As mostly an 80s kid, not a 90s kid, I was an authentic free range kid. I was a paperboy (hell, I played Paperboy), I explored garbage-strewn suburban creeks, and I pretended to be James Bond in unsupervised, half-built public parks way before Daniel Craig’s stint as 007 came along. I think it was the series’ View to a Kill that set me off, what with its rad Duran Duran soundtrack and all. Not that music was my thing in those early pre-teen days, apart from whatever the ‘rents were listening to (and you can bet it wasn’t “Rent”).
I built toy guns from slabs of wood that resembled the “pulse rifle” from Aliens. I once trespassed on a cranky old man’s farm land, prompting him to shoot at me with a real firearm. I explored an abandoned building containing some kind of hideout spot belonging to metal head teens with a thing for white power — judging from the swastikas on the wall — and black porn, judging from their copy of Hustler. Those were the days of porno-in-print, you see. When the twisted teens discovered me and my partner in crime sneaking around their shitty little man cave, we quickly took off on our bikes with the zitty villains from an Indiana Jones movie in hot pursuit. We got away, just barely, but I recall discovering that one from the gang of four (or five maybe, I forget) attended my school. Not sure what came of that, but like Joaquin Phoenix I’m still here, so I guess nothing bad.
The “free range kid” meme is now a thing thanks to Lenore Skenazy, a NYC mom who took shit some years back for letting her 9-year-old son ride the subway alone. (She’s since turned the controversy into a lucrative little business judging from the merch available at her website.) Skenazy harkens back to a time — cue wistful music — in which I lived, before the grip of “stranger danger” and the “helicopter parent” took hold. A helicopter parent, if you’re not privy to the term, refers to a micromanaging, hovering mom, dad or guardian incessantly pecking away at their kid’s autonomy with demands of good grades, volunteer work, karate classes, and basically anything that isn’t just shooting the shit. Anything that will help pad a “well rounded” resume some day. It’s a category of parent perhaps best exemplified by Skenazy’s opposite, “Tiger Mom” and author Amy Chua, who likewise came under fire being overzealous in her approach to raising her little copies. The following sentence from Chua’s last book, all by itself, reveals the depths — or reaches, if you prefer — of her over-mommying: “When the girls were little, I kept a computer file in which I recorded notable exchanges word-for-word.”
“Dang” ain’t just a river in Vietnam.
So who’s better? Free range kids or helicopter, er, kids? I submit the laissez-faire approach is best for youth when they’re youthful, but the hands-on approach is the winning strategy for the tykes in the long run; when the time comes to face the world. Like by the time they’re ready to celebrate Halloween, which as you know is a holiday for grownups now, and sexy Berts and Ernies.
Blogger “Agnostic” — who like me is in his early 30s — has been documenting the difference between his/our childhoods and that of Millennials, or those slightly younger folks he trashes for being shut-ins whose nostalgia consists mostly of things done indoors, under the tutelage of doting parents. In a post critical of a long list of things 90s kids supposedly adore from a site that wrote a book about it, he writes, “of about 140 items, I count roughly 14 things that are not TV, movies, and video games.” Sounds pretty shitty to me. Then again I’m biased, even if I think Hackers is pretty badass too.
But in their defense, helicopter kids are our future, because career-building, safety, and a fetish for the long-term, early on, are popular themes nowadays. It’s the offspring of the on-top-of-things that make for the flesh and blood of the professional class, i.e. the people who run shit. Brink Lindsey, writing at The Atlantic, complains that the only thing wrong with helicopter parents is that there just aren’t enough of them. He praises their excessive, even “comical” attention to their kids:
“Starting in the 1990s parents began spending significantly more time with their kids,” he tells us. “And there is evidence that the very nature of their parenting style is good for grooming productive workers.”
Now maybe you don’t like the idea of being cultivated for a life in the cubicle. But then cubicles too are a 90s relic, aren’t they?