Kim Brooks – Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear
Brooks’ narrow point is that the type of people who call 911 on mothers for briefly leaving kids in the car while running into a store are not good Samaritans. They are assholes. Such busybodies cause family distress, legal fees and court costs, and can even separate families. This happened to Brooks, who tells her story in this book, and felt lucky to be allowed to keep her kids.
Her larger point is that much parenting these days is rooted in a mix of fear and competition. This benefits neither parent nor child—what happened to Brooks is a symptom of a much larger problem.
Many parents are scared to leave their kids unsupervised at all for fear of statistically meaningless dangers. The rate of kidnappings is so low, for example, that the average child would have to spend 750,000 years unsupervised in a park in order to reasonably expect an abduction to happen. Moreover, only 3 percent of abductions are by strangers; a child would have to be unsupervised for more than 22 million years to reasonably expect a “stranger danger” abduction.
Total child mortality rates are also half what they used to be forty years ago. Kids have never been safer, yet many parents won’t even let their kids play outside.
This also leads to an unhealthy parental competition; parents signal competence and compassion by scheduling and structuring every waking hour, and advertising that fact to other parents, and judging and shaming parents who don’t follow suit. This unhealthy cultural shift overstresses parents and developmentally stunts children, who have fewer opportunities to learn the skills they need to become independent adults.