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The iron grip grows tighter

June 18, 2010


It’s become fashionable to pine for the days when children could run around outside alone, make their own decisions, and come home when their mothers called out across the neighborhood that dinner was ready. Personally, I distrust all such rosy generalizations, and although I have fond memories of my own childhood–many of them centering on just this sort of independence–my gut tells me that things were never as good as people pretend, because things are never as good as they pretend. We have a tendency to always think everything sucks now and always used to better, but the truth is that everything is always the same–kinda sucky, kinda not too bad. Anyway, if anyone was really serious about returning to these supposed glory days, would this kind of ulcer-causing insanity even be possible?

[T]he classic best-friend bond — the two special pals who share secrets and exploits, who gravitate to each other on the playground and who head out the door together every day after school — signals potential trouble for school officials intent on discouraging anything that hints of exclusivity, in part because of concerns about cliques and bullying.


“I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults — teachers and counselors — we try to encourage them not to do that,” said Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis. “We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends.”

So, just to summarize: In addition to no longer allowing kids to be fat even as a simple phase of physical development; no longer allowing them to suck at something at school without diagnosing it medically or psychologically; no longer allowing them to fail at competitive things; no longer criticizing them for fear of destroying their self-esteem; no longer letting them wend their way through life to find their true path; we’re now also managing their social relationships?

I’m sure Christine Laycob’s heart is in the right place, but as this whole micromanaging parenting movement grows ever-more insufferable, I become ever-more amazed that people take these sorts of things seriously. It seems unbelievable to me that while people are willing to fund and undertake studies that explore the complex issue of whether it costs money to raise children, we’re all still waiting for the one about what our kids are missing out on by not being allowed to figure out their own lives.

I can’t decide whether I dread or look forward to the day when a school administrator takes me aside and explains that my son or daughter has developed a best friend, and what are we going to do to correct this? On the one hand, it will be an awesome display of human inanity. I know this attitude exists, but I also know there are looners out there–knowing it’s out there isn’t the same as actually encountering it, and there’s a certain thrill in direct exposure. But on the other hand, it will be a sure sign that the Apocalypse is almost upon us. I imagine on that day I’ll know how the dinosaurs felt when they saw that asteroid streaking across the sky.

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