Gwnewch y pethau bychain

If we try to engineer perfect children, will they grow up to be unbearable? – By Katie Roiphe – Slat

Not being a parent myself, I have no personal insights to add here, but have long wondered at the incredible amount of structure most kids seem to grow up in these days, compared to when I was growing up.

If we try to engineer perfect children, will they grow up to be unbearable? – By Katie Roiphe – Slate Magazine

Can we, for a moment, flash back to the benign neglect of the 1970s and ’80s? I can remember my parents having parties, wild children running around until dark, catching fireflies. If these children helped themselves to three slices of cake, or ingested the second-hand smoke from cigarettes, or carried cocktails to adults who were ever so slightly slurring their words, they were not noticed; they were loved, just not monitored. And, as I remember it, those warm summer nights of not being focused on were liberating. In the long sticky hours of boredom, in the lonely, unsupervised, unstructured time, something blooms; it was in those margins that we became ourselves


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  1. I’m sure these over-scheduled kids exist somewhere, but I don’t know any of them. I suspect it’s very much an upper-class thing. Most middle class kids I know might have a sport or a class or two but the extremes I see in this articles are not something I’ve run into in 16 years of parenting.

    • I’m sure it’s very much class-based in a lot of ways. That’s a good point.

      • Regional as well as class-based. This stuff goes on with big-city upper income types who get into competitions to be perfect. So NYC, Los Angeles, etc. Also tends to be confined to the folks who just have one or two kids. Once you have a herd you’re too tired for those kinds of games. 🙂

        We just hear about it because journalists sit in the sweet spot of the demographic that acts that way.

        • Yes and no, love.

          We have three kids living at home with us now -- yes the three in his icon. I try to have them be as free range as I can. Some of that is being older and tireder -- I know I kept up more with Maggie when she was smaller. Some of it is policy.

          But our society pretty stiffly limits how much I can do that. I sent Maggie to the park by herself once -- was she 6 or 7 at the time? A smart responsible kid in a quiet residential area walking 4 blocks to the park with the playground. Other parents there with their kids CALLED THE POLICE who came out, talked to her, then called me and made me come get her. We once had the police come to our door because I’d let her walk her friend Amber home around the block, and had let her take her baby sister in the stroller along for the walk -- this without them crossing ANY streets.

          The main reason that the kids have an awesome fort/swingset in the backyard is that I *can’t* get away with just tossing them out the door to go play in the neighborhood and the park.

          I remember that I used to walk several miles to preschool with a group of other kids. And I can’t send my grade-school aged child to the park by herself.

    • I’ve seen them. There are some children who thrive on that sort of intensive scheduling, if their parents work with them to determine what the child actually wants (or doesn’t want) to do, but there are many more who never get a chance to be alone and be impulsive because everything is scheduled.

      It’s the same, as she mentioned, about the protection from dirt and bugs. We saw that back in the 60s and 70s, those children who were mollycoddled and never allowed to play in the mud or fall down and get scrapes were the ones who ended up taking lots of time off school because they were ill with things to which the rest of us had developed immunities as babies. They were ones who didn’t know how to take teasing or falling out with a friend, because it had never been allowed. Ones who were never taught how to cope with a torn shirt because it had never happened to them before.

      She mentions the recent study that a glass of wine during pregnancy might actually be good for the baby. I don’t know how much weight to give that study (like all medical research they’ll say one thing one week and the opposite the next), but I saw the reaction to it from the UK government bodies: “We still advise no alcohol at all during pregnancy” no matter what the study says, because there is the old puritan attitude of “alcohol is evil” (and drugs, and anything else which might be fun).

      • No, it is, “…no matter what the study says, because a single study should not be the basis of public policy.”

      • Like I said, I’m sure they exist. I just don’t come across them in my middle-class midwestern lifestyle.

      • I get that puritan vibe too, from medical sources warning against wine. (Hey, if it was a safe way to lower blood pressure and blood sugar, they couldn’t sell so many prescription pills.)

        But otoh, winemakers have a lot of money to fund studies finding ‘positive links’ to their products, so those should be taken with a grain of salt too.

        Salted wine, hm. Maybe I need more caffeine.

  2. I count myself as a parent to two well-adjusted people now in their mid-20s (weird to write that down!) My siblings and I were typically free-range for the 1960s-1980s, and our kids were more free-range than their peers. So I’m mostly in sympathy with the writer’s points. However, this is the internet where I always think of counterexamples.

    I was a little girls’ ice hockey coach for many years. People who reminisced about how much “nicer” it was in the days when kids could head off alone to the outdoor rink in the park and play all Saturday without adult interference forgot a few things. They forgot that in those days the girls weren’t allowed to play, that the poor skaters and the weird kids didn’t get much chance either, and that every now and then someone needed stitches or a plaster cast, or lost a tooth or worse. While the modern scheduled version of ice hockey is time-consuming and expensive for families, we were able to offer kids an experience that generally matched our modern values of being inclusive, supportive, educational, physically safe, and free of bullying, harrassment, or sexual abuse.

  3. that sentence -- “is it worth even the smallest risk” -- can be blamed for much of the idiocy of the present times

  4. An interesting article; I was going to reply here but it ended up becoming a whole entry of its own:

    I think there must be a balance to be found, but each family has to find its own blend. Ours at the moment has a lot of structured activities, and I take flak for that from well-meaning people. It isn’t my intention to force my kids into some stupid mold, but to let them explore things that my sisters and I never had the chance to. Part of that involves letting them try organized sports. It’s an interesting lesson in moving out of my own comfort zones.

  5. Excellent article and thanks for the link. I got to see a LOT of parents like this in the last several years.

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