Rearing Kids: Free-Range vs. 'Safetyism'

Updated: May 28, 2020


The term 'free-range' is sometimes found on an egg carton. It denotes the difference between an egg-laying hen allowed to roam about versus being in a small cage with another hen or two. The small cage is just large enough for the hen to eat and produce eggs that roll conveniently into a conveyor and soon land on your grocery shelf.


Free-range is considered more humane, and if allowed to 'range' over some grass and weeds and bugs, the hen will reward us with healthier eggs. The yoke is often a bright deep orange as opposed to a pale pinkish yellow. But the free-range hen scratching and pecking on a small pasture will be more vulnerable to various nefarious pests that see a hen as a source of fresh protein.


If, like I, you grew up in the '50s and '60s, you likely were allowed to roam your pasture somewhat freely. As you grew older, mother would tell you, "Make sure you're home for dinner, dear." Then about as far as your feet could take your or your bike could peddle you, you roamed. You and your buddy became explorers and found the local creek and caught tadpoles in the eddies. Then off to the community pool for a dip. As long as you were home for dinner and had a short plausible explanation of what you did all afternoon, mother was good to go.


But there are dangers in the pasture. Sometimes bikes collide with concrete or thistle bushes or other obstructions that pop-up from nowhere and cause skin tears and bruises. By the time you walked your bent bike the mile back home sniffling from the bleeding knee, the blood was nearly dried before mother was told all the gory details. Soon you were back jumping the cracks in the sidewalks with a fresh pink bandaid across the scrape.


Today, it appears that many young parents find the possibility of young Jon encountering the dangers of the pasture as just too risky. So they helicopter with constant supervision, creating a cocoon of safety for poor Jon. They’ve come to believe the world is full of perverts looking to prey on little Jon. They fail to research the statistically minuscule chance of Jon being abducted. If he is, it is likely by a parent with a custody problem. Keep reading and you’ll learn that there is a far greater chance of Jon being solicited for sex while online.


Writing with some concern for the future of our children, Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist with a doctorate from Yale University, wrote a book titled 'The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure.' Dr. Haidt, along with co-author, Greg Lukianoff, argues that 'safetyism' is a belief that physical and emotional safety has become 'sacred' tenants in living today. They contend that young people are unable to navigate the ying-and-yang of life in part due to hovering, overly protective, fearful parenting. Then these overly protected children enter 'woke' universities intent on indoctrination of the newest theories of identity and justice, and if lucky, a walk down memory lane into Marxism. Haidt and Lukinoff believe this explains, at least in part, the intensity of our political divide.

I am struck by my own personal conversations and media accounts of young parents insisting that their children remain indoors during this pandemic. That somehow, their interpretation of the data superior and that indeed thousands, perhaps millions of children will die from COVID-19. How else would you justify the 'children, stay-in-you-room' belief when actual data suggest the opposite? Perhaps it is not the data that guides them despite their advice to 'follow the science.' Maybe it is just the feelings that fear grows from. Soon the unrealistic notion that my children are to be protected from all possible danger even at the expense of livelihood grips you. "Stay in your room kids till we're told it is safe to come out." Could life ever be safe enough?

Human behavior suggests that the decisions I make are the decisions you should make. What is good for me is good for you. So, when a parent announces that her children will be allowed to go back to the park and play with other children, others, practicing their very best 'safetyism,' will yell online, "Don't or you'll have blood on your hands. Stay in your room!" Dr. Haidt referred to this behavior as the 'call-out' culture. Using the safety of social media, and emboldened by a sense of moral superiority, these folks attempt to insure agreement by public shaming. The ensuing digital dustup should surprise no one. So, we grow further apart. Family members can hardly spend time around one another in a sort of contagion of our own fearful, irrational, and misguided certainty.

In three short months, millions of children are expected for the first day of school. I predict that the 'stay-in-your-room' crowd will have grown weary of their imprisonment, both real and imagined, and abandoned the whole notion. Together, the kids from both political divides will play with one another in more-or-less perfect harmony as it should be.

Several days ago, I was talking to an older gentleman. He told me of all the things in his 78 years he has survived. "Well, the Viet Cong attempted to shoot me out of the sky over Viet Nam. I got rear-ended once. That took surgery to my back to feel better. Had a bout with prostate cancer. My daughter almost died from cancer when she was just a child." Then he laughed. "Just today, I wasn't paying attention to where I was walking and nearly went head over heels. Don't know if my brittle bones would have survived that," he finishes with a big smile.

Then I ask him, "Are you afraid of COVID-19?"

"Not really. I take precautions. I wear a mask when I go to a store and wash my hands frequently."

"Do you think we should open back up?"

"Yes. I mean, protect the vulnerable and quit worrying so much about me. I know where I'm going."


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