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Statement # 25

Overprotection and distrust,
a vicious circle

Before and after school hours, it is very busy around the schools: a traffic jam of cars.

"Why do you bring your child to school by car?"

"It is too unsafe with all that traffic."

"You mean: all those cars? That's why you add yet another car to the dangerous traffic?"

There are more such vicious circles

Playing outdoors

Children play outdoors less and less. They sit at home in front of the computer getting fat. Computer games and watching TV has nearly surpassed playing outside with peers, according research done recently by Carat Nederland and NIPO (Dutch Institute for Public Opinion). Parents  see too many risks outside: too much car traffic and stranger danger. And it is strangers that roam the Internet, so that is an unsafe environment also.

Parents are lead from one fear to the next. And if the kids are safely at their club or music lesson, SIRE (A Dutch Foundation for Idealistic Advertisements) tells us our children are too busy and too infrequently playing outdoors.

 Children too busy; SIRE  

And, speaking about being active, nowadays we frequently hear about ADHD, about children who are over-active.   

Surely, there are neurological disorders, so this might be the case, but nowadays, this disorder, ADHD (Attention Deficit & Hyper-activity Disorder) is also too quickly, too carelessly - and incorrectly - diagnosed by home doctors. 'My child is so active!' Yes, but isn't this a normal activity, which does not attract attention if a child plays outdoors, but which is seen as too active in a noisy apartment? 

After all, there is talk of overeating, lack of exercise, overprotection, and over-education leading to... stress and over-dependency

Distrust and fear of strangers...

We all know it is good for children to play outdoors, to create social contacts, to learn to cope with quarrels, to learn one's limits and abilities, to create their own room, to build forts, and so on - in short, to become independent. Yet, this happens less and less. This is not only because of the traffic, but also the fear of  stranger danger. Adults no longer trust each other. 

This has far-reaching consequences. Parents feel isolated. They no longer can trust a passing adult will intervene if needed. One doesn't want to meddle with others' children, because one might be seen as a child molester. 

Men especially have this fear: 'What is that guy on the lookout for? What kind of character is he?' This is said about teachers, youth leaders and male babysitters. There is a shortage of them: men refuse to do this kind of work.

... and other risks

What all might go wrong with a baby in a cradle, a child's saddle, a playground, the schoolyard...

Then, there are the computer games full of violence, the Internet full of chatting pedophiles, and the TV with lots of violence, and a bombardment of advertisements, which create a lot of nagging for sweets or new toys.

The world seems full of viruses, bacteria, and all kind of dangers. Parents are flooded with this kind of information. They become uncertain and constantly control their offspring. 

Dutch Opinion weekly: 
Dangerous games - how violence on the screen
influences your children

Thank goodness, there is a solution:

The experts

They fill the gap of the parents' uncertainly. They provide information and counsel, they advise rules on the use of playgrounds and the use of the Internet.

This is a vicious circle: the more uncertain the parents become, the more they become dependent on those experts, the more uncertain they become as they listen the experts' warnings, etcetera. 

Other countries

In the US and the UK, the policy is steered by the compass of the fear. Children - read: everyone under eighteen - are allowed more or less nothing and are permanently under adults' control. One does not trust the children or other adults.

This has far-reaching consequences. Not only do children become fat. They also do not become independent adults. They grow up being timid, fat children locked in a virtual 'reality'. In real life, public spirit is nearly gone, as is a community spirit within families. Each lives in her or his own isolation. The contact between parents and children is usually poor. 

So it could happen that a teenager sued McDonalds, because she was too fat after three years of eating there every day -- apparently, not at home at a family table with home-made meals. The judge decided the teen was wrong: "It is not the task of the law to protect you against your own excesses." McDonalds blamed the overweight not to its food, but to a lack of exercise. 

The same US has many rules 'to protect youth'. Oh, which youth, in what respect? Not the two million gay teens who are harassed and taunted daily at school. The teachers, the same who intervene at any kind of intimacy they see between youths, ignore this kind of aggression - so said De Gay Krant (The Gay Magazine of the Netherlands - 23 June 2001). 

In the UK, a school principal forbade parents to photograph or video their children at a nativity play. The pictures might fall into the hands of pedophiles... The reactions to this were "gone off the rails" and "an overreaction".

In China, Internet cafes are forbidden to people under sixteen or from nearby schools. The government claims it wants to protect youth against gambling, pornography and superstition. Really? In fact, the rules aim to banish "anti-constitutional information that threatens the national unity". 

