unthinkable. It has nothing to do with my being an evolved parent that I let my children ride their bikes to school or hang out downtown without supervision, and everything to do with my knowledge that this is about as safe a community as I am ever likely to live in.

What looks like evolved parenting from inside the bubble looks far more like a luxury from the outside, a luxury that is not available to the parents of children whose route to school is literally lined with police cars on the ground and helicopters above.

We need to be mindful that when we grapple with how to provide our kids with opportunities to experience calculated risk, or debate the merits of free range versus helicopter parenting or any number of other parenting issues, that what we are often talking about is less a problem than a product of our privilege.

It is not that the issues facing well-to-do children don't matter, but too often parenting issues are discussed as if we all lived inside the same bubble. I worry that this makes the lives of children who grow up without the safety net, outside the bubble, invisible.