In Scandinavia, southern Europe, and many other cultures, we see quite another image. Children have far more freedom and are growing up quite differently. There is far more community or public spirit among the adults, who, if needed, keep an eye on each others' children.

This ill wind of fear has blown over from the US to the UK, and from there it threatens to invade the Netherlands. 

A bit of counter balance against this ill wind might be good. In the Netherlands, we have a more sober character. We are able to take a more critical look at these phenomena, to maintain a cross-cultural view, and adhere to our own way. Here, it is still not too late.

Granddaddies and grannies

There is a trend in the Netherlands to stop isolating the people in retirement homes; the aim is rather to keep them independent and active - active also with their grandchildren and other youngsters. Experiments show that the young as well as the old people benefit, and that both enjoy these contacts.

A minister launched the plan to house crèches in retirement homes. This has already been done in several cities. Many people are supportive, but others aren't, among whom number the First Minister and the Stichting Kinderopvang Nederland (Foundation for Childcare in The Netherlands):

"Caring for toddlers is a profession. It demands a four-year education. Being nice is not enough."

From time immemorial, parents and grandparents have done this without a four-year education. Nevertheless, the experts think they know better. How could you even think to have parents and grandparents caring for children in the first place? What an awful idea!

Other adults

This is the breeze blowing our way: non-parent adults stay away from other parents' children. If they don't, they are distrusted and kept at a distance. People are afraid: of stranger danger, of the pedophile, or to be seen as such. Especially at school, but also in sports and day care, the distance between adults and youngsters has grown enormously, and this process is promoted by a lot of rules and protocols. 

This is a pity, because we still know that only a really involved teacher, coach or childcare worker, one who is able to establish personal contact with the children - and who is allowed to do so - can attain goals with the children, maybe - say: to co-educate them. 

"It is not by chance that youngsters recently asked the State Secretary for a mentor, a kind of big brother or sister, who coaches them and steers them clear of the pitfalls of modern life."
(Arjan Dieleman, HN, September 1999).

If we do not allow this, the parents are purely on their own to bring up their children - but their children will not be alone: the co-educators will be their peers, television with all its advertisements and computer games. The latter will have much influence - and probably not the best one can imagine. Many people already bitterly complain about the consequences.

It takes a village to raise a child

Indeed, we need a community of nearby and involved adults and children. We need community spirit and community building - nearby, in real life, in our neighborhood and at school, not far away, not virtual. We are already on the way to isolation, individualism and distrust. In other countries, we [the Dutch] have seen where it leads. We are still able to chart our own course. 

Return to the parents' intuition

There is an invaluable source of information: good contact with the children. Do not only control them, but do go about with them, live with them, talk with them - and by all means listen to them.

Concerning that contact, we see two tendencies, counterparts of each other. Thus we have a choice.

On one hand,
nowadays, the generations have little contact with each other; they live in their own worlds. Teens especially hang with each other: they have their own places to meet or to hang out, their own night life, with their own mobile phones they create their own language - their own world. They have minimal contact with the adult world. Youngsters are unreachable, or so one complains.

On the other hand,
gradually, the limits between the generations seem to have disappeared, at least within many modern families. 
There is contact and community spirit. We see less opposition of youth against parents and vice versa. 

This largely thanks to the modern fathers, who no longer are an absent tyrant, rather they are the present and available friends of their children.

According to recent research by Intomarkt, most twelve- to eighteen-year-old youths feel happy. Dad and mom are 'the hero's', [..] Pim Fortuyn, the late Dutch politician, is the second idol. [..] According to A. de Vries, the director of SIRE [..] the happiness of the youth owes to the fading away of the generation gap.

If there is good contact, parents' intuition paves the way. This has always appeared to be the right way, thus why not nowadays as well?

An example might be a frequently visited Dutch web site, named (Parents Online). Now and then a question is forwarded to a professional, but the first step is that parents speak with each other. By doing so, they are able to find solutions for the greater part of the problems, each in her or his own way, and independent of any expert.

Return to trust and respect, thus to self-confidence

Children and youngsters are far more competent than what is normally thought. If we contact them with trust and respect - not just with fear, distrust, overprotection and a set of rules and norms - they develop self-confidence and the ability to act. Doing so, we may take their ideas seriously, and use these to create a really child-friendly society.

This calls for more respect than many modern people have: respect for children and respect for other eras and cultures. Too often, we pretend we have a monopoly on truth and wisdom, as if people from other eras and cultures had been unenlightened. There is no truth in that. We are living in the darkness of our own biases, into which we want to force our children. In modern language, in our ideology, we call this "protection". But it does not protect, it only limits and endangers.

Read More # 25

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